QUANTICO, Va. – She describes it as a hunger.
Master Sgt. Julia Carlson remembers when she first felt it: at age 16, after winning a junior shooting competition with a borrowed air rifle. She had entered the competition on a whim, but her whim became a win, and that win sparked a fire.
“In a lot of ways, shooting is a great equalizer,” Carlson said. “It's not about speed, or size, or how smart you are, or what you look like. It's about how you think, it's how you align your sights.”
Carlson's career in shooting has reached meteoric heights, as she is now one of only four women in competitive shooting history who is “double distinguished,” meaning she has earned the highest awards in rifle and pistol marksmanship awarded by the United States Government. She is also one of the forerunners for women in competitive shooting. In 1998, the Provo, Utah, native was the first female to win the National Trophy Individual Match, and in 1999 she was the first female to win the Service Rifle Championship, which she went on to win two more times, and is the current 2014 champion.
Master Sgt. Julia Carlson relays the signal that the line is ready to fire at the Reserve Combat Marksmanship Coaches Course, Oct. 24, 2014, at Weapons Training Battalion in Quantico, Va. Carlson, a marksmanship instructor and competitive shooter with the Marine Corps Reserve Shooting Team, is one of only four women in civilian and military competitive shooting history that is double-distinguished with both the rifle and pistol. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tiffany Edwards)
In her first national matches as a teenager in 1993, Carlson came in contact with the Marine Corps Shooting Team. During one competition, she had no choice but to use the money she had saved to buy a shooting jacket to pay her way to continue in the competition. Later, her team coach told her the Marine Corps Shooting team had heard about her predicament, and wanted to buy her a custom shooting jacket, simply because they had heard a junior shooter was in need. While she was there, the MCST swept the Civilian Marksmanship Program National Matches, winning the top prizes in each competitive category. The team's generosity and shooting prowess solidified Carlson's original plan of eventually joining the military.
“The image that I had of those Marines, I wanted to become that, to be a part of that,” Carlson said. “That feeling of accomplishment I got after my first win, I got hungry for that.”
After joining the Marine Corps, Carlson credits her mentors at her first duty station for recognizing the potential in her to become a powerhouse in competitive shooting.
“The Marines in charge of me in my occupational field allowed me to have the opportunity to continue my shooting career, because they saw that I had the hunger to compete and to represent the Marine Corps,” she said. “I think that's a key piece, just being able to have that opportunity. Out there, there's a Marine on patrol, or a Marine under a truck somewhere, or a Marine at a desk somewhere supporting logistics or administration, that if given the opportunity to learn these skills and grow in these fundamentals, they would be the next Olympian. There's untapped potential out there that just needs someone to recognize it.”
While Carlson maintains her competitive career, she takes her role as a mentor and instructor to Reserve Marines very seriously. As an instructor with the Marine Forces Reserve Marksmanship Training Unit, she is able to pass on the knowledge she has gained to new rifle and pistol coaches and trainers that cycle through the MTU's courses, as well as to junior members of the MARFORRES Shooting Team.
After years of mentoring novice shooters and experienced marksmen, Carlson has learned about the motivations and mental states that Marines have about their shooting. After years of mastering a sport that relies heavily on mental clarity and fortitude, she has found ways to help others build on their strengths.
“I call it ‘connection,'” Carlson said. “People ask me how I stay so relaxed on the firing line, and I ask them what their connection to shooting is.”
Carlson admits that one of the most challenging parts of training Marines in marksmanship is a shooter who has a minimal or negative connection with their shooting mindset.
“I try to get shooters to realize that their connection to shooting is much more than just the need to qualify or to be promoted,” Carlson said. “In the history of the Marine Corps, there have been millions of Marines who have shot on these same ranges, who have shot with similar motivations. It can be a family connection, such as fathers who got them into shooting, or the connection of duty, shooting to protect our right to remain free. Everyone has a personal answer, a reason deep down that is why they shoot.”
Carlson has accumulated many reasons over the years for why she continues to shoot; to inspire her nine children, to carry on the legacy of the Marines who mentored her, to pass on that same legacy to the junior Marines she works with each new year, and ultimately, to feed her hunger to hit center mass.
By U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Tiffany Edwards
Provided through DVIDS
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