Staff Sgt. Anthony Perez, a Missouri Guardsman from Conway with the Company A, 1107th Aviation Group in Springfield, takes aim with his 9-milimeter Beretta during the Missouri National Guard's 2012 Adjutant General State Combat Match Rifle/Pistol Championships March 23 at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Mo. (Ann Keyes/Missouri National Guard)
By Ann Keyes
NEOSHO, Mo. - In a friendly but spirited event, veteran shooters shared tips with less-experienced competitors at the Missouri National Guard's 2012 Adjutant General State Combat Match Rifle/Pistol Championships March 23-25 at Camp Crowder in Neosho.
Sgt. James Whitener, of Fredericktown, who serves with Company B, 1st of the 138th Infantry Regiment Battalion in St. Louis, won the competition, again being named to the Adjutant General's Top 20 list. Overall 2nd place went to Sgt. 1st Class James Phelps, of Holts Summit, with the 1139th Military Police Company in Harrisonville. The 3rd place overall slot went to Staff Sgt. Damon Rufener, of Meta, who serves the Guard at Joint Force Headquarters in Jefferson City.
One hundred twenty Soldiers and Airmen also competed on 35 four-person teams. Top team finishers include Airmen from the 139th Airlift Wing at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph, taking first place in both rifle and pistol matches, securing the squad's berth as overall team winners.
"It was a bit of a shocker," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Neiswander. "We accumulated (points) throughout the entire match."
Along with Neiswander, the team of Airmen includes Tech. Sgt. Rodd Boyer, Tech. Sgt. John Sappington and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Ott from the 139th Maintenance Group.
The second place team slot went to Soldiers with Headquarters, Headquarters Detachment, Joint Force Headquarters in Jefferson City. Members include Capt. Matthew Styles; Sgt. 1st Class Chad Francis; third place individual winner Rufener; and Staff Sgt. Brett Redel.
Third place team winners hail from Alpha Company, 1107th Aviation Group in Springfield. Staff Sgt. Jody Salcido; Sgt. Cody Walsh; Sgt. Andrew Pipkin; and Private 2nd Class Colin Jackson make up the team.
"In competitions you shoot ten times more than you would otherwise," said Pipkin, a novice just two years ago and now among the top marksman.
Pipkin, of Willard, said he takes what he learns from competitive shooting events and shares the knowledge with others.
"During drill, I taught some classes; pistol and night-fire. (Teammate) Walsh and I helped zero weapons and gave tips and advice."
The aviation group's Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Lambeth agrees.
"The 1107th has been supportive of the marksmanship program for a long time," Lambeth said. "It benefits us on the unit side for weapons qualifications."
"Ultimately our goal is to learn new skill sets and improve our knowledge," said Missouri Guard state Command Sgt. Maj. James Schulte. "You can take that knowledge back home to help with range fire at individual unit levels and help with training."
Skills were put to the test under an assortment of conditions at Camp Crowder. Soldiers shot through diminished light at sunrise and sunset, late afternoon glare, changing wind speeds and direction, rain and high heat.
The matches themselves were just as variable.
Day one, shooters took aim at targets 15-to 30-yards from the firing line. Marksmen shot 9-milimeter pistols from standing, kneeling and prone positions, and sometimes from multiple positions during each timed set. Day two, Soldiers and Airmen shot rifles from 100, 200 and 300 yards, sprinting from one hundred-yard line to the next to shoot.
All competitors wore Kevlar helmets, body armor, hearing and eye protection, and - in the close quarter rifle match - a pro mask.
The most exciting contest was held on the final day of competition, when each four-person team ran to shoot rifles in the prone position, then low-crawled under rope and jumped a hurdle before shooting pistols at close-up targets. Next, competitors shot targets with shotgun from behind an obstacle. The final shot was taken by a squad-designated marksman with a single rifle blast at long distance to end the timed contest.
First Sgt. Gary Barnes, a senior controller with the Missouri Guard's Training and Evaluation Battalion, currently training mobilizing Soldiers and Airmen at Camp Clark in Nevada, said competitive events like the marksmanship matches help to ready Guardsmen for deployment.
"You can immediately tell who has gone to competitions," said Barnes of Soldiers he trains. "Competitive events help the less experienced Soldiers develop."
"I firmly believe that warriors are happiest when they are hot, dirty and tired and have given it all in competitions, head-to-head against each other. That's when warriors are at their best," said Schulte.
"Trophies are nice; plaques are nice; medals are nice," Schulte said. "But the real purpose of this is the practical experience, the real-world training you gain and the confidence you gain and the ability to handle weapons in way you never thought of before. Because in real-world, there is no second place winner in a gun fight."
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com and our social media sites: www.facebook.com/Missouri.National.Guard; www.twitter.com/Missouri_NG; www.youtube.com/MoNationalGuard; www.myspace.com/missouri_ng; www.flickr.com/photos/missouriguard; www.moguard.com/blog; www.pinterest.com/monationalguard/
During the third and final day of the Missouri National Guard's 2012 Adjutant General State Combat Match Rifle/Pistol Championships March 23-25 at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Mo., Soldiers and Airmen shot rifles in the prone position and low-crawled under rope and jumped a hurdle before shooting pistols at close-up targets. Next, competitors shot targets with shotgun from behind an obstacle. (Ann Keyes/Missouri National Guard)
Soldiers ready for the next relay at the Adjutant General State Combat Match Rifle/Pistol Championships March 23-25 at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Mo. More than 120 Missouri Army and Air National Guardsmen participated in the contest that gains competitors each year. (Ann Keyes/Missouri National Guard)