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Marksmanship programs have been the longest-serving and most equal opportunity compliant readiness resource in history.
Equal Opportunity programs are intended to direct and sustain a comprehensive effort to maximize human potential and to ensure fair treatment for all persons based solely on merit, fitness, and capability in support of readiness. The goals of the EO program are to provide equal opportunities and fair treatment for personnel without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin, and provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination.
The Army has long been a proponent of Equal Opportunity programs, often as an early adopter that is used as a model for other government agencies and businesses. No other readiness component in the Army has been offering equal opportunities for Soldiers longer than the marksmanship programs. Shooting programs removed barriers to race and gender decades before it was mainstream and long before the Army officially enacted a formal Equal Opportunity policy.
Cpt. Margaret Thompson Murdock was the first woman to win a medal in Shooting at the Summer Olympics and the first to win an individual open World Shooting Championship. In international competition, Murdock set four individual world records and nine team world records. She is a member of five halls of fame, including the USA Shooting Hall of Fame and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Cpt. Murdock started competing while attending college in Kansas. “My first year at K-State, I couldn’t shoot on the team because I was a female,” she says. “I could practice with the K-State team but I couldn’t be on the team. They got a new coach and he thought it would be a good idea for me to be on the team since I was shooting better than everyone else.”
As the US International Rifle Team captain, Cpt. Lanny Bassham entered the 1976 Olympics as the reigning World Champion and had took silver in the 1972 Olympics. At the ’76 Olympics Murdock tied for first place with Bassham. Bassham requested a shoot-off, even though this wasn’t allowed by current rules. Instead, judges were forced to break the tie of the 1200 point match. Murdock appealed for a second review of her targets. The two Americans sat together and waited. Bassham noted while the judges re-tallied scores, “I looked at her and said, ‘If this comes out a tie, it will be totally arbitrary that I beat you.’ ”
Both marksmen had experience with the rule. Because of it, Bassham had lost the 1974 world air-rifle championship, and Murdock had won her place on the Olympic team, after tying with John Writer in the Trials. “It has nothing to do with skill,” she said. “It’s just to save the officials the bother of a shoot-off.” Thus when the review Murdock had requested failed to break the tie, she and Bassham asked the International Olympic Committee whether two gold medals could be given but was denied. “I can’t be upset at any individual.” Bassham said. “Everything was done by the book. There was no discrimination against Margaret because she was a woman. Not here. If anyone is at fault it is me for not trying to change the tie-breaking rule in 1974.”
During the national anthem, Bassham pulled Murdock up to stand with him on the gold medal spot at the podium to share the victory platform with him as the flag was raised and the anthem played and the two stood together. “I wanted to show that I felt her performance had equaled mine,” said Bassham. “It was not an act of defiance but a personal thing. There was no way she deserved to stand lower while the national anthem was played.”
In 2010, Army marksman Sherri Jo Gallagher was the second woman in history to be crowned the U.S. National High Power Champion, posting a record-breaking score of 2396-161x out of 2400 that still stands as the highest score ever posted at this event. She took eight of the twelve match trophies that make up the annual national championship and bested the previous record of 2389-138x set by High Power legend David Tubb in 2003. In addition, she also won the 2003 ICFRA Worlds long range match at Bisley.
Sergeant Gallagher comes from a family of shooters and has had a rifle in her hands since she was young. Her mother, Nancy Tompkins-Gallagher, is a previous High Power Rifle champion, the first woman to do so, winning the national championship in 1998. Nancy also won the famed Wimbledon Cup in 1993. Sister Michelle Gallagher has won the Wimbledon Cup five times, her first time at age 16, as well as the overall Long Range Championship. By comparison, famed Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock “only” won the Cup once.
Preparing for Camp Perry and other matches falls in line well with what all members of the Army Marksmanship Programs do. “We spend most of our time in the off season training up soldiers,” Sgt. Gallagher said.
Equal opportunity polices demand treating all personnel and others without discrimination, especially on the basis of their sex, race, or age. In addition to being a critical skill for Soldier readiness, marksmanship programs have been creating equal opportunities decades before EO programs were formalized.