By Michelle Lunato
USAMU Public Affairs Chief
Summer is typically a time for relaxed days off with backyard cookouts and lounging by the pool. Soldiers of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit have faced the complete opposite. Their summer has been filled with long hours of travel, hard work, and determination resulting in championship titles, coveted awards and new marksmanship records.
Each shooting team has lived up to USAMU's "home of champions" moniker this summer, continuing their reign of domination by adding more triumphs to the unit's already long list of accomplishments.
As summer kicked off, Soldiers from the USAMU International Team turned up the heat by sweeping the Men's Prone Rifle podium at the USA Shooting National Championships at Fort Benning, Georgia, June 25 - July 2. Two-time Olympian, Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail from Darlington, Wisconsin, snatched the Gold with an impressive nine-point win. Spc. Patrick Sunderman from Farmington, Minnesota beat out fellow teammate, two-time Olympian Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft from Spokane, Washington, by one point to earn the Silver.
In the Men's Smallbore 3-Position, Staff Sgt. George Norton from Salinas, Kansas, won Silver while McPhail won Bronze with scores of 2342 and 2338 respectively that qualified them both for spots on the USA Shooting National Team.
At the same time, USAMU's Staff Sgt. Kevin Nguyen from Westminster, California, took the Gold in the Mixed 50m Rifle Prone SH1 Match in the World Shooting Para Sport Event, which was held in conjunction with the National Championships. Nguyen also won Silver in the Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH1 Match, as well as a spot on the National Paralympic Team.
A few weeks later, the International Team was in trophy winning form at the National Rifle Association's National Smallbore Rifle Championships in Bristol, Indiana, July 6 - 19.
In the Conventional Prone Aggregate, Sgt. 1st Class Hank Gray from Belgrade, Montana, came out on top of 85 other shooters with a 4799-419X, which edged out McPhail's impressive 4797-438X. Teammates Norton and Uptagrafft were not far behind with their own lofty scores of 4797-397X and 4796-399X, earning them third and fourth place finishes, respectively.
In the Conventional 3-Position Aggregate, Sunderman claimed the championship title over 70 other competitors with a 2391-167X while McPhail followed close in second with a 2390-168X. Norton earned third with a 2388-169X.
In the Metric 3-Position Aggregate, McPhail took first place with a 2317-105X, edging out 52 other competitors. Norton finished second with a 2316-89X while Sgt. Erin McNeil from Fort Wayne, Indiana, placed third with a 2299-93X. Sunderman placed fourth with a 2294-92X.
At the end of the 11-day competition, McPhail earned the prestigious Iron Man Trophy with a score of 9504-711X. Norton, who was the first Iron Man Trophy winner, followed closely behind in second with a 9501-655X, while Sunderman, who was the 2016 Iron Man Trophy winner, placed third with a 9478-640X. Trailing closely in fourth, was McNeil with a 9460-574X.
International Rifle's summer streak carried over internationally as well. In August, at the 2017 Bisley Meeting in England, Uptagrafft won the two main individual aggregates and tied the record score for the 4-Day Aggregate. A comment often heard at the results boards was, "Are the Americans going to let us win any of our own trophies?" The answer was a resounding "no." In all, AMU Soldiers brought home all eight British trophies. Action at the Bisley Meeting culminated with the squad of 10 American riflemen also winning the Roberts Team Match over the British team by 11 points with AMU shooters, Uptagrafft and Gray, firing the two highest scores for either team.
While the International Team was claiming trophies, the USAMU Shotgun Team was on the road at numerous competitions and training events to earn seats at the International Shooting Sports Federation's World Championships in Moscow, Russia, August 30 - September 11.
The road to Russia included a three-part Selection Match Series and over 500 targets in action that started back in the fall of 2016. Staff Sgt. Derek Haldeman from Sunbury, Ohio, secured his ticket to Russia in the USA Shooting National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado, July 6 - 17. Haldeman earned a spot on the U.S. World Championship Trap Team with a score of 565, which was two targets over Roe Reynolds and Sevin Layer. Haldeman and USAMU teammate, 2008 Double Trap Gold Medalist Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller from Katy, Texas, also had a great showing at the USA Shooting National Championship, claiming Gold for Haldeman and Bronze for Eller.
In addition, Sgt. Hayden Stewart from Columbia, Tennessee, and Spc. Christian Elliott from Greenwood, Indiana, earned seats on the U.S. World Championship Skeet Team in Colorado Springs. Stewart shot an impressive perfect score of 75 during the match finals while Elliott was close behind with a 72. In the Men's Open Final, Stewart claimed his seat and the Gold with a total of 493, three clays ahead of teammate Elliot who fired a 490. Meanwhile, Elliott earned the Gold in the Junior Nationals and Stewart earned a Silver in Men's Open.
