Happy Hooligans Retain Top Spot at State Marksmanship Competition
By Staff Sgt. Eric W. Jensen, 119th Wing
/ Published July 23, 2018
Devils Lake, N.D. -- After snapping a three-decade-long winning streak by besting perennial winners from the Jamestown-based 817th Engineer Company (Sapper) last year, the Fargo-based 119th Wing “A” team again captured top honors at the 2018 Adjutant General’s Combat Marksmanship Match. The 3-day event this year was held July 7-9 at the Camp Grafton Training Center firing complex, near McHenry, North Dakota.
The North Dakota Air National Guard shooters attained the highest aggregate score from multiple shooting matches to be recognized as the best overall team. The marksmen are Senior Master Sgt. Wade Swenson, Senior Airman Gavin Rook, Senior Airman Tyrel Hoppe and Senior Airman Cody DeWandeler. The team also had the highest scores in the “Pistol Team” and “Rifle Team” categories.
About 60 North Dakota Guard marksmen fired at an assortment of targets over the weekend using pistols, rifles and shotguns in a number of distinct shooting matches. The shooters competed in singles competition or in a 4-man team to earn the accolades of their peers, prepare for future regional and national competitions and develop new shooters within the state’s marksmanship program.
“I am convinced that a strong marksmanship program makes our National Guard members a better fighting force, and the training they have received at this competition is proving that to be true, just by looking at the scores on the range,” Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann, North Dakota adjutant general, told the competitors on the final day of the event. “By dedicating yourselves to becoming disciplined shooters, you can take that knowledge back to your units to share with your battle buddies and wingmen to develop better-trained marksmen within our ranks.”
Following the 119th Wing team in the overall aggregate rankings was a group of shooters from the 817th Engineer Company. The second place winners are Staff Sgt. Jason Dittus, of Mandan, North Dakota; Sgt. Andrew Maley, of Enderlin, North Dakota; Spc. Austin Mittleider, of Fargo, North Dakota; and Spc. Tanner Coauette, of Fargo.
In individual competition, Rook, of the 119th “A” team, was named the best overall marksman, or “top gun.” He was followed by Dittus, who came in second, and Maley, who finished third.
Rook is part of a father-son tandem competing with the 119th Wing. Senior Master Sgt. Brian Rook, who has competed with the North Dakota Air National Guard team for almost a decade, has had the opportunity to see his son develop into a competitive marksman at the state competition over the last three years. However, shooting has been a shared enthusiasm for the pair much longer than that.
“I started Gavin shooting when he was only 4 or 5 years old, and he has always loved it. He used to come with me to practice before he ever joined the Guard. It was always a dream of his to be on the Wing Alpha team,” Senior Master Sgt. Brian Rook said. “Of course, I am very proud of all that Gavin has done (with his shooting). He has progressed a lot faster than I ever expected, but we practice a lot. We shoot trap all summer, and we shoot at ranges all year round.”
Developing new shooters for competition is a core aim for North Dakota National Guard Marksmanship Program planners. Tech Sgt. Josh VonBank, shooting team coach for the 119th Wing, said seeing novice marksman like Senior Airman Rook attain such notable achievements during competition has validated the mentor/mentee approach adopted within the program.
“We wanted to engage and train the new shooters in a way we haven’t been able to in previous years. We conducted weapons familiarization on all the assigned weapons before the weekend’s events, went through the matches, scoring and commands, as well. Shooters were then given the opportunity to zero their weapons at 100 and 300 yards with the best coaches and instructors we have in our program,” he said. “It is encouraging to see the men and women participating throughout the weekend come up to the experienced shooters with questions, looking for ways to get better.”
Now, the marksmen look to the upcoming yearly competition cycle and begin to prepare for regional and national competitions. The first of those events is the Marksmanship Advisory Council Region VI, held annually in August in Guernsey, Wyoming. North Dakota marksmen have excelled in this competition in past years.
“We will have two very competitive joint Air and Army teams to send forward to the regional competition and hopefully, we will secure our seventh regional title in a row,” VonBank said. “We also hope to secure another invite to the U.S. Army Small Arms Championships (in Fort Benning, Georgia) again, and finish the competitive cycle (next spring) with the Winston P. Wilson Small Arms Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas.”