Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska --
Alaska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Matthew Larson, a security forces member with the 268th Security Forces Squadron, Clear Air Force Station, was awarded first place in a part of the annual marksmanship competition known as the Adjutant General Match, or TAG Match, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's shooting range last month.
Larson's passion for marksmanship started simultaneously with his military career.
"I got my first rifle when I graduated high school," he said. "So, 2011."
In the same year, he enlisted in the Air National Guard's 168th Wing.
"I really didn't know how to shoot very well, so the Air Force sparked that interest in me more, and it just kind of developed from there," he explained. "But the TAG Match and the shooting competitions; really kept my interest in it over the years."
Larson said the competition is a good training tool he can bring back to his unit and include in their current overall training.
Members of Air Force security forces are tasked with providing force protection duties, guarding weapons, air bases and Air Force personnel from possible dangers.
"Here at Clear Air Force Station, we are entrusted with the protection of critical equipment," explained Larson. "We are trained in law enforcement and combat arms to protect and serve our fellow Airmen."
Larson emphasized the critical importance of marksmanship skills in his career field and said that the TAG Match was a great training opportunity.
He competed in the TAG Match for the first time in 2015, and this year is the second time he participated in the state-level competition.
"I think [marksmanship] is really important," said Larson. "I'm a little biased because of my career field and my passion for marksmanship, but I do think every Airman or Soldier should be getting out to the range and putting rounds on the targets."
Larson was one of 20 individuals in the Alaska National Guard to be selected to move on to the regional competition this year. Sixteen of those members, including Larson, are considered new shooters on the state team.
He placed first in the open rifle competition, earning himself a spot on the state team, as well as the Governor's Twenty tab, which he will get to wear for the remainder of his military career.
The Governor's Twenty tab is awarded to the top 20 competitors in each state. The categories awarded include rifle, pistol, light machine gun teams, and sniper teams. Since Alaska did not host LMG or sniper shooting, only 16 individuals were awarded the tab.
Despite Larson's slightly limited participation in the annual marksmanship competition, he spends hours at a time, multiple times per month, practicing marksmanship in his free time as a civilian.
"I try to focus mainly on pistol because it is the area I am weaker in, but I make time for rifle and some shotgun," he stated.
These skills are also an important part of his secondary role in security forces as a combat arms training and maintenance, or CATM, instructor, which he's been doing for four years.
"I went to a three-month-long school, learned about any weapon that is small arms that the Air Force has; learned how to teach people about them, how to take them apart, put them back together, diagnose them, and how to effectively teach marksmanship," he explained.
"[I do this CATM role] pretty much every day," he continued. "I'm usually dealing with ammo expenditures or just dealing with daily occurrences that go on with weapons."
Larson and the rest of the state marksmanship team will compete in the regional competition during the first week of August in Camp Guernsey, Wyoming.
"I can attribute my success to my mentors that have taught me the skills," he said when speaking about the upcoming competition. "And [to] my passion with marksmanship - the drive to continue learning and passing that knowledge on to keep this great tradition going, and keep growing this great community."
Larson has his own advice for Guardsmen who are newer to the marksmanship community.
"Just get out there and be consistent with working on those fundamentals," he suggested. "I would highly encourage people not to worry about placing, about getting a tab, or getting on the state marksmanship team, but just go out there, get the experience with the TAG Match, and interact with more experienced shooters."