More than 50 teams of soldiers and airmen across 42 states and territories converged last month in North Little Rock, Arkansas, to put their marksmanship skills to the test.
“There are no greater formats in which to evaluate your professional ability with small arms than competitive events like the Winston P. Wilson Small Arms Championships and the Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting,” said Col. Andy Bussell, commander of the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center. “These marksmanship sustainment training events have a remarkable history that foster a tremendous spirit of camaraderie across the nation and across the globe.”
The Winston P. Wilson Championship, now in its 50th year, is conducted annually at the Robinson Maneuver Training Center and involves rifle, pistol, machine gun and combined arms. WPW is open to all Guard members from the 54 states and territories. Fifty-three four-person teams participated in this year’s event, which was held alongside the 30th Armed Forces Small Arms Meeting.
Texas Army National Guard 1st Lt. Parker Deese, individual grand aggregate champion in the novice class, said the competition was great.
“It’s an awesome place for soldiers to come and test their marksmanship abilities,” he said. “I think it makes a better fighting force overall. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The WPW and AFSAM competitions were designed to develop operational shooting and maneuvering skills at the entry and advance levels and recognize superior skills. Soldiers and airmen compete in separate classes, consisting of novice, open and international, based on previous competition experience. Each day consisted of different matches involving various courses of firing.
“We just won the overall team championship for this year,” said Arkansas Army National Guard Lt. Col. David Stapp, captain of the Arkansas Alpha team and NGMTC deputy commander, said. “These matches are an excellent tool for recruiting and retention. Getting the team value out there, bringing these experiences back to the unit, and spreading the experience and knowledge that we’ve gained.”
The Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting is conducted at the same time, firing the same matches, but is open to all services and international teams. Teams and shooters from the National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve participated in this year’s event.
Several competitors, like Massachusetts Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Levi Difranza, were anxious to get started.
“It’s one of the things I really enjoy,” Difranza said. “I like to push myself to be the best I can.”
Staff Sgt. Brandon Swanson, of the Delaware Army National Guard, said the events are a way to gain feedback for programs at home.
“I think the opportunity to represent our state really gives us a chance to look back at what we need to do at the state level and at Army level to improve the marksmanship programs that we are currently running in the state,” Swanson said.
To help increase the training exposure to more Guard members, the competition committee changed the makeup requirement of the four-person teams, now mandating that two members of the four-person team are first-time competition shooters.
“Each year that forces us to bring in new shooters, and that helps spread the knowledge base,” Indiana Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Cody Witten said.
The matches also change yearly, giving experienced shooters a new challenge, so even the experienced shooters have something new. The Bianchi Battle, which included a three-gun match firing rifle, pistol and shotgun, was this year’s addition.
“The National Guard Marksmanship Training Center, as the home of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau’s marksmanship program, tries to ensure that each member of his Army and Air National Guard is fully capable of employing his or her assigned weapon,” said Bussell. “I’ve been to several competitions lately and I am in awe of your marksmanship capabilities. You truly are phenomenal shooters.”
The NGMTC implemented COVID-19 precautions for this year’s event, which reduced participation. Among the protocols were reduced attendance, increased rooming space, pre-screening, screening on arrival, daily screening and wearing masks when social distancing could not be maintained. ff-post travel also was limited to necessary dining, grocery and fuel locations.
“While the United States continues to persevere through COVID, readiness remains a key priority for the National Guard,” Stapp said. “Units must be ready to mobilize, deploy and defend our national interests both in and out of country.”Read comments