FINDLAY TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Each year, members from the 171st Air Refueling Wing compete in local, state and national shooting team competitions.
Competition within the military directly supports the readiness and well-being of all service members. By making individuals rise to their highest level of individual potential, competition allows guardsmen to demonstrate their peak performance.
“Competing on the marksmanship team pushes me to evolve my personal techniques in order to win for the team, and I owe it to my shooters to bring those more advanced techniques back to them,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Yackovich, a combat arms instructor at the 171st Security Forces Squadron.
The competitive shooting team of the Pennsylvania National Guard can be traced all the way back to 1846 when a few businesses put together a competition. Over time, more matches developed, leading us to today where there are three big competitions across the state of Pennsylvania in which soldiers and airmen alike can participate.
“Being a member on the team and competing with our fellow service members in the Army Guard is, in part, upholding a legacy and tradition in the profession of arms,” said Yackovich.
While healthy competition helps guardsmen boost their individual skill level, competitions also act as a way for tight-knit relationships to form, increasing morale and unit cohesion.
“Although it has been said that you only compete against yourself, to me, the base marksmanship team is much larger than an individual competition,” said Yackovich. “As a team, we dedicate ourselves to bettering our teammates. It is because of that culture within the team that we continue to succeed and excel.”
One of the competitions across the state is the Governor’s Twenty, which was established in 1968. This competition is awarded annually at the state-level to the top 20 shooters. There are four different matches in which participants test their marksmanship skills with different weapons: the 400-yard slow fire, combat rifle excellence in competition, 30-yard slow fire, and combat pistol excellence in competition.
Another competition in which guardsmen can participate is The Adjutant General’s Combined Arms Match. In this competition, individuals compete at a variety of individual and team events, including combat rifle and pistol events. Participants need to have at least a four-person team to compete against other units within the state.
Last, but certainly not least is the Marksmanship Advisory Council regional match. This match is designed to focus on battle marksmanship. For this competition, guardsmen from both the Army and Air National Guard across the state combine together to make one team to compete within the region.
In addition to these state and regional competitions, the 171st shooting team also participates in national matches. Some of those include the Winston P. Wilson and the U.S. Army Small Arms Championship.
“The team has been around far longer than I have,” said Yackovich who has been in security forces since 2016. “It would be nearly impossible for me to list all of the competitions that the team has competed in throughout its entirety,” said Yackovich.
While the number of matches in which the 171st Air Refueling Wing has competed is innumerable, their legacy of excellence in these competitions continues as many guardsmen have earned special awards in these matches.
“A few of our members have even paid their own way to the President’s Hundred match,” said Yackovich.
The President’s Hundred Match is where civilians and military members can compete to earn a President’s Hundred Tab in rifle or pistol competitions. The badge is awarded by the Civilian Marksmanship Program and is held in Camp Perry, Ohio. The event draws crowds from all over the U.S. Currently, two guardsmen from the 171st have earned the President’s Hundred Tab, Master Sgt. Eric Moskal and Chief Master Sgt. Edward Altmeyer.
As the 171st continues their commitment to excellence in training, instructors like Yackovich remain dedicated to the craft.
“While I find a great deal of enjoyment, camaraderie and satisfaction out of competing, it is much bigger than myself,” said Yackovich.