LEHI, Utah – At 800 meters from the target, the Soldiers started running. The sun beat down on their shoulders as their boots pounded along the winding dirt road, kicking up dust. Each Soldier carried 50 rounds of ammunition in their magazines, strapped in various pouches. Four hundred meters from the target, they received the command, “rifles free.” With hearts hammering and blood pounding in their ears, they took careful aim, blinking away beads of sweat. Steam gathered behind their sunglasses.
A line of silhouettes appeared on a distant ridge.
The staccato popping of rifles echoed across the range.
These were the conditions of the Hoplite Run, a culminating course of fire during the Marksmanship Advisory Council Region VII Championship, an elite shooting championship for National Guard Soldiers and Airmen hosted by the Utah National Guard in Bluffdale, Utah, July 9-11.
Teams from California, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah went head-to-head on Camp Williams’ shooting ranges to determine individual and team champions of both service pistol and service rifle marksmanship in the novice and open classes. The match was sponsored and supported by the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center to provide a unique, combat-focused training event for National Guard members to hone their perishable marksmanship skills.
“Overmatch is what it means to effectively engage the enemy farther, better or faster than they can engage us,” said 1st Sgt. Kirk Holmer, match director and representative to NGMTC for the MAC Seven region. “This venue is the most effective way that I have ever seen to achieve overmatch.”
Holmer spent 10 years on Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha teams in the Central Command area of operations, trained Green Berets as a senior sniper instructor, and is a member of the All Guard International Combat Marksmanship Team.
“We’re extending our competency and capability at each one of these matches,” Holmer explained. “On the standard Army qualification course, most Soldiers are happy to get 40 out of 40 hits on pop-up, man-sized targets. In this venue, not only do competitors need to hit all targets, but all of their shots need to be in a lethal area of the target, about the size of a deck of cards, some 500 yards away.”
The MAC Seven Championship was divided into seven separate courses of fire using both the service rifle and service pistol: Combat Rifle Excellence-in-Competition, Combat Pistol EIC, General George Patton Combat Pistol, Reflexive Fire, Anti-Body Armor, Hoplite Run, and Team Covering Fire.
“Competing here definitely came with some extra challenges,” said California National Guard Staff Sgt. Erik Vargas. “A lot of our guys are from sea level, so running through these courses at over 6,000 feet in elevation, we definitely feel it.”
According to the official match program, the intent of courses of fire like the Hoplite Run or the Team Covering Fire is to test the competitors’ speed and ability to engage targets from multiple positions, at various distances, with an increased heart rate and under a time constraint.
“I like it because that’s what this is all about,” Vargas said. “Push through discomfort to complete the mission. The mission here is to shoot as best as you can and get better at shooting.”
During one string, competitors had to run 100 yards and engage targets 300 yards away with 10 rounds in under a minute.
“The purpose of this program is to train better shooters throughout the whole Army,” Vargas said. “You’re not going to get better at shooting or become a better Soldier if you don’t go out there and test yourself and learn all that there is to learn.”
Capt. Garrett Miller, the marksmanship training specialist for the National Guard Marksman Training Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and the officer-in-charge of the MAC Seven Championship, said the U.S. Army, as a whole, is transitioning its marksmanship training plan to focus on lethality. Shooting competitions play a major part in that transition.
“These programs are incredibly important to our lethality,” Miller said.
“We can utilize this competitive venue as a way to mimic the stress of combat in the continental U.S. without the additional risk.”
He outlined how the NGMTC is trying to develop better marksmanship programs throughout in all 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia through the Marksmanship Advisory Councils at a regional level, which translates into competitions like the MAC Seven Regional Championships.
“We have teams from across the West Coast who are here to train and compete with their rifles and pistols, the very same rifles and pistols that they would use on a deployment,” Miller said. “These competitive forums are fantastic training opportunities.”
For many of the Soldiers at the MAC Seven Championship, this was their first taste of competition.
“These competitions are unique because they represent such a wide range of individual skill levels,” Miller said. “We have competitors with multiple deployments and who have competed in international competitions literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a newly enlisted private at their very first competition. That kind of cross-training is how knowledge spreads, and that’s what makes competition such a powerful training tool.”
For Holmer, the competition represented the end of a chapter in his life. As he retires from the Utah National Guard, the NGMTC continues to seek out new competitors to take the torch.
“As a first-time competitor at this kind of match, I definitely learned a lot about my own abilities as a shooter,” said Maj. Robin Cox, S2 officer with the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Utah National Guard. “I also discovered a lot that I need to improve on. There are also some things that I did well, so that is a confidence booster.”
Cox has good reason to feel confident, having placed first in service pistol for the novice class with a total score of 395 and three Xs, or bull's-eyes.
Pistol & Rifle Team Champions
- Colorado Alpha – 6156-54x-39v
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Catlin; Staff Sgt. Micah Fulmer; Staff Sgt. Vincent Sakos; Sgt. Austin Norcross
- California Alpha – 5849-62x-34v
Staff Sgt. Erik Vargas; Sgt. Obed Gutierrez; Sgt. Wayne “Guido” Gray; Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Garcia
- Utah Alpha – 5760-50x-24v
Sgt. Peter Riddle; Staff Sgt. Patrick Moser; Staff Sgt. Morgan Davidson; Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Gregson
Overall Individual Aggregate Champion
- Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Catlin, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 1308-19x
- Staff Sgt. Erik Vargas, California Army National Guard; Score 1300-22x
- Staff Sgt. Micah Fulmer, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 1269-17x
Individual Rifle Aggregate Champion
- Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Catlin, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 770-7x
- Staff Sgt. Micah Fulmer, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 752-9x
- Staff Sgt. Erik Vargas, California Army National Guard; Score 747-7x
Individual Pistol Aggregate Champion
- Staff Sgt. Erik Vargas, California Army National Guard; Score 553-15x
- Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Catlin, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 538-12x
- Staff Sgt. Micah Fulmer, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 517-8x
Novice Individual Overall Aggregate Champion
- Master Sgt. Mitchell Moore, Utah Army National Guard; Score 1058-6x
- Spc. Jordan Zdanek, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 1039-14x
- Sgt. Charles Ketcham, Nevada Army National Guard; Score 1031-7x
Novice Individual Rifle Aggregate Champion
- Master Sgt. Mitchell Moore, Utah Army National Guard; Score 702-5x
- Spc. Jordan Zdanek, Colorado Army National Guard; Score 681-9x
- Sgt. Charles Ketcham, Nevada Army National Guard; Score 669-4x
Novice Individual Pistol Aggregate Champion
- Maj. Robin Cox, Utah Army National Guard; Score 395-3x
- 2nd Lt. Joshua Moody, Utah Army National Guard; Score 388-5x
- Staff Sgt. Tony Franklin, Nebraska Army National Guard; Score 381-3x
Additional scores can be found at https://wpwafsam.weebly.com select MAC 7 Results.