JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - When Missouri National Guard marksmanship team members returned from Camp Robinson, Ark., as winners of the national Winston P. Wilson shooting competition in October, they brought home trophies and plaques, crucial training and Show-Me State pride.
In addition, they sported marksmanship tabs and badges.
“The Governor’s Twelve Tab was created in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, and was awarded to the 12 rifle team members selected to shoot in the United States Army Forces Command matches. Since the matches were discontinued, we changed the tab to be awarded to the 12 members selected to shoot at the Winston P. Wilson matches,” said Missouri State Command Sgt. Maj. James Schulte, a long-time shooter.
The Governor’s Twelve Tab, worn centered above a Soldier’s unit patch on the left shoulder, was awarded to all the Missouri team members who competed at Camp Robinson.
Some shooters, including Sgt. Ryan Liggett, have earned a berth at Winston P. Wilson more than once: a bronze hawthorn cluster notes the award of a second and seceding award of the Governor’s Twelve; a silver hawthorn cluster is worn in lieu of five bronze hawthorn clusters.
Most Missouri Army and Air Guard members who shot at the Guard’s national competition also sport the Adjutant General’s Twenty Badge.
The circular badge, given to those who shoot in the top 20 competitors at the state-level, annual combat matches, is worn centered on the right breast pocket of the Army combat and Airman battle uniform.
Some 100 shooters compete in the annual state matches, and participants compete against all other Soldiers who have already received the award, so there might only be one or two new recipients each year.
“The Adjutant General’s Twenty was created in the ‘80s to recognize the top 20 competitors in the state combat matches,” Schulte said.
“Originally it was the top eight rifle, eight pistol, two machine gun and two sniper shooters. As the matches changed, we shifted them to the top 20 competitors at the rifle/pistol championships. Both the Governor’s Twelve and Adjutant General’s Twenty are Missouri National Guard awards.”
The Governor’s Twelve Tab and Adjutant General’s Twenty Badge are authorized to be worn only with ACUs and ABUs. Ribbons are worn in lieu of the badge and tab on the Army Service Uniform and Airman dress uniform.
Other marksmanship awards include the President’s Hundred Tab, which is awarded to the top 100 shooters of the Presidents match at the National Rifle and Pistol Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, said Schulte. The Chiefs Fifty Badge is awarded to the top 50 shooters at the Winston P. Wilson matches.
Excellence in Competition badges are more difficult to come by, but some are worn by Missouri National Guard sharpshooters.
“The Distinguished Marksmanship Badge was instituted in 1884 by Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan before being broken down into two categories in 1903 – the Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge and the Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge,” said Michael Molinaro with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga.
“These badges, along with the Distinguished International Shooter Badge, are the most prestigious marksmanship badges Soldiers can earn in their military career.”
Soldiers earn points toward the coveted badges by shooting at Excellence in Competition (EIC) matches held throughout the country.
Soldiers who place in the top 10 percent of all non-distinguished competitors in an EIC match earn points, said Molinaro.
Any points earned will leave a shooter with a bronze badge; 20 points earns a marksman a silver badge. Award of the Distinguished Designation Badge is made when a Soldier has earned 30 EIC credit points in recognized matches.
For rifle, only 3,275 distinguished badges have been awarded; for pistol, 1,740.
Less than 400 Soldiers have earned both the distinguished rifle and pistol badges. Among those 400 are 12 Missouri National Guardsmen, including Schulte and Staff Sgt. James Phelps, the latter of which said the badges are worn on the Army Service Uniform.
Badges and tabs aside, the training and camaraderie among shooters remain the real prize, said Phelps.
“I love shooting, but the camaraderie with the other Soldiers and between the units is great,” Phelps said.
“You get to network with other shooters and learn from them. And in turn, I love to pass along what I’ve learned to other Soldiers, because ultimately, it’s not about the competition, it’s about battlefield survival. The better marksman you are, the better Soldier you are.”
Schulte, who started shooting competitively in 1975, believes marksmanship competitions serve as vital training tools because they teach Soldiers to shoot under pressure and think on their feet.
“They learn to read the wind and mirage, the finer points of trigger control and sight alignment. They also learn the fundamentals of gunfighting, which is the most critical part of surviving on the battlefield,” said Schulte.
“The most gratifying experience I had was when a Soldier returned from Iraq and told me the lessons I had taught him years before saved his life.”
Liggett, of Marshall, wears his marksmanship tabs and badges proudly, but that’s not why he shoots.
“The reason I shoot is to compete, share techniques and strategies, and because of the camaraderie of competitors at the matches, who are among the best of the best from across the nation,” Liggett said. “The knowledge you gain from the veteran shooters at this level of competition is priceless.”