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Army's Olympic shooters back at work

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POSTED: August 19, 2012 12:01 p.m.

FORT BENNING, Ga. (AP) — Back at Fort Benning after competing in the 2012 Olympics, three soldiers from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit returned to the firing ranges Thursday to teach junior shooters from across the country and soldiers honing their skills.

"It's always good to be home," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft. "No matter how great the places I have traveled to, there is no place like home."

Uptagrafft and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker spent most of the morning instructing 15 junior shooters in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Junior Rifle Camp at Pool Range Complex, while Staff Sgt. Michael McPhail worked with soldiers on Krilling Range at Harmony Church.

The Marksmanship Unit sent seven soldiers to the competition at the Royal Artillery Barracks, but Sgt. Vincent Hancock was the only one to strike gold in men's skeet shooting. He's on leave preparing for a big welcome home Saturday in Eatonton, Ga.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson, the first active-duty soldier to ever qualify for a Paralympics, is the only member of the Marksmanship Unit left to compete in London. Olson, who lost his right leg after he was wounded in Iraq in 2003, will compete in the 10-meter air rifle Sept. 1 and the mixed 50-meter prone rifle Sept. 4.

As an instructor, Uptagrafft said he's teaching the 15-17-year-old shooters the basic fundamentals of firing a small bore .22-caliber rifle at a target less than the size of a dime 50 meters away.

"All the things you use to get to the Olympics are the things these kids are going to use hopefully to get there in eight or nine years," he said.

Students had to apply to earn a spot at the five-day camp. Michael Garner, 16, of Celina, Texas, said it's exciting to get help from world-class shooters and Olympians.

"It's really cool," Garner said. "I can't even describe it. It's really neat."

Minden Miles, 16, of Weatherford, Texas, said it's nice to know she's one of the advanced shooters from around the country.

"I loved being challenged," she said.

After three days at the camp, Miles said she had corrected some little things with her shooting.

"I've learned to just wait for that one shot, and if it's a good shot, take it," she said.

She said her goal is to get better and to eventually go to college and start a career.

Parker, who competed in three position-rifle at the Olympics, said the camp is a chance for Olympians to jump back into instructing juniors.

"You pass ideas on to young shooters in the sport," he said. "I enjoy every bit of it."

About five miles east of the Pool Range, McPhail was at Krilling Range helping lower ranking officers and non-commissioned officers with close quarter marksmanship in rooms and on streets. A shooter in the prone rifle at the Olympics, McPhail said he hasn't changed anything about shooting since returning home.

"I look at everything," he said. "I try not to do anything differently."

Cpl. Brad Warren, a Ranger-qualified soldier from Fort Bragg, N.C., said efforts from McPhail help improve soldiers' shooting skills.

"I'm a pretty good shot, but he makes us all better," Warren said. "Shooting with the best is just going to make you better, period."

Although the Olympians are back at Fort Benning, the future is not clear for all.

McPhail and Uptagrafft hope to return to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

"My personal goal is to get back to Rio," said Uptagrafft, a two-time Olympian. "I learned a lot on this trip. In 1996, I was kind of freaking out, the pressure was getting to me. That didn't happen here. It was just some technique things I need to work on. It's actually given me a lot of confidence going forward."

For McPhail, there is unfinished business.

"As far as competitive shooting goes, I have some unfinished business," he said of his goal to return.

The future for Parker is uncertain.

"I need to take a little bit of time and take a step back and make a decision on what's going to happen," he said. "I've got my option to continue to shoot for another four years, as well as for the next four years I can possibly coach some younger guys on the Army team or some juniors as well. I'm just going to take a little bit of time and reflect and figure out what I'm going to do with the next four years."

 

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