Virginia Guard Soldiers compete for top honors in state rifle match

Virginia Guard Soldiers from units across the commonwealth compete June 23 in The Adjutant General’s Rifle Match at Fort Pickett. The match was held June 22-24, with the shooters zeroing and qualifying on their weapons the first day and competing on the second and third days. An awards ceremony was held June 24 for the individual and team winners. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Shooters from Virginia National Guard units from around the commonwealth competed June 22-24 at Fort Pickett for a chance to become one of the Virginia Guard’s top shooters. The Soldiers were at Fort Pickett for the Adjutant General’s Rifle Match, the state competition that determines who will be named the best shooters in the commonwealth and earn a spot in the regional competition.

The 31 Soldiers who participated in the event spent the first day of the competition zeroing and qualifying their rifles. Four of the Soldiers qualified as expert marksmen, while the majority qualified as sharpshooters. The following two days of the event were spent competing in a variety of different matches, all designed to test the marksmanship skills of the participants and strengthen the Soldier’s proficiency and familiarity with their weapons.

“There’s 10-12 new shooters who have never done this before so it gets them some experience on how the competition works,” said Sgt. 1st Class Roger Fracker, assistant state marksmanship coordinator. “Plus, any time shooters get out here and get to shoot it improves their skill level, plus they’re around other shooters who have been doing it for a while and they can learn from them also.”

Awards for the rifle match were given out to the top overall teams, as well as to the three top scoring individuals in each of rifle matches, as well as to the top overall shooter.

Sgt. Eljay Williams, from Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, earned the top overall score.

“It’s pretty much free practice and it gets you ready for deployments,” Williams said. “I’m just doing this to test myself, to see where I’m at right now and to see what I need to improve on.”

Spc. Steven Fletcher, from the 29th Infantry Division, placed second overall and Sgt. 1st Class David Hunt, from the 266th Military Police Company, placed third overall.

The first place team award went to “Team Awesome” comprised of Staff Sgt. Matt Stemmler from 1st Battalion, 183rd Regional Training Institute, Sgt. Michael Wells from the Headquarters Support Company, 29th Infantry Division, Sgt. Tony Hancock and Spc. Joshua Stemmler, both from Company D, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Division, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Among the matches conducted during the competition was Match 306, the precision combat rifle match that tested the shooters skills over three separate stages, each at a different distance from the target and in a different shooting position. During stage one, shooters had two minutes to fire 10 rounds at a distance of 100 yards in the standing position. Stage two required shooters to fire 10 rounds in 50 seconds from 200 yards and go from the alert position, a standing position with the butt of the rifle in the shoulder and the muzzle pointing to the ground at an angle of 45 degrees, to the sitting position. At the final stage of Match 306, stage three, the Soldiers fired 10 rounds in 60 seconds from 300 yards in the prone position.

Hunt earned the first place spot for Match 306, with Matt Stemmler coming in second, and Williams placing third.

“Even for the people who haven’t fired that well, it’s good practice, “ said Sgt. 1st Class Jeffery Chaney, range safety non-commissioned officer in charge. “ Once a year you take your unit out and you do your weapons qualification and how many other times do you get a chance to put rounds down range? Especially at 100, 200, and 300 yards and in different firing positions.

“Overall participation has almost tripled in both pistol and rifle matches at the state level within the last year,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Jones, assistant state marksmanship coordinator.

Fracker and Jones would like to see the marksmanship events continue to grow to increase the level of competition, but also to allow for all Soldiers, regardless of marksmanship proficiency to improve their shooting skills.

“We have hopes and dreams to increase participation, interest and knowledge of the program with hopes of an official Marksmanship Training Unit being created,” said Jones. Jones also aims to develop a Unit Marksmanship Coordinator Course to train Soldiers how to “safely run ranges, promote training interest [and] raise standards of proficiency” and also “hold basic pistol and rifle clinics increasing Soldiers familiarity with their assigned weapons.”

Virginia Guard Soldiers interested in competing in a Virginia marksmanship competition should look for letters of instruction posted in their local armories and for announcements on the Virginia National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit Facebook page.

In August, the top six shooters from the rifle match will travel to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., along with the top six shooters from the pistol match held earlier this year, in order to compete in the Regional Marksmanship Sustainment Matches.

“Any time you get free bullets and can put rounds down range, that’s fun,” Chaney said.

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