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Feature Story

Date: March 15, 2011

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Coast Guard Academy Combat Arms Team participates in nationals

Story and photographs by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

A competitor shoots during the 2011 International Defensive Pistol Association Winter Nationals in Springfield, Mass., Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. The Coast Guard Academy Combat Arms Team, based in New London, Conn., designed two maritime-themed courses for the competition. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi
A competitor shoots during the 2011 International Defensive Pistol Association Winter Nationals in Springfield, Mass., Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. The Coast Guard Academy Combat Arms Team, based in New London, Conn., designed two maritime-themed courses for the competition.

The Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., hosts a myriad of varsity and club sports; however, only a few of those sports are directly applicable to the line of work performed by Coast Guard officers in the fleet.  One of the few exceptions is the Coast Guard Academy Combat Arms Team, and on Feb. 26, 10 of the team's members gathered in Springfield, Mass., to participate in the 2011 International Defensive Pistol Association Winter Nationals.

Six of the team members participated in the competition as shooters, and the four remaining members served as safety observers and time and score keepers for the competition.

The competition provided multiple courses of fire, including a scenario created by the Combat Arms Team to simulate a maritime environment.

Mark Redl, an IDPA Master Shooter who participated in the competition, said, "On a scale of one to ten, the stages the Coast Guard built is about a nine and half to ten.  The thought process and the difficulty they put in to the scenario is phenomenal. The entire crew of cadets and instructors are the nicest people to work with."

Lt. Cmdr. Ben Karpinski, a coach for the team, said by participating in these types of competitions, the cadets are introduced to a more realistic course of fire that directly translates to the job they'll perform when they leave the academy.

"Our cadets are learning to shoot from positions of cover and to reload their firearm in a realistic scenario," Karpinski said.  "It's more realistic than qualifying on the basic marksmanship course with magazines [of ammo] laid out on a table.  This type of training and mindset prepares the cadets for boarding officer jobs."

U.S. Coast Guard Fourth Class Cadet Trey Thunborg resets a moving target during the 2011 International Defensive Pistol Association Winter Nationals Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011, in Springfield, Mass. Thunborg was one of ten cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., who participated in the national competition. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

U.S. Coast Guard Fourth Class Cadet Trey Thunborg resets a moving target.

While participation in the Combat Arms Team is voluntary, Coast Guard Fourth Class Cadet Jeff Potter said he doesn't mind giving up his weekend to participate in the IDPA match.

"This is the most real-life activity that transfers into the fleet," Potter said.  "I enjoy the Combat Arms Team.  It's a great group of guys to work with."

While he isn't shooting in the match, Potter is working as a safety observer, and whether he realizes it or not, he's learning and gaining skills from the interaction with professional sponsored shooters during the match that will later transition to the training of other cadets and his future boarding team members.

"They're learning a lot of range safety skills, which they bring back to the academy and use in a whole host of environments, including getting other cadets qualified," Karpinski said.  "These cadets become highly proficient in a training environment that mimics the real world."

In the State of the Coast Guard Address, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. stated his desire to move beyond the basic qualification standards of the service and focus on making servicemembers proficient in the skills they gain.

Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Chad Barber demonstrates a shooting course during the 2011 International Defensive Pistol Association Winter Nationals to a group of competitors in Springfield, Mass., Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. The Coast Guard Academy Combat Arms Team, based in New London, Conn., designed two maritime-themed courses for the competition. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi
Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Chad Barber demonstrates a shooting course.

"In many cases, the pace of change and operations has placed our focus on simply training to a level of basic qualification," Papp said.  "Being qualified, however, is only a first step.  Qualification does not make you proficient."

Whether they're shooting in a competitive shooting match or acting as safety observers, all of the members of the Coast Guard Academy Combat Arms Team are taking proactive steps to advance their shooting skills in order to become proficient shooters.  By participating in shooting competitions such as the IDPA Winter Nationals, Coast Guard cadets are learning to take their gun range, safety and shooting skills to a level of proficiency before they even enter the fleet.

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