PUCKAPUNYAL MILITARY AREA, Australia – It’s not a cliché: every Marine is a rifleman, regardless if they are an infantryman or an administrative clerk. Annual requirements dictate qualifying on a known-distance rifle range and the occasional field exercise, but the minimum expectations don’t inspire Marines to excellence. What, then, if a Marine has a burning passion and the drive to master the fundamentals of marksmanship?
“My family didn’t have any guns, and aside from both of my grandfathers [who served], we weren’t a military family,” said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Andrew H. Walker, the assistant logistics officer for Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“It wasn’t until I was in college that I began hunting and fishing with some of the friends and fell in love with shooting,” Walker said.
Marksmanship instructors claim that some of the most accurate Marines are those who didn’t shoot growing up because they avoid developing bad habits or improper shooting postures. Such is the case with Walker, when, seven years after college, he represented the Marine Corps in shooting matches during the Australian Army Skill at Arms Meeting at the Puckapunyal Military Area, Victoria, Australia, in the early weeks of May, 2014.
The AASAM is an international combat shooting competition between approximately 20 nations from the Asia-Pacific and North American militaries, including the U.S., Brunei, New Caledonia, Canada, Japan, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.
The competition consisted of a variety of combat shooting scenarios, from a traditional known-distance range to a modified biathlon where shooters run three kilometers with gear, rifles, and water jugs prior to shooting at targets from unknown distances.
“It was a very competitive and exciting event -- I loved the experience,” said Walker, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina.
“The competition itself was very fast-paced, where we were on the range from 7 a.m. to about 6 p.m. every day,” he said. “But once the weapons were turned into the armory and we could sit back with [shooters from other nations], the best part of the experience came. [It was great] interacting with all the other military personnel who are as passionate about shooting as much as I am.”
Walker discovered his passion for shooting during hunting trips in North Carolina alongside college friends. He quickly loved every type of firearm he shot, whether it was rifles, shotguns or handguns. That wasn’t enough, though. He wanted to test his skills against the best in shooting competitions.
“I was at the Marine Corps Logistics Officer Course in 2010 when I participated in my first pistol competition,” Walker said. “It was some of the most fun I’d ever had and I knew I had to do more.”
From there, Walker participated in any shooting competition he could find, including civilian matches, which is a trend that continued at his current assignment with the 3/5, based in California. He has since competed in more than 25 events, excelling in pistol shoots and three-gun matches, in which the shooter uses rifles, pistols and shotguns.
"Our command encourages Marines to participate in recreational activities. There are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of as a Marine regardless of [your] MOS,” said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Bryant C. Yee, logistics officer for BLT 3/5, 31st MEU. “Being able to take advantage of these unique experiences is, I think, a big difference in whether the individual enjoyed his or her time in the Marine Corps, which was the thought process behind the command's decision to let Lt. Walker compete on the Marine Corps shooting team.”
Walker’s inclusion on the shooting team came after he competed in the Marine Corps’ Competition-in-Arms Program Western Division Matches in early 2014 where he placed in the top fifth of all competitors. It was his proficiency in the matches as well as his accomplishments in civilian events that led the coaches of the shooting team to offer him a spot for the AASAM.
“The Marine team consisted of 10 shooters, mainly comprised of Marine Corps shooting team members with additional members drawn from around the Corps based on shooting experience,” Walker said. “I was temporarily assigned to Weapons Training Battalion, Marine Corps Training Command in Quantico, Virginia, and trained with the shooting team for three weeks before we headed to Australia for the competition.”
While in Australia, Walker and the team competed in individual shooting matches, squad competitions, sniper rifle shooting and other challenges. To Walker's disappointment, the only medal he received was a third place team medal in the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer division. The ISMT is a life-sized indoor computer system used for marksmanship training.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t shoot as well as I could have, but the Marines consistently placed within the top third of every competition,” Walker said. “But the real benefit of the competition was spending time with the shooters from the other militaries, joking around and learning more about shooting and each other rather than if we just shot and went our separate ways.”
The end of the competition signaled a break for Walker from competitive shooting for a time due to operational commitments with BLT 3/5. Once the battalion rotates back to California at the end of a six-month tour, he will begin practicing for matches again to achieve his goal of competing in professional three-gun and United States Practical Shooting Association [pistol specialty] matches.
“The Marine Corps has given me so many opportunities to refine my shooting, and even gave me the chance to go to a different country to represent the American military,” Walker said. “I’m looking forward to what else I may be able to accomplish, both with the Marine Corps and in civilian competitions.”
Walker and the Marines of BLT 3/5 are currently assigned to the 31st MEU as the ground combat element and are conducting pre-deployment preparations in support of the regularly scheduled Fall Patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.