Military Marksmanship Teams

Military Marksman
•••  DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard

Marksmanship is more than simply being familiar with a weapon and able to hit a target, it is a skill in precision shooting—be it with a rifle or a pistol (maybe even bow and arrow, but not in the military). However, being a “marksman” doesn’t mean one is sniper qualified; aside from the requirement to complete a Sniper training course there are several tiers (qualification levels) of marksmanship—Marksman, Sharpshooter, and Expert—and most snipers are chosen from the elite of the expert rifleman qualification.

Currently, the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps are the only military services that issue Marksmanship Qualification Badges (the Army issues their Marksmanship Qualification Badges for a variety of weapons [including rocket launcher and others] while the Marine Corps only issues theirs for the service rifle and service pistol). However, Marksmanship Medals and/or Marksmanship Ribbons are issued by the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard, and United States Air Force for weapons qualifications.

Interservice Marksmanship Matches

In the early 1960s, the Department of Defense established the Interservice Marksmanship Matches, and designated the various branches to be responsible for specific aspects—the Air Force was responsible for pistol matches, the Navy and Marine Corps were jointly responsible for rifle matches, and the Army was responsible for international competitions. These interservice matches were used to select military personnel, from all services, to compete in events such as the Championships of the Americas, Pan American Games, Conseil International Du Sport Militaire (CISM) (International Military Sports Council), and the Olympics.

Each branch of service has their own shooting program.

United States Air Force

The Air Force Shooting Program provides an incentive for Air Force people to become more proficient with firearms in order to compete for selection to the Air Force team. Team members are selected from throughout the Air Force and remain assigned to their current duty location and travel periodically to train for and represent the Air Force in national-and international-level competitions.  

Through the public contact and association developed during competitions, Air Force shooters play a direct and important role in enhancing the image of the Air Force both at home and abroad. Periodically, Air Force Shooting Team Members will be asked to conduct clinics at local clubs, high schools, academies, colleges, and universities.

United States Army

The United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) was established in 1956. The primary mission of the unit was almost exclusively that of winning competitions (in the years following its establishment, the unit’s mission further expanded to those of enhancing Army recruiting as well). At the time, the Soviets were dominating the international shooting scene and it was believed that only the US Army had the personnel and facilities to develop a program which could compete with the Soviets well-organized shooting program.

Since 1956, the unit has gained worldwide respect by winning hundreds of individual and team competitions, including 40 World Championships and 20 Olympic medals. The Army Marksmanship Unit shooting teams are elite groups of the best shooters in the world.

Though shooting is their specialty, competing is not the only skill USAMU Soldiers have—they assist in technical development of military small arms equipment and ammunition. They have the knowledge and they share it by, for example, holding Train-the-Trainer clinics. Members of the unit also translate their competitive marksmanship skills into useful combat marksmanship. The USAMU makes (or customizes) its own small arms and much of its ammunition in a Custom Firearms Shop—the idea being that for the members to compete successfully, better arms and ammunition were required.

United States Coast Guard

While the Coast Guard does not formally participate in Competitive Marksmanship Matches sponsored by the Department of Defense (DOD)—nor, for that matter, the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) or the National Rifle Association (NRA)—members of the Coast Guard are encouraged to represent the service in such matches, and to enhance marksmanship and overall weapons proficiency. The Coast Guard’s Competitive Marksmanship Program provides only limited support to service members interested in competing in such events.

United States Marine Corps

The Marine Corps Shooting Team can trace its roots to the Marine Corps Marksmanship Training Unit (MTU) and serves as the Corps’ primary means of competitive shooting, nationally and internationally. Their mission is to incorporate intermediate level marksmanship skills and techniques derived from annual training and develop those skills and techniques into competitive marksmanship training standards, enhancing the use of individual small arms.

This is facilitated by way of the Competition in Arms Program (CIAP), which supplements existing marksmanship training while providing a forum for a higher level of proficiency and exchange of marksmanship training and ideas.

United States Navy

The United States Navy Marksmanship Team (USNMT) conducts the Fleet Forces Command Rifle and Pistol Matches (Atlantic and Pacific), as well as the annual All Navy Rifle and Pistol Championships. Sailors participating in these matches represent their commands in individual and team events, and earn marksmanship medals and badges. Top-scoring USNMT members are able to go on and represent the Navy in the most prestigious, varied, and highly-competitive individual and team marksmanship events in the world: the annual Interservice Rifle and Pistol Matches, the Civilian Marksmanship Program's National Rifle and Pistol Matches, and the National Rifle Association's National Rifle and Pistol Championships.

USNMT members also provide marksmanship training to Sailors in their home commands throughout the year and promote command rifle and pistol teams. They also have the opportunity to test and validate small arms technological innovations developed by armorers and engineers at Naval Surface Warfare Center by developing and perfecting marksmanship techniques for experimental and newly-introduced small arms, and test ammunition and related small arms accouterments. Team members may also serve as instructors in the Army Marksmanship Unit's Small Arms Firing School.

United States National Guard

The National Guard also maintains a marksmanship program—at least two, actually. First, there’s the National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit (NFMTU), which is responsible for recruiting, training, supporting and promoting a higher level of marksmanship including international competition with the All Guard teams. The All Guard teams include National Match, Combat, and Olympic style shooting as well as Sniper Teams. The teams consist of traditional Guard members and or full-time Guard employees with jobs other than being “shooters”.

Second, there’s the National Guard Bureau Junior Marksmanship Program, which introduces young adults to career and educational opportunities within the National Guard and builds a positive visibility of the National Guard in communities around the country. This program sponsors the National Guard Bureau Junior Air Rifle National Championship (one of the major annual three-position air rifle national championships available to school-age junior shooters throughout the nation).