AUGUSTA – Over 40 Maine Servicemembers spent the weekend of May 16th at Gardiner Training Area displaying their expertise with military weapons. They were all trying to earn their way on to the Maine National Guard Marksmanship Team.
They represented the top shooters from more than 15 different Army National Guard companies, the Air National Guard, Army Reserve and Coast Guard. During the two day event the Servicemembers competed in a total of six events, three with a rifle and three with a pistol. The event lets shooters see where they rank against others in the state, gain exposure to advanced marksmanship techniques, and the potential to represent the state in future events.
Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Holmes, who has been the state marksmanship coordinator for the past twelve years, said that the national event has been taking place for 44 years, and that the state programs have been in place nearly as long, if not longer, than the national competition.
“The Maine National Guard State Marksmanship Matches were established to provide both Soldiers and Airmen an event that encourages friendly competition and familiarize them with advanced techniques,” said Holmes. “The program adds to their skill sets.”
Holmes said that every year Maine’s program has grown. After this competition which invites both novice and experienced shooters to compete, they will pick teams who will continue to practice their skill and compete at the next level.
Staff Sgt. Keith Paul, the marksmanship program coordinator said that newer shooters are ranked against others who have never shot competitively before.
“There shouldn’t be a fear of coming out here,” said Paul. “We are all out here for the same reason. It is fun opportunity to really hone in your marksmanship skills and learn from your fellow Servicmembers.”
Last year the team the regional competition was held in Jericho, Vermont. Maine soldiers represented well, taking at least a top five position in four of six categories. Staff Sgt. Kyle Bartman placed second out of 108 competitors for overall best score.
Holmes said that the competition is only the tip of the iceberg, an encouraging and rewarding way to get soldiers to improve their own basic skills.
“Maybe I am unique in my belief, but marksmanship is the most basic soldier skill, and it is the most important to me,” said Holmes. “There is nothing more important than knowing how to shoot. Starting before the Revolutionary War, civilian militiamen have been outstanding marksman. The British, they were better at formations, of standing in line, but we were better with weapons. Roosevelt was the first president to start a civilian program which I think was part of our success there as well. You know that is why foreign countries didn’t want to invade us, because we were so good with our rifles.”
Regardless the reason, more Servicememembers are working to excel on the range. This training goes above and beyond the typical basic rifle marksmanship qualifications that National Guardsmen go through. Each day is broken into three parts. The first day focuses on combat rifle qualifications, and the second day focuses on combat pistol skills. For each weapon, they are tested in four different positions, standing, kneeling, sitting and prone. They have a certain amount of rounds to shoot within a predetermined time, often known as speed shooting, said Paul. For example, one of the last tables on the pistol range requires them to fire 10 rounds in 15 seconds, including one magazine change during that time. Competitors are scored based on their accuracy and aim.
At the end of the two day match, all of the points are added up, and winners are determined based on the highest scores. Every event is scored as a separate event, with winners for all six. The overall winners of both days, and all six events were Staff Sgt. Kyle Bartman (Maine Army National Guard), Lt. Scott McCann (U.S. Coast Guard) and Sgt. Max Nickerson (Maine Army National Guard).
The teams have yet to be finalized, but the next match will be held towards the end of August at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.