Mo. Guard marksmen take honors in small arms competition

The Missouri National Guard's team


FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Missouri National Guard's top marksmen continue to rank nationally for shooting skills, placing second in the nation as a team at the U.S. Army Small Arms Championships at Fort Benning, Ga., for matches taking place March 1-10. Individually, the four-man team placed high as well.

"We feel privileged to represent the state of Missouri at the 'All Army' Small Arms Championships," said team member and coach Sgt. 1st Class James Phelps, of Holts Summit. "I'm very proud of how each team member represented the state, and I'm extremely proud of the members individually as all of them are novice shooters. Our novices performed as well as many of the pro shooters."

Novice shooter Master Sgt. Benjamin Israel, who serves with the Air Guard's 139th Airlift Wing in St. Joseph, Mo., took third place overall champion as a novice while placing seventh overall among novice, pro, cadet and open class competitors -some-330 shooters in all. 

Israel also took first place as a novice in an individual rifle match and second in the overall classification on his service rifle. Several second-place finishes placed Israel among the top shooters at the competition for active duty Army, reserve and Guard components and cadets.

"I've been wanting to go to 'All Army' for a couple of years," said Israel, a member of the four-man team who took the National Guard marksmanship title at Winston P. Wilson at Camp Robinson, Ark., in 2010. 

Israel said he shot better than he anticipated going into the matches, as time on the range has been scarce for the Missouri Highway Patrolman. He shoots at drill yearly, he said, and "tinkers at home. I'm going to have to be more serious about it," he said.

Israel also scored points toward earning the "distinguished" marksmanship badge, an honor achieved by few. "I feel a little more pressure," he said. 

"As a team, we represented Missouri very well," said Israel. I don't mind losing to the Green Berets," he added of the team that took the top slot.

Sgt. James Whitener, also a member of the Missouri Guard team that holds the National Guard shooting title, came away from Benning a winner - taking first place as a novice in individual rifle and pistol matches. He took first place overall in an individual rifle match. 

"Being in the presence of some of the best shooters in the Army is humbling, and it provided me with numerous skills and tips to help me increase my shooting skills and abilities," said Whitener. "I enjoyed shooting side by side with people from all walks of Army life. We let them know that even though the National Guard is only a part time force, we are among the best Soldiers in the world and show it time and time again."

Whitener also took the stage during an award ceremony to receive the Col.

(Ret.) Ralph Puckett Excellence in Marksmanship award, given to the Soldier in the novice class who achieved the highest aggregate score of two EIC matches.

"The best part of the match for me was receiving the Col. Puckett award, and actually getting to meet the man of legend when I received it," said Fredericktown resident Whitener, who serves with the 1st of the 138th Infantry in St. Louis.

Staff Sgt. Jody Salcido, a member of Alpha Company, 1107th Aviation Group in Springfield, rounded out the four-man team. Salcido stepped in for National Guard champion team member Sgt. Ryan Liggett, who couldn't attend 'All Army' due to a prior commitment. 

Salcido made a strong showing even as the Small Arms Championships was only his third competitive match to date, taking 12th place novice and 39th place overall of the more than 300 shooters. 

"It was awesome to shoot with the best," said Salcido, noting that the fundamental skills he improved upon can help him train others in his Missouri Guard Company. "Personally, I could have done better," he said, "but 39th out of 330 isn't bad." Salcido hopes to work toward earning his distinguished badges, he said.

"Marksmanship is the paramount Soldier skill," said Lt. Col. Dan Hodne, commander of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. "It is the key component to Soldiers, units and Army combat readiness."

Team captain and coach, Phelps double distinguished in both rifle and pistol, placed first in a pro rifle match; took second place in an overall pistol and an overall combined arms match; and took fourth place in the overall individual pro classification. He placed eighth among the 330-plus shooters at Benning, the largest turnout in the history of the preeminent marksmanship training and competition.

"We all placed in the top ten percent," said Phelps of his team. "I enjoy coaching these guys and helping them be successful. They'll take home what they learned and make the Missouri National Guard even stronger."

For more information about the Missouri National Guard, click here.