Army Wounded Warrior Athletes Aim to Dominate Shooting Competition at Warrior Games 2011

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

PFC Latoya McClain takes a shot during a shooting clinic at the Army Marksmanship Unit

Last week, Army wounded warrior marksmen took aim at becoming members of the Army’s 2011 Warrior Games team at a special shooting clinic conducted by the elite Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU). Throughout the week, warrior athletes learned shooting skills and techniques from some of the world’s finest instructors and shooters; AMU cadre include Olympic champions, world champions, and U.S. national champions who have responsibilities of training Soldiers and competing in world-class venues that highlight the Army’s expertise in all things shooting.

In both civilian and military marksmanship circles the AMU is recognized as the very best of the very best or “‘gold standard”–similar to the Army Golden Knights, Air Force Thunderbirds, or Navy Blue Angels.

In 2010, Army athletes took nearly every gold medal and the lion’s share of silver and bronze medals in numerous Warrior Games shooting events.  Building on that success will be difficult but with training, instruction, and mentorship from the AMU, MSG James Shiver, Warrior Transition Command (WTC) Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge of Adaptive Sports, believes the Army is raising the bar.

“The Army Marksmanship Unit has been extremely supportive of our Warrior Games shooters,” said Shiver. “In 2010, they hosted clinics and sent coaches and support staff to the Games. This year they are building on that even more. It is awe inspiring, quite frankly jaw dropping for our athletes to have this opportunity to learn from these outstanding shooters. I hope each will seize this opportunity and, hopefully, by working hard this week, we’ll ultimately improve on last year’s success against the other services.”

The second annual Warrior Games, scheduled for May 16-21, 2011, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, will feature 200 wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers from all branches of the U.S. armed forces. Competitors will compete in several sports including shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball.

One of the youngest prospects for the Warrior Games shooting team is PFC Latoya McClain from the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).  The South Carolina native was conducting physical training in stifling 125 degree weather in Kirkuk, Iraq, when she suffered a heat stroke that nearly killed her on May 31, 2010. Fortunately an Army medic was nearby to render prompt medical assistance.  Initially confined to a wheelchair as she learned to walk again, her recovery has included stints in Army hospitals in Balad, Iraq, Germany, and Texas. 

McClain’s focus on succeeding in this year’s Warrior Games is evident in her captivating smile and positive attitude.  “I never shot a weapon before basic training,” she said. “I kept messing up when it came to shooting, but my drill sergeant and the trainers were patient and worked with me. I paid attention and got better. I shot sharpshooter at Basic Training and then expert at AIT [Advanced Individual Training]. Shooting is fun and I really like the sport and I think I’m pretty good at it. I think the reason I do so well is that I follow instructions and do what I’m told.”

Her hard work and commitment to excel has paid off as McClain earned a silver medal during the clinic’s rifle competition shoot off. McClain wants to round out her stay in the Army and is looking at future options that will allow her to finish her education and possibly work in the medical field. She represents the many wounded warriors who have applied their diligence in athletics to other areas of their lives in order to achieve a successful transition post injury.  

Medalists in the AMU shooting clinic were

10-Meter Pistol

SSG Michael Strong, Fort Gordon WTU – Gold
SGT Erin Bell, Fort Knox WTU – Silver
SFC Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson WTU – Bronze

10-Meter Rifle

SSG Kory Irish, Fort Drum WTU – Gold
PFC Latoya McClain, Fort Bliss WTU – Silver
SFC Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson WTU – Bronze

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