NATICK, Mass. -- Two Soldiers from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center competed in the New Hampshire Army National Guard's 2016 Excellence in Competition Match for service rifle and service pistol, earning a second-place finish and an honorary Governor's Twenty Tab.

Staff Sergeants Justin Coletti and Anthony Sandoval, operations NCOs for NSRDEC's Headquarters Research and Development Detachment, received a Memorandum for Record and plaque from the NHARNG, distinguishing them as one of the top 20 teams during the Aug. 12-14 event at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

"This memorandum serves to recognize this accomplishment and inform their command of their exceptional marksmanship abilities," said Maj. Brooks Hayward, NHARNG's Sustainment Training Branch Chief. "Staff Sergeant Coletti and Staff Sergeant Sandoval's participation in the match increased the level of competition and added a sense of camaraderie with our active-duty brethren."

The chance to compete arose after the NCOs learned that their unit's Table of Distribution and Allowances, which prescribes the HRDD's mission, organizational structure, personnel and equipment requirements, does not authorize weapons to be issued to its staff. NSRDEC's science and technology mission made it difficult for them to train.

That's when Coletti and Sandoval began seeking opportunities to hone their marksmanship skills outside of Natick's gates.

"Marksmanship is a perishable skill," said Coletti, an Infantryman and sniper with nine years of active-duty service and three overseas deployments under his belt. "So I started Googling competitions in the area we could compete in.

"In order to advise scientists on Soldier-focused research and lead young Soldier research volunteers, we need to stay relevant."

"Human Research Volunteer Soldiers come here directly from their (Military Occupational Specialty) training, where many of them had their first experience firing a service weapon," Sandoval said. "So it's important for us as NCOs to maintain our fundamental skills and prepare the Soldiers for when they are sent to combatant commands."

It was this mindset that sparked the NCOs' pursuit of more Soldier-skills training, which they could, in turn, reinforce with the young Soldiers from the HRV program that they are in charge of and offer more insight during research studies across the organization.

"Our primary role here is the advancement of the Soldier through innovation and collaboration," said 1st Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez Jr., HRDD's first sergeant. "The NCOs here take that to heart and seek to assist the employees of the NSRDEC in that endeavor. To provide current and relevant feedback, my NCOs understand they must maintain a high state of readiness."

The EIC rifle and pistol competitions were graded as individual events, which rated participants in areas such as shooting sequence, known and unknown distances, and different firing positions with both the M9 service pistol and the M16-A2 service rifle using only the iron sites.

"The events were medium stress, focused on accuracy," said Sandoval, a cavalry scout who has served eight years on active duty and deployed once to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Their aggregate scores contributed to a team score with two New Hampshire National Guardsmen. The combined team competed in three team events, placing second overall for the match. Individually, the NCOs placed within the top 20 competitors, earning the recognition of being part of the top 20 shooters in the State of New Hampshire for 2016.

"Firing at silhouettes instead of bull's-eye-type targets trains your brain to shoot a person, which is something that all Soldiers need to practice for combat situations," said Sandoval.

For their outstanding performance, both NCOs were invited to compete in the regional individual and team EIC matches at Camp Ethan Allen, in Jericho, Vermont, later this year.

"Our Soldiers took the initiative to shape a training event into something much larger," said Capt. Enrique Curiel, HRDD commander. "Staff Sergeant Coletti and Staff Sergeant Sandoval's achievements are great examples of our unit's leadership model: develop, empower and trust.

"Their achievement is a perfect example of their individual and collective talents and defines the quality of Soldiers that NSRDEC acquires. I am very proud of the countless achievements from our exceptional Soldiers and workforce."

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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.