CAMP PERRY, Ohio - One of the best rifle marksmen in the National Guard hails from Wisconsin.
Sgt. Brandon Swanson of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, a member of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Brigade Combat Team, not only took the top individual spot in the Marksmanship Advisory Council Region Four-Small Arms Championship, but was part of the third-place Wisconsin National Guard team.
Illinois teams took first and second overall, and also claimed the individual pistol champion.
The Wisconsin National Guard fielded two four-person teams this year. Team A consisted of Swanson, Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Zabinski, Recruiting and Retention Battalion; Sgt. Aaron Cobosco, Detachment 1, Company F, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion; and Staff Sgt. Jordan Ceglar, Detachment 1, Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Team B included Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Iwanski, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment; Sgt. Tyler Freer, 426th Regional Training Institute; Spc. Max Henrickson, Detachment 1, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment; and Staff Sgt. Tristan Babl, Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment.
Ceglar placed first in the novice class and third for combat rifle excellence.
"As a shooter, you are never really satisfied," Swanson said of the final results. "There is always room for improvement and you always need to be pushing yourself."
Swanson allowed that the Wisconsin shooters did well considering that the state is still building its marksman program, meaning the competitors were largely responsible for their own training and preparation heading into the contest. Pistol marksmanship is an area where Wisconsin shooters can improve, he said.
"The Beretta M9 is a challenge to master, and it can take years," he explained. "Anyone can stand there and apply good fundamentals slowly, but throw scoring rings and time in there - it changes everything."
Swanson is also a member of the All Guard Service Rifle Team, which means he represents the National Guard at military and civilian marksmanship competitions across the U.S.
Competitions arenít just about winning awards though. The ability to shoot accurately is a basic Soldier skill.
"I think fundamentally, itís the most important thing in the entire military," Swanson said.
Swanson uses his marksmanship skills to positively affect his fellow Soldiers. He works with other units in Wisconsin to pass along those skills, and will soon be attending the Small Arms Master Gunner course to become a marksmanship instructor.
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Glover, of the Ohio National Guard's Master Weapons Training Team, also knows a little bit about training marksmanship skills. He has personally been shooting competitively since 2002, but has been part of the MWTT for the last six years.
Glover has spent a lot of time on the range training Soldiers how to be an effective shooter.
"We have done a lot of support for the pre- and post-mobilization training for deploying units," Glover said. "They bring us in to help them out on the live fire portion of their training."
The primary mission of Gloverís team is to provide primary marksmanship instruction for all Ohio units. As the team's assistant noncommissioned officer-in-charge, it is something that he takes a lot of pride in, but he isnít too proud to learn some new tips at the competitions though.
"One of our guys has a different hold on his standing position where he gets his arm fully extended on the front hand guard," said Glover. "I think it has promise."
The Marksmanship Advisory Council Small Arms Championships occur each year around the nation. There are seven MAC regions in the U.S. that include all 54 states and territories. Ideally, each state conducts their own state matches to find the best teams to send to the MAC regional matches.
The matches are sponsored by the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Col. Franklin D. Powell, commander of the NGMTC, feels competition is another training tool to strengthen our core of service members.
"These shooters need to take what they learn at these competitions back to their units," said Powell. "If they work hard out here and learn from other shooters, they can bring back a wealth of knowledge that can be invaluable to their units."
First-time shooter Zabinski of Holmen, Wisconsin, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's Alpha Company, Recruiting and Retention Battalion, seems to agree.
"The shooting community is awesome," Zabinski said. "I can talk to anybody from any state and theyíre willing to give up any information whatsoever. Weíre all on the same team."
And speaking of teams, Zabinski and Swanson share another trait of excellence - they both represented Wisconsin as Best Warrior competitors. Swanson competed at the National Guard Best Warrior event in 2011, and Zabinski competed at the regional event held at Camp Ripley, Minnesota in May.
Swanson noted that schedules and other factors make it difficult to keep the same competitors on the team from the summer regional competition to the finals the following spring.
"I think this will be the first year we will keep all eight and go to nationals in the spring," Swanson said. "I feel we have two pretty solid, closely matched teams, which is always the goal. It is so much better when your B Team can be as competitive as your A Team and help hand other teams losses."
Vaughn R. Larson contributed to this report.