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Theyve pictured themselves there, in Olympic Stadium, walking through the tunnel front of thousands in the stands and millions watching on television. They have trained for the last shot that wins gold, reaching a goal they set one day when they realized they had a talent few have.
For two Soldiers from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, when they walk through that tunnel July 27 in London, it will be affirmation the sacrifices made and determination to excel were worth it.
When I was young, I was amazed at the look people had after winning in the Olympics, said Michael McPhail, who will compete in mens prone rifle. The shock, then the happiness the whole emotion they display after they win at the Olympics its very powerful. Its a life decision that this is what I am going to do. Its not just in shooting or track and field. If you want to be the best in the world at checkers, you have to work your butt off. Its just the way it is.
McPhail and Josh Richmond both come from small towns and grew up shooting guns as a hobby. Never did they think they would join the Army, let alone make the Olympics. But here they both are.
I wanted to see how good at one thing I could be. Born and raised in Darlington, Wis., where the cattle easily outnumber the people, McPhail, son of Dennis and Joyce McPhail, lettered in three sports while growing up and shot rifle at a local indoor range every Tuesday and Thursday night so he could become more accurate for hunting season.
Shooting was something I picked up and was good at very quickly, he said. When I was 18, the goal was just to win the state championship and I did that, and I really thought shooting was going to continue as a hobby.
McPhail decided to shoot on the rifle team while attending Osh Kosh University. Soon he met other shooters who mentioned in passing that the USAMU would be a good place for him to reach his potential. After talking to unit personnel and his girlfriend-turned-wife Kari, he enlisted in the Army.
I never thought of the Army before, McPhail said. I was going to get my degree in business finance and work in that field. And my goal when I came here was not to go to the Olympics. I wanted to see how good at one thing I could be. I accomplished that goal. The goals had to then shift and change.
I was a pretty good shot from the beginning Small towns dont get much smaller than Hillsgrove, Pa. Richmond said its the type of town where families live next door to one another their entire lives. The great outdoors is where families bond and his was no different.
One day his uncle, Jason, set up a pop can and bribed his 5-year-old nephew to take his first shot with a shotgun. He would give Richmond a five-dollar bill if he hit the can. Richmond pulled the trigger and his uncle handed over the five.
I was a pretty good shot from the very beginning, Richmond said. It was a fun hobby, but I was getting really good at it and started shooting at 4-H clubs, and then, eventually, in the junior national championships. I started to get serious about it.
Richmond graduated from high school in 2004 and then made what he calls the best decision I ever made in my life, besides marrying my wife, Scharri. He enlisted in the Army that fall to join the USAMU and further his career with the Olympics as the goal.
Growing up I never thought that the Army would be a route for me, said Richmond, who will compete in double trap Aug. 2. My family was initially against it because it sounded too good to be true. I come from a very small town and we are all very patriotic, and the chance to shoot shotguns and represent my country is like having my cake and eating it, too.
Unit like no other From the gunsmiths that build their guns to their teammates who push them to be their very best every day, both Soldiers said the camaraderie of the USAMU and goal-driven atmosphere are the driving forces that make them Olympians.
If I wasnt in this unit, I wouldnt be going to the Olympics, McPhail said. The support that we get is second to none.
Both Soldiers are arriving at the Olympics at the peak of their game, but got there in different ways. Richmond earned his berth in 2011 after crossing the point threshold established for performance at World Cup competitions. After doing so, he volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the units cross-functional team of marksmanship instructors who teach Afghan soldiers the proper way to shoot their weapons.
McPhail had to go through a grueling Olympic Trials on his home range at Fort Benning. Expectations were high and the competition was fierce, with a former gold medalist and several USAMU teammates in the field.
McPhail prevailed after three days of intense competition and will compete alongside teammate Eric Uptagrafft.
Both shooters said they are confident and prepared for what awaits them in London. Olympic veterans in the unit provide insight and give them advice about what to expect.
I have been chasing this dream for 10 years and getting there is a feat in itself, Richmond said. My goals are realistic. If I go over there and shoot the way I am capable of shooting and give it my absolute best shot, then I can live with that. Some days you just get beat. If I do my best, thats all I can do.
And they said their Army training gives the pair an advantage over other rookie Olympians.
It is my first Olympics so I would say the biggest challenge is the unknown, McPhail said. I know its the Olympics, but the job, the mission, hasnt changed. Go out, perform and let the chips fall where they may. This unit has gotten me ready for the moment.
Editors note: This is the first of a six-part series featuring U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldiers headed to the Olympics.