MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Allied paratroopers and glider units were dropped behind German lines along the beaches of the Normandy coast, ranging from Caen through Sainte Mere-Eglise Beach. This pre-dawn assault would be followed by a devastating and bloody conflict between Allied forces and their enemies to secure Normandy and Omaha Beaches. The cost in lives was high. More than nine thousand Allied forces were killed or wounded. By 7:30 p.m., however, the Allied troops had reached the bluffs and defeated the Germans. This crucial day in history will always be remembered as D-Day … the day in which the Allied forces changed the course of World War II.
On Friday, June 5, 2015, U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command paid tribute to the heroic veterans who fought on that day by commemorating its 71st anniversary with the “D-Day Shoot-Out,” held at the small-arms range on MacDill Air Force Base. The event consisted of a 4-stage marksmanship event; two rifle stages and two pistol stages. Each stage required the participants to perform multiple marksmanship critical tasks. The competition emphasized the importance of combat readiness and joint training. The USSOCOM Marksmanship Team provided leadership and range safeties for the event.
Awards were given to the winners of each event and the best overall shooter. U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Aaron Brunk earned the distinction of best overall shooter and was awarded with a new AR-15 rifle for his outstanding skills with an M-4 rifle and 9 mm pistol.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Leo Smith, a World War II veteran formerly assigned to the 63rd Field Artillery, 24th Infantry Division, attended the event with his grandson, Sgt. 1st Class Brian Webb, currently assigned to USSOCOM headquarters. Smith and his grandson watched portions of each event and answered questions posed by competitors and spectators during lunch.
“I am very pleased to be one of the few World War II veterans left and am sorry that a lot of my friends can’t be here,” said Smith, a Florida native. “Everything has changed so much and I am grateful for this opportunity. I like the World War II display the most. I enjoyed seeing the World War II-era motorcycle, the .50 caliber Browning machine gun I was so familiar with, and all of the other memorabilia.”
After the completion of the competition, and a brief rest period for lunch, spectators and competitors were given an opportunity to fire their own assigned weapons and some World War II-era weapons in a noncompetitive environment.
Each of the day’s events were funded by the 1st Infantry Division Reenactment Group. The members of this group were present in the uniforms worn by Allied forces during World War II. Each member answered questions regarding the historical significance of the uniforms they wore and the weapons they carried. While no members of the group currently serve in the military, each of them understood the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by those who served so long ago.
“We like to bring to light the fact that the American Army was liberating Europe from the clutches of evil,” said Bill Trabulsi, a native of Bradenton, Fla., and the reenactment group’s first sergeant.
This was the second year that the USSOCOM Marksmanship Team was in charge of the “D-Day Shoot-Out” event. The team hopes to continue conducting the event for many years to come.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael R. Novak, a member of the marksmanship team, said that this year’s shoot-out was an overwhelming success.
“We couldn’t be more pleased,” he added.