By Michael Molinaro, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Public AffairsJuly 3, 2012
(Second in a six-part series featuring U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldiers headed to the Olympics)
FORT BENNING, Ga. (July 3, 2012) -- It happens to the best of them. Ask John Elway. Or Lebron James. Being at the top of their profession doesn't mean a championship comes right away. It takes perseverance and hard work.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker knows that all too well. The U.S. Army Marksmanship senior noncommissioned officer has competed in the past three Olympic Games and has yet to bring back any hardware. But with a steadfast and loving family behind him and the support system of his unit, Parker relishes every chance he gets to showcase the Army on the world stage and this year's trip to London will no different.
Parker earned a fourth consecutive trip to the Olympics after winning his event, men's three-position rifle, at the Olympic Team Trials in June. Making four Olympics is a feat in itself. He won the gold medal in the final World Cup of the year in Italy back in May, making him a top contender once again for a medal.
"The first three (Olympics) I was focused on coming back with a gold medal, gold medal, gold medal," said Parker, a native of Omaha, Neb. "This time it's not about the results, it's about going over there and putting in a good solid performance. I just want to go there and do my absolute best because I know that's capable of winning a medal. Wherever the scores stack up that's where I am going to be."
Parker was almost literally born with a rifle in his crib. The son of Dale and Sharon Parker was at the range with mom and dad at three-weeks-old and received a BB gun when he was four. When he was 13 he found a competition air rifle underneath the Christmas tree and, without knowing it, his path in life was mapped out at that point.
"I started competing at the local level and fared really well so then I went to different states around Nebraska and then eventually the nationals," Parker said. "Once I went to college at Xavier (Ohio) University that's when I got on the international scene and made making the Olympics my goal."
College is also where he met his wife of 16 years, Andrea. A former shooter herself, the two knew each other from the junior shooting scene before they both ended up at Xavier. They were teammates on an NCAA championship team during their time there and Andrea said Parker had a natural way of making everyone around them better.
"Jason is very good at making you realize that there are no ceilings, no limits and helping to motivate when it's time to dig in," Andrea said. "It certainly helped us in college and he continues to be able to use it now in his own shooting."
When Parker decided to join the Army and become part of the USAMU in 1997, Andrea retired from shooting. They moved to Fort Benning and Parker immediately reaped the benefits of the Army structure and training with the talent around him at the USAMU. Andrea quickly understood that sacrifices would have to be made as a military spouse but the pros easily outnumbered the cons.
"The Army has been tremendous for Jason," said Andrea. "Personally, he's been able to achieve goals through shooting that he never would have had the opportunity to do otherwise. He's able to further his skill through practices, traveling to competitions, and competing alongside the best in the world.
"Professionally, he's been given the opportunity to expand on his skill-set, most recently deploying to Afghanistan to train the Afghan Army soldiers in marksmanship. Jason's deployment was an important part of him growing professionally as a Soldier."
When the unit began sending cross-functional teams of Soldiers to Afghanistan to provide marksmanship instruction for Afghan Soldiers in 2009, Parker jumped at the chance to be on the first team to deploy.
"I wanted to be on the first team because I wanted to be part of something that is bigger than anything I have ever been involved in," Parker said. "We compete and win on the world stage but you're not affecting things. Taking the skills we learn and helping influence what is going on over there is an awesome feeling. Those Afghan fighters are fighting right alongside our Soldiers so the better we train them it enhances both Armies."
The sport of shooting has allowed the Parkers to teach their sons Tommy, 8, and Wyatt, 5, about sportsmanship, determination and accomplishing goals. As the kids grow older and become more aware of what their father's job is Andrea said it has made Jason a better shooter and brings a new excitement to watching him compete.
"I am in awe of Jason's shooting skills now," said Andrea. "It's certainly nerve-racking, but really so much fun to watch him shoot. He's seems so at-ease on the firing line-- it almost seems peaceful for him.
"Now that our children are a bit older they sit with me and watch their dad shoot. There is nothing better than watching Jason shoot a string of tens and watching the boy's reactions. They think their Dad is a rock star and the smiles on their faces or the fist pumps in the air make watching Jason all the more fun and enjoyable."
Parker's wife, children and parents will all accompany him to London. This is the first time the children will travel to the Olympics and they are excited for the trip overseas. Parker said while it is a vacation for them he is on a mission. Despite his talent, making the Olympics can never be taken for granted so while he will be focused on accomplishing his goals he knows savoring the moment will come easy.
"The biggest memories come from the opening ceremonies," he said. "They stage you in an area where you have thousands of other athletes around you and countries start singing songs and dancing in the stands. Then we start lining up and staging the countries. I don't know how long the line is but it's got to stretch well over a mile.
"You start getting excited and then go into the tunnel and see the American Flag in front of you. It gets so noisy and the whole U.S. team gets pumped up and we go out there ... it's awesome. It's a very powerful moment and it's been that way at every one."
Seven Soldiers from the USAMU will compete in London this summer. Just like in college or during his career at the unit, Parker will be called upon to give some advice or motivate a few of the Soldiers who are making their first trip to the games. It comes with the territory of being a leader.
"I love what I am doing right now," Parker said. "There is nothing like representing your country every day and now we get to do it in front of the world. It is an honor and as long as the rest of our guys take that with them to the firing line and have that fire in the belly, I think we are definitely bringing some hardware back home."