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Sweeping both the Interservice Pistol and National Rifle Association National Pistol Championships along with wins at the Interservice Rifle and National Trophy Rifle matches, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldiers have lived up to their reputation as some of the best shooters in the world.
Yet, similar to how a race car driver would be limited without a fast car or a golfer restricted without good clubs, a competitive shooter would be at a disadvantage without a good gun. That's where the Soldiers and civilians within the Custom Firearms Shop complement the USAMU's elite team of highly skilled marksmen.
The success on the firing line is the result of hard work in the unit's shop that begins in the fall and doesn't end until the final bullet meets its intended target during the national championships every summer.
The service rifle and pistol team's military coaches meet with the gunsmiths at the conclusion of the summer competitive shooting season to give them a list of guns that need to be rebuilt and ones that require the highly specialized work that only the Custom Firearms Shop can provide, said Spc. Reuben Anderson, a gunsmith with the unit. That's when the team in the shop gets to showcase its talents.
"We'll get a batch of rifles out of the arms room, upper receivers mostly, and we'll strip them down and give them a good inspection," Anderson said. "If we are rebuilding, we'll just go right ahead and tear it down, take the barrel off along with the bolt, gas tube and the sights. We're always dealing with components."
The process is similar for the pistols, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Grieve said. They start on the .22-caliber pistols and work their way through the inventory of guns in the arms room.
"We test the barrels, weld up the frames, look at the recoil springs and whatever else that needs to be done to ensure that they get the best pistol possible," Grieve said.
Becoming a member of the shop is not as simple as telling a recruiter that you want to be a gunsmith or applying for the job as a civilian because you like guns. Steve Young, the custom firearms shop chief, said that for starters, military and civilian gunsmiths must have a two-year certification in gunsmithing or machining.
"They must be highly knowledgeable on a wide variety of military and match-grade firearms, including rifle, pistol and shotgun designs, assembly specifications, parts fabrication and repair," Young said.
Once the guns are built and tested for competition, the gunsmiths continue to provide support for the teams leading up to and at their biggest matches. Anderson said the Soldiers may try to change something with their sights, or feel their trigger isn't feeling right and needs a slight adjustment.
"Depending on match conditions, sometimes they want to swap out different sight arrangements for the weather," he said. "If it's a cloudy day and the targets look different from way back at the 600-yard line compared to the 200, they'll have to adjust accordingly to a different aperture to get more light into their eye.
"If anything happens we are ready to help."
Besides assisting USAMU shooters, the gunsmiths will also help out civilian shooters and teams at the national matches, despite the fact that these civilians are trying to beat the USAMU shooters. Anderson said they cannot give the civilians parts to repair a gun, but if they come to their truck and it doesn't cost anything to help, the gunsmiths will provide a service to the civilians.
"If we fix their gun it makes their day and they walk away saying 'hey those Army guys are pretty cool,'" Anderson said.
Winning in national and international competitions is how the unit demonstrates and proves its skills, said Young. The shooters and gumsiths together use this expertise for developing weapons and ammunition to increase the accuracy of Army marksmanship.
"It brings a lot of satisfaction," Anderson said. "When you put the time and effort into building something for a shooter and they do well with it, it feels great."
USAMU is part of the Accessions Support Brigade, Army Marketing and Research Group and is tasked with enhancing the Army's recruiting effort, raising the standard of Army marksmanship and furthering small arms research and development to enhance the Army's overall combat readiness.