FORT BENNING, Ga (Army News Service, June 15, 2009) - With the command "ready on the firing line!" the 50th Interservice Pistol Championships commenced at Fort Benning June 8, pitting the nation's top military pistol shooters against each other.

Records were broken while new and old champions were crowned as the competitors pelted targets for five days during a number of individual and team matches to declare who among them is the best of the best.

The Army "Blue" team, made up of Soldiers from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, took home top honors in the overall team championship and the South Carolina National Guard won for best post/station team. Staff Sgt. James Henderson, USAMU, won the prestigious Interservice individual championship and also set two match records while doing so.

"This marks a significant milestone in the history of the event," said Lt. Col. Daniel Hodne, commander, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, the host of the event. "They all represent the very best of the joint staff and didn't get here by accident."

The competition was full of veteran shooters and newly-minted marksmen. Seventy-nine servicemembers encompassing 15 teams made up the field of competitors. The Army and Marine Corps shooting teams were in the group, as were all-star teams representing the Air Force and Navy. Smaller teams also took part in the matches, such as the South Carolina Army National Guard, a team of Coast Guardsmen, and Marines from Miramar Air Station and Camp Lejeune.

"This is a very prestigious match with many top shooters," said Rick Hawkins, USAMU service pistol team training instructor. "And they are being reacquainted with old friends."

Raising the combat readiness of the Army is the mission for the USAMU as they are recognized as the best shooters and most competent gunsmiths in the world, and the week-long event not only was a chance for the competitors to bring out the best among one another, but also share techniques that can be spread across the entire military, enabling it to be even more lethal than it already is.

"Nobody is selfish here," said Marine Corps Cpl. Mark Windmassinger, USMC Shooting team, Quantico, Va. "We all share information with each other. It's all about shooting guns."

The event was originally hosted by the Air Force when it was created 50 years ago, said Michael Behnke, chief of competitions, USAMU. The Army National Guard took the reigns as the host service in the mid-1960s until 2004 when the USAMU saved the event from dying and made it into the successful week-long event that it is today.

"We showed up for the love of the sport and to represent our service," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Wes Fleming, aircraft movement coordinator, Aviation Logistics Center, Elizabethtown, N.C. "It was a fantastic week. We ate dinner one night with a Marine and a Sailor and we took apart a .45, put it back together again, and just talked about guns and shooting."

The competitors competed in slow fire, timed fire, and rapid fire events with their service pistol, .22 and .45-caliber handguns, and center fire pistols. The team events consisted of four members. The week culminated in an awards banquet Friday evening where trophies and plaques were handed out to the winners as they enjoyed each other's camaraderie after an eventful week.

"This has been a really great experience," said Air Force Senior Airman Logan Vanhouten, 375th Computer Support Squadron, Scott Air Force Base, Ill. This was Vanhouten's first competition and he is still a developmental member of the Airmen's team.

"Everything I've been doing here has been a learning experience. I've learned from the Army, Marines, Navy...just about everybody here. I achieved personal bests this week and that was my goal. It has been very rewarding."

(Michael Molinaro serves as public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.)