Featured Operator Olympics Tom Marshall March 23, 2010 Photos Courtesy U.S. Army The U.S. Army Special Operations Command, commonly referred to as USASOC, is the largest single component of the inter-service U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the controlling element for all Army Special Operations Forces. Headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USASOC is responsible for units like the 75th Ranger Regiment, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, 1st Special Forces Command, and the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. In short, USASOC is responsible for training and leading soldiers who are extremely proficient at putting boot to ass for freedom. Part of what makes these units so capable is the immense amount of time and effort they put into their training. They attend laundry lists of schools and put in thousands of hours of unit-level training. But even professional badassery like clearing rooms and jumping out of airplanes can get monotonous if it’s all you do, day after day, with no variety. Competition often breeds a drive for increased performance and can serve as a valuable training tool that both improves skill level and distracts from the repetitiveness of formalized instruction. It was, in part, because of this value that USASOC started the International Sniper’s Competition — which, at time of writing, is in its eighth consecutive year. Much newer and less well-known is the subject of this story: a counterpart competition known as the Special Operations Assault Competition. The latter is still in its infancy, with this being only the second year. But it’s growing quickly, and RECOIL was given an exclusive chance to watch teams from all around the Special Operations community face off in a multi-day event that posed some highly demanding battlefield challenges. Agreeing to work around some operational security issues, we were allowed to put together a rundown of some of the competition’s highlights and came away impressed not only with the caliber of the competitors, but also by the amount of hard work and dedication applied by the organizers – the Range 37 staff, who bust their asses to lay on a world class event. EVENT #1: ENDURANCE EVENT The very first stage of the competition was, in true army fashion, a physical fitness event. But this was no 30-minute medley of push-ups, sit-ups, and running. The endurance event is both practical and intensely grueling, testing every major combat task in addition to cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Think you could hack it? Here’s a rough set list of the various course objectives. Get a flat litter, with patient, over a 6-foot wall. With four sets of hands and no slings, wheels, or pulleys. Hope nobody starts shooting at you. > Run approximately a ½ mile to the base of a three-story tower. > Carry 14 .50-caliber ammo cans up to the top roof. > All that ammo is no good without a rifle. Go back down, get the Barrett M82A1, and bring it up too. > Rappel from the top of the tower. > Run approximately a ¼ mile to a second three-story building. Climb a nylon caving ladder to the roof. > Once on the roof, haul a 100-pound duffel bag, tied to a fast rope, from the ground to the roof. > Run down the stairs and outside to a non-functioning vehicle (simulated IED). Push the vehicle an unspecified distance. > Don a gas mask, ensure proper seal, and run through a short course that takes you in and out of houses and between alleyways. At the end of this course are two truck tires. > Flip said tires for approximately 50 to 100 meters. > Remove gas mask, run to downed aircraft, extract 200-pound dummy, and carry him on a litter an unknown distance, traversing more than two 6-foot walls Every leg of the endurance event was rooted in real-world battlefield tasks, like casualty recovery. Did we mention you have to complete the course in full boots and battle rattle, carrying a complete combat load of ammunition and equipment? And you’re on the clock, moving in a four-man team, so everyone has to finish. We watched several teams go through this event, and it was no joke. At least one soldier was injured severely enough to miss the next two days of the competition. Luckily, he came out of it fine and was returned to duty. But it was a poignant reminder that even training is risky. EVENTS #2 AND #5: DAY/NIGHT PISTOL SHOOTS One of the things that arguably sets Special Operations soldiers apart from conventional forces is their skill with a variety of individual weapons beyond the primary service rifle. The day and night “scrambler” events tested pistol skills in a diverse array of short stages, including everything you’d imagine from a well-thought-out training class or club steel match. Barricades, unconventional shooting positions, multiple target engagements, no-shoot targets, and reloads were all included in the various courses of fire. Controlling your own bodyweight plus full kit is a physical fitness test all by itself. Unfortunately this was pretty much just the beginning of the hard part. It’s worth noting at this point the number of red-dot-equipped pistols we saw. They were particularly helpful during the night shoot. A slide-mounted optic allows you to shoot your pistol with night vision gear just like you would normally. It was also interesting to see how much of these particular “combat focused” stages included elements from USPSA, IDPA, and Steel Challenge matches. Anybody who still believes that shooting competitively will get them “killed on the streets” should talk to the instructor cadre down at USASOC. Shooting stages incorporated CQB elements, including door breaches and, our personal favorite, extensive use of “distraction devices.” EVENT #4: DIRECT ACTION CQB This was, by far, one of our favorite events to watch. A four-man assault element was required to approach a building, conduct an explosive breach for initial entry, and then clear more than 15 rooms as a solo element. The course was run with SRTA training ammo. All other gear was “real steel,” including shotguns with breaching rounds, explosive cutting charges for breaching, and flash bang grenades — including “twin banger” and “nine banger” versions, all of which were applied liberally. Forgetting