2008usamuolympians005 The Army Marksmanship Unit has a fascinating history. It was started in 1956 as a way to counter Soviet dominance in elite shooting events during the Cold War. Today, as then, its mission is to train Olympic-level shooters.

A feature in today’s New York Times (of all places) offers an inside look at some of the AMU members and their day-to-day duties.

One of the most important missions of the AMU is to instruct their fellow soldiers:

More recently, shooters have left the unit to serve overseas, including in Iraq, Kuwait and South Korea. In 2005, a group traveled to Iraq to train soldiers, although now they do most of the coaching before deployment.

Training 3,000 soldiers a year is the work that gives many of the unit’s members the most satisfaction, they say. What better skill can a deploying soldier learn, after all, than to be a good shot?

“You can see it on their faces, some of these guys,” said Sgt. First Class Tom Tamas, a rifle shooter who competed in two Olympics but did not qualify this year. “They’re not getting it. And we can pick that up, help them out.”_

Even though one of the AMU’s primary jobs is to bring home medals in international competition—and here’s to hoping the AMU does just that in Beijing—it is good to know that the Army has created a system where the skills of the country’s best shooters are harnessed and passed along to other soldiers going into harms way.

—John Snow