FORT BARFOOT, Va. –
The Virginia National Guard’s Marksmanship Training Unit hosted 64 cadets from 11 Virginia colleges and universities during their inaugural ROTC Pistol Championship, held Sept. 30, 2023, at Fort Barfoot, Virginia. The event ran cadets through a three-stage competition that required them to engage targets from 25 yards under varying time constraints.
“The basic goal of the event was to bring together cadets from Virginia colleges and universities that support an ROTC program, and provide them an opportunity to experience additional marksmanship training that they would not have otherwise received,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Tony Hancock, the state’s marksmanship coordinator. “This event provided individuals and teams the opportunity to showcase their use of small arms to assemble, prepare and compete as representatives of their school and command.”
Among the universities represented were George Mason University, Hampden-Sydney College, James Madison University, Liberty University, Longwood University, the University of Richmond, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech and Virginia Union University. The cadets competed both as individuals and as two-person teams and, once the scores were tallied, Cadet Alex Bodner and Cadet Kenneth Dinkel, both from VMI, were named the first and second place shooters, respectively, while Cadet Cinnamon Obrey, from Liberty, came in third. As teams, Virginia Tech nabbed the first place spot, while teams from VMI took second and third.
“I’ve been shooting since I was very, very little, it’s a huge hobby of mine,” said Obrey, the third place individual shooter. Currently in her senior year at Liberty University studying psychology counseling, Obrey said she “jumped at the chance” to participate in the ROTC Pistol Championship. Initially, when she started college, her plan was to enlist into the Virginia National Guard and take advantage of the education benefits. But her recruiter had some additional options for her.
“My recruiter was really awesome and helped me apply for the Minuteman Scholarship,” Obrey said, explaining that she’s part of the Virginia National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program, or SMP, which means she participates in her school’s ROTC program while also serving in the National Guard. “ROTC has been the best and most unexpected part of my college career.”
Capt. Candice Bowen, a Virginia National Guard Soldier and assistant professor of military science at Virginia Tech, served as a coach for her team of six cadets.
“This is an awesome event and I think any kind of training opportunity for the cadets strengthens their skills, which in turn is going to strengthen the force down the line,” Bowen said. Her cadets ranged from sophomores to seniors and she said there were “varying degrees of expertise” among them. “They love to shoot and anytime they have the opportunity to throw some rounds down range, they’re absolutely going to do it.”
In order to reach success in the inaugural hosting of this event, Hancock said the support he received from Virginia National Guard leadership, as well as the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, was integral. With continued support, he aims to expand the event to include both pistol and rifle over the course of two days, and hopes to see increased participation from additional schools around Virginia.
“I hope that they leave here understanding that marksmanship is a skill that takes time and dedication to master,” Hancock said. “Our hope is that they continue to take opportunities to prepare and participate in any military or civilian marksmanship competitions, because at the end of the day, it’s classified as training.”
Hosting marksmanship matches is nothing new for the MTU. Annually, they host the Virginia National Guard’s Combined Arms Match, which brings shooters, both from the Virginia Army and Air National Guard, to Fort Barfoot for a multi-day marksmanship match that requires shooters to demonstrate proficiency and expertise with both the pistol and rifle, as well as other weapons systems. Last year’s event included 92 shooters, who competed as individuals and in four-person teams. Additionally, the MTU supports units throughout the Virginia Army National Guard looking to improve their marksmanship skills, as well as other events, like the state’s Best Warrior Competition, held annually in March.
“The MTU’s intent is simply to promote and to provide marksmanship training disguised as a shooting competition among the future leaders of our military,” Hancock said.