When the All Guard International Combat Team went to England’s Army Training Centre Pirbright to compete for — and win — the historic Fortuna Trophy in late June, it had some help from the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
Sgt. Brandon Swanson, a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, has been a member of the All Guard team for the past few years and taken part in international marksmanship competitions each spring at Camp Robinson, Arkansas.
“This year we finally received the funding to once again attend an international competition in another country,” Swanson said. “We were excited for the chance.”
The British Army Reserve Operational Shooting Competition, featuring more than 200 international marksmen, was the first overseas contest for the All Guard team since 2006, and the first Fortuna Trophy victory since 2000. According to Swanson, the odds were against the eight-man U.S. team heading into this year’s contest.
“We were huge underdogs,” he said. “We had a very young team with no experience shooting in England and didn’t know what to expect. Their matches are different than what we shoot here, so it took a little getting used to.”
The differences included how the competitions are administered. In the United States, the range controller gives commands to the competitors on the course of fire before each firing round. In England, the range controller only issues the command “Watch out, watch out” to signify the start of a round — competitors are responsible for knowing the course of fire for each match.
The Fortuna consists of four matches — the Defense Assessment, the Advance to Contact, the Pistol Close Quarter Battle, and the Urban Contact Assessment-Rifle. Contestants wore body armor plates and at least 25 pounds of equipment, and sprinted a minimum of 100 yards to each firing line.
“We hardly ever fired a shot without being winded,” Swanson said. “One match even had a 500-yard sprint prior, and then we went into the sprinting and shooting portion.”
While physically demanding, Swanson quickly grew to respect the rigorous and realistic demands of the Fortuna competition.
“We learned to build better shooting positions that worked under duress, and how to make it more combat-effective by adapting it to our body armor,” he explained.
The competition is built on a foundation of fair play, as the All Guard team was given the opportunity to practice the course, which not only improved familiarization but allowed for strategy development.
“On game day, everyone just focused on shooting the best they could,” Swanson said. “After it was all said and done, the U.S. came out on top. The margin of victory was very narrow.”
Every All Guard team member finished among the top 30 as individual shooters. The team won the Overall Individual Aggregate Championship, Overall Individual Rifle Aggregate Championship, and the Overall Individual Pistol Aggregate Championship. Swanson finished third in the international Fleeting Encounter event.
Sgt. Justus Densmore of the Texas Army National Guard was the high shooter for the All Guard team and also named Best International Individual Champion. He placed first in the Rural Contact and Urban Contact events, and third in the international Attack and Reorganize event.
“As an individual, it was a great honor winning the Fortuna Trophy,” Densmore said, “but it took our whole team to pull it off. We all came together to build each other up and help each other shoot the best possible scores we could.”
Swanson said he was grateful and honored to be one of eight marksmen to take part in the competition.
“It’s one of the pinnacles of a lot of hard work, focus, self-critique, and really honing an individual skill,” Swanson said, noting that team members practice in their home states and then learn to collaborate as a team.
“If someone is struggling, we are all more than willing to help them out,” he continued. “We share experiences and tips that help each other get better. It definitely made me a better-rounded shooter. When you consistently shoot with the top 20 shooters in the U.S., you can really learn a lot.”
The Fortuna Trophy competition dates back to 1882, when the National Rifle Association of the United States presented the trophy to the Great Britain Volunteer team in the International Military matches at Creedmoor, England. The competition took an extended break between 1932 and 1993. The All Guard team last won the trophy in 2000.
The names of winning team members are engraved on the trophy. In addition to Swanson and Densmore, this year’s All Guard team includes Maj. David Stapp, officer in charge, Arkansas Army National Guard; Master Sgt. Greg Neiderhiser, noncommissioned officer in charge, Pennsylvania Army National Guard; 1st Sgt. Jonathan Chapman and 1st Sgt. Tommy McGee, Louisiana Army National Guard; Sgt. 1st Class Paul Deugan, Iowa Army National Guard; Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Noe, Arkansas Army National Guard; Sgt. Evan Messer, North Dakota Army National Guard; and Sgt. Jeremy Steffel, Virginia Army National Guard. The trophy remains in England due to its size.
“My name will join another Wisconsin Army National Guardman’s — Lt. Col. J.R. Treharne,” Swanson said of the Soldier who was a captain on the All Guard team in 2000. “He is the person I owe much of my shooting career to. I definitely would not have been on that trip or be half the marksman that I am today if he hadn’t taken the time to help me out.”
The All Guard team plans to return to next year’s competition.
Capt. Theresa Walker and 2nd Lt. Memory Strickland contributed to this report.