VINTON–The Air Force JROTC at William Byrd High School has bolstered its marksmanship program this year thanks to a grant from the NRA Foundation which provided eight air rifles and a donation of $500 from the local AMVETS Post 40 (Roanoke) which allowed for the purchase of other needed supplies.
Lt. Col. Jay Thompson, the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor at Byrd, submitted a grant proposal to the National Rifle Association Foundation asking for equipment to augment the marksmanship program. The grant was approved and as a result the program received the rifles valued at approximately $600 each, making the total value of the grant about $5000.
In the group’s start-up year in 2014-15, the cadets used borrowed pump-action rifles. Their new guns operate on compressed air. The four cadets who make up the marksmanship competition team say that the newer rifles are very different—and much better– than the ones they were using before. The rifles weigh approximately six pounds and have no recoil. The ammunition is similar to a BB, but with a flat nose.
Last year the JROTC built their own backstops for target shooting with their own funds.
The marksmanship course meets on alternate days as part of the WBHS JROTC program. Cadets began with a three week course on the basics of gun safety and training in the use of firearms, with a required test of certification upon completion.
Safety is of utmost concern—“it’s not just about you, it’s also about the program,” Thompson tells the cadets.
Cadets were trained to shoot at a target in three stances—prone, kneeling, and standing. Shooting from the prone position is generally more accurate than from the other stances, with kneeling second, and standing third. The cadets shoot at set targets from a distance of 10 meters.
This second year their focus is on building a competitive team now that the basics have been mastered.
Thompson says that the JROTC program is fortunate at WBHS to have developed their shooting program at the school instead of having to arrange buses to travel to armories to practice.
He added the marksmanship program to the JROTC curriculum to further diversify the program and allow for a wide range of individual interests. With the Raider physical fitness competition team, the academic team, the drill team, and now marksmanship, there is something for everyone.
Any cadets enrolled in the JROTC program at Byrd can join the marksmanship team. Beginners are welcome. Thompson says in fact they have “fewer bad habits to break.”
Students from all Roanoke County high schools are eligible to enroll in the Air Force JROTC program at WBHS.
Thompson is a certified marksmanship coach. Master Sgt. Allen Culbreth, Byrd’s Aerospace Science Instructor, is working to become certified as well. Thompson is also a certified scuba diving instructor, which turns out to be helpful to the marksmanship program by providing easy access to compressed air.
Competition begins at the local level with “postal” events under the auspices of the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), which was chartered by Congress in 1903. The original purpose of the CMP was to provide civilians an opportunity to learn and practice marksmanship so that they would be skilled if called on to serve in the United States military. Nowadays their emphasis is on youth and education. They offer both firearms safety training and the opportunity for practice and competition.
The CMP sponsors Three Position Air Rifle Championship matches designed to give all junior shooters around the country, including JROTC, 4-H, Boy Scouts, and other junior clubs, an opportunity to compete in a national level match, as well as to create shoulder-to-shoulder matches for juniors to attend.
The first level of competition begins for the William Byrd cadets when the CMP mails regulation targets to the JROTC. The cadets then follow strict rules for competition shooting, operating under the honor system, and return the targets to the CMP which scores them. The top shooters are invited to Camp Perry in Ohio to take part in the Air Force JROTC Championship. Winners there may go on to compete in a national event held in Alabama which involves all branches of the military.
A marksmanship team from the Franklin County High School JROTC has won the national event with one of their female cadets named as the individual air rifle national champion.
Thompson hopes that his marksmanship team will be able to participate in regional events arranged with Franklin and Bedford Counties and several other schools throughout the year.
The JROTC at Byrd also competes in the Raider Team national competition each fall which focuses on physical fitness including completing a three-mile run, an obstacle course, and a rope bridge. This competition is timed. Byrd has a mixed male and female team this year with 10-12 cadets. The nationals are coming up soon in Georgia.
In the spring there is drill competition at regional and state levels.
Thompson says that the JROTC marksmanship program at Byrd is looking for more opportunities to participate in competition and for funding sources.
Ed McCoy, editor of the Fincastle Herald and Vinton Messenger, works with the Botetourt 4-H Shooting Education Club, which has received close to $40,000 in similar grants from the NRA Foundation in the past 11 years. Those funds were used to purchase air rifles, air pistols, .22 rifles and pistols, shotguns, ammunition and other supplies needed for the shooting sports.
The grants the Byrd JROTC and Botetourt 4-H group have received also go to Boy Scouts, other non-profits, and college shooting teams. The NRA Foundation website says that they have awarded $267 million in grants since 1990.
“The money is raised primarily at banquets conducted by Friends of the NRA chapters around Virginia and the nation,” said McCoy. “The Roanoke Valley Chapter Friends of NRA generally has one of the biggest fund raisers in Virginia. Last year, the Virginia committee that decides who gets grants in Virginia and how much, had about $300,000 to divvy up among 60 or 70 applicants.”
“The shooting sports are expensive, and clubs like ours would have a very difficult time if it were not for the NRA Foundation’s assistance,” added McCoy.
Thompson says learning to use firearms is not just a past-time. Colleges offer scholarships in marksmanship and it is also an Olympic sport.
He is preparing another grant application to submit to the NRA to continue to build the program, adding equipment like shooting mats which were not funded by the previous grant.
Grants are generally decided upon by the NRA in January and awarded in February and March. He hopes the marksmanship program will continue to improve from year to year with their team becoming increasingly competitive.