CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., April 23, 2012 â€“ Gunnery Sgt. Joshua A. Peterson is one of the few riflemen to earn a coveted place on the Marine Corps Shooting Team, where the time-honored art of marksmanship is a full-time job.
Peterson recently earned top-shooter status at the Eastern Division Match Championship held here, dropping only 12 points out of a possible 600.
Peterson said he was no stranger to firearms growing up in Wisconsin.
â€œI grew up shooting with my dad,â€ Peterson said. â€œI learned on iron sights as a kid and he wouldnâ€™t let me shoot with scopes or anything like that until I was proficient.â€
Peterson says the examples his family set helped him to become the Marine he is today.
â€œIâ€™ve done a lot of things in my life that probably havenâ€™t been the greatest, but you always have to deal with those and take that right step forward,â€ he said. â€œCharacter just comes from my family. My mother and father always pushed [me] to do the right things and do the best I can and the best with what youâ€™ve got. I give a lot of credit to both of them.â€
Peterson said his work on the Marine Corps Shooting Team helps to spread the art of shooting across the Marine Corps community. In his spare time, he also coaches the local West Potomac High School air rifle team.
â€œThe [Marine Corps] shooting team keeps us on a pretty busy schedule,â€ said Master Sgt. Gregory T. Schardein, the teamâ€™s staff noncommissioned officer in charge and an accomplished shooter himself. â€œI know [Peterson] likes to ride [motorcycles], but what little time he does have heâ€™s coaching the high school shooting team.â€
Itâ€™s not the kind of activity one might expect upon meeting Peterson, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom with a Bronze Star medal for valor, though heâ€™d never bring it up in an interview. Heâ€™s not a man to revel in his own accomplishments, nor does he ever stop pushing to do better.
Peterson enlisted in 1997. In 1998, his feet graced the same yellow footprints that greet the future of the Marine Corps today at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. He considers himself fortunate.
â€œI have had the opportunity to serve with some of the best Marines that have come into the history of the Marine Corps,â€ said Peterson, as he patiently waited for his turn on the pistol range here.
A stoic with a quiet but sincere passion for shooting, Petersonâ€™s solid frame, shaven head and strong gaze say more than words about his character. His teammates describe him as a dangerous threat to the enemy with a weapon in his hand.
Schardein describes Peterson as a natural leader and the kind of shooter other competitors can never discount.
â€œHeâ€™s highly competitive and forces everyone to bring their â€˜Aâ€™ game,â€ Schardein said of Peterson. â€œGunny Peterson is a known quantity. Heâ€™s someone you can count on — highly reliable.â€
Peterson said he believes the skills and discipline that are forged on the shooting range are not about winning competitions.
â€œI donâ€™t consider this to be a sport,â€ Peterson said. â€œI consider this to be training, [as part of preparation] to go back in-country to take out those that are putting our guys in harmâ€™s way.â€
â€œThere are some really good shooters, one or two that could probably match, or on a good day, beat him,â€ Schardein said of Petersonâ€™s shooting ability. â€œHeâ€™s probably one of the top 10 shooters in the Marine Corps.â€
Competitive shooting takes mental fortitude and physical strength, said Peterson, who sets aside time each day to ensure his physical and shooting skills remain sharp.
â€œYou wake up every morning and the first thing that you see in the mirror is what you are,â€ he said. â€œYou are a Marine.â€