Junior shooters from across the country descended on Fort Benning Oct. 26-28 for the Fifth Annual U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Action Shooting Junior Clinic at Krilling Range.

With the national champions in the sport’s pistol and multi-gun divisions among the instructors, the opportunity to learn from the best was a chance 27 junior shooters couldn’t pass up.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Elizabeth Peel, 15, from Montgomery, Al. “I always have a great time and even if you are already a good shooter you are definitely going to learn something new.”

This was the fourth trip to the clinic for Peel, who has been shooting for six years, while others were making their camp debut after recently picking up a gun for the first time.

“I started shooting last January,” said Seth Clagg, 14, from Clearwater, Fl. “It’s great to learn from pros. I have never shot from the prone or kneeling positions and I am learning a lot.”

Six Soldiers from the unit’s Action Shooting section provided expertise and coaching for the junior shooters. Among them were Spc. Shane Coley, United States Practical Shooting Association open class pistol national champion and Staff Sgt. Daniel Horner, five-time USPSA multi-gun national champion.  “I love this clinic,” Coley said, who won his first national title a week prior to the clinic. “It is a lot of fun to work with these youngsters and pass on our knowledge to them.”

Coley can relate to the juniors since he, along with Spc. Matthew Sweeney, another USAMU instructor, attended the clinic as a junior. Both were recruited to the Army out of the clinic after strong showings and a desire to be the best, said Staff Sgt. Lee Dimaculangan, camp coordinator.

“Traditionally we have a very young team and we are influential with the juniors,” Dimaculangan said. “I am the oldest of the instructors at 26 and (Spc.) Sweeney is the youngest at 22, so it is a lot easier for the juniors to relate to a younger group of instructors. We also use the clinic to assess the talent pool of the top up-and-coming shooters and see if there are any who may be able to make the Army stronger once they are a little bit older.”

After introductions juniors were broken down into small groups. They learned techniques on drawing, accuracy, transitions, reloading and had a short introduction to the rifle. They also received an introduction to Scholastic Steel Challenge, which is an additional shooting discipline geared to junior action shooters. The weekend concluded with a match.

“Most of the kids showed a huge improvement over the weekend,” Dimaculangan said. “They made leaps and bounds over just two days, which tells us that they listened.

“The best thing we saw was how instinctive safe gun handling was for the kids. It’s obvious their parents taught them the proper way to handle a pistol and rifle but they were comfortable around us and not nervous.”

The parents support was instrumental in making the camp a great event, Dimaculangan said. While the instructors concentrated solely on coaching the kids, parents coordinated lodging so all the campers stayed together. They cooked lunch and dinner at the range, painted targets and were timekeepers. The most important thing parents did was stay out of their child’s way and allow them to listen to their USAMU instructors.

“I brought my son because I thought it would help solidify some of the skills I have tried to teach him,” said Don Kester of Marshalltown, Iowa, who brought his son Jack, 14. “Sometimes parents have a hard time getting through to their kids and they like to hear from somebody else. These young (Soldiers) are pretty popular and pretty good role models. I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

No other clinic held in the country can boast having Soldiers, the current USPSA pistol and multi-gun champions, and a small instructor-to-student ratio all rolled into one. It makes for an ideal chance that junior shooters simply shouldn’t pass up, Dimaculangan said.

“This truly is one of the best things we get to do all year,” Dimaculangan said. “There is no better audience to promote to than the youth. They are the future of the sport and will shape the competition, shape USPSA.”

Image courtesy US Army Marksmanship Unit

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