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NEWS | May 10, 2024

167th Airlift Wing marksman earns second Air Force distinguished shooter badge

By Senior Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle 167th Airlift Wing

The ultimate achievement for a service rifle or pistol shooter is to earn a distinguished badge which represents the highest level of recognition in military marksmanship.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Garey Diefenderfer, 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia National Guard, has earned his distinguished designation in both rifle and pistol shooting.

He wouldn’t tell you that unless you asked. And even if you ask him about it, he’ll likely credit supervisors, commanders and many others who have supported him on his marksmanship journey.

He may be the humblest man you ever meet. But he’s one of very few to attain double distinguished status in military marksmanship.

Diefenderfer started shooting as at age six, mentored by his father who ran a junior shooting program in Hagerstown, Maryland. Diefenderfer competed in smallbore and air rifle, earning him a try out for the Olympics in high school.

Right after he enlisted into the 167th Airlift Wing in 1988, even before going to basic training, Diefenderfer joined the 167th Marksmanship Team and started competing in the service pistol and service rifle.

In 1996 he made the National Guard Rifle Team and in 1997 Diefenderfer earned his U.S. Air Force Excellence in Competition Distinguished Rifle Badge. His badge number is 271, which means he is the 271st Airman to be awarded the badge since the Air Force program’s inception in the mid-1950’s.

Diefenderfer continued to serve on the National Guard team as a member and coach for 23 years.

To earn a distinguished badge, an individual must accumulate 30 points by participating in qualifying matches. They can earn points by finishing in the top 10% of match shooters. Depending on where in the top 10% they finish, they can earn 6, 8 or 10 points in a match. Shooters can only compete in four of these matches per year.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, he had been building momentum toward his distinguished pistol badge. He got a 10-point leg at a competition in Lake Eerie earning him the “precious metal” needed as part of the distinguished badge requirements.

“That was a crazy, windy and rainy day in the open range and the wind is blowing sideways,” Diefenderfer said. “Your mortar is running out of your magazine and all of your equipment is soaking wet. But when the conditions are bad, and people are complaining, that’s when I can calm down and push through.”

Diefenderfer earned another six points not long after that at a match in Annapolis, Maryland. At that point he had 26 of the 30 points needed for his badge.

But then he went into what he calls a “two-year stall.” He had open-heart surgery.

He took some time to rebuild his energy and strength, eventually resuming his daily air pistol practice in his basement and dry firing to build arm strength and hand-eye coordination.

Diefenderfer came back strong this April, competing at another match in Annapolis. He earned six points there putting him over the 30-point requirement.

“Like anything else in life, the very end part can be the biggest struggle, you can get de-energized and discouraged,” Diefenderfer said. “But it was a good recovery, you know, to come out of that and push through and see that task through to completion.”

Diefenderfer’s U.S. Air Force Excellence in Competition Distinguished Pistol Badge is number 440.

Now that he is dually distinguished, he’s set his sights on new goals.

“My big thing now is that I can sit back a little, and help and inspire others to do this,” he said, “whether it’s in the Guard or with my civilian friends.”

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Video by Sgt. Cheryl Madolev, Staff Sgt. Mickey Miller, Sgt. Davis Rohrer
WVNG Best Warrior Competition 2024 Video
153rd Public Affairs Detachment
March 19, 2024 | 4:11
Soldiers and Airmen from the West Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard compete in the West Virginia National Guard Best Warrior Competition held April 19-21, 2024, at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, West Virginia. Best Warrior is an annual event where participants compete in a series of warrior training tasks including weapons proficiency on the M4 rifle, 9mm pistol, land navigation, physical fitness, combat first aid, tactical movements, communications, and professional development activities. Photos by 153rd Public Affairs Det., WVARNG
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