The USNMT is the leading proponent of small arms marksmanship and safety training for U.S. Navy personnel. Each year, the Team conducts the Fleet Forces Command (LANT) Rifle and Pistol Matches and Fleet Forces Command (PAC) Rifle and Pistol Matches, in which hundreds of sailors are trained in service rifle and service pistol marksmanship, small arms safety, and marksmanship competition rules and procedures. Sailors participating in Fleet matches represent their commands in individual and team events, earn marksmanship medals and badges, and qualify to stand armed watches aboard ships and at other commands.
USNMT also conducts the annual All Navy Rifle and Pistol Championships, in which Sailors who have fired qualifying scores in Fleet matches compete. As members of the Navy and Naval Reserve Rifle and Pistol Teams, top-scoring USNMT members represent the Navy in the most prestigious, varied, and highly-competitive individual and team marksmanship events in the world: the annual Interservice Rifle and Pistol Matches, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s National Rifle and Pistol Matches, and the National Rifle Association’s National Rifle and Pistol Championships.
USNMT members also provide marksmanship training to Sailors in their home commands throughout the year, promote command rifle and pistol teams, develop and perfect marksmanship techniques for experimental and newly-introduced small arms, and test ammunition and related small arms accoutrements.
In 1907, the National Matches were first fired at Camp Perry, Ohio. This post was named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in Honor of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The U.S. Navy sent a team to compete at these first matches. The Navy team made history by winning the National Trophy Team Match, also known as the “Dogs of War”. This match was authorized by Congress in Army General Order 61. Ate that time, the course of fire was 10 shots slow fire at 200, 600, 800, and 1,000 yards plus rapid fire strings at 200 and 500 yards and a skirmish run (a precursor to the National Trophy Infantry team match, aka “Rattle Battle”). Teams representing all branches of the military were in competition for this prestigious award. The U.S. Navy won the National Trophy Team match in 1907, 1909, and 1968. One of the team members of the 1907 U.S, Navy team was Midshipman Willis Augusta Lee. He also won the National Individual Rifle Championship and the National Individual Pistol Championship in 1907. He is the only person to have won both of these National Trophies in the same year. Another member of the winning 1907 U.S. Navy Team was Midshipman Harold T. Smith. He also won the President’s 100 match that year. The U.S. Navy took second in 1904 and 1908 and was awarded the Hilton Trophy. The Hilton Trophy is the oldest national trophy and it dates back to 1878. Today is it awarded to the highest scoring reserve team competing in the national trophy match.
During the 1920s and early 1930s U.S. Navy rifle and pistol marksmen were victorious in many competitions at the National Matches. In 1921, Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Enos P. Amy (USN) received his first “Leg” points toward a Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge as a member of the “1921 USN Team.” Six years later, Amy earned his badge (serial # E001). On 1 September 1928, BM1 Amy earned his Distinguished Marksman Badge for rifle marksmanship (serial # E003), becoming the first Navy “Double Distinguished” shooter.
From 1932 until 1957, the Navy’s participation in competitive marksmanship declined, until only a few commands encouraged rifle and pistol matches. Navy marksmen participated in the National competitions on only an informal basis.
In 1957, then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh “31 Knot” Burke, an ardent supporter of small arms proficiency, took steps to get the Navy’s marksmanship training program back on course. Adm. Burke issued a directive establishing Small Arms Marksmanship Instructor (SAMI) billets throughout the Navy. Cmdr. Bob Joerg wrote the required instructions, including OPNAVINST 3591.1. The SAMI billets were established in District/River Commands, Type Commands, and certain large naval stations. To provide marksmanship experts for the billets, records were seached to locate the top rifle and pistol shots on active duty in the Navy. The Chief of Naval Personnel selected 32 highly qualified individuals to fill the billets. An Officer’s billet in Pers C, Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS), Education and Training, was also established.
A Small Arms Training Unit (SATU) was established at the Naval Training Center, San Diego. The SATU served as an advance nucleus of skilled marksmen in preparation for high level competitions, and for assignment as instructors, coaches, and match officials in Fleet, All Navy, and National matches. To provide the equipment necessary to support the small arms marksmanship program, the Chief, Bureau of Naval Weapons, provided the necessary funds and personnal to support the SATU.
Because management control of the small arms training program was placed under the Chief of Naval Personnel, a Small Arms Competition Selection was established in the Training Management Division of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. This section, in coordination with the Assistant CNO for Fleet Operations and Readiness, provided support for the program. The Chief of Naval Personnel also designated the Officer-in-Charge for Navy Rifle and Pistol Teams for the Interservice and National matches.
Adm. Burke asked the Chief of Naval Personnel to consider rifle and pistol competitions a military requirement for naval personnel, so commands could attain an acceptable degree of operational readiness.
Conduct of Navy rifle and pistol matches was outlined in the Navy’s Landing Party Manual. In the late 1960s this was replaced by a BUPERS publication entitled “Small Arms Marksmanship Manual,” NAVPERS 93863, written by Lt. Cmdr. “Walt” Walter. The manual addressed every aspect of Navy small arms marksmanship training from ROTC to the Fleet. A four-week course was established at SATU to instruct the “Small Arms Marksmanship Instructor” (SAMI) course, promulgated in the Formal Schools Manual, NAVPERS 91769 and designed to qualify Gunners Mates and Aviation Ordnancemen as SAMIs.
