CAMP GUERNSEY JOINT TRAINING CENTER, Wyo. --
Controlling his breathing in a steady cadence, peering through the sights of his M16 rifle to form a perfect picture of the target down range, and squeezing the trigger with precise pressure, Tech. Sgt. Shawn Carter’s marksmanship techniques are the product of thousands of hours, tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, and years of study of how to consistently meet his mark.
Whether hunting with his father and six younger brothers as a child in the Utah wilderness, honing his skills as a St. George Police Department SWAT team member, or transitioning to a Combat Arms and Weapons instructor in the Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron, Carter is always laboring to become an ever more lethal marksman.
In his latest effort to perfect his craft, Carter traveled with other Alaska Air and Army National Guardsmen to participate in the Marksmanship Advisory Council Region 6 Championship at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center, Wyoming, from July 25 to 28.
The championship is a battle-focused marksmanship sustainment exercise, designed to validate and sustain perishable marksmanship skills essential to mobilization readiness and success.
A native of Cedar City, Utah, Carter said shooting was an integral part of life for him and his brothers.
“Being from a real small town in southern, Utah, it’s just what you do,” he explained. “You go out, you shoot, and you hunt.”
On his first deer hunt with his father, Carter packed his grandfather’s .243 Winchester rifle he had zeroed at 100 yards. Though they had spotted a buck at 300 yards, Carter knew from his father’s lessons how to compensate for the downward-curving trajectory of the bullet as it was propelled further from the muzzle. He held the scope’s crosshairs high, breathed calmly despite his rapidly beating heart, squeezed the trigger, and met his mark.
Though Carter said he always wanted to join the military, he began public service with the St. George Police Department. He earned a spot on the department’s SWAT team and trained with automatic carbines, tactical shotguns and advanced sniper techniques with scoped rifles.
Despite excelling as an officer of the law, Carter never forgot his ambition of serving in the military. He joined the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, as a security forces Airman. A few years after joining, he attended the seven-week long Combat Arms Apprentice Course at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, to become a combat arms and weapons instructor.
Working with 10 other combat arms Airmen at the wing, the team divided their duties of instructing marksmanship, running ranges, maintaining firearms and training management. Though he was growing as a marksman through his profession, Carter said he aspired to work with elite pararescuemen, combat rescue officers, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists – a team collectively known as Guardian Angels.
“I knew what I wanted to do was be a Combat Arms instructor in an (Air Force Special Operations Command) unit, whether it be Guardian Angel, Tactical Air Control Party or Combat Controller,” he said.
Carter applied for a position with the 212th Rescue Squadron, 176th Wing, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and was accepted January 2019 on the merit of his deep experience.
Guardian Angels endure a two-year training “pipeline” to provide the Department of Defense with its sole combat search-and-rescue capability. Pararescuemen are charged with infiltrating hostile territory by way of helicopter or parachute to rescue downed pilots while fending off enemy efforts to take friendly aircrew captive.
“They already received a high level of training from their pipeline, so by the time they get to the unit, they’re already quite proficient,” Carter said. “I have had to adapt to their needs and up my game in order to be a contributing member of the team.”
Going from a Combat Arms office of 10 to an office of one, Carter said he has had to cope with a wide range of duties while ensuring the squadron’s Guardian Angels continue to keep their marksmanship skills ready for worldwide contingency operations.
“Here at the 212th, I am a one-man shop, so I do everything,” he said.
As part of his effort to stay sharp, Carter said he volunteered to travel to Camp Guernsey and measure his skills against his peers.
“I really enjoy competing,” Carter elaborated. “No. 1 because it’s fun, and No. 2 because it raises my abilities as a shooter. There’s nothing like being timed and being challenged by other shooters and seeing what you’re made of.”
During the week of the competition, Carter shot everything from pistols at close range under reflexive-fire conditions to rifles at 400 yards. He said the diverse courses of fire test marksmanship fundamentals across a broad range of combat scenarios.
“As it’s been explained to me, the theory behind these events is to make you a better warrior, make you effective on the battlefield in real-world combat situations,” he said.