Photo Information

CAMP PERRY, Ohio – Capt. James Blaul and Staff Sgt. Timothy Hall, members of the active-duty Marine Corps Marksmanship Training Unit, spot targets for the Illinois Hard Dogs Silver Team during the National Trophy Infantry Team Match here, Aug. 2, 2013. Marines from the active-duty and Reserve MTUs in Quantico, Va. routinely work with junior shooters at rifle marksmanship clinics and competitions. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tiffany Edwards)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Tiffany Edwards

Marines teach teens marksmanship at matches

6 Aug 2013 | Lance Cpl. Tiffany Edwards

CAMP PERRY, Ohio – Retired Marine Corps Maj. Mike Darnell was looking for a way to give back to the community after his time in the military. After gaining a teaching position in the Virginia school system and becoming involved in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program, he decided to take his contribution a step further. He recruited the teenagers on the JROTC air rifle team for a new junior high-powered marksmanship program – the Virginia Junior Marksmanship Program, located in Stafford, Va. Two years after its inception, the team is competing along with dozens of other junior teams at the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s National Matches in Camp Perry, Ohio.

“The program started from nothing to where we are today,” Darnell said. “I think marksmanship can have a tremendous impact on kids.”

The program also has a unique asset to give them a competitive edge: instructors from the active-duty and Reserve Marine Corps Marksmanship Training Units, located just north of Stafford in Quantico, Va.

“They’ve been fantastic,” Darnell said. “They’ve helped us out with coaching as well as guidance and mentoring for the kids. The kids love working with them. It’s been a fantastic experience for us and we’re lucky to be located so close to [Quantico] so we can take advantage of the experience.”

Darnell said marksmanship and competitive shooting with the Marine coaches teaches children and teenagers personal responsibility, as well as how to set and achieve goals. For example, the teens are responsible for caring for and keeping track of rifles and live ammunition. They are also encouraged to track and predict their progress in training and during competitions to meet their personal marksmanship goals.

Many other junior marksmanship programs are able to work with Marine coaches during the CMP National Matches. The Illinois Junior Hard Dogs Silver Team was coached for a day by two members of the active-duty Marine Corps MTU from Quantico, Capt. James Blaul and Staff Sgt. Timothy Hall. Blaul and Hall offered their services to the team, who needed additional coaches for the National Trophy Infantry Team Match, which featured six-man teams firing on eight targets from the 300, 500 and 600-yard lines.

“This team consists of mostly new shooters, so we have to start with the basics and advance from there to bring them up to standard,” said Hall.

Hall, who has taught at junior rifle clinics in Camp Butner, N.C. and at Camp Perry, said that Marines often have to teach junior groups whose shooting qualifications range from beginning marksman to high master, which is two levels above Marine Corps rifle expert qualification. The coaches often have to use a broader approach when teaching teams, and fine tune their instruction to each shooter as needed.

Two first-year shooters on the VJMP team, 15-year-olds Mercedes Brandstetter and Logan Robertson, both agree that working with Marine coaches is fun and makes a difference in their shooting.

“They give us helpful hints, and you can pick up a lot of information from them,” Brandstetter said. “At first, shooting can make you nervous, but after a while what you learn becomes habit.”

Robertson, who originally shot air rifles before shooting high-power rifles, said that working with the Marines helped him transition from one form of shooting to another.

“Having one-on-one time with the Marines really helps,” Robertson said. “They teach position, breathing and all the fundamentals of shooting.”

Lance Cpl. Shane O’Flynn, a member of the Marine Corps Reserve MTU, started out as a member of a junior shooting team for five years before he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He said his decision was influenced by the Marines he met on the range. Since joining, he has coached at the Camp Butner junior rifle clinic, and works as an assistant coach for his old junior team.

“From shooting as a junior, you can understand where they are coming from and how to help them,” O’Flynn said. “You definitely learn discipline, because shooting is a discipline-oriented sport.

The CMP National Trophy Rifle Matches are held annually at Camp Perry and are open to teams from each military branch, as well as civilians of all ages. For more information, visit