WINSLOW — For Sgt. Max Nickerson, the second try was on target.
Nickerson, who turns 23 next month and will enter his sixth year in the Maine Army National Guard in April, recently completed his second attempt at the U.S. Army Small Arms Championships, a live-fire competition for members of the military. Nickerson competed for the first time last year and placed 18th overall.
This year, the Winslow man fared better: He was the overall individual winner, making him the Army’s top marksman in the competition.
“I’m still dreaming at the moment,” Nickerson, who works as a pre-loader for United Parcel Service, said in an interview Monday.
The competition, which was held in Fort Benning, Georgia, from March 12 to 18, puts teams of four military personnel together. These teams compete on local and regional levels in order to win funding to partake in the competition. Nickerson’s team won the New England regional competition and earned their chance to compete in Fort Benning for a second year in a row. By winning a regional competition, they were funded by the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
There are multiple matches at the event, ranging from pistol events and rifle events to an infantry team match. The event, which involved nearly 200 competitors, is sponsored by the U.S Army Marksmanship Unit.
The event is open to active members of the Army, Army Reserves, Army National Guard or Air National Guard, Military Academy, college Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets and individuals in the Officer Candidate School. Civilians and personnel from other military services are prohibited from participating, according to the website for the event.
Nickerson’s mother and stepfather, Christina and Lee Vanadestine, say Nickerson has always been interested in the military and in marksmanship. The two said Nickerson, who went to Temple Academy in Waterville, is also interested in politics and history.
Christina Vanadestine described Nickerson as polite and quiet, somewhat of a homebody and a person who is very easy to get along with. She said the first time he went trick-or-treating for Halloween, he went dressed in an Army uniform.
She said that he practiced a lot for his achievement at the competition and it’s what he enjoys.
“I am very proud of him,” she said. “I’m more proud of him that he’s a good young man, he’s polite to people and good to people. I’m proud of him for that.”
Lee Vanadestine said while Nickerson is still trying to decide what he wants to do going forward, he is interested in going to the U.S. Army Sniper School.
Nickerson said there are a number of events in the competition that involve multiple times and multiple stages of shooting, sometimes using a rifle and sometimes using a pistol. Some stages involved standing, kneeling or sitting, and frequently involved emptying an ammunition magazine at a target before reloading and firing at a second target. These are known as excellence in competition units.
Scoring is based on points awarded from judges, and the individual with the most aggregate points is the individual winner.
“It’s all timed. It’s pretty much rushing you,” Nickerson said. “You’ve got to beat the clock.”
And that’s what Nickerson did. Heading into the final event, a multi-gun event, his aggregate score put him in ninth place, he said. But a strong showing in that final event vaulted him into first place overall.
“At the end they take all your scores and add them up,” he said. “Whoever has the best overall aggregate wins. I was the one with best overall aggregate score. I didn’t win every match, but I had the most points.”
And though he ended up winning, Nickerson said he wasn’t so sure about it to start.
“I was thinking it would be close, but I didn’t think I was going to win at all,” he said.
Nickerson’s prize for being the overall individual winner was a new M1 Garand rifle, which he is still in the process of receiving.
He said the Maine team placed second overall in the multi-gun match and placed third overall. He said team scores are like individual scores where all points are aggregated together.
Colin Ellis — 861-9253