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    Islands and Peninsulas: The Virgin Islands and Michigan team up for marksmanship

    Islands and Peninsulas

    Photo By Tech. Sgt. Anica Jankowski | Spc. Jordan Swanson, a marksmanship coach with the Michigan National Guard, acts as a...... read more read more



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Anica Jankowski 

    Michigan National Guard

    Twenty-six Soldiers from the Michigan National Guard traveled to Mississippi this week to qualify more than 400 Soldiers from the Virgin Islands on multiple weapons. Soldiers trained at Camp McCain and Camp Shelby for drill, April 6 and 7, 2018.

    The majority of the training, including M9 pistol, and M16/M4 rifle qualifications, occurred at Camp McCain. A smaller group of Soldiers trained and qualified on crew-served weapons such as the M19 belt-fed grenade launcher, and M2 machine gun at Camp Shelby.

    MING support was requested by the Virgin Islands National Guard, as Michigan has demonstrated excellence in marksmanship competitions both nationally and internationally. The exchange is another step in strengthening the blossoming partnership.

    The cooperation began in the aftermath of last year’s devastating hurricanes when the islands, with a total area of 133 square miles, suffered severe damage to homes and infrastructure. By creating a deliberate partnership with a state that is not impacted by hurricanes, the Virgin Islands gains valuable support and Michigan gains experience in preparing for a catastrophic event.

    Officer in Charge of the Michigan National Guard Small Arms Training Section, 2nd Lt. Nikolas Discher, believes the exchange could improve readiness on both sides.

    “Readiness is key, and I know we will learn from each other,” said Discher. “We can help them ensure proficiency in the basic Soldier tasks and help them to be ready for both domestic and combat missions. They have more experience in dealing with disaster, so they can help us by sharing the lessons they have learned.”

    Discher has been involved with the budding partnership from the beginning. His experience with the Virgin Islands National Guard has left an impact.

    “These Soldiers have had to watch their homes get destroyed and have gone through so much struggling to rebuild their lives, but they still show up,” said Discher. “Their positive attitude is contagious. It’s good for our Michigan Soldiers to witness this kind of resiliency.”

    First Lt. Kerwin Williams, with the 786th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion on the island of St. Thomas, served as the Officer in Charge for the M16/M4 range at Camp McCain. But this was not Williams’ first encounter with the Michigan National Guard.

    His first time meeting the marksmanship coaches was two weeks prior in Camp Blanding, Fla., as part of another weapons qualification event. The marksmanship improvement he witnessed motivated him to come to Mississippi and help other Virgin Islanders to improve their own scores.

    “The coaches are incredibly knowledgeable,” said Williams. “Sometimes it’s difficult to change habits you’ve had since basic training. But if you listen to these guys, you will see your scores improve tremendously.”

    Spc. Kenneth Nisbett, from the 631st Engineer Company on the island of St. Croix, learned this first hand. His experience with Michigan coaches helped him to have a successful day at the rifle qualification range.

    “My first score was a 17 out of 40,” said Nisbett. “But the coaches seemed excited to work with me, so it made it easy to listen and understand them. The new techniques worked so well, I went back on the line and qualified easily.”

    Nisbett said he is excited to share some of the new techniques with his friends and perhaps work toward competition shooting. He mentioned perhaps seeing some of the coaches at competitions.

    The weekend was not without its setbacks. Weather restraints caused personnel and weapons to arrive later than expected. Weather also caused delays on the range.

    On the first day of shooting at Camp McCain, lightning caused the ranges to be shut down around noon. By that time, coaches and shooters alike had been soaked by hours of heavy rainfall.

    Saturday the rain held off for the most part, but the temperature proved a challenge. Humid and soggy from the day before, the range had a high of 39 degrees, considerably colder than most Virgin Islanders are accustomed to.

    Despite the miserable conditions, the spirits of the Virgin Islanders were not dampened. Sgt. Logan Rasher, a squad designated marksman with Co. B, 126th Infantry Regiment, Michigan National Guard and coach for the event, was definitely impressed.

    “These Soldiers haven’t complained about a thing; not the rain, wind, or temperatures,” said Rasher. “They just seem excited to be here. They are retaining everything we are teaching them, and it shows.”

    Rasher has some experience coaching both with the team on the road, and at home. In his unit he is a marksmanship trainer and subject matter expert. Squad designated marksman training has given him the skills and background to share what he has learned.

    In order to be selected as a coach, Michigan Guardsmen must qualify at the expert level on their weapons, have demonstrated considerable knowledge of the weapon, and have shown an aptitude for teaching others. Each of the coaches has either advanced weapons training or experience with competition shooting. Many coaches have both.

    Weather and logistical setbacks did not prevent mission completion. Discher and his team were able to train and qualify 99 percent of the Virgin Islanders who were able to make their ranges.

    The Michigan SARTS team boasts a 99 percent overall qualification rate for more than 4000 Soldiers trained in the last five years. Team members must meet a strict standard to join. Though there are some full-time positions, most of the team for this event were traditional Soldiers.



    Date Taken: 04.07.2018
    Date Posted: 04.11.2018 12:38
    Story ID: 272645
    Location: CAMP MCCAIN, MS, US 
    Hometown: LANSING, MI, US

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