Adm. Burke then assigned Cmdr. Joerg to man the BUPERS billet as “Head, Small Arms Training Project.” Joerg identified qualified small arms instructors and had them designated NEC 9595 (Small Arms Instructor), which Sailors of all ratings could hold. Cmdr. Joerg filled all the billets which he had established in all the Naval District Headquarters Staff, Major Naval Air Stations, and a SATU at Camp Elliott under the command of Naval Training Center, San Diego. This unit had military personnel assigned as armorers who built the weapons used by the teams. These billets were later changed to civilian billets and manned by retired armorers who later came under the control of Naval Ordnance System Command and finally Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane, Indiana. Ten military billets remained at SATU for the Navy’s best marksmen, who taught sailors the safe and accurate use of small arms for defending their commands.
The Naval Reserve portion was assigned a coordinator and the billet was established at Naval Reserve Center, St. Louis, Mo. Lt. Cmdr. Arnold Kansteiner was first assigned this billet. Ammunition allowances for training, command teams, and Fleet and All Navy competition including All Navy teams were coordinated with Naval Ordnance Systems Command.
Cmdr. Joerg then established Naval District, Atlantic and Pacific Fleet Matches, and an annual All Navy Match, held alternately on the East and West Coasts. He published BUPERS NOTE 3590 in the Spring of each year outlining the ranges and rules for the matches. Appropriated funds were authorized for Sailors attending the matches, though many attended on no-cost orders and leave papers. They all came under control of the Commanding Officer of the base hosting the event. To qualify for the Fleet Matches, a Sailor had to shoot in a Naval District Match and be selected by the Small Arms Marksmanship Instructor as a member of that team.
From the Fleet and All Navy Matches, pistol and rifle teams were selected from the best individuals available and trained from the time the All Navy Matches were over. The team stayed together until the National Matches and Championships were complete, usually in late August. At that time, BUPERS had a budget of $500,000 to equip and supply all the competitions and provide TAD funding for the team.
In the early 1960s, the Interservice Matches were established with the Air Force responsible for the pistol matches, the Navy and Marine Corps for the rifle matches, and the Army for the international competitions. The international matches were used to select military personnel, from all services, to compete in events such as the Championships of the Americas, Pan American Games, CISM and the Olympics. During this time, BUPERS supported the National Matches and the Interservice Matches with up to 300 personnel at Camp Perry, Ohio, and Marine Base, Quantico, Va., respectively. The program was managed by Cmdr. Bob Joerg, Capt. Otto Finely, Cmdr. Burt Parke, Cmdr. Tom B. Martin, Lt. Cmdr. Alex Leitner, Lt. Cmdr. Walter, and Lt. Cmdr. Lonnie Conn. Mr. Harold Barrett was assigned as the final administrator for the program.
As late as the early 1970s, the Navy remained dedicated to marksmanship training. In 1970, Vice-Adm. D.H. Guinn, Chief of Naval Personnel, stated:
“All Navy men have defense responsibilities against overt and covert enemy action. To discharge these responsibilities the fundamental military concept of competency with firearms is a requirement. The security of ships and stations and the survival of their crews may be dependent upon individual proficiency with assigned firearms.”
Soon thereafter, however, several factors combined to the detriment of Navy marksmanship training. Under Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, the Career Counselor rating was established and billets were needed on the Naval District Staffs. Zumwalt refused to establish new billets and the Naval Districts (ND) were required to “offset” billets in order to fill the new requirement. Most NDs chose the SAMI billet as the “offset” and those people were lost. Inevitably, with no district coordinator the Naval District Matches faltered and eventually collapsed. In the middle 1970s, funding for the program began to dwindle. Around 1978, the SATUs were disestablished and Small Arms Instructor Training was assigned to the Air Force. Further reorganization sent the BUPERS billet to the Naval Technical Training Command in Memphis, Tenn., with Mr. Barrett in charge. Without a supporting organization and dedicated shooters in the needed billets, the program came to a halt.
In addition to the disestablishment of SATUs, other developments from the 1980s to present have threatened to leave Sailors inadequately equipped and trained to defend their ships and stations. Individual small arms proficiency has not received the same emphasis in the Navy as it has in the Marine Corps or Army, due in part to the Navy’s focus upon high-tech weaponry wielded by ships, submarines and aircraft. This oversight was evident as long ago as November 1963, when the Chief of Naval Personnel testified before Congress:
“We have too many people who have no experience in small arms. In our engrossment with huge new weapons systems, we lose sight of the fact that a knowledge of small arms shooting is going to be tremendously important.”
The Fleet, All Navy, Interservice, and National competitions served as venues in which Navy personnel tested and validated small arms and ammunition innovations developed by Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, Crane, Indiana, until it was disestablished in 2019. Crane Armorers and Engineers applied the lessons learned from the testing and validations to benefit the entire Fleet.
Additionally, the downsizing of both personnel and budgets have posed obstacles to the re-establishment of a comprehensive small arms training program. Finally, popular misconceptions about the value of small arms and individual small arms marksmanship, brought about by recent anti-firearm propaganda campaigns, have also been to the detriment of marksmanship, even within the Armed Forces.
Today, the USNMT strives to rebuild the Navy’s small arms training program with its Team members constituting a core group of Sailors who are proficient and ready to train other Sailors in a fundamental skill that professional- and citizen-soldiers used to establish America’s independence more than two centuries ago.
The Navy is America’s “forward-deployed” force — the “tip of the spear” for U.S. military action anywhere in the world, at any time. The USNMT, through hosting the Fleet and All Navy matches, works to ensure that skilled marksmen are available for deployment upon every ship and submarine in the Fleet.
(Note: The Team History section was compiled from “Taking Aim,” Naval Training Bulletin, Summer 1964, and the recollections of veteran Navy marksman, LCDR (Ret) Howard “Walt” Walter.)