Va. Guard Soldiers excel at state, regional, national-level marksmanship matches

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Virginia National Guard Soldiers from units across the commonwealth compete in The Adjutant General’s 2015 Pistol Match June 27, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. (Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – Virginia National Guard Soldiers from units across the state competed for top honors in a state-level rifle match, held May 15-17, 2015, and a state-level pistol match, held June 26-27, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Additionally, after winning both top team spots at the regional marksmanship match, Virginia National Guard marksmen once again made the trip to Camp Robinson, Arkansas to compete at the national level where several Soldiers took top honors against nearly 250 of the National Guard’s best shooters.

The Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 3rd Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute manages the Virginia National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit, which hosts both the Adjutant General’s Rifle and Pistol Matches. The goal of the Marksmanship Training Unit, and of the marksmanship matches, is to “enhance the combat effectiveness of the modern day warrior at all levels, by stressing the development of combat skills to improve proficiency above basic marksmanship requirements and increase battlefield survivability,” according to their mission statement.

“The fun and stuff aside, in all seriousness, I believe that the greatest skill that any individual Soldier can have is to be able to kill the enemy and that’s what you all are able to do,” said Col. Thomas Morgan, commander of the 183rd RTI, to the pistol match participants.

For those Soldiers or Airmen wishing to compete in marksmanship matches, the first step is the state match. Shooters who excel there are invited to represent Virginia at the regional level. At the most recent regional match, Virginia National Guard marksmanship teams took both the first and second place spots, which earned them a chance to represent the region at the national-level competition, the Winston P. Wilson Championship. There, two Virginia National Guard teams of four competed against more than 240 shooters configured into 60 teams from across the nation.

“The amount of experience at the national-level event is astronomical,” said Sgt. Jeremy Steffel, assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “You’ve got guy who have been competing at the national level and international level for longer than I’ve been alive. And they’re all there to help you become a better shooter.”

At the national-level match, teams from the Virginia National Guard earned first place in the Know Your Limits Match, in which team members engage different targets based on their capabilities, and 3rd place in the Steel Challenge Match, where shooters engage a “tree” of targets and attempt to be faster and more accurate than their opponents.

“They come here and actually see how they stack against everybody else and they might pick up new tricks of the trade on how to operate that weapons system that they can then take back to their units and to their Soldiers,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Jones, state marksmanship coordinator.

As individual competitors, Sgt. Steven Fletcher of the 116th Special Troops Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT earned 1st place in the Close Quarter Battle Match, Cadet Michael Nguyen, of the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, earned 2nd place as a novice in the Reflexive Fire Match and third place as a novice in the Close Quarter Battle Match. Sgt. David Hennaman of the Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center earned 3rd place as a novice in the Anti-Body Armor Match.

“Competing at nationals is always challenging. Any mistakes you make will move you at least several places down for that match, and possibly in your overall position as well,” Fletcher said. “But it’s great meeting new people from different states and shooting with friends you made from previous years. Most people there are very knowledgeable and to from them is always a great experience.”

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Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from units across the commonwealth compete at the 2015 TAG Rifle Match May 16, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

In addition to their successes in the matches, Fletcher and Steffel both earned the Chief’s 50 Award in both Pistol and Rifle. This award recognizes the top marksmen who compete at the national level. Steffel also earned the Distinguished Rifleman Badge, one of the most prestigious marksmanship badges a Soldier can earn. Both Fletcher and Steffel were also selected to compete as members of the All-Guard Marksmanship Team, comprised of the top National Guard shooters in the nation.

At the Adjutant General’s 2015 Rifle Match, 44 shooters competed in a variety of matches, as both individual shooters and as members of a team. The matches are designed to test competitor’s skills from different positions and distances. For example, in the excellence in competition match, shooters fired during five stages – from 400 and 300 yards in the prone position, 200 yards in the kneeling position, 100 yards moving from the standing to the kneeling position and from 75-25 yards in the standing position. Each stage included the firing of 10 rounds, with different magazine configurations for the different stages and time limits ranging from two minutes to two seconds.

As teams, Soldiers competed in matches like the Unknown Distance Match, which requires shooters to engage targets at both a short and long unknown range, find cover and concealment to engage those targets and get in and out of a vehicle, all under the pressure of a time limit.

