Taking their best shot

Story by Petty Officer Third Class Tara Molle

“PULL!” An orange blur flies out of a small brown shack at blinding speed. A split second later the blur is no more than a puff of dust and particles suspended in the air. A man grins beneath protective eyeglasses and a ball cap that reads “U.S. Coast Guard Skeet Team.” This is just another routine shot for Lt. Marcus Alden, a Coast Guard representative for the United States Armed Services Skeet Association and the Coast Guard Liaison Officer for the Afloat Training Group Pacific Northwest at Naval Station Everett, Wash.

The Armed Forces Skeet Association is a non-profit organization operated wholly for recreation and competition. Membership is available to all active duty United States military, foreign military, National Guard personnel, active Reservists, Service Academy and retired military personnel.

Invented in 1915 by Charles E. Davies, skeet is a type of competitive shotgun shooting at clay targets meant to simulate bird hunting. The clay “pigeon,” as it is commonly referred to as, is released from a machine located in a small shack or “house.” There are seven positions on a semi-circle and an eighth position halfway in between. Team members take turns shooting two pigeons at each station and do their best to shoot a perfect score of 25 pigeons.

“The team has been around since the 70’s,” said Alden. “There is only one skeet team in the entire Coast Guard.”

Currently the active duty members include Alden, Lt. Cmdr. John Swidrak, the Branch Chief for the Electronics and Ordinance Project Management Group Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Md., Food Service Specialist First Class Brian Hill from Station Hatteras Inlet, N.C. and Electronics Technician Second Class Steven Lowe, with the Electronic Support Detachment in Corpus Christi, Texas as well as retired Chief Warrant Officer Jim Simmons.

“There is a five person minimum to make up a team,” said Alden. He went on to add that if a team falls short of the five-person requirement, a member could shoot individually and still represent his or her service or a retiree can shoot as a filler.

“Normally, there are 10 to 15 shooters on the team and the five best shoot in competition,” said Alden. “If someone cannot make it to a competition, the next best shot will go.”

“The Air Force maintains three full teams and has people on the side just in case,” said Swidrak.

Swidrak started shooting for the Coast Guard in 1997 and has been the Captain for the Coast Guard Skeet Team for about seven years.

“In 1997, we had five active duty people on the team,” said Swidrak. “It can be difficult at times for people to go to events due to work, deployments and school. It also makes it harder due to the fact that we are all stationed throughout the country,” he added. Swidrak mentioned that many people were not aware that the Coast Guard even had a skeet team.

“If information about the team was communicated better, more people would probably be interested in joining,” said Alden.

“Not a lot of people know we have a team, but there are many who are interested in the sport,” said Swidrak. “The unfortunate thing is that many people cannot afford to do it on their own. To shoot in most of the competitions, you need to have a four barrel set and that can be pricy. It is on our dime.”

Although the sport can at times be expensive, what for the cost of shells, competition fees, extra barrels and such, Swidrak pointed out that Coast Guard team members could apply for a sports participation grant program that is usually offered in the fall. Team members could be granted up to $500 per event. Grant money can be put toward expenses such as registration fees, food, lodging, travel, rental car, fuel and consumable supplies. Examples of criteria used in determining whether a grant will be awarded are the availability of funds, achievement of the participant or participants, reason for the requirement to participate in state, national and international levels of competition and the willingness to provide positive publicity to the Coast Guard and the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program by participating in the event.

“Commands may issue permissive orders and can possibly use MWR funds,” said Swidrak.

With the team members located throughout the country, attending multiple competitions throughout the year can be complicated.

“We compete in local, state, national and world competitions,” said Alden. “Last year Petty Officer Lowe attended the world shoot in San Antonio.”

“The Armed Forces Skeet Championship is one of the biggest events we participate in,” said Swidrak. “We compete against all of the other services.”

Strictly non-profit, the Armed Forces Skeet Championship operates exclusively for competition and recreation with fellow military members.  However, members can be awarded prizes such as coins, knives, hats and other memorabilia. Team Coast Guard has many personal highlights to add to their list. Swidrak has been registered in skeet competition for 12 years and has earned All-American Team recognition. He won the world championship for the 28 Gauge Class Championship in 1997 and was ranked number 1 in the 2003 National Doubles High Volume competition and number 2 in 2006. Swidrak has also won 13 coins and two knives.

In June of 2007, Alden participated in the Sportsmen’s Open Skeet Shooting Competition at McChord Air Force Base, Wash. He became the military champion for the 28 and .410 gauge as well as the open champion for the 28 and .410 gauge. Alden is currently on target to defend his title as the 2006 military champion for the state of Washington. He has held the military championship trophy for two of the last three years.

Although distance between team members can pose a burden for some, it is is no shot in the dark that Team Coast Guard stays strong by regularly keeping in touch with one another via phone and e-mail providing updates, shooting tips and encouragement. Both Hill and Lowe plan to compete in the world shoot, which takes place this October in San Antonio.

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