One year ago, when Staff Sgt. Kevin Wildman and Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Johns of the 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry, 194th Armored Brigade, competed in the International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., the pair returned to Fort Knox with a 12th place finish.

What a difference a year makes.

This year Wildman and Johns returned from Benning with a first place triumph in the Open Class competition and No. 2 ranking in the overall competition. A difference of 123 points separated the Fort Knox team from the No. 1 Marine Corps team from the Scout Sniper School at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

"The Marine Corps team that won it overall were probably two of the best marines I've ever worked with in my military career," said 1st Sgt. Steve Johnson, the Fort Knox team's coach. "They were very proficient and very professional in their level of communication."

Despite their victory, Wildman and Johns still had to contend with many of the same issues that hindered their performance last year. They still had to request tactical weapons from an outside source and set up as much training time as possible at the firing ranges. Then add to that the fact that Wildman is busy fulfilling his duties as Fort Knox Drill Sergeant of the Year, Johns is a brand new father, and Johnson was pushing a cycle of 240 trainees. Finding time to practice was tough.

However, Fort Campbell supplied the team with the weapons they needed and Fort Knox Range Control worked to provide a training schedule for the men. Range Control even helped construct unique targets for the men to practice on.

However, the team was a little surprised when its threesome arrived at the competition and were moved from the Service Class category to Open Class due to the caliber of weapon they had. It meant they were competing against Special Forces, Special Operations, and other big-league teams.

"We were just, 'we'll do what we can do.' And then after the first day we won an event-we won Movers (moving targets on the range), which is a big points event. Then it just started coming to light that we could possibly win this thing," said Johns.

"We placed second or third in every single event, and by day five or six we were in first place in the Open Class.

"It went well, they definitely made it more challenging physically. Last year they didn't give points for anything physical."

The Fort Knox team was thrilled with the outcome, especially since its shooters went head to head against 30 other teams in this year's 21-event competition, which included three foreign teams, two teams with SWAT, and one team from the FBI.

"I had an outstanding time. The level of competition seemed a little more advanced this year," said Wildman. "There (were) a lot more units represented, and there was a higher caliber than last year.

"We went down there with a lot better feeling -especially with the equipment that we were carrying. They took our comments from last year and they developed, what I feel, is a better competition. There are still some logistical problems on their end, but overall the competition itself was a lot more 'mission-focused' as opposed to a shooting competition as it was last year."

"I'm definitely not detracting from what anybody else accomplished down there," he added. "There are some world-class shooters that were in this competition, and it's just amazing to be in the presence of them, let alone cross-load information. Everybody does things slightly different. You walk out of there with a wealth of knowledge."

Wildman and Johns were also able to use their six years of camaraderie and teamwork-they served together in their last two units-to help them bring in many of the points, including an event titled the Dialogue Shoot, where the spotter has to direct the shooter where to aim specifically on a target. The spotter is allowed to see the overall target and instructed which individual aspects of the target need to be shot, then the spotter relays the specific location to the shooter.

"We've been working together so long, we have that communication already developed...we have that system already in place," explained Johns.

"That's one thing that showed very strong on our behalf-the communication between us," agreed Wildman. "It's definitely at a science now."

As a trophy for first place, Wildman and Johns each received an Ashbury Tactical .300 Win Mag rifle, as well as the satisfaction of proving that they had what it took to be world-class snipers.

"As much as we did down (at Fort Benning)... none of it would have been possible without so many other people assisting us," said Wildman. "Fort Campbell loaning us the equipment, 1st Sgt. Johnson running our logistics for us, the battalion, and the brigade, and post chains of command, all trying to give us assistance anywhere we needed it."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16