your eye or ear protection on the catwalk was a rapidly self-correcting error. There were certain administrative rules in play to reduce “gaming” the stage. No solo-CQB was permitted. An undisclosed number of hidden tokens were scattered throughout the house, forcing teams to slow down and execute proper Tactical Site Exploitation through searches of furniture, closets, and down targets. CQB is a team sport. This SOF team made use of all their tools, from weapon-mounted lights to explosive breaching charges. There were both shoot and no-shoot targets, and teams had to simulate restraining and cuffing all no-shoot targets. But, as long as teams checked all these boxes, they weren’t graded on their style of CQB. We really liked this approach as it took the graders, all of whom were full-time CQB instructors within USASOC, out of their schoolhouse role. It also allowed the individual teams to apply their own unit-internal Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) as they might on a real-world mission. Special Operations Forces make most of their money after the sun goes down. As such, night shoots were an integral part of the assaulter’s competition. We wound up directly over a nine-banger at least twice that we remember and got chest thumped by one or two breaching charges. Each time, our senior editor came off the catwalk with a stupid, nostalgic grin on his face. As always, it was truly inspiring to witness firsthand the surgical application of intense violence by good guys in high-speed kit. EVENT #7: BREACHING Our other favorite event was breaching, affectionately referred to around the range as Breacher’s Alley. The goal of this stage was to force each team to employ a well-rounded variety of breaching methods, while also thinking critically about their load-out and equipment selection. Each team approached the staging area where a wide variety of breaching tools were laid out for the team to choose from: cutting torches, backpack saws, various types of explosive charges, halligan tools, etc. Teams were allowed to bring as many tools as they wanted, but tools couldn’t be dropped or cached in the house along the way. Everything had to be carried through every room. Below, left: Breacher’s Alley was a surprisingly grueling event, with every possible tool and method in the breacher’s inventory being put to the test. There were a total of 14 breaches required throughout the building, many with compound challenges. Here’s an example: You approach a typical residential wooden door. A couple breaching rounds from your shotgun should be plenty to knock off the hinges and get the door down — except behind the door is a floor-to-ceiling grid of welded rebar covering the entire doorway. Hope you brought one of those torches or a saw. Or how about a steel door with 4×4 deadfalls behind it? No door was as easy as it looked in Breacher’s Alley. What we learned from watching this event was just how time consuming a door breach can become. In the movies, it always looks like a sub-second event followed immediately by a smooth entry. The reality is that a well-fortified door can take minutes to cut through — a frightening prospect when you consider that, somewhere on the other side of that door, are people who probably want to cut your head off and put it on the Internet. While the likelihood of a single four-man element tackling such an operation without direct support from other assets, or a larger supporting force is low, it’s not entirely beyond the scope of reality. Proper intelligence preparation is also critical to properly equip and outfit your team for the specific building being targeted. EVENT #9: LONG DISTANCE SHOOT The long-distance shoot was a carbine-focused with multiple steel target arrays at varying unknown distances from 25 to 300 yards. Shooters were required to first run to the top of a rappel tower and engage targets from inside a faux helicopter fuselage. After knocking down this set of targets, the shooter ran down one floor and engaged a second line of targets from a balcony. Once all targets were cleaned from the balcony, they had to rappel down the rest of the tower and move through a series of firing positions on the ground. An operator engages targets several hundred yards out with his red-dot–equipped 10.5-inch Mk18. Shooters were required to utilize multiple unconventional positions throughout this stage. Final score was based on the time to complete the entire course, adjusted for any targets left standing — due to misses or, in at least one case, running out of ammo. Since teams had to “run what they brung,” it was an interesting test of the various carbine/optic setups. The majority of shooters we watched were running suppressed 10.5-inch guns, with one team shooting 14.5-inch setups. The latter seemed to have an easier time with the longer-range targets, particularly from elevated positions — but it wasn’t a universal result. We’re not sure if teams were allowed to swap uppers between stages, and we didn’t see any dedicated DMR-style guns. Either way, attempting to game the stage renewed the age-old struggle of moving quickly in full kit versus being able to hit accurately in as little time as possible. HANDSHAKES AND PRIZES One of the unsung heroes of the assault competition was the Special Forces Association. SFA did a lot of behind-the-scenes setup for this event, including helping to coordinate the prize table and industry partnerships. Additionally, they perform a number of great support functions for the Special Forces community, including resiliency retreats for families, scholarships for widows and children, and the creation of business opportunities for Special Forces veterans separating from service. If you’re looking for a tax credit or good karma, a donation to the SFA would be a great idea. The USASOC Assault Competition was an awesome look into how some of our nation’s most capable warfighters work to master their craft. Check out RECOILtv for additional coverage of the event. Explore RECOILweb:The Ashley Update: A Rare Colt Paterson PistolBattle Brotherhood VodkaChildren of the Civil WarAlpha Dog 9 Review: Call me Snake NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. 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