Every year, the U.S. Army is the primary recipient of dozens of freshly minted second lieutenants who have successfully matriculated through the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point. Previous graduates include such notables as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, “Buzz” Aldrin and “Stormin’” Norman Schwarzkopf. Since most of the new officers will be assigned as combat platoon leaders, they need to be able to command respect from their subordinates, especially since they could arrive at a seasoned post to command veteran troops. One of the best ways to garner that respect is to be extremely competent in core soldiering skills, such as applied marksmanship. West Point provides its graduates that kind of superior knowledge and training by allowing cadets to compete in shooting sports. The USMA’s superb pistol team competes and consistently wins while using one of the best pistols in the world, the GLOCK.
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Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Dustin Saunders, himself a Class of 1972 graduate, has served as the volunteer head coach of the USMA Pistol Team since 1993. He said, “Although marksmanship is an important military skill, we put cadets on the pistol team in situations where they not only are learning how to shoot and are developing their own marksmanship skills, but as they become upperclassmen they also are comfortable in mentoring and coaching underclassmen. Just like all the other sports and activities at West Point that serve as leadership laboratories, the cadets are taught how to pass on their skills and training to others, which is very important for when they are officers in the Army.”
Earning Their Stripes
The USMA Pistol Team is West Point’s largest shooting organization—larger than the school’s excellent skeet and trap shotgun team, small-bore rifle team and Combat Weapons Team (CWT), which also uses pistols in competition. The USMA Pistol Team and CWT use a wide variety of handguns, but the GLOCK 34 is a favorite because of its accuracy and reliability in competitions.
“I really enjoy the ergonomics of the GLOCK 34 because it gives me the accuracy I need to do well in competitions against other teams …”
Cadets on the shooting teams spend their afternoons practicing with their GLOCKs at the excellent Tronsrue Marksmanship Center “down the hill” at West Point. The unofficial motto of the pistol team is “Discipline, Focus, Performance,” and it sums up the coaching philosophy that helps the cadets completely engage in the task at hand. As mentioned, the cadets can use a variety of firearms for competition, but some of them are old enough to have been used by George Patton when he was a cadet! As a result, most cadets pull out one of West Point’s GLOCKs to win matches.
Cadet Mark Corey Lister, who has been on the USMA Pistol Team and at West Point for one year, noted, “My dad introduced me to shooting, and I found out that I was a pretty good shot. As a result, I tried out for the team, and so far other team members have said that I am doing very well and am quickly picking up what I need to learn.” When asked about his favorite pistol, Cadet Lister said, “I really enjoy the ergonomics of the GLOCK 34 because it gives me the accuracy I need to do well in competitions against other teams at the Scholastic Pistol Program [SPP] matches that we go to.”
Cadet Spencer John Ellis, who is now a junior at the USMA, enjoyed competing in the SPP Nationals at Fort Benning with a GLOCK 34. He said, “I like the GLOCK a lot. I don’t like three-dot sights [found on some competition pistols], but I really like the sights on the GLOCK with its white-dot front and the white-outlined rear sight.” As with many other team members who shoot USMA GLOCKs, he has his own GLOCK, too. He mentioned, “I have a GLOCK back in Indiana that I shoot when I am home from West Point.”
“The goal of every USMA activity is to increase the cadets’ leadership abilities and confidence, and the shooting organizations, with their GLOCK pistols, do just that.”
Austen James Marietta, Class of 2014 and now at Fort Campbell as part of the famed 101st Airborne Division, was a member of the West Point CWT and competed with carbines, shotguns and pistols. When asked which was his favorite weapon to shoot in competition, he quickly answered, “It is my GLOCK 19! I got it for its functionality and compactness, and it has the accuracy I need for shots at 25 and 35 meters. It fits my hand very comfortably, and it is really a great weapon overall.”
Garrett Kennedy was the outgoing captain of the USMA Pistol Team when I spoke with him after he competed in the SPP Nationals at Fort Benning. He had just dropped a lot of steel targets very quickly on the range. He told me, “I did well, although I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to go, but I got the hits and that’s what makes the money.”
Now a second lieutenant, Kennedy is working to become a Ranger after graduating with his 2014 class. He said that he likes to shoot a GLOCK 34 because “for competition, you just can’t beat it. The GLOCK 34 has a long sight radius, and it comes with a trigger that you would have to pay $200 or $300 as an extra to get on other competition pistols.” Kennedy continued, “The reliability of the GLOCK design means you won’t have any failures that could force you to waste time clearing jams during a stage. I also have a personal GLOCK 19 pistol that I bought as soon as I turned 21.”
For over 200 years, the “Long Gray Line”—graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point—has learned marksmanship as part of the skills needed to be effective officers and warriors. Believing that both competition and physical fitness make for a superior leader and officer, the USMA puts great emphasis on collegiate athletics, including competitive shooting. General Douglas MacArthur (USMA Class of 1908) noted, “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory.” To that end, the goal of every USMA activity is to increase the cadets’ leadership abilities and confidence, and the shooting organizations, with their GLOCK pistols, do just that.
Although the mechanics of understanding marksmanship are tremendously important to combat, the longer-lasting lessons of responsibility, accountability and discipline learned through competition are directly transferrable to both military and civilian endeavors. The head-to-head matches against other cadets and collegiate shooters help build Americans who know how to think, hit their target and, most importantly, overcome adversity to achieve success. This crucial takeaway, carried on by USMA graduates like Kennedy, Lister, Marietta and Ellis, will pay dividends for our nation’s defense and its venerable traditions.
For more information on the GLOCK 34, please visit US.Glock.com.
This article was published in the GLOCK AUTOPISTOLS 2015 magazine. To see the rest of the issue, please visit Personaldefenseworld.com/publications/glock-autopistols/glock-autopistols-2015.