USAF shooting team aims for excellence at national competition

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bates
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
Members of the U.S. Air Force Shooting Team are setting their sights on excellence as they compete in the 2009 National Rifle and Pistol Championships here. 

The championships, sponsored by the National Rifle Association, began July 14 and run through August 19. This competition is considered to be the United States' "World Series of shooting sports," and competition draws several thousand marksmen from around the country to compete in five separate shooting categories: Pistol, smallbore three-position, smallbore prone, high power rifle and long range. 

"The National Championships at Camp Perry represent a tradition that honors not only the shooting sports, but the Second Amendment," said Ron Schmeits, the NRA president. "Each summer, thousands of people travel here to compete in these prestigious matches and we're proud to present them to our family of competitive shooters." 

Among this family is the Air Force Shooting Team, a group of active and Reserve Airmen who come together several times a year to compete against the best shooters in the nation. 

"We get to shoot rifles and represent the Air Force up against some of the best marksmen around," said Tech. Sgt. Darryl Smith, a member of the team. "It doesn't get any better than that." 

This competition isn't only made up of civilians, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps also have teams. 

"Yeah, there's definitely an interservice rivaly," said Master Sgt. Matthew Griffin, another shooting team member. "We talk some smack back and forth and really love to come out here and mix it with them." 

Nowhere is this rivalry more evident than at the annual Interservice Rifle Championships, a shooting competition that pits each service's team against each other. During this year's event, which took place at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., the Air Force took first in both the Army and Air Force matches. 

"This was the first time we've ever won two service matches," Sergeant Griffin said. 

But more remarkable than winning these matches is the fact that the Air Force team did so with far less than its sister service teams. The Air Force team operates on a budget that is 1/6 that of the Army or Marines and most of the team members come out of pocket to participate in shooting events. 

Some pay their own entry fees and almost all of the equipment the team uses is bought using their own money. 

"I use one rifle that I bought myself," Sergeant Griffin said. "Meanwhile, some of the Marines are using four or five different rifles the Marine Corps supplied them." 

The other service teams also have more time to dedicate to shooting. In the Army, Navy and Marines, the servicemember's job is being on the team. In the Air Force, being part of the shooting team is extracurricular. 

"We shoot when we can, but we all have other jobs in the Air Force," said Sergeant Smith, who also works as an aerospace ground equipment specialist with the 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "And we're all spread throughout the Air Force, too." 

This means the team rarely gets to practice together. 

"If there's a group of us in the same area or at the same base, we'll shoot together, but normally we just see each other at these competitions," Sergeant Smith said. 

These difficulties haven't affected the team's performance. In every event they compete, the members of the Air Force team are respected as true marksmen. 

"The Air Force always has a good showing," said Marine Cpl. Jared Litke, a member of the USMC Rifle Team out of MCB Quantico. "And we respect what they do, knowing they can't dedicate all their time to shooting like some of the service teams." 

For the Air Force team's members, it's not about money or fame or even rivalry. It's about representing the service and demonstrating a passion for shooting. 

"For everyone on this team, it's all about a love for the sport and a desire to represent the Air Force well," said Capt. Matt Lechliter, an Air Force shooting team member. 

But above all of this is the team. 

"When we're out here shooting, we're not just shooting for ourselves, we're shooting for the team," Sergeant Griffin said. "And when it's all said and done, this team wants to win." 

For more information about the National Rifle and Pistol Championships, or to see a list of results from the competition, visit