By Michael Molinaro, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Public Affairs July 26, 2012
(The last in a six-part series featuring U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldiers headed to the Olympics)
FORT BENNING, Ga. (July 26, 2012) -- When Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower established the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit in 1956 he did so to raise the standards of marksmanship in the U.S. Army. But unit lore says that he really wanted to beat the Soviets in the Olympics and needed the best the military had to offer all fall under one command and train with each other.
While the unit has expanded since its creation to one that deploys, raises Army combat readiness through marksmanship training, leads the Army's small arms innovation, and supports the recruiting and accessions effort, make no mistake about it-- the USAMU's Olympic tradition is long, proud, and deep.
Soldiers from the unit have proudly represented the nation during every Summer Olympic Games that the United States has participated in since 1960. During that time, Soldiers have won 23 medals for the U.S., including 11 gold medals. As a whole, the country has won 42 shooting medals since 1956.
"It is awesome to be part of this unit," said Staff Sgt. Michael McPhail, who will compete in his first Olympics Aug. 3 in Men's Probe Rifle. "If you want to be an Olympian and a part of something much bigger than yourself, then you can't beat being here."
On Friday, six Soldiers and two spouses will walk through a tunnel out into Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies. Years of hard work, dedication and sacrifices will come to fruition and then it will be on to the Royal Artillery Barracks Shooting Range, the site of all shooting events at the London Games.
Starting things off will be Jamie Gray, the wife of Staff Sgt. Hank Gray. She will compete in the games' first event, 10m Air Rifle. In Beijing in 2008, she finished fourth in the same event. She will also compete Aug. 4 in Women's Three-position rifle, looking to better her fifth-place finish in Beijing.
After Gray, Naval Reserve Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Uptagrafft, the wife of Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft, who is also an Olympian, will compete in Women's 10m Air Pistol July 29 followed by Women's Sport Pistol Aug. 1. This is Uptagrafft's first appearance at the Olympics.
On July 30, Sgt. Vincent Hancock will step to the line in Men's Skeet competition. Hancock is the defending gold medalist in the event. In Beijing, he set a new Olympic record in the event but needed a shoot-off to win the gold medal. He expects the same fierce competition in London.
"When you are on the top everyone is gunning for you," he said. "A lot of the guys I will compete against had a hunger after Beijing to get to where I am at. Fortunately for me, I got that hunger back this past year and am looking for good things to happen again."
On Aug. 2, two USAMU Soldiers will toe the line in Double Trap. Sgt. Glenn Eller is the defending Olympic champion after setting a new Olympic record in Beijing. This is Eller's fourth Olympic Games and he will walk the fine line of mentoring yet competing against Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond. Richmond is currently ranked number-one in the world and is expecting a medal-winning performance.
"If I shoot my game, shoot the score I have been shooting them past few years, then my first Olympics is going to be a success," he said. "If I shoot those scores but still get beat, then I can live with that."
The following day on Aug. 3, two more USAMU Soldiers will compete alongside each other. Sgt. 1st Class Uptagrafft and McPhail will shoot in the Men's prone rifle match, looking to get two of the three spots on the podium.
"I honestly don't care who wins the gold as long as it is one of us," McPhail said. I want to beat him and he wants to beat me but at the end of the day we're doing this for our country, for our families and for the USAMU. As far as I am concerned there is plenty of room for both of us on that podium."
Making his fourth trip to the Olympics, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker will compete in the Olympics' last event in shooting, Men's Three-position rifle. Parker is a fan favorite among those in the shooting community and a long-time member of the USAMU. Making four Olympics is a feat in itself but Parker knows the real reason that the unit's success in the Olympics is so important.
"We're taking the stuff we're learning on the firing line and giving it to other Soldiers as they go out into harm's way. It saves their lives," said Parker. "You want to compete, of course, but you want to be a part of something bigger, and that's why I've been here for 15 years.
"We are going to make our country and our Army proud, I guarantee you that. No matter the results, being afforded this opportunity again, to represent the U.S. on the world stage, is like nothing else."