Army Marksmanship Unit looks back at landmark year 


Sgt. 1st Class Janet Sokolowski, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, gives pointers to a female cadet at the inaugural Afghan National Army Female Officer Candidate School.

For the "Home of Champions," Fort Benning, Ga., setting an unprecedented standard of excellence is no easy task. Collectively, the soldiers from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) unwavering commitment to uphold its standard of excellence led to what may have been the unit’s most successful year since the unit’s inception in 1956.

USAMU’s mission is to enhance the Army’s recruiting effort, raise the standard of the Army’s marksmanship proficiency and support the Army’s small arms research and development initiatives in order to raise the Army’s overall combat readiness.

In 2010, USAMU trained more soldiers, played a crucial role in leading innovative small arms research and development initiatives, and put the very best of Army soldier skills on display to an unmatched degree as the unit’s soldiers won more world and national championships than ever before.

While the USAMU maintained a forward deployed presence throughout the entire year and established a successful and novel marksmanship instruction program for Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, one of the most gratifying aspects of its commitment to the war may have been the unit’s role in the first-ever Afghan National Army Female Officer Candidate School class.

Sgt. 1st Class Janet Sokolowski volunteered to deploy to teach this inaugural class how to properly shoot the M-9 pistol.

"It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever been part of," said Sokolowski. "The girls were like sponges. They realized the opportunity in front of them and listened to everything I told them. I wish I could have stayed longer."

USAMU will continue to provide a persistent rotating presence or marksmanship training teams to Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

At home, the USAMU trained more than 4,000 soldiers from U. S. Army Forces Command, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command on marksmanship fundamentals and techniques.

It hosted the highest-attended All-Army Small Arms Championship of all-time, enabling more than 300 soldiers from across the force to receive premium training while competing in stressful situations. The unit also established a new combined Close Quarters Squad Designated Marksman class, which added to the many marksmanship programs offered to soldiers and units as they improve their marksmanship techniques prior to deploying to combat.

The unit’s Custom Firearms Shop leveraged its expertise and facilities to improve weapon systems and ammunition, and provide rapid feedback to ongoing broader Army research and development projects. A highlight was maintaining the unit’s proud tradition of providing the Army with its precision long-range small arms.

"For nearly half a century, our Army and our soldiers have benefitted from the experience and skills of the absolute best gunsmiths in the world – the gunsmiths of the USAMU Custom Firearms Shop," Lt. Col. Daniel Hodne, the USAMU commander said. "The M-21, M-24, M-4 Designated Marksman Rifle, and M-24 upgrade (M-2010), were all developed and tested by the shop."

The USAMU was paramount in the success of the Army adopting a new capability for our snipers with an upgrade to the M-24. The ability to provide not only technical data but direct user feedback assisted with the development of requirements and product improvements which will allow Army snipers to successfully complete missions abroad.

It wouldn’t be a successful year without dominating in competition. In showcasing the Army, the unit set 32 national records, and won 28 first-place individual medals in world, national and inter-service matches. Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond won the Gold Medal in Men’s Double Trap at the 50th International Shooting Sport Federation World Championships in Munich and was named USA Shooting’s Male Athlete of the Year for 2010.

Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski won two gold medals in World Cup competition, setting himself up for a possible spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. USAMU soldiers also earned the U.S. four country quota slots at the 2010 Olympics.

USAMU hosted dozens of countries and international competitors during the 2010 International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup USA. This event experienced so much success that the ISSF awarded a second consecutive World Cup to the United States for 2011, a rare occurrence. World Cup USA 2011 will come back to the USAMU and Fort Benning in May 2011.

The service rifle and service pistol teams swept every major team and individual award in 2010, a unit first.

Staff Sgt. Robert Park was the individual inter-service pistol champion while Staff Sgt. Brandon Green won the inter-service rifle championship. That success continued at the National Matches in Camp Perry, Ohio, when both teams won the coveted team championships.

"This unit fosters an environment of excellence, where in showcasing the Army and the best of Army soldier skills in competition, winning is not our mission, it is expected," Hodne said. "We expect our soldiers to win, we expect our soldiers to have the intense desire to win, and most importantly, we expect our soldiers to have the intense desire to train to win."

USAMU also formed a new Paralympic Section to create a unique opportunity for wounded veterans who are able to continue to serve on active duty and meet paralympic criteria to show the strength of our soldiers in paralympic competition.

Capping off the highly successful national matches was the championship won by Sgt. Sherri Jo Gallagher, the service rifle shooter who won the National High-Power Rifle Championship, the first service member to do so in 23 years. It was the start of many firsts for Gallagher.

Gallagher represented USAMU, the U.S. Army Accessions Command and TRADOC in the Army Best Warrior Competition, a grueling, week-long event that tested the competitors on warrior task and drills, combat scenarios, marksmanship, leadership, and a myriad of other categories.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston announced on Oct. 25 at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington that Gallagher was the 2010 Army Soldier of the Year, the first woman to win the honor. This was a crowning achievement for this unit of 100-plus soldiers.

"This unit is unique, for its mission, its history, and its accomplishments," Hodne said. "Most of all, it is unique for its remarkable people. I am extremely proud of them and grateful for their hard work and dedication to this unit, our Army, and our nation."