By Paula J. RandallJuly 25, 2008
FORT BENNING, Ga., July 24, 2008 - Six soldiers of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit are living out their wildest dreams.
Maj. Michael E. Anti, Sgt. 1st Class Jason A. Parker, Sgt. 1st Class Daryl L. Szarenski, Spc. Walton Glenn Eller III, Spc. Jeffrey G. Holguin and Pfc. Vincent C. Hancock made the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team and will represent the United States at the Olympics Games in Beijing in August.
"The first time I watched the Olympics on TV, I knew I wanted to be an Olympian," said Anti, who won a Silver Medal in the 2004 Olympics. "I have been to three Olympics, all of which have been an amazing experience."
Anti, 43, who joined the Army in January 1988, is attached to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit through the World Class Athlete Program. The infantry officer, from Winterville, N.C., outshot 48 competitors to make the Olympic Team in prone rifle. Competitors in prone rifle lie on their stomachs and shoot .22-caliber rifles at targets 50 meters away. The bull's eye is 10.4 millimeters wide -- much smaller than a dime.
Parker, 34, is a 2008, 2004 and 2000 air rifle Olympian. This year, he defeated 34 competitors to make the Olympic Team in men's air rifle, in which competitors shoot lead pellets from .177-caliber guns at targets 10 meters away. The bull's eye is a half millimeter wide, the size of the period at the end of this sentence. He finished in eighth place at the 2004 Games and in fifth place in 2000, missing an Olympic medal by seven tenths of a point.
"It has been a goal of mine since I was a kid to be an Olympic gold medalist," Parker said. "The Army and the Army Marksmanship Unit have provided me with everything I've needed to be successful -- the best coaches, gunsmiths and equipment -- but it also has taken a lot of hard work and dedication."
Parker, who joined the Army in January 1997, made the Olympic Team in men's three-position rifle, in which competitors shoot the same rifles at the same targets as in prone rifle, except they shoot in three positions: standing, kneeling and prone. The Omaha, Neb., native said he feels confident about his chances for a medal in Beijing.
"I have more experience and better equipment this time around," Parker explained. "My coaches have prepared me for a successful Olympic Games, and the AMU gunsmiths have found the best possible rifle and ammunition for me to use."
Holguin, 29, from Yorba Linda, Calif., joined the Army in September 2006 along with his friend Eller. Holguin and Eller defeated 12 competitors to get on the Olympic double trap team.
In double trap, competitors fire their shotguns at two clay targets thrown simultaneously from an underground bunker at speeds up to 50 mph; competitors get one shot per target.
"The hardest part of this Olympic experience is waiting for the day to get here," Holguin said. "I wanted to compete at the highest level of clay target shooting; to do that, I had to commit myself to the sport. The U.S. Army and the USAMU have given me the necessary resources to compete and win at the level required to win an Olympic medal."
A Katy, Texas, native, Eller, 26, will be competing in his third Olympics in double trap. He finished in 17th place in 2004 and in 12th place in 2000. He joined the Army in September 2006.
"Growing up, I had always wanted to be an Olympian," Eller said. "The Olympics were greater in every aspect than I had anticipated, both in highs and lows. The emotions involved are so great because of the years of training that go into that one day of competition.
"I joined the Army to better myself as a person and as a soldier," Eller continued. "It is my way to serve the country in a time of war and to continue my Olympic career."
Hancock, of Eatonton, Ga., joined the Army Reserve in June 2006. As a junior in high school, he went through basic training and then returned to school to finish his senior year. After he graduated, Hancock went to his advanced individual training and then joined the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.
The 19-year-old triumphed over 65 competitors to make the skeet Olympic Team. In skeet, competitors fire their shotguns at clay targets thrown from high and low houses at 55 mph.
"I wanted to be an Olympian because it is the pinnacle of all competition in sports," Hancock said. "The Army and the Army Marksmanship Unit have given me the opportunity to do what I love and the means to do it. They have made me more determined to achieve my goal of a gold medal.
"I joined to be part of a team of soldiers helping to bring our country medals and wins," Hancock continued. "The shotgun team has the best marksmen in the world, and being a part of that team helped me to become the best I can be."
Szarenski, 40, also competed in the 2004 and 2000 Olympics. He finished in 13th place in air pistol and 15th place in free pistol in 2004, which was a great improvement over his 25th place finish in free pistol in 2000.
"The high point of my Olympic experience was just being able to shoot at the Olympics, and the low point was the disappointment of not getting a medal when I thought I shot a good performance," Szarenski said. "I felt that I had the ability to win the Olympics, but things had to go right; unfortunately they didn't."
The Saginaw, Mich., native joined the Army in October 1991. After three days and 200 shots of grueling competition at the Olympic trials last month, it came down to the last shot, but Szarenski prevailed to beat 25 competitors and make the Olympic Team. In free pistol, competitors shoot .22-caliber pistols from 50 meters away at bull's eye targets with a center about 50 millimeters in diameter.
"Staying focused on the competition and not being carried away with the hype of the Olympics will be the hardest part of the Games," Szarenski said, "but the training, mindset and events that I have won are what is going to help me in this Olympics. I have always loved shooting, and winning the Olympics is the pinnacle of the sport."
(Paula J. Randall works at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, Accessions Support Brigade.)