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Army dominates in sniper contest

Nov. 3, 2006 - 04:21PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 3, 2006 - 04:21PM  |  
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FORT BENNING, Ga. — Army teams dominated the sixth annual International Sniper Competition, which ended Nov. 2, by sweeping the top five spots at the end of the intense six-day event.

Staff Sgt. Joe Lynch and Staff Sgt. Michael Rach, of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, emerged as this year's champions. The winners, who have been shooting together for four years, led the field for most of the competition.

"We stuck to what we knew," Rach said. "We tried not to concentrate on the scores too much. We went and did it and had fun, and it worked out well."

As winners, Lynch and Rach will each receive a custom-made rifle and a custom Smith & Wesson pistol, as well as other field items.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason St. John and Staff Sgt. Robby Johnson, of the Army Marksmanship Unit, claimed second place, while another 75th Ranger Regiment team — Sgt. Michael Cassidy and Sgt. Thomas Payne, of 1st Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield — finished third. Cassidy and Payne are fresh off a deployment in Iraq.

The Fort Bragg, N.C.-based Special Warfare Training Group's Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wagner and Sgt. 1st Class Tim Gozelski, and Sgt. 1st Class Aric Gray and Sgt. 1st Class Clint Lumpkins rounded out the top five.

"There's a lot of good shooters out here," St. John said. "We don't underestimate anyone."

The competition, sponsored by the Army Sniper School, brought to Fort Benning 26 sniper teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and the British, Canadian and Israeli militaries. The Israeli team features the only woman competing in this year's event.

One team, from the National Guard Sniper School, was eliminated for a safety violation, while a Canadian team dropped out because of an equipment malfunction.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Lee Lyles and Staff Sgt. Ron Batts, of the 786th Security Forces Squadron, Sembach Air Base, Germany, were disappointed with their 14th-place finish, but the chance to compete was "an opportunity of a lifetime," Batts said.

"It's good to see other competitors," Batts said. "We're learning a lot from them."

The weeklong competition started Oct. 28, and the first few days were packed with scenarios designed to simulate combat.

"This competition is by far larger than anything we've done before," said Capt. Marc Messerschmitt, commander of the Army Sniper School. "The competitors are going to get a lot out of this week. They'll leave here ... and they'll be better trained."

Competitors fought their way to an infantry unit pinned down by the enemy, fired a M2 .50 caliber machine gun at long-range targets and tested their ability to shoot accurately after jumping over obstacles, running and carrying 30-pound sandbags.

"It's a lot more combat-oriented and physical, which I think is a good twist," St. John said. "I think with them being combat-focused, it really gives you an idea of where you're at."

The combat-focused events were new additions to the competition.

"I think the battlefield is much more fluid" these days, Messerschmitt said. "Snipers need to be more adaptive and be able to engage the target [at] no matter what range."

Competitors also completed a pistol shoot and an aerial shoot that required them to hit targets from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovering 75 to 85 feet above the ground.

The event also is an opportunity for competitors to pick up lessons to bring back to their units and to share tips with one another, Messerschmitt said.

"Meeting other members of the sniper community is always a good time," Lynch said. "It's interesting how similar we are no matter what country or what service."

Here are the final standings for the sixth annual International Sniper Competition:

1st — Staff Sgt. Joe Lynch and Staff Sgt. Michael Rach, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

2nd — Sgt. 1st Class Jason St. John and Staff Sgt. Robby Johnson, Army Marksmanship Unit.

3rd — Sgt. Michael Cassidy and Sgt. Thomas Payne, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

4th — Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wagner and Sgt. 1st Class Tim Gozelski, Special Warfare Training Group.

5th — Sgt. 1st Class Aric Gray and Sgt. 1st Class Clint Lumpkins, Special Warfare Training Group.

6th — Marine Sniper School (East). Names withheld.

7th — Sgt. Michael Gerniglia and Sgt. Christofer Kitto, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

8th — Sgt. Sean Clark and Sgt. Christopher Johnson, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.

9th — Staff Sgt. Dean Phillips and Sgt. Matthew Weitz, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.

10th — Cpl. Greg Shaw and Lance Cpl. James Southall, 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, Great Britain.

11th — Staff Sgt. Daniel Holm and Sgt. Neil Moore, Ranger Operations Company, 75th Ranger Regiment.

12th — Staff Sgt. Sal Lopez and Sgt. Jesse Cheon, Marine Sniper School (West).

13th — 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Canada. Names withheld.

14th — Staff Sgt. Lee Lyles and Staff Sgt. Ron Batts, 786th Security Forces Squadron, Air Force.

15th — Israeli Defense Force. Names withheld.

16th — Sgt. Donald Forbis and Spc. Brendan Kelley, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

17th — Sgt. 1st Class Brian Brink and Sgt. Samuel Butterfield, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

18th — Staff Sgt. Erik Correa, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, and Sgt. Adam Daponte, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.

19th — 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, Great Britain. Names withheld.

20th — Sgt. Adam Gasper and Spc. Michael Pesamoska, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

21st — Sgt. Lorne Wilson and Spc. Daniel Mitchell, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.

22nd — 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Canada. Names withheld.

23rd — Sgt. Andre Ashe and Sgt. Stephen Mahlstedt, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.

24th — Sgt. Brad Atanasoff and Sgt. Eric Anderson, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.

Video: http://mfile.akamai.com/21772/wmv/gannett.download.akamai.com/21772/streaming/wmv/1101sniper.asx">The sixth annual International Sniper Competition

Photo slideshow: http://www.militarycity.com/gallery/index.php?id=sniper">Snipers in action

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