Home of Champions! The United States Army Marksmanship Unit

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Home of Champions!
The United States Army Marksmanship Unit

By Michael Molinaro
RELEASE No. 20100202-01
Feb. 2, 2010

In this time of war there is no room for second rate shooting. Exceptional marksmanship that was once expected of the elite, Special Operations and Infantry Sharpshooters, is now expected of every soldier. Today’s United States Army is considered the most lethal army the world has ever seen, and it is largely due to a more lethal Soldier who has undergone the most effective training in history. Training is the backbone of good shooting. And at the heart of marksmanship training in the US Army is the US Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU). Through “train the trainer” workshops, direct training of experienced units, recruiting assistance and community outreach, the USAMU acts as a “force multiplier” for the Army, and it is considered one of the most unique units in the entire US Army.

Located at Ft. Benning, Georgia, the USAMU trains for international shooting competitions while carrying out their duties as active duty soldiers as marksmanship trainers. The unit consists of current world champions, including Olympic world champions, and the members of the unit compete in every major international shooting competition the world over. They usually win, and for that reason the USAMU is referred to as “The Home of the Champions.”

Specialties within the unit follow the disciplines of worldwide and national competition. They include Shotgun, Service Rifle, Service Pistol, International Rifle, International Pistol and Action Shooting. Fielding a team that can win international matches requires not only the world’s best shooters, but also the world’s most experienced and talented custom rifle shop, as well as a world class ammunition specialty shop. By competing in international world championships, the unit earns slots in the Olympic events for the United States and many of the unit go on to compete in the Olympics every four years.

The Firing Line at Ft. Benning

The duties of the USAMU are very diverse. Currently a part of the unit is in Afghanistan training native Afghan fighters, the first ever mission of this kind for the unit, and never before has the USAMU trained foreign Soldiers in a combat environment. Other parts of the unit (which is technically a battalion in army parlance), are off to Beijing, Munich, Istanbul and Acapulco for international shooting events this year. Other parts will be staying home at Ft. Benning for “train-the-trainer” clinics, and others will be flying all over the United States to train units preparing to deploy for much of the same. In today’s Army, many Soldiers rely on the USAMU, either directly or indirectly, to stay “Army Strong.”

“Our mission is wide-ranging, from enhancing the recruiting effort through showcasing the best of Army Soldier skills, to raising the standard of the Army’s marksmanship proficiency, to supporting the Army’s small-arms research and development initiatives, the USAMU is uniquely designed to raise the Army’s overall combat readiness,” commented Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hodne, the Unit’s Commander. “We expect our Soldiers to be the best shooters, best gunsmiths, and best marksmanship instructors in the world, while at the same time they must be able to serve as an ‘Army Ambassador’ to connect America’s people to America’s Army,” he added. “It takes a special kind of Soldier to serve in the USAMU.”

The United States Army Marksmanship Unit was established March 1, 1956 at the direction of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to raise the standards of marksmanship throughout the U.S. Army. The USAMU enhances combat readiness through the unit’s provision of technical and advisory assistance in the development of military match-type small arms, equipment and ammunition. Upon request, USAMU will coordinate and conduct rifle and pistol marksmanship train-the-trainer clinics for U.S. military units throughout the world.

Rangers, Drill Sergeants, Spec Ops Soldiers—you name it; many have been through a USAMU marksmanship course. Whether it’s basic training for new recruits, or sharpening the skills of elements of Special Operations, since 1996 the USAMU has been there to raise the bar for every unit in the US Army.

“This long-term training mission has allowed us to constantly evolve and streamline our training to meet the ever-changing needs of the Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Grant Singley.

Not just competitors the USAMU Marksman teach all over the world.

The team currently supports the warfighter through the conduct of the Precision Rifle Course (PRC), Precision Tactical Rifle Course (PTRC), Combined Arms Marksmanship Course (CAMC) and the Basic Rifle Marksmanship Instructor Course (BRMIC). Working at distances from 100 to 300 to 600 meters and up, what used to be considered “sniper” training is now standard course of operations. These courses are designed to greatly enhance the Soldier’s marksmanship skills with their individual rifle, usually the M-16 US service rifle in caliber .556. The modular design of the course allows for training to be specifically tailored to a unit’s mission requirements and/or range assets.

The PRC is a five-day training program which focuses on the Soldier’s need to rapidly and accurately engage targets at 100-600 meters under normal conditions. The program begins with the fundamentals of marksmanship and progresses to more rapid and accurate engagements employing the individual rifle.

