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Florida Air Guardsman brings home gold

Williams fires the 9mm pistol during the pistol qualification.  He placed at the "gold" badge level and was the only Air Guard participant among more than 70 Florida National Guard members who competed in the three-day event.  (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Michelle Thomas)

Williams fires the 9mm pistol during the pistol qualification. He placed at the "gold" badge level and was the only Air Guard participant among more than 70 Florida National Guard members who competed in the three-day event. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Michelle Thomas)

Sergeant Maj. Johann Reiter, the German Army liaison sergeant major from Fort Gordon, Ga., briefs members of the Florida National Guard on the finer points of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Test at Camp Blanding, during part of the three-day competition.  (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Michelle Thomas)

Sergeant Maj. Johann Reiter, the German Army liaison sergeant major from Fort Gordon, Ga., briefs members of the Florida National Guard on the finer points of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Test at Camp Blanding, during part of the three-day competition. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Michelle Thomas)

Senior Amn. Matthew Williams from the 125th Fighter Wing at Jacksonville's International Airport, receives a congratulatory handshake from Lt. Col. Peter Bauer, the German Army Liaison Officer from Fort Gordon, Ga.

Senior Amn. Matthew Williams from the 125th Fighter Wing at Jacksonville's International Airport, receives a congratulatory handshake from Lt. Col. Peter Bauer, the German Army Liaison Officer from Fort Gordon, Ga.

Senior Amn. Williams, center, makes his way among the Soldiers during the ruck march.  He would eventually pass most of them and finish in the top two.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Carmen Maldonaldo/FLARNG)

Senior Amn. Williams, center, makes his way among the Soldiers during the ruck march. He would eventually pass most of them and finish in the top two. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Carmen Maldonaldo/FLARNG)

An Army Guardsman glides through the water during the 200 meter swim.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Carmen Maldonaldo/FLARNG)

An Army Guardsman glides through the water during the 200 meter swim. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Carmen Maldonaldo/FLARNG)

JACKSONVILLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Fla -- He had never picked up a 9mm pistol before, but a few weeks after learning how to fire it, Senior Amn. Matthew Williams would astonish his mentor and others by earning a gold medal in a three-day physical fitness competition that included shooting expert on the 9mm. 

In February members of the Florida Army and Air National Guard competed for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge during an athletic event spanning three days in North Central Florida. 

Senior Amn. Matthew Williams, from the 125th Aircraft Intermediate Shop (AIS) was not only one among 75 Guardsmen to compete, but he was the only Airman to enter as well. The rigorous multi-day competition challenged Williams and the Soldiers to demonstrate proficiency in a wide range of physical activities held at Camp Blanding and at Bradford High School in Starke, Fla. 

Events included a 200-meter swim, 100, 400, or 1000-meter sprint, high jump, long jump, shot-put, and 5000-meter run. An 18-mile road march, pistol qualification, and first aid proficiency test, were also required elements for this badge. 

Soldiers and Airmen had to meet the standards in each event based on their age and gender to qualify. And, depending on how they scored, they could earn a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Many of the Soldiers had competed two years ago when the competition was held at Camp Blanding and were back to try for the gold. Williams would earn gold on his first try. 

A fulltime student at the University of North Florida and a native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Williams, 23, also plays on UNF's Lacrosse team and didn't think he'd have a problem with many of the track and field events. 

"I felt I would do well on those events;" commented Williams, "but I knew I would need to fire the 9mm a few times." 

So Williams asked Master Sgt. Coran Williams, an organizer of the 125th Marksmanship Team, to help him out. 

"He had never shot a pistol before," said Master Sgt. Williams, a Flight line Avionics Technician who is certified by the NRA and is a qualified instructor. "I checked out the 9mm for him and showed him how to stand, how to hold the pistol and how to load. We went through about 400-500 rounds in two-three hours." 

According to Master Sgt. Williams the first couple times he shot he was "about average."
"So I saw what he was doing wrong, worked on his stance and helped him correct it, and by the end of the day he was shooting like an expert." 

The experience carried over to the actual competition when Senior Amn. Williams shot at the gold level his first time at the range without having to repeat any shots. 

"To go from never holding a pistol...it was amazing...shooting like an expert. I am very impressed," remarked his mentor, Master Sgt. Williams. 

He then went on to score gold in every other event as well to include the 18 mile ruck march--an event that many of the Soldiers were accustomed to. Competitors are required to complete a timed road march wearing a 22-pound ruck sack. Distances and required times vary based on age, sex, and whether the participant is competing for a gold, silver, or bronze badge. 

"I wasn't expecting it to be so hard, but about halfway through I really started feeling it," said Williams. "The Army guys really cheered me on though--during and before the competition. They gave me some tips on the rucksack and how to distribute the weight within the bag and adjust the straps on the sack." 

"He is an oustanding young man," said Williams' supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Robby Connors from the 125th Aircraft Intermediate Shop. According to Connors, Williams wants to get his degree and become an active duty Air Force officer and that taking an opportunity like this just showed his persistence and ambition. 

"He's just a good guy," added Connors. "We knew about it (the competition). We're all very proud of him...not only was he representing our unit but for just getting out there and doing his best." 

The badge was established to recognize soldiers in the German Armed Forces possessing superior physical abilities, and members of the U.S. military are authorized to compete. The event is scheduled to occur again next year at Camp Blanding and more FLANG members are encouraged to enter.