FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Who would have thought an Army cook could be so deadly?
A U.S. Army Reserve culinary Soldier whipped up a win against some of the best shooters in the Army during a four-day championship this October at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The U.S. Army Forces Command – better known as FORSCOM – hosted their annual Small Arms Championship, featuring dozens of matches that pitted Soldiers against targets, shooting with a pistol, rifle or chainsaw. The competition awarded winners in each of the weapon categories, as well as overall team performances.
Staff Sgt. Sean Morris, a cook with the 83rd Military Police Company, scored the most points in the M4 rifle competition to win first place. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his accomplishment.
“That was a huge, huge honor. A very big deal, and I’m extremely grateful for receiving that,” said Morris.
“I felt like I was representing all Army Reserve Soldiers … We take the time out of our own schedule to go and master ourselves and master our weapon system because it’s important,” he said.
There were a total of 16 teams and approximately 50 shooters competing, most of which were active duty Soldiers. Morris was a member of the lone U.S. Army Reserve team that also featured a combat engineer – who is a dental technician from Arkansas in his civilian capacity – and a military police – who is a county police officer from Kansas.
“Even a cook and a dental technician can be lethal. Absolutely. This is a prime example reinforcing lethality,” said Maj. Jacob Wilson, the military police on the team who is an executive officer for the 530th Military Police Battalion, headquartered in Elkhorn, Nebraska.
“As Army Reserve Soldiers, it goes to show the capabilities that we have as an overall force to perform at top level and be able to fight on a moment’s notice,” he said.
Their group took third place overall in a very tightly scored race between the top-performing teams. Wilson also took third place in the pistol category.
One area that hurt their team score, unfortunately, was shooting the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, which is a machine gun. Unlike the rifle and pistol, Army Reserve Soldiers have no way of practicing on that weapon system on their personal time. However, the Army Reserve has been placing a large emphasis on machine gun marksmanship – what the Army calls “crew serve” weapons – during massive year-round training exercises called “Cold Steel.”
Morris – the rifle winner – lives in New Mexico and is a full-time mechanical engineering student at New Mexico State University. He has been training and competing for these types of matches for 10 years. He jokes that he is a better shooter than he is a cook. Thankfully, he said, they have a pastry chef at his Army Reserve unit to compensate for his cooking.
“Even if the entrée (I cook) isn’t all that good, we definitely make up for it in desserts,” he said.
He joined the U.S. Army Reserve in August 2016. He was a Marine for the 10 years prior, but left because he said it was the right decision for his family, and to pursue his engineering degree. He’s been married five years to his wife, Jessica.
“I love serving and feeling like I make a difference for my country,” he said about why he joined the Army Reserve.
In addition to representing the reserve component, Morris and Wilson represented the 200th Military Police Command, responsible for the majority of MPs in the Army Reserve. Their other teammate, Staff Sgt. John Halley, is a combat engineer with the 688th Engineer Company, headquartered in Harrison, Arkansas.
“I’m very competitive in nature, and any time I get to go up against other great shooters, it’s a learning opportunity,” said Halley. “If you want to see some of the best shooters out there, you have to go to these competitions.”
The championship incorporated long hours and several challenging matches, including firing weapons under stress conditions, day and night qualifications and firing after donning a gas mask. One of the stress shooting lanes required Soldiers to carry two water jugs about 100 meters in distance, placing them onto a stretcher with a third water jug, and dragging them back before shooting at targets. Another shooting lane involved a mock village. Many of the lanes were scored not just on accuracy but also speed.
“It tries to simulate stressful shooting, something that you might engage in combat … It’s a very unique experience. You definitely have to be working out as well as practicing (to prepare for this championship). It takes that extra dedication,” said Wilson.
The competition was challenging on all levels, including physically and psychologically, Morris said. For him, winning the mental aspect of this game was a matter of living each shot in that moment, and not allowing any previous mistakes to get in his head.
“Competition in general breeds excellence within everyone. It also lets you know where you sit amongst your peers. It tells you what you’re capable of under stress, whether it be physical stress … where your heart rate is up, or whether it be mental stress,” Morris said.
The championship included at least one surprise. Instead of shooting with the M9 Beretta – which has been the Army-issued standard for years – pistol shooters had to compete with the M17 Sig Sauer, the new Army pistol that will eventually replace the Beretta across the force. Very few Soldiers have shot the M17 so far as it’s being fielded gradually.
Some of the rifle lanes featured targets at undisclosed distances, which Morris estimated to be at least 450 yards away. By comparison, most Soldiers shoot only up to 300 meters to the farthest target when they qualify on their rifles at the range. Some of the shooters at this championship have hit targets up to 1,000 yards away in other matches, all shot with iron sights. No scopes or advanced optics.
“Everybody there was really good. There was a lot of President’s Hundred (shooters). Governor’s Twenty. A lot of ‘tabbed’ individuals. So it was a very stiff competition, more than what I was anticipating,” said Wilson.
The championship also incorporated an “Excellence In Competition” (EIC) match both with the rifle and pistol. The EIC is a prestigious match in which Soldiers can earn points over several competitions to earn a “distinguished” title. Morris has earned enough points over the year to become Double Distinguished. Wilson and Halley earned a bronze medal in the EIC both on the pistol and rifle.