USAMU Soldiers instruct their students on the theory and method of grouping and zeroing; how to understand external ballistics at extended ranges; supported and unsupported position shooting while wearing their full combat gear; how to effectively adjust and compensate for various environmental conditions that may encounter; and last but certainly not least, they learn how to analyze and self-critique their performance in order to identify areas for self improvement.

The PRTC is similar in many ways but the emphasis is on teaching the Soldiers how to engage targets under stressful conditions. They insert instruction on engaging single and multiple targets and the employment of barricades to add to those stressful conditions.

More than 3,000 Soldiers took part in these courses in 2009. Each of those Soldiers will go back to their unit and relay what they learned from the best shooters in the world to their fellow instructors and members of their units, or to new recruits. So when it’s all said and done, there is no telling how many Soldiers receive the invaluable training from the USAMU.

There is a “competition to combat” concept that drives the unit. The USAMU Soldiers compete internationally, far from the battlefield. Then the Soldiers take the lessons they learned in their matches back to the drawing board at the range, and at the shop, and that information is translated to benefit units deployed overseas. Many developments in what is now modern infantry warfare were developed at the USAMU. The M24 sniper rifle that is being used today in battle was originally a competition rifle, conceived in the firearms shop at the USAMU. With repeated long term success in matches the rifle was then developed for the infantry and eventually produced for today’s modern Soldier.

World Champion Shooters

Champions of the World, Not Just the US Military

Since 1956, members of the USAMU have gained worldwide respect by winning hundreds of individual and team national titles, more than 40 World Championships, and 23 Olympic medals. Two noncommissioned officers in the unit, Sgt. Vincent Hancock and Sgt. Glenn Eller, are current Olympic Champions. Sgt. 1st Class James Henderson is the reigning National Pistol Champion and holds countless records in service pistol competitive shooting. Sgt. Daniel Horner is the National Multi-Gun champion. Spc. Joe Hein is the National Smallbore champion.

The Service Rifle Team competes and wins against civilian and military competitors in High power Rifle competition. The team uses modified M16s with iron sights to engage targets from 200 to 1000 yards. The Service Rifle team relies on its marksmanship expertise and lessons learned, both during competition and research and development, to develop a training curriculum that is unsurpassed. The team currently has multiple soldiers with National and Interservice Championships. In addition, the service rifle team holds 10 National team records and 15 National individual records.

The list goes on and on. If anyone has to question the validity of why the unit is labeled the “Home of Champions,” one has to look no further than the current record books of each shooting sports governing body.

The Facility at Ft. Benning and The Custom Firearms Shop

USAMU is composed of six competitive shooting sections utilizing world class facilities for both training and competition. Facilities consist of 260 acres with 7 ranges and 18 buildings. Service Rifle, Service Pistol, Action Shooting, International Rifle, International Pistol, and Shotgun comprise the shooting sections. Of these teams, only International Rifle, International Pistol, and Shotgun are Olympic sports.

The Custom Firearms Shop

Support is provided to these Soldier-athletes through the Custom Firearms Shop and the support branches of supply, operations and administration. The unit makes or customizes its own small arms and much of its own ammunition through the Custom Firearms Shop. The Custom Firearms Shop, made up of gunsmiths, machinists, range technicians and ammunition loaders, could be called the “backbone” of the unit and is equivalent to the “pit crew” of NASCAR. In fact, it was the first section formed when the unit was established. In order to compete successfully, it was determined better arms and ammunition was required. Here, gunsmiths build top-quality competitive-grade rifles and pistols for our competitive teams…many from the ground up.

“When a shooter wins in national or international competition, the only people interested in who built the gun used are the other competitors,” said Bob Alyward, USAMU deputy commander. “In fact, they may be more interested in who built the gun rather than in who won the match.

“Even the best shooter in the world cannot compete successfully if he or she is competing against people who have better arms and ammunition than he or she does. The standards are so high and the achievement levels among the top ten shooters are so close together, that significantly large variations in equipment offset match results.”

The custom Firearm Shop’s research and development efforts have led not only to enhanced accuracy and reliability of our competitive weapon systems and ammunition, but have intensified the combat effectiveness of the entire Army. It is here that the M-21 and M-24 Sniper Systems, Special Purpose Receiver Rifles and Squad Designated Marksman Rifles were developed and tested.

All of this is manned by military and civilian personnel who were chosen to work with the unit. The gunsmiths were selected “because they have the knowledge, and have demonstrated their skills in gunsmithing,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Haidu, NCOIC for the USAMU shop. Gunsmiths are recruited from the major gunsmithing colleges and have at least an associate’s degree in gunsmithing. The shop could be called the backbone of the Marksmanship Unit. It was one of the first sections formed when the unit began in 1956 because “you can’t consistently stay on top without the most accurate weapons,” said Steve Young.

