On target: AF Shooting Team showcases skills on world stage

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Vucic
  • Airman Magazine
Staring down the iron sight of his AR-15, Air Force Special Agent David Ohlinger shuts out the world. It's just him, his rifle and his target sitting 600 yards away.

More than seven years of experience have made Ohlinger's preparation second nature, but the stifling July heat causes beads of sweat to build on his forehead, threatening to break the marksman's concentration.

Undeterred, his hands find their familiar position around the rifle as he settles into place on the shooting line. His breathing becomes slow and rhythmic. A voice echoes inside his head, telling him to hold steady. Then, in an instant, he clears his mind and pulls the trigger.

Ohlinger is a member of the 2014 Air Force Shooting Team, and he and his fellow team members recently competed against the world's best civilian and military marksmen in national competition on the fields of Camp Perry, near Port Clinton, Ohio. The competitors participated in a variety of categories, earning points toward advancement within the national shooting community.

Each competitor's goal is to outshoot everyone else, but the real fight happens within each participant.

"It's really a competition against yourself," Ohlinger said. "It's a mental game just as much as a physical ability."

Shooters fire at targets from several postures, at ranges of 200, 300 and 600 yards, all open sights. The combination of ranges and postures varies from day to day and event to event. Though the Air Force team competes throughout the year, the international competition at Camp Perry offers something unique.

"It's the only time of year the team actually gets to compete together (and) be a cohesive unit," said Staff Sgt. Timothy Hessel, a combat arms instructor with the 37th Training Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Ohlinger and Hessel have shared a friendly rivalry over their roughly three years together on the Air Force team.

The teammates are often paired together for team events and use the motivation to outshoot each other to improve themselves as individuals, Ohlinger said.

"If I'm doing well, he's going to do better," Hessel said, referring to the back and forth nature of this year's matches. "Today is going to come down to one shot. One bad shot is going to separate (us)."

In the end, Ohlinger collected six first place awards for individual matches, one silver medal in the Vintage Bolt Rifle Match, another silver medal toward the USAF Excellence in Competition, shot a personal best during the National Trophy Team match and outshot his teammate and closest competitor, Hessel, by a mere three points in the final week of competition.

Though competitive on the surface, Hessel said the underlying hope is that all shooters improve, whether they are teammates or otherwise.

"You have your legends and your dynasty of guys who are always going to be in the top 10," he said. "On the flip side, you have your kids who are learning how to shoot. Everybody's glad to see them do better."

That need for improvement was envisioned by former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, when he directed a comprehensive weapons qualification school be opened at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 1960. The best shooters coming out of the school would be named to the newly created Air Force Shooting Team and compete nationally.

Judging by Hessel and Ohlinger's impressive showing at this year's competition, LeMay's vision was right on target.