At home on the range, reservist shoots top score with Air Force team

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Paul Zadach
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
With fall in the air, a lot of hunters will be going out to the target range to zero in their rifles for the season. Shooting at 100 yards is typical, maybe 150 or 200 maximum, and most use a telescopic scope at those long ranges. 

Master Sgt. Matthew Griffin, 934th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Accountable Systems Officer, aims for a 6 inch target at 600 yards and one not much bigger than that at 1,000 yards. His shots rip through the black circles with amazing regularity using only an iron sight. But that's why he qualified for the Air Force Shooting Team this year, the only Reservist to do so. 

Sergeant Griffin didn't simply make the shooting team. At the shooting competition at Camp Perry, Ohio, in July, he shot the best individual score of any Air Force member ( Active, Guard or Reserve) which earned him the Lt. Paul J. Roberts memorial trophy, the only reservist ever to receive this award. This was Griffin's first year with the Air Force team, and only his second year of serious competitive shooting. "I was always interested in shooting when I was young, and used to enjoy going out plinking with my .22," he said. 

"A couple of years ago I started reading about competition shooting on the internet, and then I talked to one of my uncles who had been a competition shooter back in the 60s. I bought one of his target rifles and started practicing and then shooting in competitions at a local club in Elk River, Minn. I thought, hey, I can do this, I really enjoy it."
To be selected for the Air Force team, Griffin had to submit certified scores from match shooting competitions and also a resume of his experience. "It was really an honor to be selected and to compete at that level," he said. 

The Air Force was among 75 teams made up of military and civilian rifle teams. The Air Force team placed 22nd overall, which was a respectable showing considering some of the teams such as the Army are fully funded teams that practice every day. The competition consists of high power rifle "across the course" and high power rifle long range shooting. Across the course is done at 200 yard slow fire standing unsupported, 200 yard sitting rapid fire, 300 yard prone rapid fire, and 600 yard prone slow fire. For across the course, Griffin uses his highly modified AR-15. The rifle is a civilian version of the M-16 and looks just like one, except for the silver stainless steel free floating barrel, modified rear sight, and match trigger. No one would want to carry it around in combat as it weighs in at over 17 pounds--nearly three times as much as an M-16. The reason for the added weight is to give it stability during recoil. Griffin likes shooting from the 600 yard mark the most. "I really like the precision aspect of shooting. I load my own rounds and take into account powder composition, bullet weight and barrel harmonics. At long ranges, minute variations make a big difference." 

At the 1,000 yard mark, things really start to get dicey. At this range, he uses a custom built bolt action rifle built from the ground up to his specifications, but even then, some things are unpredictable. Griffin chuckles as he reflects on his experience at the match in Ohio. "Wind calculations are crucial at this range, and when I was shooting, I had the predominate wind coming straight at me, which is the worst because wind direction is never consistent. Just as I would get adjusted and ready to squeeze off a shot, the wind would changed at the last second, I would re-adjust and it would change in the other direction, it was changing every 30 seconds. Then when the next shooter came up, the wind direction stayed fairly steady for eight minutes. But that's how long range shooting is, it's very precise, but there's still some things that just turn out to be dumb luck." 

It took a lot more than luck, however, for Griffin to also win the Daniel Boone Gold Medal for excellence in competition. By winning this, he earned 10 points in the Civilian Marksmanship Program. For outstanding accomplishments in shooting, the CMP awards points towards the Distinguished Rifleman's Badge. Thirty points are needed to finally be awarded the badge. The DRB is the most coveted award in competition shooting and only about 1800 people have earned it in more than 100 years of shooting competition. Griffin was also awarded a bronze medal from the Air Force for his first 10 points. The Air Force awards a silver medal at 20 points and finally the DRB at 30 points. Griffin has been invited back next year to compete on the Air Force Team and has his sights set on the DRB. "I'm hoping to pick up some points at events between now and next year and possibly another 10 at the 2009 event," he said.
For Griffin, this doesn't appear to be a long shot.