29th ID Soldiers face off in first-ever marksmansip competition

Soldiers from the 29th ID hone in on their marksmanship skills at the first-ever Marksmanship Competition. (Photo by Sgt. Stephanie Cassinos, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

FORT A.P. HILL, Va. — Eighteen Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division participated in the unit’s first-ever marksmanship competition June 19 at Fort AP Hill, Va.

The Soldiers shot at distances up to 500 yards, at various stances, in 90 degree weather to compete for a trophy, and the chance to represent the division as the first winner of the 29th Infantry Division’s inaugural Marksmanship Competition.

This effort, made by the 29th’s battalion master gunner Sgt. Michael Wells, was an idea he had to inspire Soldiers to advance their skills in marksmanship and help them have fun while they’re learning.

“It’s a valuable training lesson, because they’re shooting at a distance they’re not used to, shooting further than they’re used to, and in the end they’re learning,” Wells said.

The competition also served a greater purpose to help increase awareness in the marksmanship arena, said Wells.

“We wanted to get people excited about being on the range. To add a level of competitiveness that you don’t normally find in the unit.”

The Soldiers shot at distances up to 500 yards, at various stances, in 90 degree weather to compete for a trophy, and the chance to represent the Division as the first winner of the 29th Infantry Division’s inaugural Marksmanship Competition. (Photo by Sgt. Stephanie Cassinos, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)While the Soldiers employed the fundamentals of marksmanship that they’ve been practicing in the Army for years, this competition offered a chance to take it to the next level, and the environment was quite different from a regular qualification range.

“We hold these Soldiers to a very high standard,” explained Wells. “We expect them to check themselves and check each other.”

Soldiers were allowed to shoot on the competition range without the usual kevlar helmet and load-bearing vest, wearing only a soft-cap. This offered not only an opportunity for the most comfortable shooting position, but also to build trust and confidence in their skills.

“It’s definitely outside the box for a lot of these Soldiers,” said Spc. Adam Luthie, an infantry Soldier by trade, and Wells’ go-to guy for technical support, assistance with weapons systems and monitoring safety issues.

“It builds team cohesion,” he added. “Morale stayed up, it never got questioned. When you bring people together like this — the best way I can describe it, it’s like going to the gym. If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to keep doing it.”

Wells suspects that next year the competition will attract a larger crowd — mainly by word of mouth, but in part because of the buzz and excitement that surrounds its mystery winner.

“There weren’t even names on the targets,” said a competitor — one of many, no doubt, who is eager to find out who placed in the competition.

Aside from the nameless targets, Wells explained that the Soldiers had no real way to gauge how they performed, aside from their own instinct.

“There’s a level of unknown, because if you go to a pop-up qualification range, you pretty much know how you did because you see your targets fall down. Here, no one had any idea if they were doing good or doing bad. The only feedback they got was from themselves, whether that shot group felt good, whether it didn’t feel good, whether they had sweat in their eyes, whether they were blinking,” explained Wells, who declined to comment further on the winner, except to say that the competition was steep.

In fact, out of 500 possible points, only 12 separated first from third place.

“Everyone was firing really well. It literally came down to the last set of targets to determine the winner,” said Wells. “Everyone was excited to do as well as they could, to be the best of everyone, to outperform the guy next to them.”