The Story Behind Georgia SDF Involvement in National Guard Marksmanship Competition

Since its inauguration in 2013, the Georgia State Defense Force (GSDF) has consistently marked its presence in the Andrew Sullens Marksmanship Competition (ASMC), a National Guard competition that puBeyond competing, the State Defense Force has also played a pivotal role in ensuring seamless range operations and maintenance throughout the tournament. A defining moment came in 2019 when Staff Sergeant Jon Van Holm clinched victory, securing the prestigious Governor’s Twenty accolade from The Adjutant General.

Col. Don Lankford, the visionary behind GSDF’s participation, was introduced to ASMC by Warrant Officer Jakob Raven of GAARNG. Over the years, GSDF soldiers have showcased their versatility, contributing in myriad roles. 2023 was particularly remarkable as the Defense Force debuted its premier full team, boasting esteemed personnel from the 5BDE. A source of immense pride, Col. Lankford commended the GSDF soldiers for their unwavering commitment over the decade and remains optimistic about ASMC’s enduring prominence.

Colonel Lankford was recently interviewed about the competition:


Georgia State Defense Force Col. Don Lankford Speaks About the Origins of GSDF’s Involvement

31 Aug 2023 – Staff


The Andrew Sullens Marksmanship Competition (ASMC) is named for Georgia Army National Guard veteran, Andrew Sullens. Wounded in Afghanistan in 2009, he remains a tireless advocate for joint readiness and team-building.


This year, the Georgia State Defense Force (GSDF) will have a competition marksmanship team in the ASMC! The concept of a GSDF competition marksmanship team was the brainchild of Col. Don Lankford, Commander of the GSDF 5th Brigade. Col. Lankford spent years laying the groundwork.

In this Interview, Col. Lankford speaks about the origins of the GSDF’s involvement in the ASMC.


Responses Compiled by Warrant Officer Joseph Mezzatesta, GSDF Competition Marksmanship Team Officer in Charge


Q1. How did you become interested in the ASMC?

I knew a Soldier in the Georgia Army National Guard (GAARNG), Warrant Officer Jakob Raven. Given his role in the GAARNG, he wanted to start a comprehensive marksmanship program. He asked for help, and on behalf of the GSDF, we agreed to help.

In 2013, the first year of the ASMC, the GSDF had about 25 troops assisting with setting up the range.


In 2019, Warrant Officer Joseph Mezzatesta and Staff Sgt. Jon Van Holm, both GSDF Soldiers, were on a team. It was a four-man hybrid team—two Soldiers were from the GSDF and the other two Soldiers were from the GAARNG.


Q2. Is GSDF participation in the ASMC authorized?

Yes. Georgia Adjutant General Maj. Gen. General Thomas M. Carden Jr. approved the GSDF competition marksmanship team. Support from Maj. Gen. Carden and Andrew Sullens has been outstanding.


Q3. When did ASMC begin?

ASMC began in 2013. The Combat Leaders Academy hosts the Small Arms Leaders Course as a primer for the ASMC so that Soldiers can learn the skills needed and bring those skills back to their units for training and team-building.


Q4. How many years has the GSDF participated in the ASMC?

GSDF Soldiers have participated, in some form, since 2013, so this year will be the 10th year.


Q5. In what years did the GSDF have teams?

GSDF Soldiers participated in 2019 and 2021. We will enter our first full team in 2023.


Q6. Which GSDF Soldiers are on the team?

An invitation went out to all 14 members of the competition marksmanship team across the GSDF. Soldiers whose schedules allowed them to compete are:


2nd Lt. John Bowers – 5BDE Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Ford – 5BDE Spc. Tom Peters – 5BDE Pfc. Scott Lawler – 5BDE


Q7. How can Soldiers who aren’t marksmen participate in the ASMC?

ASMC and the Small Arms Leaders Course need several Soldiers to make the event successful. Soldiers who compete are generally not expected to provide support, given the strenuous nature of their involvement. That means we need an additional 10+ Soldiers to help with pit target operation, ammo control point, score keeping, range target setup and maintenance, and other general duties that come up during a multi-day event. Even if a Soldier has never handled a firearm, they can be a significant help.


Q8. Staff Sgt. Jon Van Holm was the first GSDF Soldier tabbed with the Governor’s Twenty. Is he also the only GSDF Soldier to be tabbed with the Governor’s Twenty?

Yes. We hope to have others tabbed in the future as our participation grows and the team(s) mature.

The competition marksmanship team conducts training sessions quarterly. We plan to continue to do so after ASMC so that we are ready for the next event.


Q9. How can GSDF Soldiers volunteer?

To volunteer for the ASMC, first check with your chain of command. Then, contact Warrant Officer Joseph Mezzatesta via GSDF email.


Q10. Do you have any closing remarks?
All that has happened has been a collective of GSDF grit and determination. We have some very talented Soldiers, who have worked hard to contribute to and support the Georgia National Guard Marksmanship Program. I am very proud of the GSDF Soldiers who have helped make this a reality.\

I’m also very proud to have been a part of the ASMC since 2013. Hopefully, the ASMC will go on for many years to come.

For more on the ASMC, follow the GSDF on Facebook and Instagram.

Source: Georgia State Defense Force

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