Columbia, MO- In the world of precision shooting, few events hold as much prestige and excitement as the Bianchi Cup. Considered the Super Bowl of practical shooting, this championship brings together top marksmen from around the world to showcase their skills and test their mettle. Among the elite competitors aiming for glory is the renowned U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit’s Service Pistol Team, which is located at Fort Moore, Georgia. Known for their exceptional skills and dedication, the USAMU's participation in the Bianchi Cup adds another layer of excellence to an already illustrious event. This year, the Bianchi Cup was held May 23 to 26 and was hosted by the Civilian Marksmanship Program.
The Bianchi Cup, which was also known in prior years as the National Championship of NRA Action Pistol, was established in 1979 by a former police officer and prominent firearms instructor, John Bianchi. The competition consists of four stages: the Falling Plate Event, the Mover Event, the Barricade Event and the Practical Event. Participants must display exceptional precision, accuracy, speed, and mental focus to navigate these challenging stages successfully.
“Team matches are either 4- or 2-man teams, and usually, the 4-man teams favored to win are stacked with the best Open [Division] shooters,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Franks, the assistant Team Chief of the USAMU’s Service Pistol Team.
“I asked the guys if they each wanted to make their own 2-man team with the next best guy in their division, but they wanted to stick together as a USAMU Team, despite the odds.”
USAMU’s Service Pistol Team only had one Open Division shooter and the rest were shooting in divisions that typically shoot lower scores, which put the team at a disadvantage said Staff Sgt. Walter Johnson.
“We knew we were at a disadvantage with all of us competing in a different division, but we wanted to represent the USAMU as a cohesive unit.”
The 4-Man USAMU team, USAMU Blue, consisted of Staff Sgt. Christopher Hudock, who competed in the Plate Event; Staff Sgt. Anthony Heinauer, who competed in the Practical Event ; Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Franks, who competed in the Barricade Event and Staff Sgt. Walter Johnson, in the Mover Event.
The decision to shoot together as a team paid off dividends immediately as USAMU Blue seized the win, because each Soldier performed excellently, said Johnson.
“Ryan [Franks] did his part for the team by cleaning the Barricade Event with his Metallic gun. Anthony [Heinauer] had the Practical Event and crushed it with a 478, while I scored the same in the Mover. Christopher [Hudock] had the hardest job shooting the Plate Event first thing in the morning with his Production gun, but I am proud to say he shot a perfect 480-48x, enabling the team to take home the victory,” explained Johnson.
“We shot an aggregate score of 1,916-143x… six points higher than the second-place team “Pistol Australia,” which consisted off all Open Division shooters,” said Franks. “I believe that to be something remarkable.”
Other than winning the 4-Man Team Match, the USAMU Soldiers demonstrated their expertise by winning three of the four divisions and earning third place in the other.
Hudock claimed his third consecutive Production Division Champion title with a score of 1901-128x, which beat second place by 18 points. This division included a total of 13 marksmen, and out of the total of 128 Bianchi Cup competitors, the Virginia Beach, Virginia native’s Production Division win placed him 29th overall.
Franks seized the Metallic Division Champion title for the second year in a row with a score of 1914-141x, which beat second place by 15 points. The Metallic Division included 16 shooters. This impressive division score earned the Las Vegas, Nevada native a respectable 14th place overall.
Heinauer won the Production Optics Division Champion title for the third consecutive year. His dominant score of 1916-146x beat second place by six points to claim the division title over 20 other Production Optics Division shooters. The Fort Stewart, Georgia native’s impressive performance also earned him a noteworthy 10th place in the overall competition, and with such a talented pool of competitors whose scores are closer and closer each year, Heinauer said he could not be happier.
“I am truly honored to have the ability to compete against such amazing competitors.”
Johnson laid down an Open Division score of 1918-172x that earned him 3rd place in the division and 4th overall. The Augusta, Georgia native’s solid score beat 73 other division competitors from around the world and 125 other Bianchi Cup marksmen in total. Of course, the Soldier was aiming for the win but knew the competition would be tight.
“I was fortunate to be squadded with the best of the best both in shooting capabilities and character. When shooting with people of that caliber, there is no room for error. I dropped a few too many Xs on the Practical Event and shot an eight on the Mover.”
The USAMU's participation in the Bianchi Cup has far-reaching effects beyond the realm of competition. Their presence not only raises the overall level of competition but also highlights the importance of teamwork and marksmanship skills in the U.S. Army. Franks explained.
"Teamwork is key, without our pistol gunsmith-Mr. Tom Grieves, who's efforts, attention to detail and mastery of his craft enabled us the peace of mind knowing our guns will perform accurately and flawlessly," said Franks. "He is ever vigilant to examine us while shooting and works with each shooter to tailor the guns to our specific needs. Not a single Army Shooter could do what we do without the support of the gun smiths who could never receive enough credit and appreciation."
However, the most important part of the competition, according to Johnson, is the fact that the USAMU Soldiers are just one piece of a great community.
“The best part of the Bianchi Cup is the family of competitors and support staff. This year was extra special as the international competitors were able to return and showed up in strong numbers.”