By Story and photo By Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Drumsta, New York Army National GuardMarch 25, 2011
WATERVLIET, N.Y. -- The New York Army National Guard Soldiers are determined to excel in a world-class marksmanship competition in South Africa in May.
Eight Soldiers will take part in the South African National Defense Force 2011 Regional Combat Rifle Competition. The competition pits Soldiers from around the world and Africa in friendly competition.
New York National Guardsmen have been partnering with the South African National Defense Force, the SANDF, since 2003 under the New York and Republic of South Africa State Partnership Program. A team of five New York Army National Guard Soldiers finished fifth in the annual South African National Military Skills Competition in November 2010.
The State Partnership Program is a way for American states to create positive relationships with many nations. Under the program, New York State and South Africa have taken part in many events, including safety, aviation and combat skills training exercises.
Spc. Matthew Melendez, a sniper with the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, said he was attending sniper school at the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center in Arkansas when Cpl. Jonathan Patton, his sniper team leader, called him about the match. On March 18, the day the New York City resident graduated from the school, Patton notified him that the trip was on.
"When it was confirmed, I was pretty excited," Melendez said.
He's anxious to put his new sniper skills to the test, to go up against international competitors, and learn from them, he added. But he's certain he'll do well.
"I've engaged targets out to 1,300 meters," Melendez reflected. "I feel pretty confident, with the training I have, to perform well there."
Sniper teams are made up of two Soldiers - a shooter and a spotter, said Melendez. It's an awesome feeling to hit a target at such long distances, but you don't think about that when you're shooting, he explained.
"You're kind of like a robot," he said. "You're concentrating on the fundamentals, squeezing the trigger and listening to the spotter, because he's the one who's getting you on target."
He weathered cold and hot temperatures at sniper school, so he's not worried about the South African environment either, Melendez said. Sniper school involved both shooting and stalking, he explained, including one three-hour exercise that called for sniper students to move stealthily through the wilderness for 500 meters, identify a target 300 meters away and move back without being detected.
There is no ideal shooting situation, and no matter the conditions in South Africa, he plans to roll with the punches, he stressed.
"You just adjust to the conditions you're given," he said.
Spc. Masami Yamakado, a 69th Infantry sniper, was at winter warfare training in Canada when Staff Sgt. Dennis Rick, his sniper team leader, called and told him about the match. Yamakado, of New York City, said he's pretty happy to have a chance to work with his fellow snipers and travel to South Africa. Like working with the Canadian Soldiers during winter warfare training, he expects the match to be a change of pace and a more, he added.
"It was a blast," he said. "I learned a lot from them. I'm hoping to do the same in South Africa."
He also hopes to have some time to familiarize himself with the SANDF-issue R4, 5.56 mm rifles they'll be firing, he added. The foreign-weapons training they receive at sniper school isn't in-depth, but he's looking to get pointers from Patton and Rick, who've received Squad Designated Marksman, referred to as SDM, training, Yamakado said.
He's confident they'll be able adapt to the rifle and do well at the competition, said Rick, of Staten Island, N.Y. Their sniper and SDM training will help, he added.
"SDM gets the fundamentals of shooting down," he said.
He's researching the R4 to find out it's capabilities and shooting characteristics, Rick said. His findings indicate that the R4's operating system was derived from the AK-47 rifle and that the SANDF adopted it in 1982, he added. The rifle fires from a closed bolt, its cyclic rate is between 600 and 700 rounds per minute and its maximum effective range is between 300 and 500 meters, he said.
"You have to get to know the mechanism of the rifle before you shoot it," Rick said. "Safety is paramount."
They plan to zero the weapons and will be prepared to compete using open sights or their own scopes, Rick said. Though he's also researching the course of fire and other details, Rick is looking forward to the match as well.
"Anytime you can go overseas and do an exercise with a foreign country is an awesome opportunity," Rick said.