Later, Elliott prepared himself even further for the upcoming World Championship by winning Silver at the ISSF Junior World Cup in Porpetto, Italy, with a 55, trailing the Gold by just two clays.
While the Shotgun and International Team Soldiers were traveling the globe, Action Shooting Team Soldiers were battling it out in the states. At the peak of the summer heat, Spc. Jacob Hetherington from Prescott, Arizona, claimed a key win in Grand Island, Nebraska, in August. With a score of 1929.8910, Hetherington earned the title of the U.S. Practical Shooting Association's title, Area 3 National Production Champion. His first place score in the quick-moving competition was 47.762 points over and 14.45 seconds faster than the second place competitor, showing that USAMU Soldiers were at the top of their game.
Hetherington wasn't the only Action Shooting Team Soldier on a streak though. Others were showcasing the USAMU expertise as well.
At the 3-Gun Nation Regional in Clinton, South Carolina, June 1 - 4, nine-time USPSA Tactical Optics Multi-Gun Champion, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Horner from Suffolk, Virginia, took first in the Practical Division while Staff Sgt. Joel Turner from Belton, South Carolina, took first in the Unlimited Division.
At the Western PA Championships, in Clairton, Pennsylvania, July 14 - 15, Staff Sgt. John Browing from Jackson, Georgia, placed first in the Limited Division while Hetherington placed first in the Production Division.
At the Peacemaker National Training Center's Precision Rifle Series Designated Marksman Rifle Challenge in Gerrardstown, West Virginia, July 28 - 31, Staff Sgt. Tyler Payne from Princeton, Minnesota, claimed the first place title.
At the Rocky Mountain 3-Gun Championships in Raton, New Mexico, August 10-13, Payne earned first place in the Heavy Scope Division while Turner also earned first place in the Open Division.
USAMU's Service Pistol Team extended USAMU's summer success to their side of the range and proved to be a powerful force at the Civilian Marksmanship Program's National Pistol Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, June 30 - July 2.
Starting off with the Service Pistol Excellence in Competition Match, USAMU Service Pistol Team Soldiers claimed the top three wins. Staff Sgt. Ryan Franks from Las Vegas, Nevada, defeated 278 other competitors with a 289-7X, while Staff Sgt. Greg Markowski, a native of Poland, was at his heels earning second with a 288-13X. Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Cleveland from Tacoma, Washington, finished a close third with a 287-10X.
Cleveland quickly took up first place in the .22 Excellence in Competition Match over 274 other competitors with a 291-9X with Markowski just one X behind him with a 291-8X, earning another second-place finish.
Taking top honors in the prestigious National Trophy Individual Match was Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Franks from Las Vegas, Nevada, with a score of 289-10X. In a tough battle for second place, Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson won by just one X over Markowski's third place score of 287-9X. A total of 311 competitive shooters competed in the historic match.
The esteemed President's Hundred Match championship title was snatched up by Sgt. 1st Class James Henderson from Pasadena, California, with a score of 392-16X, which was just one point and one X away from his own 2009 record-setting score of 393-17X. This was Henderson's 10th time winning the President's Hundred during his 32-year career in the Army and was the perfect finale before he retired later in the summer. Other Service Pistol Team Soldiers earned six of the remaining nine spots in the top 10 for the match with Markowski, Cleveland, and Staff Sgt. Franks coming in second, third and fourth respectively. Overall, 338 competitors vied for this prestigious honor.
As a team, the Service Pistol Team outshot nine other competitive teams to take the National Trophy Team Championship title with a score of 1112-26X. This coveted title has remained with the USAMU Service Pistol Team now for 11 consecutive years. Members of the winning team included Henderson, Cleveland, Markowski, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Kingery from Honolulu, Hawaii. The team coach was Sgt. 1st Class Franks.
While at Camp Perry, Service Pistol Team Soldiers reigned supreme in all possible key matches during the 2017 NRA Championships. As a team, USAMU Soldiers claimed the championship titles in both the four-man and two-man team categories for the Center Fire Match, .45 Caliber Match and the National Team Champion Match.
Individually, Henderson claimed top honors in the .22 Caliber Individual Match. Sgt. 1st Class Adam Sokolowski from Yeagertown, Pennsylvania earned first place in the .45 Caliber Individual Match as well as the title of Regular Service Champion.
For the ultimate match title as 2017 NRA Pistol Champion, two USAMU Soldiers shot their way to the top in a very tight race. Sokolowski claimed the Silver with a total score of 2636-124X while Markowski grabbed the Bronze with a 2633-130X. The champion, Jonathan Shue, was just two points and two Xs away with a 2638-126X.
While the other USAMU teams excelled, the Service Rifle Team found its own competitive spirit and broke a number of records.
At the inaugural CMP Cup Series at Camp Perry, Ohio, from June 24 - July 6, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Green from Covington, Louisiana took the overall title with a 2368-97X. In addition, 2016 Olympian Spc. Dan Lowe from Olympia, Washington, grabbed second with a 2355-89X. Six other Service Rifle Team Soldiers filled up the remaining eight top-ten spots from the total of 108 competitors.