Championships are a team effort.

The “Quiet Professionals” of Ballistic Expertise

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Custom Firearms Shop Ammunition Loading Section is located at Parks Range, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Fort Benning, but once inside, it is anything but that. Here Soldiers and civilians load approximately 55,000 to 75,000 match-quality center fire rifle and pistol rounds per year.

The shop loads primarily long range center fire rifle rounds for the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Service Rifle Team in the following calibers: 5.56 mm, .308, 6.5/284, 300 Winchester Magnum as well as testing a wide range of other experimental calibers.

US Army Marksmanship Unit ammunition specialists are looking for extreme accuracy from the weapon-ammunition combinations. Army Marksmanship Unit loaders have produced ammunition that groups 3 inches for 10 rounds at 600 yards from an Army Marksmanship Unit built M-16 and 20 round M-16 groups as small as 5 inches at 600 yards.

Army Marksmanship Unit ammunition personnel work projects that include developmental testing for commercial production of larger quantities in several calibers which USAMU hand loaders cannot handle including .45, 9 mm .38 Super and .40 Smith and Wesson.

Parks Range facilities include a state of the art hand loading ammunition loading area. In the same building is the accuracy testing area, which rifles can be tested out to 300 meters. The 300-meter target system is an electronic array that measures group sizes digitally and displays results on computer screens; muzzle velocities as well as down range retained velocities are recorded.

High speed photography aids the researchers to understand how new loads work, and how recoil effects the shooter. With modern electronics and meticulous attention to detail, what used to be a mystery in ballistic efficiency is now a matter of science and observation, making the USAMU ammunition specialists the most advanced ballistics experts in the world.

Instruction is at the heart of the USAMU

Greeting America with Professionalism and Education

The Soldiers of the unit are tasked with connecting America’s Army with America’s public. They enhance Army recruiting by displaying their professionalism everywhere they go. They do that by conducting numerous clinics and events throughout the year, displaying the true professionalism of the USAMU and the Army. They teach more than a thousand novice and experienced shooters at the small-arms firing school every summer at Camp Perry, Ohio. The International Rifle, International Pistol, and Action Shooting teams all host sought-after youth camps that get booked well in advance of its scheduled starting date with parents begging the unit to get its child into the camp.

The USAMU hosts the annual Fort Benning 3-gun challenge every December, where the top 250 3-gun shooters converge on the post for an event like no other. Shooters get to ride in Stryker fighting vehicles to undisclosed locations with classified stages, fall from a simulated parachute as if they were jumping from a plane, and crawl on their bellies across a mock rendition of the beaches of Normandy. Competitors register online for the event: last year, once registration commenced, it took a total of .048 seconds to fill the field and another .50 seconds to fill the alternate positions.

The IR team also coaches the Fort Benning Junior Rifle team. The success of the team is not measured in the number of events won or lost but by the futures of the youth who are on the team. In 2008 a member of the Junior Rifle team went to West Point to shoot for the United States Military Academy, and members of this year’s team will move on to Division I schools upon graduation from high school on full scholarship via their visibility gained by competing on the Junior rifle team.

Soldiers After All . . .

Soldiers from the USAMU arrived in Afghanistan last month to assist forces deployed in Afghan National Army marksmanship training efforts. This mission stemmed from a proposal last July, in which the USAMU offered the leadership in theater a continuous, persistent, presence of rotating USAMU marksmanship training teams, the best shooters and marksmanship instructors in the world, to present a marksmanship train-the-trainer program designed to foster consistency in marksmanship instruction, enhance the overall capability of the ANA, and ultimately, support the transition as the ANA stands on its own.

USAMU Soldiers

The USAMU quickly implemented a peer coaching technique utilizing ANA soldiers who demonstrated an understanding of marksmanship fundamentals. After delivering a block of instruction, ANA soldiers who already zeroed and qualified coached those who required additional training. These ANA soldiers not only took pride in assisting with the instruction, but also the students better understood what they are being asked to do.

The USAMU team in Afghanistan continues to make a positive impact on marksmanship training. USAMU personnel continue to work closely with ANA Basic Warrior Training leadership in developing a new marksmanship training strategy to increase training effectiveness. The USAMU also proposed several marksmanship training recommendations on instruction, method of zero, and qualification that have been accepted.

Just the Beginning

Believe it or not, that is just a sample of what the USAMU accomplishes every day. The stories of the Soldiers who make up this unit will not disappoint you as you become more familiar with the USAMU. The extraordinary combined efforts of the assigned soldiers and civilians of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit are why we have come to be known as … “The Home of Champions”.

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