Out for the big game

Air Guard marksman shoots with ‘All Guard’ International Combat Team in South Africa

By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff

It was in Africa that he first pulled a  trigger in a national competition with All Guard International Combat Team, but getting to the continent was a journey much longer than the 18-hour flight that brought him there.

From his youth, Tech. Sgt. William S. Bednarowski started “plinking” targets never knowing he was aiming for something bigger than backyard branches and cans. But over the years he gained the respect, skill, and talent that a professional marksman and their weapon emulate.

Bednarowski is reserved about his marksmanship life-style. If you asked his opinion on the nation’s 2nd Amendment, you wouldn’t get a political speech. More than likely he would give you a strong look that would leave no doubts about his constitutional opinions. He may also tell you that good marksmanship should be every citizen’s responsibility.

After all, he’s a New York State Hunters Safety Education Instructor.

The accumulation of these things and much more brought Bednarowski to the 32nd Combat Rifle Championship in Bloemfontein, South Africa in June. It was his first international shootout with a nine-man team he had competed within the U.S. three times prior. The South African championships included more than 300 marksmen. You might call it a “Best of the Best” of the world’s shooters.

There, Bednarowski and his M16A4 rifle placed 11th, and he was awarded the Army Achievement Medal for his efforts. The All Guard Team – the only U.S. military team competing – won the overall team event. All its shooters finished in the top 30, and five shooters placed in the top ten. “The coach and officer in charge are really good at developing the team,” Bednarowski said.

“They are [also] very good at getting the best out of me.”

 The All Guard Combat Team represents the National Guard Bureau as a collective shooting group from Army and Air Guard units across the nation. In competition, they shoot the M9 pistol and M16A4 rifle. Other “All Guard” marksmanship teams include a pistol team, rifle team, and sniper team. The teams compete in regional and national championships and hold an annual international exchange program with allied nations including South Africa.

“The South African team was phenomenal, we did not lack for anything,” Bednarowski said. The South Africans also took him out for bigger game: a two-day hunting trip at a game preserve. He shot well there, too, and claimed three Impala and a Springbok from the preserve.

Bednarowski started competing militarily when he joined the 109th Airlift Wing’s shooting team in 2000. He set his goals high, and there were several shooters on the team that helped him achieve them including Master Sgt. Terry Potter, a distinguished rifleman.

A major discern for military marksmen are the Distinguished Rifleman and Pistol titles, which are awarded to Soldiers and Airmen on a point system. Military members are authorized to wear up to three levels of the distinguished badge on their uniform. Currently, only thirteen Army Soldiers are triple distinguished rifle and pistol plus international marksmen. Bednarowski wears the Distinguished Rifleman badge and was awarded the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Badge –called the “Chief’s 50″ –in a national competition.

“My goal was to beat sergeant Potter because he was the guy to beat,” Bednarowski said.

“We don’t hide secrets … we help each other … push each other, and the whole team benefits.” He also credits his success to the support he receives from the Wing’s Communications and Navigation shop; the shop allows him time from his full-time job to compete.

unnamed-1With South Africa behind him, Bednarowski has little time to reflect on his accomplishments. He must continuously train to keep his ranking. “Marksmanship is a perishable skill,” he said.

Bednarowski competes next at the Region 1 Marksmanship Advisory Council Championships at Ft. Devens, Mass., in September. In November, the top four shooters from April’s state Adjutant General Combat Match will represent the New York National Guard at the national Winston P. Wilson competition at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, Little Rock, Ark. This year, there are no longer separate rifle and pistol disciplines, and Bednarowski is rounding out his training to compensate.

“My pistol skills have to be up to snuff as well,” Bednarowski said. “The difference between first and second place can be a bullet.”

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