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Take the King’s Schilling; do the King’s Biddding…

In a time long ago the center of my shooting universe was a large concrete and granite example of Classical Revival architecture located at 360 Broad Street in Hartford, Connecticut; the Connecticut State Armory and Arsenal, headquarters of the Connecticut State Military Department. For twenty years I was a small cog in that martial machine which churned out National Guard shooting champions at a furious pace.

Tucked away in a small side office on the second floor of the western wall were the desks of my shooting bosses Colonel Bill Meagher and Chief Warrant Officer Billy Mulligan, the State Marksmanship Coordinator and his able assistant. More importantly, deep in the bowels of the nearly two acre building, behind a massive safe door, stood racks of competition firearms and stacks of match ammunition.

Winchester 52s, National Match M-14s, carefully selected M-16s, Smith and Wesson Model 41s, and platoons of venerable Colt 1911s stood as if at inspection, dressed and covered, behind locked cyclone fence partitions. Across from them were heaped cardboard cartons and wooden crates. The cardboard each contained 5,000 rounds of 22 caliber standard velocity and match grade ammunition. Some of the wooden crates held four M19A ammunition cans of 5.56mm ball cartridges while others contained a pair of M2A1 cans holding either 7.62mm or 45 Caliber National Match ammunition.

When I would whine, in my childish way, about some of the inconvenient aspects of shooting for the Guard my captain, Platoon Sergeant Dick Scheller, or coach, Platoon Sergeant Roger McQuiggan, would quickly remind me of the largess that poured forth from the great gray building. A simple rephrasing of the old British Army recruiting saying became, “You take the governor’s guns and ammunition: you do the governor’s bidding” served as a reminder that I had volunteered for the team and, ungrateful wretch that I was, got more in return than I gave.

The Connecticut Guard Rifle Team had a solid history going back to the early 1900s. It participated in the National Matches and occasionally had a bright moment. Private E.C. Simpson won the President’s Match in 1906. Seventy three years later Scheller would take home the trophy. McQuiggan and I would be the only other Connecticut Guard rifleman to win a place in the Presidents Hundred.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gadd, Sr. would be the first Constitution State Guardsman to earn the Distinguished Marksman Badge in 1924, the first year Guardsmen were eligible. Captain William Denison, and Second Lieutenants Emil Kumnick and Clarence May would join him before the year was out, the first five of 26 Distinguished Rifle Badges earned by the Connecticut Guard.

First Lieutenant Robert Gadd, Jr. joined his father as Distinguished in 1930 becoming the first members of the same family to earn the distinction. Between 1935 and 1939 the three Lacy brothers, James, John, and Walter all earned the Badge. There are other Distinguished family relationships. Scheller’s son James earned his while serving in the United States Marines, Al Maloney’s wife Mary is a civilian Distinguished Rifleman as is my brother Steve. Dave Colt’s father Lebaron, who became the first Connecticut Guardsman to earn the Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge in 1971, and his brother Stephen are both Distinguished Pistol Shots.

Specialist Fourth Class Ralph Bluminhagen earned his Distinguished Badge in 1962 with an M1 in just three Excellence in Competition Matches. Raymond Baker II and Brian Roy are the only two Double Distinguished shooters the program has produced. Baker has the unusual distinction of earning both in combat style competition, never once earning a bull’s-eye leg.

The program fell on hard times following World War II. For many years, the late 1950s until the early 1970s, often times the only representation the state could muster was Scheller and anyone he could dragoon to join him on the range.

Major General John Frederick Freund was appointed Adjutant General of Connecticut in 1972. Riffling through his correspondence one day he came across the match bulletin for the most recent National Guard Rifle and Pistol Championship and noticed that Connecticut had finished nearly at the bottom. He found this intolerable and ordered Meagher to do whatever necessary to see that the state would be at the top of the list as soon as possible.

Meagher contacted Scheller who latched onto a willing McQuiggan. The two hit the streets like a Royal Navy press gang and rounding up every willing Guardsman, prior service rifle shooter, and innocent civilian rifleman they could find. Within six years the team won four combat rifle championships, two National Guard and two All Army titles and a National Guard M14 championship and began an incredible run of ten consecutive National Guard Smallbore Rifle Championship victories.

The program has changed markedly since 1972, most shooting is now combat style, but the men and women who have passed through the program have collected nearly two dozen National Guard national team championships, 11 service rifle Distinguished Badges, five smallbore Distinguished Badges, four M-14 and nine combat rifle Chiefs 50 awards.

Not a bad return for both the state and the individual and for both giving and taking the Governor’s guns and ammunition.

Category: Hap's Corner

About the Author: Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career, pronematch.com.

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