By Staff Sgt Sherree Grebenstein, 167th Airlift Wing
/ Published September 17, 2009
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Members of the National Guard Bureau's elite marksmanship team took top honors at an annual Interservice rivalry in late July as well as the National Rifle Matches held at Camp Perry in Ohio in August.
The ALL GUARD Rifle Team - comprised of Airmen and Soldiers in National Guard units from across the nation - proved their superior marksmanship skills at the 48th annual Interservice Rifle Championship July 20-28 in Quantico, Va.
Hosted by the Marine Corps Combat Development Council, active duty personnel, Guardsmen and Reservists took aim on Range 4 for bragging rights as the best rifle marksmen in the military. Active duty personnel in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard as well as Reservists challenged their Army and Air Guardsmen counterparts both individually and in teams to see who was the best shot when it came to firing the M16 and M14 rifles.
Two Airmen from the West Virginia Air National Guard based in Martinsburg, W.Va., led the ALL GUARD Rifle Team in its winning endeavors during the week-long tournament. Capt. Rodney D. Jenkins, officer-in-charge, and Master Sgt. Gary E. Diefenderfer, noncommissioned officer in charge for the element, served as both captains and coaches for the rifle team which was comprised of 22 top notch shooters. Both Jenkins and Diefenderfer are assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing.
Participants took aim to see who could score the best while firing 20 rounds each at targets from 200, 300, 600 and 1,000 yards away. Individual and team marksmanship skills were tested in unsupported standing, sitting and prone positions while firing downrange.
Diefenderfer coached the rifle team which walked away with the first place trophy and Jenkins' team earned third place in the 1000 yard matches. Both Jenkins and Diefenderfer coached a 10 man team to win "High Guard or Reservist" award and took second place overall in that match.
Many of the ALL GUARD members took home personal awards, with one member on the winning team capturing the title of Interservice Rifle Champion.
"This is the second year in a row that we took first place out of all of the other services," said Jenkins, a flight nurse with the 167th Airlift Wing's Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
"The Interservice Championship is the cru de gras," he noted.
Diefenderfer lauded the marksmanship skills of the ALL GUARD Rifle Team which is funded by the National Guard Bureau noting, "The shooters did their jobs. They focused, paid attention to details and minimized mistakes."
"Link those elements together with teamwork and you have a winning combination," he said.
Both Jenkins and Diefenderfer, who is a crew chief with Isochronical Inspection, have fired the M16 as well as the M14 rifle at unit, state and national competitions across the country since earning spots on the team in 2000 and 1996 respectively.
Each is a recipient of the Air Force Distinguished Rifleman Badge which is individually numbered. Only about 320 have been awarded since the beginning of the Air Force in 1947. Jenkins takes pride in wearing badge # 310 with Diefenderfer earning the privilege to wear badge # 271.
Being tapped for the ALL GUARD Rifle Team is an ultra-competitive process.
And just because one is on the team this year doesn't guarantee they'll be scoping out a target next year during marksmanship competitions.
"They try out and every year they have to make the cut," said Diefenderfer of Waynesboro, Pa.
To even be considered for the ALL GUARD Rifle Team a marksman must shoot at the master level or qualify with between 94 to 96.9 out of a possible 100 score. A high master hits the mark at least 97 times out of a possible 100.
"We really don't accept someone below a master score," said Diefenderfer.
When competing against others on the same playing field, one wants to take top score. Anything less is unacceptable.
"If you shoot 97 out of a 100 you are disappointed," said Diefenderfer. "You want to shoot 100 or you are going home to practice."
"We select shooters that can manage three things: compatibility, availability and shooting skills," he said. "Shooters must be team-oriented and have the ability to see service before self."
"With the tempo of most units, the ALL GUARD team member knows that his state and his home unit come first and that should be his primary focus. (Finally,) the shooter must possess shooting skills. We want shooters to engage the target with well-aimed shots," Diefenderfer said.
"It all goes back to being like the Minute Man symbol with a plow in the earth and a rifle in the hand. After all, without skilled marksmanship in the Armed Forces to protect our soil we would not have been able to evolve into the fighting force we are today," he added.
Jenkins said the marksmen on the ALL GUARD Rifle Team "are the best of the best and are ambassadors for their state, but the Airmen and Soldiers still must continually hone their skills to stay competitive."
The National Guard's marksmanship unit is based at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Ark., and provides a centralized location to sharpen the team's marksmanship skills.
But the small hand-picked marksmanship unit also takes practice aim at other shooting ranges around the country to include one designed especially for it in the Mountain State.
Prior to competing in the Interservice Rifle Competition in late July, members honed their skills at the Whitehorse Shooting Center in Buckhannon, W.Va. It was built by West Virginia National Guard engineers as a training facility not only for use by the military, but public too. The 20-year-old facility was constructed on an old strip mine area that was converted to allow shooters to hone their skills up to 1000 yards. Through use of the range the ALL GUARD members have become very capable of placing a well aimed shot with their M14 through wind, mirage and light.
The marksmen have proved their mettle time and again while firing unsupported - without the use of scopes or sighting aides - onto a target about the size of a 10 inch pie plate at 1000 yards.
"One good thing about training as a team in one location is that everyone gets on the same time zone and they get acclimated to the environment," Jenkins said. The Martinsburg resident said it comes in handy when Guardsmen from the West Coast meet their counterparts from the East Coast.
When asked what makes for a top marksman, Jenkins said the "basics" come into play: proper sight alignment, trigger control, natural point of aim and breathing.
"The best weapons systems never hurt either," he said.
The ALL GUARD Rifle Team has one armor, Master Sgt. Daniel Norwood, who is based at Camp Robinson and is the only Air Force armorer who works for the National Guard.
"His only mission after 25 years of being a master gun smith is to simply squeeze every bit of accuracy out of that rifle," Diefenderfer said with a smile.
Both Airmen credit the 167th Airlift Wing with allowing them the opportunity to participate in the various marksmanship competitions as well as continue with sustainment training.
"We are very fortunate and lucky to be in the National Guard and where we are today," Jenkins said.
"We are very appreciative for every day that we can squeeze off a round," Diefenderfer added.
Both men pointed out that the need to have skilled marksmanship in battle is important in an effort to minimize collateral damage and engage the target with extreme prejudice.
"We take pride in teaching basic skills," Diefenderfer said.
And those skills are not solely for the benefit of the members of the rifle team. The elite marksmen in turn return to their individual units and share the training with fellow Guardsmen.
"We mold these individuals together through countless repetition and strive for excellence in every shot for a whole year then they go back to their units to return these skills," Diefenderfer said.
Jenkins said members of the rifle team also teach a small arms firing school for civilians and military members as well as conduct rifle marksmanship training for deploying soldiers who will be placed in harm's way. In addition, the elite marksmen are often utilized as subject matter experts when called upon to share their special skills.
"It's our way of giving back," he said.
Both Jenkins and Diefenderfer directed their team's fire power at the National Matches held at Camp Perry in early August. The ALL GUARD Rifle Team won several individual and team awards as well as defended their titles as the country's best long range service rifle competitors.
This year Jenkins and Diefenderfer walked away with three National Long Range titles, outshooting every state, region, collegiate, police, and service team.
"Excellence in all we do," Jenkins said with reflection in his eyes.