U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldier trains for Olympics
March 12, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 12, 2012) -- Staff Sgt. George Norton is a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. He is currently in training for the 2012 Olympics in London.
It is a quiet morning at the Pool Range Complex at Fort Benning. A dozen vehicles are pulled up in the parking spaces that line the front of the long building that houses the USAMU International and Paralympic Shooting Teams. The cavernous building could easily hold several Olympic size swimming pools placed side by side, and is sectioned off so that multiple sports can be practiced simultaneously.
Adjacent to the indoor range are the 50-meter Olympic outdoor firing points.
Along the right side of the indoor complex is the Olympic 50-meter small-bore training range with ten electronic targets and their corresponding firing points and monitors. Each target frame has four microphones mounted in the corners that detect the impact of each shot and send the results to the scoring computer. These results are so precise that each shot can be located to the tenth of a millimeter. A permanent record exists on a wide black rubber tape that rolls out of the bottom of the frame like Santa's Christmas list, automatically feeding out after each shot to provide fresh rubber in the exposed circular target opening.
The range lights come on as the breakers are flipped. Norton walks in and lays down his equipment -- shooting jacket, leathers, shooting glove, visor, shooting glasses and blinders. He also has batch-tested .22 caliber match ammunition from a lot that had proven in his rifle to be the most accurate from a machine rest.
Next it's off to the vault where his Olympic small-bore rifle is stored. The base rifle was $3,000, and it has been highly modified since. In a sport where the ten ring is the size of dime, absolute consistency shot to shot matters, and a single bad round can knock you out of competition. He does a visual examination, function check, and confirms the settings on the rifle before heading back to his firing point.
Norton boots up the electronic targets and begins his stretching routine. He then starts his visualization process, thinking of the perfect position, perfect hold, perfect sight picture, perfect squeeze, perfect break, perfect follow-through, and the perfect shot.
"Let's have a good day of training," he thinks to himself.
He began shooting as a high school JROTC student and "work harder" were the words of his coach. There were no excuses during his training and he smiled, because he now says the same words to the junior shooters he coaches.
He dons the shooting leathers and then moves into a comfortable, natural, standing, shooting position. Most people would not consider the rock-steady position necessary for high scores anything but an uncomfortable set of contortions, but Norton is used to it. For him the years have made it comfortable. Comfortable is relaxed, relaxed is smooth, and smooth is accurate.
He guides the butt stock of the rifle into the shoulder pocket formed by the shooting jacket. He extends the non-firing hand and creates a platform under the forend palm rest.
Next, drag the chin down the cheek piece into a solid stock-weld, keeping the head upright. Acquire a perfect sight picture on the Olympic iron sight. Exhale and place finger to a trigger that will break at two and a half ounces. Yes, that's correct -- two and a half ounces, not two and a half pounds. He takes a dozen practice shots without a round in the chamber, visualizing and calling each.
Now we are ready to shoot some tens. For Norton's training in standing, he will execute forty shots in 105 minutes. This one hour and fifteen minutes can only be described as a grueling combination of absolute focus and the utter monotony of repetition. He checks the monitor between each shot and analyzes the result.
That shot was at the seven o'clock position in the nine ring. Why? Is my position settling? Sight picture? Trigger squeeze? Or just a bad round? All of these thoughts are analyzed in the fraction of a second before Norton adjusts and begins to execute the next shot.
The shot count begins to climb. His body starts to ache around the forty-five minute mark.
RELAX, he reminds himself. That slightest movement in sights is the difference between a 10 and a 9. Take a break on the line, relax your legs and arms, deep breathing, and refocus. Now back to work.
Another shooter takes up position a few firing points away. Norton doesn't notice. The room is cool but he feels the beads of sweat at his brow and under his shooting jacket. Ten rounds to go, finish strong. Now the very last shot. Make it a 10 on the monitor for a personal best in the standing position. It is a 10.3 and a great way to finish his forty shot string.
He smiles. His total score was 395 out of 400. A good start to a Soldier's day. Later, his coach would analyze the digital record and physical tape for the forty shots of training and they would discuss the results. It would be added to the archive of his years of shooting that had already been mined for insights.
There is a training meeting at the USAMU headquarters this afternoon to discuss division of labor for upcoming deployments and marksmanship courses, so he will have to hurry if he is going to get in a workout and a bite to eat.
The training meeting covered a lot of ground. How a unit with only seventy five Soldiers could complete so many missions while showcasing the U.S. Army in National and International competition always amazed him. There was give and take between the sections, fitting the puzzle pieces together.
Back at the International Rifle Team offices he sat down with his coach. They covered his training from the morning, the upcoming competition season, and ways to mitigate the impact of his upcoming heavy travel schedule leading up to the Olympic Trials.
After the meeting he sat down at the computer and arranged upcoming travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., cleared his In Box, and used the Defense Travel System software to file his expenses for previous trips. When he locked the doors to the air rifle range, after his two hours of coaching high-school junior shooters, it was the end of a long day.
The sun was low in the sky when he turned into his driveway, and he smiled and thought, "Army Strong. Another great day to be a Soldier."