Marksmen represent Va. Guard at national-level marksmanship competition

Virginia Guardsman Staff Sgt. Jason Young competes 42nd annual Winston P. Wilson Championship marksmanship competition, held Aug. 31 - Sept. 6 at Camp Robinson, Ark. (Courtesy Photo)

Virginia Guardsman Staff Sgt. Jason Young competes in the 42nd annual Winston P. Wilson Championship marksmanship competition, held Aug. 31 – Sept. 6 at Camp Robinson, Ark. (Courtesy Photo)

SANDSTON, Va. – Virginia Guard Soldiers competed alongside more than 300 National Guard shooters from across the country at the 42nd annual Winston P. Wilson Championship marksmanship competition, earning top honors in both team and individual events. The competition, held Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2013, at Camp Robinson, Ark., brought the best shooters in the National Guard together and included a variety of matches that showcased marksmanship skills with the pistol, rifle and shotgun.

Two four-man teams, along with a marksmanship coach, made the trek down to Arkansas to compete against the nation’s best.

“We did exceptionally well,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matt Stemmler, a platoon sergeant with Company C, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Company Team, and a member of the Virginia Guard marksmanship team. “Our Alpha Team finished 9th and our Bravo Team finished 47th out of 81 teams. Individually we had several shooters finish in the top 60 in rifle and pistol, out of 334 competitors.”

Sgt. Steven Fletcher, from the Fredericksburg-based Company A, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was among one of the top competitors at the event, taking 1st place in the individual aggregate pistol category at the novice level and 3rd place in the combined aggregate category at the novice level. Fletcher also earned first place medals from the Novice Combat Pistol Barricade match and the Novice Combat Rifle Match, as well as a second place medal in the Novice Rifle Special Zero Match.

“The competition really benefits a Soldier in being able to measure his or her ability to accurately engage targets at various ranges and positions,” Fletcher said. “The pressure of competing against fellow Soldiers from around the nation adds motivation and stresses you to do the best you can.”

Fletcher also earned the “Chief’s 50” badge, awarded on behalf of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to the top 50 shooters in the National Guard.

Spc. Jeremy Steffel, assigned to Troop C, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Calvary Regiment, placed second in the Combat Pistol Barricade match, and many other Virginia Guard shooters earned top ten rankings in various matches.

“During these matches, the Soldiers have a chance to network with other states, learn new techniques from watching other shooters, test and improve their skills and – best of all – show the nation that Virginia can shoot,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Jones, assistant state marksmanship coordinator.

For Fletcher, the opportunity to learn from fellow shooters, is one of the most important parts of participating in marksmanship competitions.

“The competition is a way to keep score and give awards, but, in reality, it’s really a training event,” he said. “There is a lot of knowledge that can be picked up from other shooters that can be taken back to your unit and bringing everyone together gives everyone the chance to learn from each other and work as a team.”

The competition, according to Stemmler, “hones a basic Soldier skill, pushing you beyond the limits of where many Soldiers think they can shoot.” In rifle qualifications, Soldiers generally encounter targets no further than 300 meters out. “At the competition, there are several events where we shoot beyond that, all the way out to 600 yards.”

Success in marksmanship competitions, especially at the national level, depends on focus and fundamentals.

“Once your bullet goes down range, you can’t get it back. It’s gone,” Stemmler said. “You need to be able to focus on your next shot, and don’t let your previous shots affect you. You also have to pay attention to the fundamentals of marksmanship because it’s easy to let them slip in a high stress environment.”

For Jones, the key takeaway for the Soldier shooters is confidence.

“When those rosters are published showing their final scores and they see how the stack up against the nation’s best, the transformation begins,” Jones said. “With success comes confidence, with confidence comes reassurance. Once those factors are met, the transformation is complete and they return to their units with their heads held high, motivated, eager to train and teach others.”

Days at the marksmanship competition were structured and full, according to Fletcher.

“We hit the ground running,” he said. “Every day there were three to four matches that were going on, on just as many ranges. There were a lot of moving pieces, but the range staff did a good job planning it all out.”

The marksmanship success of the Virginia Guard at the national marksmanship level comes after numerous successes at the regional marksmanship competition, held at Fort Indiantown Gap, Penn. Aug. 16-18, 2013. The MAC-II Regional Marksmanship Sustainment Exercise brought together Soldiers and Airmen from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Deleware and West Virginia. The Virginia Guard sent two teams of four shooters, with Bravo Team taking 1st place in the Team Combined Arms Championship and Alpha Team taking 2nd. The success of the Virginia Guard’s marksmanship team at the regional competition will earn the shooters a chance to compete at the all-Army level.

At the end of the day, marksmanship is a basic Soldier skill, required of each and every Soldier, no matter their military occupational specialty.

“The three primary tasks of a Soldier are to shoot, move and communicate,” Fletcher said. “Shooting at a threat is not enough – you have to be able to hit it accurately.”

For more information on the Virginia National Guard’s Marskmanship Training Unit, visit their Facebook page.