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'Shooting challenge' marks start of Special Operations conferences

Sunday morning, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office training facility in Lithia will be transformed into a commando competition arena, with special operations “legends” squaring off in physical and shooting challenges.

The Operator Challenge will kick off an international commando fest in Tampa, as two major special operations events converge at the Tampa Convention Center May 19 through the 22.

The annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference will bring U.S. Special Operations Command leaders, including Adm. William McRaven, the head of Socom, together with defense industry officials. At the same time, the fourth International Special Operations Forces conference is being held as well, which will bring delegates from 84 nations together to focus on “strengthening the Global SOF Network,” according to Navy Lt. Cmdr Matthew Allen, a spokesman for the headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base.

Independent of the conferences, the Operator Challenge is a way for those in the special operations community to bond, compete and get a chance to try out some of the weapons and other equipment being pitched by manufacturers, says Scott Neil, the retired Green Beret master sergeant who created the event.

“The whole reason we did the Operator Challenge is this is where the rubber meets the road, testing and evaluating guns and equipment,” says Neil, who is also a board member of the Green Beret Foundation.

While the convention hall will have more than 300 exhibitors, many who will offer demonstrations of their goods and services, this will be the only live-fire opportunity for operators to try out weapons, says Neil.

“We see a lot of value in this,” says Chris Davis, marketing specialist for Glock Inc.

The company Glock, a big supporter of “those who go into harm's way,” will be announcing a $100,000 donation to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation at SOFIC, bringing the total of donations to the Tampa-based charity that helps the families of fallen and injured commandos to $900,000. It also supports the Green Beret Foundation, which offers help to wounded, ill and injured members of the Army's Special Forces community.

Operator Challenge, the first such event in the Shooting With SOF series of sports shooting challenges, will enable Glock to put its newest weapon into the hands of operators.

The company will be supplying shooters with the .45 caliber G41 Gen 4, “our latest and greatest tactical pistol,” says Davis. “Having a new tactical pistol with those guys being the ultimate tactical operators is a win-win for us,”

Ken Hunt, operations officer for GEMTECH, is also looking forward to the event.

“The Operator Challenge gives us a terrific opportunity to listen to the needs of the operators, showcasing our suppressors and ammunition,” he says. “This year we released our new G-Core series in .22 cal, 9 mm, .45 cal, and 300 BLK. We will have three of these new products along with our own sub-sonic ammunition on the demonstration range.”

Competitors will take part in several challenges, says Neil, including something called the Green Mile, which will feature contestants running in full body armor while flipping tires and doing pushups. There will also be an event where contestants will run half of the sheriff's obstacle course, then run to the shooting range and try to hit targets.

Another event will take place in the shoot house, where contestants will take part in a number of physical activities, then run into the shoot house with the lights off and do a one-man clear of the rooms, Neil says.

There will also be a Shooting With SOF event, where local business leaders take lessons from members of the commando community and then fire off a wide range of weapons.

The event will be held at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Firearms Range, 14063 County Road 39 South in Lithia. The public is welcome to observe the event and support the special operations charities by registering in advance at www.operatorllc.com. Admission is $25 for civilians and free for active duty, retired military and law enforcement. Gates open at 9 a.m. and the Operator Challenge starts at 10 a.m.

The Operator Challenge will be followed Tuesday night by a fundraiser aboard the SS American Victory. Admission is $50, which includes food, drinks and entertainment. Proceeds go to the Green Beret Foundation, the Global Special Operations Foundation and the Navy SEAL Foundation.

For more information, email [email protected]

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