By Michelle Lunato, Public Affairs Chief, Army Marksmanship Unit
FROSTPROOF, Fla. - Action shooting is not something Soldiers learn in Army Basic Training or in military occupational specialty training. However, being a member of the Army Marksmanship Unit's Action Shooting Team is anything but typical.
Action shooting is well-known in the competitive shooting sports field where athletes attempt to hit a timed series of strategically placed targets in a course framed by obstacles. Competitors must navigate around makeshift walls, windows or barrels to position themselves to accurately shoot a target. A seemingly endless arrangement of stages on each course tests the athletes' ability to react quickly. The targets also add to match difficulty as some offer higher point values for a more center-aligned shot while others require a precise hit to "unlock" subsequent targets.
Meanwhile, the clock continues to click. Overall, the best combination of speed and accuracy on a course determines the winners.
Winning an action shooting match requires training, and a lot of it, said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Buss, Action Shooting Team Chief, Army Marksmanship Unit. To prepare for competitions, Soldiers at the AMU complete regular training in areas ranging from physical fitness to weapons' safety.
To gain this type of experience, five Soldiers from AMU's Action Shooting Team competed in the Florida Open, Feb.16-18. The pistol competition offered AMU Soldiers a great way to kick off their 2017 competition season, said Staff Sgt. Kyle McMaster, Action Shooting Team.
"It is a good way to start, and see what we need to work on so we can go and crush the other competitions later," McMaster said.
Each piece of training feeds into preparation, but only an actual competition can give the Soldiers the needed experience to win, said Staff Sgt. Brad Balsley, Action Shooting Team. The Florida Open was not just a simple starter match though, he said.
"It's difficult. If you can do well in this match, you should be prepared to shoot other matches," added Balsley.
The variety offered in the 11 unique stages of the match, pushed the Soldiers to the best of their abilities, said Balsley, who earned the fastest times on two stages by nearly two seconds.
"They have stages that are not normally built," Balsley said. "For example, everything on a stage may flow, except for one target or one position. You have to do something awkward to get to that target and break up your rhythm. The stages are also difficult because there is a lot of distance shooting and partially covered targets. So it's challenging and makes you work harder."
The complexity of the Florida Open did not deter athletes from the competition. The three-day match included 411 marksmen shooting over 300 rounds in three divisions: Open, Limited and Production. AMU Soldiers competed side-by-side with highly skilled civilian marksmen. Competing against well-known civilian marksmen in the sport is the best way to train, the AMU Soldiers said.
"When you are at this level, it comes down to tenths of second, and we have to weigh the risks versus the rewards," said Buss as he explained how the Soldiers strategically plan their route through each stage, which sometimes means skipping a lower value target to save time.
The high level of skill and critical planning needed to claim the winning titles against so many competitors is what makes the sport fun, said Bobby McGee, a civilian action shooting athlete who is a former military intelligence sergeant. "I like the camaraderie and competitiveness." However, as a former noncommissioned officer, McGee said he knows when to get serious and focus on the mission. "We are all friends until the buzzer goes off. Then, it's all work."
The Army Marksmanship Unit's Soldiers worked hard too and earned high rankings in all three divisions of their first competition of the 2017 season: Pvt. 1st Class Jacob Hetherington, 3rd place in Production; Staff Sgt. John Browning; 2nd place in Limited; Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Horner 3rd place in Limited; Staff Sgt. Brad Balsley 2nd place in Open, and Staff Sgt. Joel Turner 14th place in Open with a minor gun against all major guns.
Vying for high rankings at competitions like the Florida Open gives the Soldiers vital experience and prepares them for the rest of the season. However, they also know that all their competitions are another opportunity to display the ability and professionalism of today's Army Soldier, said Balsley. "When we are out on the range with U.S. Army on our backs, we represent a very big organization."
The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) wins national and international shooting competitions, supports Army marketing engagements, and advances small arms lethality to demonstrate Army marksmanship capability, connect America to its Army and enhance marksmanship effectiveness in combat. USAMU is part of the U.S. Army Marketing Engagement Brigade and Army Marketing and Research Group.