FORT DEVENS, Mass.
-- For most National Guardsmen, a trip to the range means beating your qualification score from last time or learning a new weapon system, but for a few dozen Massachusetts National Guardsman, the three-day trip to the ranges at Fort Devens, Mass., going to the range meant taking home the biggest trophy.
The 2011 State Marksmanship Competition was held this weekend from Friday, Aug. 12 to 14, at Fort Devens for Guardsman, Army or Air, to earn a spot in the next level of competition.
Unlike some shooting competitions, this event incorporated a few elements that are unique to those serving in the military.
"We try to simulate a stressful environment where you have multiple targets from multiple distances and different stances that you might find in a combat situation, like kneeling and prone," said Sgt. 1st Class David Ulrich, a Belchertown, Mass., native who serves as a Small Arms Readiness Team section non-commissioned officer.
There isn't a lot of time to shoot accurately during the different events before a whistle of buzzer sounds, signaling the end of the target exposure, which helps the competition function also as a combat training exercise, he added.
Despite the training aspect of the competition, having to not only compete against a score from the previous year like at most qualification ranges, helps the Soldiers and Airmen shoot better for the sake of beating someone else.
"There's a little more pressure to perform better than the guy next to you and it actually brings the level of shooting up to a different competitive level to where you put pressure on yourself, pressure on your peers, and at the end of the day the highest score wins and the best shooter prevails," Ulrich said.
"We try to much as much pressure on the shooters as we can to make them shoot fast and accurate," he added. "Obviously we find out who the best shooters are, who shoots the fastest and most accurately by competition."
The best shooters will have an opportunity to advance further and represent Massachusetts in the next stage of the competition, which will ultimately culminate in a national match held in October in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The competition featured events using both the pistol and rifle where the first, second and third place finishers in either the open or novice class were awarded trophies. Team trophies were also presented to the top three teams. For the individual with the highest combined score over all the events, a plaque of his or her name will be added to the First Sergeant Kevin A. Dupont Memorial Trophy, which is on display at Joint Force Headquarters in Milford, Mass.
"We only identify the winner of the Kevin Dupont trophy as the person who has the total aggregate score of the combat pistol, excellence in competition match, the rifle EIC match, so it really brings a different meaning to us, to people who have worked with Kevin and it brings the level of integrity and sportsmanship and marksmanship I think up a level when you have something like that," said Ulrich.
This year, Tech Sgt. Christopher Cekovsky, a combat arms instructor for the Security Forces Squadron, 104th Fighter Wing, received the honor of being the First Sergeant Kevin A. Dupont Memorial Trophy winner, as well as being a member of the first place team from the 104th Fighter Wing.
"We did great as a team. I'm a team concept guy, yes, I take trophies, but it's a team," said Cekovsky. "They support me in the things that they do for the team and I support them and that’s how it works, if I win, if they win, we all win."
"I'm very proud, and as the marksmanship coordinator for the base, it helps drive your program," he added. "People support you when you win, and hopefully they'll stick with you when you have hard times and those are your true supporters.”Whether participants went home with a trophy or two, or left with a few new tips on how to do something easier given by an experienced shooter they met, the guardsmen who took part in this competition now have a new story to tell or a new piece of advice to give when they return to their home units, a prize any shooter can hope for.