WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 27, 2016) -- With the Olympics coming up in August in Brazil, Lt. Col. Bret Tecklenburg said he expects the Army to excel in the shooting events.

Three Soldiers have already made the U.S. Olympic team and Tecklenburg said more are likely to follow. "We expect to earn at least two medals in Rio," he said.

The Army typically fields about a third of the shooters on the U.S. Olympic team, said Tecklenburg, who is the commander of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, or USAMU, at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The Army's contribution to the Olympics is especially important, he added, because U.S. shooters bring in more Olympic gold medals than any other sport except for track and field and swimming -- and that's mainly because those two sports have more events.

Since 1956, when USAMU was stood up, the Army has earned 25 of the 48 Olympic medals the U.S. won for shooting, he noted.

CONTRIBUTION TO READINESS

Tecklenburg said USAMU Soldiers are the subject-matter experts for all marksmanship-related issues in the Army and the best qualified to teach marksmanship to other Soldiers.

Besides competing in the Olympics and other national and international shooting events, USAMU shooter-instructors train NCOs to teach marksmanship. That's an incredible responsibility, he said, since a major part of Army readiness involves marksmanship effectiveness in combat.

Soldiers at USAMU have "won competitions nationally and internationally and expertise and lessons learned have been incorporated into marksmanship training for all Soldiers to give them the best training possible," he said.

"NCOs are the backbone of the Army, and the Marksmanship Master Trainer Course is equipping our NCOs as expert marksmanship trainers," he said. "MMTC -- and the tools and resources that we are creating -- support MMTC graduates and are improving Army readiness for decades to come."

MMTC is the course created by USAMU at Fort Benning that NCOs how to train Soldiers in marksmanship.

Soldiers attending various courses at Fort Benning also get a block of training by MMTC cadre, he added. Soldiers attending the Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course, Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course, Maneuver Captains Career Course, and Maneuver Pre-Command Course for commanders and CSMs are given briefs and range time with firearms.

MAKING THE CUT

USAMU has a rigorous selection process for its shooters, Tecklenburg said.

Although some are recruited from within the Army or Marine Corps, most are recruited as civilians, he explained. Those civilians typically started shooting between the ages of 8 and 12 and by 17 or 18 they're highly competitive at the junior level. "That's when we hire them."

After they're in the Army, it's generally about four to five years of additional training until "they're competing at the level we expect them to," he said.

"In that time we conduct competitor reviews to ensure we've hired and retained the right folks," he added.

COMPETITIVE EVENTS

There are several types of Olympic shooting events Soldiers try to qualify for in the Olympics, Tecklenburg said:

- Small bore rifle and pistol

- Trap, skeet and double trap (shotgun)

- Air rifle and pistol

UPCOMING OLYMPIANS?

Staff Sgt. George Norton won the men's 3-position event at the Smallbore Olympic Trials, April 1-8 at Fort Benning, but the USA did not have a spot secured yet for smallbore. However, if Norton wins one of the two air rifle Olympic seats in June at the Air Rifle event, he can also shoot in men's 3-position smallbore rifle event at the Olympics.

USAMU's Sgt. 1st Class Glen Eller has already earned a 2016 Olympic Team nomination in double trap through USA Shooting's Olympic points system as a result of his high finishes in international shooting sport events in the year prior to the Games that include his sixth-place finish at the World Championships and backed by his gold-medal performance at World Cup Gabala in 2015.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail of USAMU earned a spot on the Olympic team in Men's 50m Rifle Prone in the same manner as Eller. He won three gold medals in international shooting sport events in 2015.

Staff Sgt. Keith Sanderson of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team as a rapid-fire pistol shooter.

The next pre-Olympic event is the final Shotgun Olympic Trials in Tillar, Arkansas, May 16-25. The first was Oct. 16, 2015, in Tucson, Arizona.

Three USAMU Soldiers will compete in double trap for the final Olympic seat after placed first through third in the 2015 Shotgun Fall Selection Match Oct. 16, 2015, in Tucson, Arizona. Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Richmond, USAMU, won gold in the October event, and his two teammates, Sgt. Derek Haldeman and Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Holguin, won silver and bronze, respectively. Spc. Hayden Stewart, who tied for 1st in the skeet event in the Fall Selection Match, and Spc. Staffen will also compete for the one remaining skeet Olympic seat.

Sgt. 1st Class James Henderson, Norton, Staff Sgt. Greg Markowski, and Spc. Daniel Lowe of USAMU are headed to the 2016 USA Shooting Air Olympic Trials June 3-6 at Camp Perry, Ohio, in the hopes of securing the final air pistol seat and two air rifle seats on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team.

Eller already earned a 2016 Olympic Team nomination in September through USA Shooting's Olympic points system as a result of his sixth-place finish at the World Championships and backed by his gold-medal performance at World Cup Gabala in 2015.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail of USAMU earned a spot on the Olympic team in Men's 50m Rifle Prone.

Staff Sgt. Keith Sanderson of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team as a rapid-fire pistol shooter.

(Editor's note: Brenda Rolin, public affairs chief, USAMU, contributed to this article.)