Lowe, who moved over from the International Team, also earned first place in the 800 Aggregate Match with a 794-34X on day one of the competition while Green earned first on day two with a 797-42X.
Another key win at the Cup was USAMU's Team Craig beating out 16 other teams for the CMP Cup 4-Man Team Match with a score of 1954-63X, which was 20 points higher than the second place team.
At the NRA National High Power Rifle Championships at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, July 7 - 13, the Service Rifle Team Soldiers outperformed other marksmen, claiming 11 individual first place titles and one second place title. The national champion titles included the McCann Trophy, Venderberg Cup, Army Cup, Navy Cup, Cavalry Cup and Marine Corps Cup. For the National Match Rifle Champion title, Sgt. Ben Cleland from Sylvania, Ohio, took second place with a 1987-116X, which was just two points behind but over 23Xs above the first place score of 1989-93X. For the National Service Rifle Champion title, three USAMU Soldiers took the top three honors out of 125 other competitors. Those Soldiers were Sgt. 1st Class Shane Barnhart from Ashley, Ohio, Lowe, and Staff Sgt. Amanda Elsenboss from Woodbury, Connecticut.
As a team, two USAMU service rifle teams, Team Craig and Team Hess, won the top two spots in the historic Enlisted Men's Trophy Team Match, which dates back to 1911.
At the CMP National Rifle Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio from July 14 - 21, Service Rifle Team Soldiers claimed first place trophies in nine individual matches that included the revered Rattlesnake Trophy, Oliver Hazzard Perry Trophy and Pershing Trophy. Out of nine wins, the Soldiers broke six records, four by Green himself. In one of his record-breaking matches, Green shot a 499-30X that extinguished the old record of 497-21X that was set in 2000 by former USAMU Service Rifle Team Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Grant Singley.
As a team, the Service Rifle Team Soldiers claimed the championship titles in the Hearst Doubles Match, National Infantry Trophy Match and the National Trophy Rifle Team Match.
At the 56th Interservice Rifle Championships in Quantico, Virginia July 25 - August 2, the Service Rifle Team burned the Army name into the record books.
In the individual categories, USAMU Soldiers claimed eleven different trophies. Out of those eleven, two standing records were met in the Interservice Marine Corps Match (300-Yard/Rapid-Fire/Prone) and the 600-Yard Match (Open Division) by Spc. Lane Ichord from Modesto, California and Cleland, respectively. Also, out of those 11 wins, the Service Rifle Team Soldiers broke five other records. For the Interservice Individual Champion title, Green won with a 998-52X, which broke the 1994 record of 995-50X that was set by U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Don Heuman. Poetically, Heuman, who served as the USAMU Service Rifle coach from 2002 to 2012, presented Green with his award.
In the team categories, the Service Rifle Team Soldiers seized all five possible team trophies: Interservice 1000-Yard Team Match (Service Rifle Division), Interservice 1000-Yard Team Match (Open Division), Marine Corps Combat Development Command Match, Interservice 10-Man Rifle Team Match and Marine Corps Infantry Trophy Team Match.
Out of those five wins, the Soldiers also broke three interservice records. USAMU's Team Craig snatched up first place in the 1000-Yard Team Match (Service Rifle Division) with a score of 1176-49X, which blasted the 2012 record of 1154-33X set by USAMU's former Team Mangione. USAMU's Team Barnhart clutched first place in the 1000-Yard Team Match (Open Division) with a score of 1198-78X, which topped the 2012 record of 1197-68X set by USAMU's former Team Praslick. And the full Service Rifle Team banded together for the ultimate victory in the Interservice 10-Man Rifle Team Match with a score of 4942-231X, which smashed the 1999 record of 4933-206X set by another former USAMU team.
Instructor Training Group
Ultimately, all this winning and record breaking directly benefits the rest of the Army Team. Over the years, competitive shooting Soldiers from the USAMU have relied upon their successful experiences to create a number of lesson plans for the force.
Earlier this year, the Instructor Training Group Soldiers took their combined knowledge to Fort Knox, Kentucky May 1 - 19. In a train-the-trainer style event, USAMU ITG Soldiers provided hands-on training and feedback to over 50 noncomissioned officers assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Those NCOs then led marksmanship training for the Cadet Summer Training Program that trained over 13,000 cadets.
The ITG Soldiers spent the remainder of the summer providing training to other Soldiers serving worldwide as infantrymen, military police and drill sergeants, which required them to travel to places ranging from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to Vilseck, Germany.
Training events such as these imprint USAMU successes onto Soldiers of all ranks and skills and help increase the lethality and excellence of tomorrow's Army. With the dominating summer behind them, USAMU plans to continue sharing and expanding their 'home of champions' knowledge for generations to come.