News: AAV schoolhouse sergeant becomes distinguished shooter
Story by Sgt. Marcy Sanchez
Sgt. Kenneth D. Nelson has the medal to prove he’s part of an elite group of riflemen.
Nelson, a training non-commisioned officer with the Assault Amphibious School Battalion earned the title of distinguished shooter for his outstanding performance with a rifle and pistol.
“It’s not like I came in to the Marine Corps shooting great,” said Nelson, 26, from Richland, Wash. “In boot camp I got the lowest you could shoot to get sharpshooter.”
To be classified as distinguished, a shooter must earn 30 points by winning medals at shooting competitions.
According to the Civilian Marksmanship Program club and competition tracker, Nelson is one of three Marines in the Corps who became a distinguished rifle shooter this year and is the only Marine to become distinguished in both the rifle and pistol this year. He has worked to become a dual distinguished shooter for more than five years.
“I never knew how to shoot before the Marine Corps,” said Nelson, who grew up in a farming town. “I shot a .22 long rifle once or twice.”
Nelson, a graduate of Richland High School, enlisted in the Corps in 2003. He was introduced to the Competition-in-Arms program at his first duty station in Okinawa, Japan.
While in Okinawa, Nelson was selected among his peers to become a primary marksmanship instructor and range coach. His job was to coach other Marines on proper firing techniques, effects of weather and other components of marksmanship.
While working as a PMI, the range was closed down for a month in order to hold a Competition-in-Arms match. Nelson said he had no clue what Competition-in-Arms was.
The Competition-in-Arms program was developed to help Marines improve marksmanship skills through two-week workshops and competition among other servicemembers.
Nelson’s staff non-commissioned officers encouraged him and his co-workers to participate in the program. The competition peaked his interest, and Nelson made it a personal goal to be one of the Corps’ top shooters.
“I was so happy,” Nelson said. “After coaching on the range for a year, I was going to get to shoot for once.”
Marines participating in the program received coaching from members of the Marine Corps rifle and pistol team. Nelson said their coaching helped him win a bronze medal at his first competition.
After attending his first division match in Okinawa, Nelson continued to attend competitions whenever possible. He deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 but immediately returned to the competition field when he arrived at Camp Pendleton.
His confidence and shooting proficiency led him to not only compete but to also help coach other Marine shooters in Competition-in-Arms matches.
Staff Sgt. William E. Williams, an assault amphibian mechanic at the Assault Amphibious School Battalion, said he credits Nelson for his own involvement in competitions. Nelson encouraged and coached Williams to compete in 2009 and again in 2011.
“He coached a rifle and pistol team I was on,” Williams said. “We won first in team pistol and first in the aggregate [a combination of both pistol and rifle scores]. He was the driving force behind the team. He’s been that way since I’ve known him.
“He always applies personal experience to his coaching as well as what he reads out of books,” Williams said. “The Competition-in-Arms is definitely something he takes home after hours.”
After a series of matches, Nelson totaled 30 points in both the rifle and the pistol during the Pacific Fleet rifle and pistol matches aboard Camp Pendleton held in early May. He is now authorized to wear distinguished shooting badges.
Usually only higher enlisted and officers are distinguished because it takes time to get to that level of marksmanship, said Williams.
“To be distinguished as a sergeant is amazing,” Williams said. “You don’t see that too often. Only a handful of Marines are distinguished.”
After an outstanding record on the range, peers constantly seek Nelson for marksmanship advice.
“When it comes to shooting, have fun with it. If you’re not having fun, you won't do well,” Nelson said. “When on the range, don't think about things that can't be controlled. Think about the things that one must do at that moment.”