FARGO, N.D. - From state competition to a regional match in Wyoming to a national competition in Arkansas that pitted them against some of the best National Guard shooters in the nation, North Dakota National Guard marksmen have been hitting center-mass all summer.
In both individual and team events with the M16 rifle and M9 pistol, North Dakota soldiers and airmen took part in the first competition - the North Dakota National Guard's 2013 Adjutant General's Combat Marksmanship Match, July 12-14 at Camp Grafton Training Center near Devils Lake, N.D. In August, they headed to the Marksmanship Advisory Council Region VI competition in Guernsey, Wyo. Now, they've just returned from the Winston P. Wilson, a national-level competition at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, Ark.
"North Dakota soldiers and airmen performed extremely well, not only at the Winston P. Wilson competition, but at every competition they participated in," said Maj. Russ Wolf, North Dakota National Guard competitive sports manager. "The North Dakota Army and Air Guard is a relatively small population compared to other states. The fact that we have the number of marksmen who do so well is a testament to the dedication displayed by the members of our marksmanship team and the quality of marksmanship training throughout our state."
Sgt. Evan Messer, of Fargo, N.D., who serves with the Jamestown, N.D.-based 817th Engineer Company (Sapper) continued as one of the top individual shooters this year, with Spc. Tyrel Hoppe, of Horace, N.D., who also serves in the 817th, scoring high individually as well.
During the regional match, Hoppe became one of the elite few to earn the title "Double Distinguished" for both Pistol and Rifle in Excellence matches. Fewer than 5 percent of all shooters ever reach the Double Distinguished status.
Also consistently placing well in individual competition was Tech. Sgt. Darrin Quam, with the Fargo-based 119th Wing, and Sgt. 1st Class Russ Gerhardt, with Camp Grafton Training Center.
Messer won the state competition, with Hoppe taking second, Quam third, Gerhardt fourth and Staff Sgt. Corey Moen, of Epping, N.D., with the Williston-based 818th Engineer Company (Sapper), taking fifth.
In the regional competition, Sgt. Tyler Goldade, of Jamestown, with the Edgeley, N.D.-based 815th Engineer Company (Horizontal) stood out, winning the Novice Class competition.
At the national level, where North Dakota Guardsmen competed against more than 300 of the best Guard shooters from across the nation, Hoppe placed ninth, Gerhardt took 35th, Messer earned 41st, Quam placed 64th, Tech. Sgt. Josh Von Bank, of Fargo, with the 119th Wing, came in 89th, and Master Sgt. Brian Rook, of Harwood, N.D., also with the 119th Wing, made the top 100 shooters, as well, coming in 98th overall.
The North Dakota Guardsmen's individual shooting success contributed to good team results at each level of competition, as well.
In the Winston P. Wilson, North Dakota's "Alpha Team" placed 10th overall among the 81 teams competing from across the country. Team members included Hoppe, Messer, Rook and Von Bank. North Dakota's "Bravo Team" - including Gerhardt, Quam, Maj. Benjamin Cleghorn, of Jamestown, with the Minot-based 164th Engineer Battalion, and Spc. Levi Harrington, of Bismarck, N.D., with the 817th - placed 17th overall.
North Dakota's "Charlie Team," which was comprised of all new shooters, came out as the best Charlie Team in the nation with a 37th overall place winning at the Winston P. Wilson. Team members included Moen; Staff Sgt. Dean Lundin, of Saint Cloud, Minn., with Camp Grafton Training Center; Master Sgt. Chris Rath, of Cummings, N.D., with Camp Grafton; and Tech. Sgt. Charles Welle, of Hawley, Minn., with the 119th Wing.
Last month, at the regional match in Wyoming, North Dakota's Alpha Team again took first among all competing teams. It's the second year in a row that North Dakota dominated the match that includes shooters from Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oregon and Nebraska. This year's team members included Messer, Hoppe, Quam and Cleghorn.
All three of North Dakota's teams placed in the top five in the regional matches. "Bravo Team," which came in fourth overall, included Goldade, Moen, Gerhardt and Sgt. Andrew Maley, of Enderlin, N.D., with the 817th. "Delta Team" took fifth overall and included Von Bank, Rook, Tech. Sgt. Dana Dabbert, of Barnesville, Minn., with the 119th Wing, and Welle.
Next up for the North Dakota National Guard marksmen will be the All-Army Small Arms Championships at Fort Benning, Ga., in January. Earlier this year, a North Dakota team came out third best among all Army teams in the nation.