Service Rifle portion of the 2009 Army Rifle and Pistol Championships.
West Point Cadet Trevor Graves shoots from the kneeling position Tuesday during the Service Rifle competition of the 2009 Army Rifle and Pistol Championships.

"At the sound of the horn you have 90 seconds" - a familiar preamble to competitors Tuesday at McAndrews Range during the Service Rifle portion of the 2009 Army Rifle and Pistol Championships.

At the sounding of the horn, West Point Cadet Trevor Graves, in full load-bearing equipment and rifle in hand, and LTC William Palmer hustle 100 yards to the next firing point. Graves engages his target while Palmer observes, scores the hits, and then it's off to the next firing point.

Graves and Palmer are just two of the competitors vying for the coveted Excellence-in-Competition Marksmanship Badge during the seven-day championships.

Although he was not completely satisfied with his shooting on Tuesday, Graves said he was glad to have the opportunity.

"Today was not my best day," he said. "But, anytime you can put rounds downrange for free you have to be appreciative. There are five of us here and so far the team is No. 1 and we hope to keep it that way."

Graves, a competitor from last year, said he did much better last year but has learned a lot from the U.S. Army Marksmanship instructors.

"I came here last year, but I have learned a whole lot this time," he said. "They are very knowledgeable and have had a lot of good things to say. They know a lot of tricks of the trade ... like the MOA (Minute of Angle) and how the front sight post is. I didn't know that, and now I do."

Graves' spotter and grader, Palmer, has also been here before and has been involved with high-powered shooting for 18 years with the National Guard.

"This is my fourth All-Army, and I think that says it all - it's All-Army," Palmer said.

With three All-Army competitions under his belt, Palmer said, it hasn't become routine.

"They changed the courses of fire this year," he said. "And, while the fundamentals of shooting never change, this is something new and different. They have changed the ranges and what you are shooting at various stages and a brand new target which is very difficult."

His assessment of the competition - "There is some heavy dingers in there," he said. "Dinger, that is the shooter word for someone who can really get the rounds downrange. But, there is a good mix across the board, from those who are having their first experience with it to those who have been doing it a while."

In his role as a grader and spotter, Palmer made sure Graves shot the correct number of rounds at each yard line within the time limit and recorded the score.

"The fact is that it is a competition, you're not supposed to be coaching them and you can't help direct him while he is shooting," he said. "But, after he finishes shooting I always try, as part of the learning process, to say 'OK, here is what you are doing wrong, what did you have on your sights, what did you do when you broke this, did you check and see how much time you had left on this rapid fire so you could have spaced some things out maybe,' so that everybody learns, because if you're not learning you are wasting time down here.'"

Although Palmer is a veteran of the event, he said learning something new is a part of the process every time.

"I learn something every time I shoot," he said. "I shoot probably once a week back home, and again, I am chasing my Distinguished Marksmanship Badge and am about halfway there. I have been working on it quite a while, but I have finally gotten high enough where I can devote a little more time to it, and the family is understanding enough that they are letting me out to do some more fun things."

Following the competition, Graves will return to West Point, where a physics test awaits him and Palmer will return to Washington state as a member of the Washington National Guard.

The 2009 Army Rifle and Pistol Championships conclude Saturday.

Page last updated Mon March 2nd, 2009 at 17:35