Celebrities partner with Special Forces soldiers in shooting competition

A sign at one of the entrances to Fort Bragg. (Fish Cop./WikiCommons)

Bullets pinged across metal, cars and targets Friday at Fort Bragg, as Green Beret soldiers coached celebrities for a tactical shooting competition.

The competition, hosted by the Special Forces Charitable Trust, paired two Green Berets with 12 celebrities.

The soldiers were joined by Olympic gymnastics medalist Shawn Johnson and her former NFL husband Andrew East, country music singer Chuck Wicks and his wife, Kasi, Bellator champion Ryan Bader, former NFL football player Eric Decker, former Congresswoman and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, actor Mark Valley, actor Charles Esten, former “Bachelorette” finalist and trainer Shawn Booth, Mixed Martial Arts fighter Dan Henderson and Crossfit athlete Jacob Heppner.

The Special Forces Charitable Trust is a nonprofit that raises money for Green Berets and their families to create resiliency, said retired Brig. Gen. Harrison Gilliam, operations director for the trust.

The event brings civilians together with the military, Gilliam said.

“It reinforces that people care and want to know what they do and care about what they do and our families go through,” he said. “And so as a charitable trust, our focus is on the soldier and their families and our heritage.”

Last year’s inaugural fundraiser left an impression on five returning participants and created interest for others to participate this year.

The celebrities in turn are positively promoting the Green Berets and Army to their millions of social media followers, Gilliam said.

“(They) get to do some pretty cool things, but the end of the day we’re all serving our nation and without them, we wouldn’t have the Army we have today,” he said.

This year’s competition drew more celebrity participation to include more female participants, said Jodi Burns, executive director of the Special Forces Charitable Trust.

Burns said half the participants this year were new to the event, while others returned.

“They really understand the magic of this place and how special it is here, and they really forge some relationships, too, and understanding the Green Berets,” Burns said.

She said celebrities this year were more competitive than last year, as they also competed to raise funds that generated more than $210,000 and sponsorships for the event.

“The buzz is definitely out there much more,” Burns said. “We’re hoping to just incrementally keep increasing it every year.”

Wicks was one of the returning participants who’s reached out to other celebrities to participate in the event.

“This should be a million-dollar event and it’s well on its way,” he said.

Wicks brought his wife to this year’s event, who helped raise more than $40,000 with a three-day flash clothing sale with his sister-in-law Brittany Aldean.

This year, Wicks was paired with Green Berets from the 1st Special Forces Group.

Wicks said he’s connected with the soldiers, who also have families, by having lunch with them and “hanging out.”

“That’s really the part where you get to know them and the person that’s fighting for this country rather than the guy in the uniform that you don’t know,” he said. “You see them and think, ‘Wow, they’re awesome and badass,’ but you get to know these guys who are humble human beings that love this country as much as we do and it’s fun to just to get that quality time with them.”

Gabbard, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, was a new participant.

She said that in her military experience as a civil affairs officer, she doesn’t often fire a weapon.

She was paired with soldiers with the 5th Special Forces Group.

She said they were “great coaches” and are “great patriots.”

“There’s always a little rivalry in the groups, but the strongest camaraderie and brotherhood,” Gabbard said. “So they’re very experienced in their jobs, and I’m grateful to get any pointers they have to give me.”

A Special Forces operations sergeant for the range who cannot be identified because of the nature of his job said the teams were tested for weapons proficiency, accuracy and timing at four shooting ranges that included shooting at paper targets from a static position at a vehicle, shooting at a “pie rack” that has 6-inch plates, shooting from a simulated wooden barrier and from a bus, shooting at pop-up targets, shooting with a sniper rifle at moving targets and shooting in an indoor range.

One of Gabbard’s teammates, who cannot be named because of the nature of his job, said he and the other Green Beret who was part of the team were between deployments and volunteered to participate a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s just a good opportunity to get awareness and raise some money for Charitable Trust for the SF community,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of good work in just the years that I’ve been here. They’ve put a lot toward the soldiers when they’re in need.”

The Green Beret said that he expected a mixed-shooting event to be a challenge but said Gabbard was teachable.

Last year’s champion, East, returned to this year’s event.

“This is the best part of my year — the highlight,” he said.

He said he became involved because his wife has volunteered with Special Forces retreats for more than a decade.

East said that while other participants hunt and had more of a weapons background than he did, he spent the past year using the weapon he won from last year’s event to practice.

He was paired with 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers last year and 7th Special Forces Group soldiers this year.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s just how amazing these guys are — how much they sacrifice, how much they train and how they really are the most prepared and equipped team in the world,” East said. “Just to be able to be out here side-by-side doing a competition with the Green Berets is amazing.”


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