VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- "All Navy men have defense responsibilities against overt and covert enemy action...The security of ships and stations, and the survival of their crews, may be dependent upon individual proficiency with assigned firearms." - Vice Adm. D.H. Guinn, Chief of Naval Personnel, 1970.
The sound of gunfire echoes through the air over Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic, Dam Neck, Va. Precommissioning Unit Ronald Reagan's (CVN 76) team of shooters gingerly cradle their rifles and pistols, wait for the air to still, and then tear a target to shreds with extreme precision -- gold medal precision to be exact.
The Gipper's Gunners, made up of 13 PCU Sailors bested 20 other commands to become this year's Atlantic Fleet Rifle and Pistol Champions. Every member of USS Ronlad Reagan's (CVN 76) gold medal winning team was also invited to compete in the All Navy Rifle and Pistol Championships held the following week, a competition reserved for the top scoring shooters from the Fleet-level matches.
"Having an entire team be invited to represent the Navy is unheard of," said Master Chief Electrician's Mate (SW) Paul Angelicchio, Ronald Reagan team coach and Rifle Director for the Atlantic Fleet and All-Navy competitions. Angelicchio, competing on the U.S. Navy East Coast Blue team, placed third in the All-Navy Rifle Team competition
Each year, the U.S. Navy Shooting Team (USNST) hosts the Atlantic and Pacific Fleet shooting matches. The competitive and instructional competitions are used by active duty and reserve Sailors to show off their skill in service rifle and pistol marksmanship, and small arms safety. Sailors participating in the competition earn marksmanship medal and badges, and qualify to stand armed watches aboard ships and shore commands.
"The training is the most important part of the competition," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 1st Class (AW) Timothy Taylor. "The spirit of competition was great, and I love shooting, but we were really there to help our shipmates and the Navy," he said.
The team members ranged from master shooters to first-timers. One new shooter, Photographer's Mate 3rd Class (AW) Michael Cartagena, joined the team out of curiosity and his interest in shooting. He said he had virtually no shooting experience, so having experienced teammates made all the difference in the world.
"They helped me out a lot," he said. "It was a blast getting up early and spending all day at the range. [My teammates] were always teaching [me]."
The Gipper's Gunners went into the Atlantic Fleet competition with only one hands-on practice session in which weapons were fired.
"The training was limited to mainly classroom stuff," explained Angelicchio. "Shooting is a mental preparation sport so we spent most of the time [prior to the match] practicing positioning and safety procedures."
Angelicchio and Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Jason Hutchinson were awarded individual honors for their performance. Angelicchio placed third in the All-Navy Rifle contest and received the Bronze Excellence in Competition badge. Hutchinson received the Gold Excellence in Competition badge for his precision in the Atlantic Fleet match.
The attack on USS Cole (DDG 67), the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reminded the nation of the need for the United States to protect its assets.
In the Navy, this increase in security Navy-wide means Sailors have an added incentive to qualify on weapons. Competitions like the Atlantic Fleet Rifle and Pistol Championships are a different kind of outlet for Sailors to train, have fun and get recognized while they do it.
For more information on PCU Ronald Reagan, go to www.reagan.navy.mil.