“My favorite part of the competition is the team unknown distance match,” said Fletcher, placed second overall at the state-level rifle match. “You have to effectively communicate and coordinate fire as a team and the added stress of running against the clock is challenging.”

After two days of shooting, the results of the matches were tallied and team and individual winners were announced. Steffel took the first place prize, Fletcher took second, and Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Stemmler, of Company C, 1st Battalion, 116th IBCT took third. On the team side, Staff Sgt. Derek Rine, Sgt. John Miller, Spc. Logan McGinnis and Spc. Jake Moyer, of Headquarters Company, 116th IBCT took first place; Stemmler, Staff Sgt. George Winters, Sgt. Steven File and Spc. Zachary Wilson, of Company C, 1st Battalion, 116th IBCT, took second; and Sgt. 1st Class Ross Lockard, Staff Sgt. Chad Stigall, Sgt. 1st Class Larry Mckennon and Spc. Sean Steinway, from the Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center, took third.

“At the marksmanship matches, Soldiers gain valuable experience that they may not get at their units,” explained Stemmler, on the value of competitive marksmanship. “For some shooters, this is their first opportunity to shoot past the standard 300 meter distance. “It also allows the Soldiers to see how well they can shoot under pressure, which ultimately helps prepare them for combat.”

At the Adjutant General’s 2015 Pistol Match, a total of 41 shooters participated in both team and individual events, engaging targets from 5 to 35 meters. Like the rifle match, the pistol match is designed to test a shooter’s abilities in different positions and from different distances with different levels of stress or time constraint. Matches include the Gen. George Patton Combat Pistol Match in which teams first run 300 yards in all required equipment in less than two minutes before moving through three additional stages in which team members engage targets from 35, 30 and 25 yards. Each stage is timed and shooters fire 17 shots each, for a total of 51 rounds per shooter.

“The training we do here is more realistic, more applicable than anything you’ll receive in an annual training year,” Steffel explained about the experience shooters gain at the marksmanship matches. “Here you shoot a few hundred rounds, at different positions, at different speeds.”

At the pistol match, Steffel took first place, Staff Sgt. Tony Hancock, assigned to the 183rd RTI, took second, and Sgt. John Lora, assigned to the 189th Multi-Role Bridge Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, took third. Spc. Sean Steinway took the top spot as a novice. As teams, the Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center Team, comprised of Sgt. 1st Class Ross Lockard, Sgt. David Hennaman, 1st Sgt. Ronald Chipper, and Steinway, took first place; Sgt. John Miller, Spc. John Carroll, Spc. Logan McGinnis and Spc. Jake Moyer took second place representing Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 116th IBCT; and from the 229th Military Police Company, 329th Regional Support Group, Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Shaw, Sgt. Nicholas Hanrahan, Spc. Jonathan Pruitt, and Spc. Joseph Kidd placed third.

In addition to the awards given out to competitors highlighting their success in various matches, recipients of the Governor’s Twenty tabs were also announced.

“The Governor’s Twenty tab represents the top ten rifle and the top ten pistol shooters in the state,” explained Steffel, a two-time Governor’s Twenty tab recipient. “It can be awarded during the annual marksmanship competition and it’s open to anyone in the state.”

The tab is an official state award and, once given, a Soldier is authorized to wear it in the state indefinitely, regardless of how they place in the following years. This year, four new tabs were awarded at both the rifle and the pistol match, brining the total number of tabs awarded to 28.

For new shooters interested in participating in the marksmanship matches, visit the Virginia National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit’s Facebook Page for the latest updates. New and inexperienced shooters are welcomed and encouraged to participate in the matches.

“If you want to shoot well, it really does boil down to the basic fundamentals; breathing, trigger squeeze, sight picture, that’s all it is, just fine-tuned and applied simultaneously,” Steffel said. “The more rounds you put through your weapon, the more comfortable it becomes.”

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Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from units across the commonwealth compete at the 2015 TAG Rifle Match May 16, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va. The Soldiers competed in a variety of matches, testing their warrior and marksmanship skills and were scored as both individuals and as members of four-person teams. Soldiers who succeed at the state-level match will be invited to compete at the regional-level. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Photos: Virginia National Guard Soldiers compete in state-level rifle match – May 16, 2015

Photos: Virginia Natinal Guard Soldiers shoot for marksmanship honors – June 27, 2015