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Islands and Peninsulas: Virgin Islands and Michigan partner for marksmanship

April 10, 2018 | By Webmaster
By TSgt. Anica Jankowski, Public Affairs Office Twenty-Six Soldiers from the Michigan National Guard travelled to Mississippi this week to qualify over 400 Soldiers from the Virgin Islands on multiple weapons. Soldiers trained at Camp McCain or Camp Shelby for drill April 6th and 7th, 2018. The majority of the training, including M9 pistol, and M16/M4 rifle qualifications, occurred at Camp McCain. A smaller group of Soldiers trained and qualified on crew-served weapons such as the M19 belt-fed grenade launcher, and M2 machine gun at Camp Shelby. MING support was requested by the Virgin Islands National Guard, as Michigan has demonstrated excellence in marksmanship competitions both nationally and internationally. The exchange is just another step in strengthening the blossoming partnership. The cooperation began in the aftermath of last year’s devastating hurricanes when the islands, with a total area of 133 square miles, suffered severe damage to homes and infrastructure. By creating a deliberate partnership with a state that is not impacted by hurricanes, the Virgin Islands gains valuable support and Michigan gains experience in preparing for a catastrophic event. 2nd Lt. Nikolas Discher, Officer in Charge of the Michigan National Guard Small Arms Training Section, believes the exchange could improve readiness on both sides. “Readiness is key, and I know we will learn from each other,” said Discher. “We can help them ensure proficiency in the basic soldier tasks and help them to be ready for both domestic and combat missions. They have more experience in dealing with disaster, so they can help us by sharing the lessons they learned.” Discher has been involved with the budding partnership from the beginning. His experience with the Virgin Islands National Guard has left an impact. “These Soldiers have had to watch their homes get destroyed and have gone through so much struggling to rebuild their lives, but they still show up,” said Discher. “Their positive attitude is contagious. It’s good for our Michigan Soldiers to witness this kind of resiliency.” First Lt. Kerwin Williams, with the 786th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion on the island of St. Thomas, served as the Officer in Charge for the M16/M4 range at Camp McCain. But this was not Williams’ first encounter with the Michigan National Guard. His first encounter with the marksmanship coaches was two weeks prior in Camp Blanding, Fla., as part of another weapons qualification event. The marksmanship improvement he witnessed motivated him to come to Mississippi and help other Virgin Islanders to improve their own scores. “The coaches are incredibly knowledgeable,” said Williams. “Sometimes it’s difficult to change habits you’ve had since basic training. But if you listen to these guys, you will see your scores improve tremendously.” Spc. Kenneth Nisbett, from the 631st Engineer Company on the island of St. Croix, learned this first hand. His experience with Michigan coaches helped him to have a successful day at the rifle qualification range. “My first score was a 17 out of 40,” said Nisbett. “But the coaches seemed excited to work with me, so it made it easy to listen and understand them. The new techniques worked so well, I went back on the line and scored a 26.” Nisbett said he is excited to share some of the new techniques with his friends and perhaps work toward competition shooting. He mentioned perhaps seeing some of the coaches at competitions. The weekend was not without its setbacks. Weather restraints caused personnel and weapons to arrive later than expected. Weather also caused delays on the range. On the first day of shooting at Camp McCain, lightning caused the ranges to be shut down around noon. By that time, coaches and shooters alike had been soaked by hours of heavy rainfall. Saturday the rain held off for the most part, but the temperature proved a challenge. Humid and soggy from the day before, the range had a high of 39 degrees, considerably colder than most Virgin Islanders are accustomed to. Despite the miserable conditions, the spirits of the Virgin Islanders were not dampened. Sgt. Logan Rasher, a squad designated marksman with the Co. B, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan National Guard and coach for the event, was definitely impressed. “These Soldiers haven’t complained about a thing; not the rain, wind, or temperatures,” said Rasher. “They just seem excited to be here. They are retaining everything we are teaching them, and it shows.” Weather and logistical setbacks did not prevent mission completion. Discher and his team were able to train and qualify 99% of the Virgin Islanders who were able to make the range. The Michigan SARTS team boasts a 99% overall qualification rate for over 4000 Soldiers trained in the last three years. Team members must meet a strict standard to join. Though there are some full-time positions, most of the team for this event were traditional Soldiers. In order to be selected as a coach, Michigan Guardsmen must qualify at the expert level on their weapons, have demonstrated considerable knowledge of the weapon, and have shown an aptitude for teaching others. Each of the coaches has either advanced weapons training or experience with competition shooting. Many coaches have both. At the end of the event, 396 Soldiers from the Virgin Islands had qualified. The event was another exchange in what both organizations hope will be a long and productive relationship.