SANDSTON, Va. – Virginia National Guard Soldiers returned from the Marksmanship Advisory Council Region II marksmanship match as champions after competing on both pistol and rifle Aug. 27-30, 2015, at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. Eight Soldiers, broken into two teams, competed in a field of 63 Soldiers and Airmen from five states in a variety of different matches, all designed to test the skills of the marksmen from different distances, positions and levels of stress.
“Words don’t even explain how proud I am of these Soldiers and how far they’ve come in such little time,” Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Jones, state marksmanship coordinator and marksmanship team member said.
Sgt. Jeremy Steffel, Sgt. Steven Fletcher, Sgt. John Miller and Sgt. Nathan Walter took home the 1st place trophy as a team. Additionally, Steffel, of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, took home the 1st place trophy for Combined Arms Aggregate, Rifle Aggregate and Pistol Aggregate while Fletcher, of Company A, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th IBCT, took the 3rd place spot in Combined Arms Aggregate, Rifle Aggregate and Pistol Aggregate.
In addition to the successes of Steffel and Fletcher, Miller, of Company B, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT, took home the 1st place Novice Rifle trophy, while Walter, of the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, took home 1st place Novice Pistol trophy.
On the other team, comprised of Sgt. John Lora, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Stemmler, Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Jones and Staff Sgt. Tony Hancock, Hancock, of 3rd Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, took home 2nd place in the Combined Arms Aggregate and the Rifle Aggregate as well as 5th place in the Pistol Aggregate, while Jones, also of 3-183rd RTI, took the 4th place spot in Combined Arms Aggregate and Pistol Aggregate and the 5th place spot in Rifle Aggregate.
“The success of the marksmanship program means that I’ve invested my time wisely in Soldiers and Airmen that want nothing but to be the best,” Jones said. “We’ve all made numerous sacrifices for this program and our successes make it worth it, but nobody sacrifices more than our families and this program would not be what it is today without their understanding and support.”
Among the most significant of achievements by the Virginia National Guard’s Marksmanship Team is that of Steffel, who earned his Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge at this year’s regional match. Steffel was previously awarded the Distinguished Rifleman Badge and is believed to be only the second Virginia National Guard Soldier to become a double distinguished shooter.
Distinguished Badges are the highest individual awards authorized by the U.S. Government for excellence in marksmanship competition. They are awarded by the Civilian Marksmanship Program and by the respective military services in accordance with the different service regulations.
“Two and a half years ago, I had no idea the Distinguished program existed,” Steffel said. He explained that he got a call from his unit, who asked if he wanted to shoot at the state-level marksmanship match. He agreed to go and placed 7th overall in that match. “From that point I was hooked,” Steffel said.
He explained that he started studying other shooters in the National Guard and set a personal goal to reach their level of marksmanship excellence. After two years competing, he has earned the Double Distinguished title and now shoots on the All-Guard International Combat Team. The All Guard teams are by invitation only to shooters who perform exceptionally at the regional and national levels. Top competitors there are invited to try out for the team and, if successful, represent the National Guard at various marksmanship matches in the United States and abroad. In addition to Steffel, Fletcher is also an All-Guard Marksmanship Team member and three additional Virginia National Guard shooters – Jones, Hancock and Lora, of the 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command – were all invited to try out for All-Guard Service Rifle Team, Service Pistol Team and Combat Team.
“My advice for those who want to improve their own marksmanship skills echoes the words of another one of my shooting role models, World Champion Shooter Jerry Miculek, ‘Be the first one on the range and the last one to leave,’” Steffel said. “It’s all about putting the time in to practice the basics. Marksmanship excellence is simply marksmanship basics applied simultaneously and consistently.”
Steffel’s success is part of the growth and increased success the Virginia National Guard’s Marksmanship Program has experienced over the past several years. Since management of the program was taken over by cadre and staff of 3rd Battalion, 183rd RTI, the program has increased the size of its annual pistol and rifle matches several times over while also building marksmanship teams that have shown repeated and exceptional success against their peers at the regional and national level matches.
For now, members of the Virginia National Guard Marksmanship Team will prepare for next year’s national-level match, in April, as well as the state-level matches, to be held May 20-22, 2016 for the rifle competition and June 24-26, 2016 for the pistol match.
For more information on the program, visit the Virginia National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit Facebook page.