~All Guard Service Pistol Team
By Maj. Dwayne Page, NGMTC chief of competitions
The All Guard Service Pistol Team consists of the most elite pistol shooters in the Air (ANG) and Army National Guard (ARNG). Some shooters have come from a long history of shooting that started in high school and some have come from performing well during military marksmanship competitions at state, regional and national levels. The National Guard Marksmanship Training Center (NGMTC) has developed elite shooters through the program since 1968.
Shooters on the All Guard Service Pistol Team are selected at the end of an intensive tryout process. The top accomplishments for these shooters are the President Hundred Tab, the Chief’s 50 Badge, Distinguished Rifleman and Distinguished Pistol Badge. In addition, the All Guard competes against other services and civilians, and as always, the All Guard Teams strive to be the best service shooters on the circuit.
Funding continues to be a hurdle for the Air and Army Guard. However, in 2016, the availability of funding to support the overall marksmanship program was better than it had been in a very long time, which provided more shooting opportunities. The multiple shooting opportunities provide the NGMTC the ability to train and develop future shooters for the All Guard Team. In return, the shooters assist their units and states, as subject matter experts, in order to improve marksmanship effectiveness.
Many times our competition is the Active Component, which has a full time job shooting with plenty of resources to train and improve. This provides the active service shooters an advantage over the All Guard shooters. Majority of the All Guard shooters that represent the Air and Army National Guard have full time civilian jobs when they are not shooting. The All Guard members have to find time to train on their own, which takes away from other areas in their lives. Not only do the All Guard members commit time to this precision shooting, but they also spend their own money for ammunition and equipment. The National Marksmanship Training Center is thankful that our shooter’s leaders, organizations and employers support their Soldiers while they are shooting for the National Guard.
During the last few weeks in July, the All Guard Service Pistol Team achieved multiple high level accomplishments. Learning about this team and the individual shooters over the past year, has shown the high level of intensity and concentration it takes to compete at this level. Every shot has to be precise and the number of X’s within the X-ring can determine if you win or lose. The X-ring breaks ties between shooters that are shooting the same score. In this business, elite shooters do not drop many points outside the 10-ring. Each shot can earn a maximum of ten points, but the shooter has to hit a ring 4” in diameter at 25 and 50 yards. The X-ring is in the center of the ten ring and it is about 2” in diameter. The X ring is the area on the target that determines the best shot. All shots must be fired with one hand, unlike most pistol competitions that use two.
One of the teams, known as All Guard Team Red competed in a team competition consisting of three team matches .22 Caliber, .45 caliber iron sights and .45-caliber optics in Canton, Ohio. On July 8, 2016, this team shot a total score of 1178 with 49x (x-ring shots) out of 1200 points in the .22 Caliber Team Match. The number of X ring shots is the tiebreaker in the event that shooters have the same score. This score put the All Guard Team in 1st place by seven points over their competitors. This team had a grand aggregate 3470-133x, which put them in 2nd place overall in team matches.
Teamwork is the most important aspect, which is ingrained in these elite shooters. They all care about shooting well as individuals and producing top scores. When these shooters are shooting a team match, their motivation to shoot well intensifies. Each shooter focused more on putting their team in the top position on the rankings. As shooters, they do not want to let their fellow teammates down. Every team has a coach that helps them make good calls on their shots and provides guidance during the match. The coach must be an experienced shooter to help support the team to aim for the best scores possible.
The individual scores during this particular team match were very high. Sgt. 1st Class Eric Lawrence, Joint Force Headquarters, S.C. ARNG, shot 300-13x out of 300 in this match, and followed it up with 297-16x out of 300 in the .45 Caliber Center Fire Team Match. Lawrence shot 891-43x total during the three team matches, only dropping nine total points throughout the duration! The other team members also posted very high scores. Staff Sgt. Leigh Jenks, NGMTC, Ark. ANG, a shot 297-12x out of 300 with a .22 caliber. Spc. Nester Peña, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 65th Infantry Brigade (Air Assault), Puerto Rico ARNG, shot 291-12x out of 300 with a .22 caliber. Staff Sgt. Daniel Kupar, Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Penn. ARNG, shot 290-12x out of 300 with a .22 caliber. The team coaches were Peña and Lawrence.
Watching Lawrence shoot the 300-13x, which is a perfect score, was exciting. The first string of fire was ten rounds from 50-yards away. He shot 100-2x out of 100 during the ten-minute slow fire. Peña was his coach as well as for Jenks. During the slow fire string, Lawrence only looked through his scope for his first four shots and they were 10’s and X’s. After that, he never looked through his scope again. Most shooters shoot the first few shots and if they are on call, they will not look in their scope again. The reason for this is to mitigate some of the pressure associated with shooting a perfect target and to allow the coach to do his job. Peña instructed Lawrence to come up one click. Lawrence trusted his judgment and without hesitation, he made the adjustment aiding him in shooting the perfect score.
Then Lawrence moved to 25-yard line to shoot the timed (20 seconds, five rounds, twice) and rapid (10 seconds, 5 rounds, twice) courses of fire. During these he was not looking at his impacts on the target, he was relying on Peña to provide him feedback on any adjustments to his weapon. After the first stage of timed fire, Lawrence looked back at Peña to ensure his first group was centered up. Peña told him to come down one click, so he rotated his elevation knob down one click. He shot 100-6x in timed fire and followed it up with 100-5x rapid fire. Once Lawrence shot all 30 rounds, he turned around, looked at Peña, and asked, “Did we get it?” Peña gave him a thumbs-up with a nod, and exclaimed, “You did it!” Lawrence looked back at the rest of the team, standing 25 yards behind him, and threw his fists up in the air. Immediately, we all knew he just shot a perfect score.
One interesting fact, typically team members do not usually talk about their score while on the firing line. Sometimes it puts more pressure on the teammate shooting beside you or the ones that are following you, however in this case we talked about our score the entire time. Lawrence stated, “what was funny is MAJ Page was repairing our targets and after every string of fire he would bring sergeant Lawrence and sergeant Jenks their targets back and he would always say, “I think you all need to tighten up your shot groups.” We joked about it the entire time which helped create a relaxed atmosphere.” This goes to show that the climate shooters operate in is stressful and it is important to help alleviate stress.
After Lawrence was done shooting, he was not thinking about the 300, he was thinking about his next two teammates coming up to shoot and if we could possibly break the national record for the .22 Caliber Team Match. Lawrence coached the next two shooters, Peña and Kupar. They did not set a national record, but it is the highest the All Guard team has shot in a long time and maybe the best ever in the history of the All Guard program. It was definitely a great score, and it won the .22 Caliber Team Match!
Lawrence stated that he could not have shot his score without his teammate Peña communicating with him. It takes good communication, respect and patience with each individual on the team to work so well together. When you work well together and respect each other, you succeed together, no matter the rank structure or background of the individuals. This All Guard Pistol Team has been successful for many years and has made many outstanding national level accomplishments that go unnoticed everyday like the one above.
The NGMTC tries to ensure these All Guard Shooters are recognized for their hard work and dedication. These shooters learn a lot when shooting service rifle and pistol matches that are carried over to the combat style of shooting. All the firing positions are different, but the fundamentals are still the same. The NGMTC does everything in its power to ensure the All Guard Teams have shooting opportunities to excel and be the top shooters at these matches. In return, we push the shooters to be the subject matter experts in marksmanship in their state and units. The NGMTC strives to make the service members in the National Guard the best-trained marksmen our Army has to offer in defense of our Nation.