FORT BRAGG, N.C –
After thousands of rounds, hundreds of paper targets, and even robotic targets on wheels, two U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers shot their way to winning two out of three at the U.S. Army Forces Command Marksmanship Competition, Sept. 21-23, 2015.
Capt. Kirk Freeman and Master Sgt. Russell Moore won top honors in the M4 rifle and M9 pistol categories, respectively. Sgt. Ben Mercer finished second in the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon category. All three men are members of the U.S. Army Reserve Marksmanship Team.
The three-day FORSCOM competition featured 27 marksmen from the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, and the National Guard in events for the M9 pistol, the M4A1 rifle, and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, to recognize Soldiers who are beyond expert marksmen. The multi-tiered events challenge the competitors’ ability to accurately and quickly engage targets in a variety of conditions and environments.
In his opening remarks, Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder, the FORSCOM command sergeant major, told the competitors that “marksmanship matters” whether Soldiers are qualifying on a range, in combat, or in a competition match.
“Every trooper has to be able to engage the enemy in combat,” Schroeder said. “First round strikes matter. If I get first round strikes, that’s less ammo that I have to carry.”
In addition to recognizing the top pistol, rifle, and machine gunner, Schroeder said the goal of the competition was to “show the training possibilities that exist at their home station so they can integrate these things into their marksmanship training programs.”
Schroeder added that by having feeder competitions starting at brigade and battalion level and working upwards it provides a “culture of competition, increased training opportunities and creativity. When faced with a challenge they (Soldiers) need to come up with a creative solution. It can’t be a playbook, they have to be able to audible.”
The competition provided plenty of opportunities for Freeman, Moore, and Mercer to think outside the box and come up with firing solutions to achieve maximum scores.
Some of the wrinkles in the competition included targets moving around the range on small four-wheeled platforms called Robotic Human Type Targets and a platform suspended from chains.
Freeman, with the 98th Training Division, is no stranger to competition.
He has earned the President’s Hundred tab for rifle marksmanship 11 times, he’s the defending Interservice Rifle champion (2014 & 2015), Long Range Service Rifle National Champion (2012, 2013 & 2015) and has been on four national rifle trophy teams.
For Freeman, adding moving targets ramped up the competition.
“I’m normally used to shooting point targets,” Freeman said. “So being able to bring that out here and demonstrate that you can take those skills on a point target and apply those to a moving target, or a night fire, it works.”
Freeman said the night fire was his biggest take-away from the competition.
“I didn’t struggle on it but I didn’t excel on it,” the Hickory, N.C., native said. “I didn’t get 40 out of 40 but I didn’t make a fool out of myself either. That’s something I personally need to train with.”
Moore, with the 416th Theater Engineer Command, is also no stranger to competition.
A distinguished rifle and pistol marksmanship badge holder, his precision with the M9 pistol was readily apparent in the Dot Torture drill.
Through a series of under 10-second engagements with one to five rounds each, Moore’s groupings were so tight it appeared that rounds entered and exited through the same hole.
“Marksmanship in this competition was huge, but so was keeping your head, having a plan, stress management, and course of fire memory,” Moore said.
The San Antonio native said teamwork played a big part in his success.
“We all shared gear, ideas, and trained amongst each other. You can’t come here being a ‘one way only’ shooter,” he said.
Moore said the competition also showed him the types of non-standard training that can be conducted on any range.
“I really want to emphasize the types of non-standard training that can be conducted,” Moore said. “Get away from standard square ranges, continue to emphasize to have an imagination to what type of training that can really be accomplished, and still have some fun, valuable training.”
Mercer, also with the 416th, not only contended with the tasks but also a temperamental M249.
But like any good Soldier, he kept working through the issues to place in the top tier of the category.
“We basically hit every scenario,” Mercer said, recalling night fire, close quarters and even qualifying wearing a chemical protective mask.
“Being a combat match, you had to be able to clear the weapon when it jammed and with a sense of urgency. All of that plays into the competition,” the Springfield, Missouri native said.
With the challenges he faced, Mercer said that was a value-added that he can share with others.
“Being a M249 team leader, the level of proficiency I gained here is something that I can bring back to my entire company to any situation that might come up,” Mercer said.
While Mercer said he is not nearly as accomplished a shooter as Freeman and Moore, coming to this competition was valuable to him.
“Marksmanship matters, especially in the U.S. Army Reserve. Coming here and winning in the rifle and the pistol and placing in the top in the M249 shows that we can really bring a lot to a competition like this,” Mercer said.
Brig. Gen. Michael J. Warmack, U.S. Army Reserve Command deputy chief of staff for the G-3/5/7, said winning two-out-of-three in a marksmanship competition is a testament to the capabilities and the caliber of the U.S. Army Reserve.
“This showcases Total Army and the importance of the U.S. Army Reserve,” Warmack said. “Soldier Readiness is what we’re focused on and these NCOs and this officer have demonstrated, by example, Soldier Readiness at the highest level. It displays the talents the U.S. Army Reserve brings to the total force both in uniform and in civilian skills.”