HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – It was a friendly shooting competition that had been taking place for years; the Qatari military against a composite team of American Service members stationed at nearby Camp As Sayliyah. The Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 972nd Military Police Company, currently deployed to the base, put the word out to its soldiers.
"Like most of the other guys, I've never done this before," said Pfc. David Atherton, military policeman, 972nd Military Police Company, "I figured it would be a cool experience."
It would be held at the Lusail Shooting Complex, a facility built to Olympic standards, and to even be allowed to try out for the team any interested Service member would have to be rated an expert shot and understand that all training would take place during non-duty hours.
The marksmanship competition consisted of five events; Rifle, Pistol, Officer Pistol, Skeet and Trap matches and would follow the rules for international competition.
The competition was scheduled to take place in one month.
Eight soldiers from the 972 eventually made the team.
Sgt.'s Jonathan Brooks and Joshua Ilnicky were on the rifle squad, Spc. Andrew White and Pfc. David Atherton shot Trap and Staff Sgt.'s Brian Gillman and Michael Pavone and Sgt.'s Wheldon Nelson and Thomas Gibson were on the Skeet team. Soldiers from other units on the base filled out the other roster positions.
The 972 soldiers worked different shifts; the only time they could practice together was after the late shift finished work and before the afternoon shift started; the range was over an hour away. This was a different type of shooting for the soldiers. The Qatari's provided coaches for the soldiers and taught them the rules of the events.
“This was an entirely new experience,” said Sgt. Joshua Ilnicky, military policeman, 972nd MP Company, “I’d never shot a rifle like this before.”
Ilnicky was an alternate in the Rifle event; he missed competing by less than one centimeter.
"At first I really didn't believe that you could put ten shots thru the exact same hole," said Ilnicky, "until I went out and did it."
The firearms used were not the M-4 carbines, M-9 Pistols and shotguns the soldiers were familiar with either; in their place were Olympic caliber Perazzi double barreled shotguns and Anschutz rifles, costing thousands of dollars apiece.
"My shotgun was worth $15,000," said Spc. Andrew White, military policeman, 972nd MP Company, "I definitely did not want to drop it."
The Qatari's supplied the firearms, which were kept at the range. Every day the soldiers arrived at Lusail they would check out their guns.
"We went into it knowing nothing about it," said Staff Sgt. Michael Pavone, military policeman, 972nd MP Company, "as it went on we learned who we would be shooting against."
Who the soldiers were shooting against came from all over the Qatari military; the Qatari Land Force's, Special Force's, Navy, Air Force, military police and band all had teams. Also competing were Qatar's Logistics Team #1 and #2.
"One of the guys in the competition was a competitor in the Beijing Olympics and his wife was a four time Olympian," said Ilnicky, "getting to shoot against those people was just awesome."
Qatar's Logistics Team #1 was comprised of members of their Olympic/National Teams; they won the overall competition. Team USA placed fifth.
"Shooting in the competition was pretty intense, said Sgt. Thomas Gibson, military policeman, 972nd MP Co." taking ... three weeks of practice against guys that have been doing it for years and years ... [it was] kind of intimidating, but we were with a great group of guys."
One of those "great guys" did well; Spc. Andrew White competed in the Trap event. White placed 4th out of 32 shooters.
"I have never shot trap before," said White, "I wanted to do the shooting competition."
There was not enough soldiers on the Trap squad, so White, who had fired a shotgun before, volunteered. Unlike most of the other soldiers, White did not have a coach.
"I kind of had to watch the Qatari professionals that were shooting and just go from there," said White, "I watched a lot of You Tube videos. That definitely helped a lot."
In the end, each soldier was glad that they took part in the competition; many of them have a new sport to enjoy.