By Army Maj. Michelle Lunato, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit
FORT BENNING, Ga. – When he was a boy, Adam Sokolowski looked forward to his annual trips to Camp Perry, Ohio, where he’d compete in pistol matches and interact with Soldiers. Back then, it was just something fun for a father and son to do. However, those summer trips would define Sokolowski’s skills, career and ultimately his life.
In 1997, Sokolowski attended Camp Perry’s Small Arms Firing School along with his dad, Frank. They practiced their pistol skills by learning techniques from Soldiers on the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit’s Service Pistol Team.
The USAMU Soldiers, who annually taught the pistol portion of the school, became acquainted with Sokolowski and his father over the past several summers. However it was that specific summer when the Army unit really took notice of the young Yeagertown, Pennsylvania, native’s growing talents.
“It was actually my father who was kind of bragging on my behalf about how well I was shooting,” said Sokolowski, who had then just won the 1997 Lewistown Pistol Club Regional 2700 with a personal best score of 2628-137x.
Though his father’s proud comments and his recent win caught the attention of the USAMU Pistol Coach, Ray Arredondo, it was Sokolowski who had to back up those accolades with consistent skill. As time progressed and he improved even more, Sokolowski seized the 1998 Camp Perry National Junior Pistol Champion title.
His hard work earned him a direct assignment to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit upon graduating from high school and completing his Army Basic and Infantry Training. Just a few months later in 1999, he won the National Trophy Individual title at Camp Perry. During the same week, he seized the National Junior Pistol Champion title one final time and set 10 national junior records on top of that.
As a member of the Army’s elite shooting unit, Sokolowski’s natural talent was honed and developed even further. He was taught detailed marksmanship techniques, Soldier skills and Army values. He then combined all that training into achievement at a variety of competitions across the United States.
Through the years, Sokolowski worked his way up through the ranks going from private to sergeant first class. He now serves as the service pistol team chief and coach, the same position as the former USAMU pistol coach who watched and recruited him as a junior shooter back in 1997.
Most recently, Sokolowski started shooting action pistol style, or two-handed shooting, while also still competing in the traditional bullseye style, or one-handed shooting.
“The two sports complement each other,” he said. “The precision from bullseye has really been instrumental in my success in action pistol.”
Outside of numerous competitions and titles he has won, Sokolowski also set 23 national individual and team records and has been a firing member of numerous interservice and national team championship wins.
His most recent record was the biggest of all though, said Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Cleveland, a service pistol team Soldier with USAMU.
That big record was at the 2017 Bianchi Cup’s Match X where Sokolowski made history by shooting the first-ever perfect 1920 score in the Metallic Division iron sight pistol, open face holster. His score of 1920-148x was 10 points over the previous record set by action shooter Rob Leatham in 2005.
Sokolowski also claimed the title of 2017 Metallic Champion as well.
Sokolowski said his years of experience in bullseye pistol certainly helped him achieve his recent successes in action pistol.
“I think shooting bullseye has really made the difference,” he explained. “It has made me so much more accurate. Being able to put two hands on the gun, the 10-ring is a little bit more forgiving.”
In 2007, Sokolowski was diagnosed with an extreme case of tendinitis in his right hand and wrist. For a competitive shooter, this was potentially career-ending news. But Sokolowski’s passion and dedication to the sport were still flourishing, and the Soldier side of him just couldn’t quit yet.
In 2008, he transitioned to shoot with his left hand to continue to compete. In March of that same year at the River Bend Gun Club in Dawsonville, Georgia, he fired his first 2700-style competition and earned a score of 2625 with his left hand. He continued to improve and won the Dixie Regional 2700 in Jacksonville, Florida, by April with a left-handed score of 2641. By the end of the year, Sokolowski validated his switch to left-handed shooting by achieving a score of 2650 at the North Carolina State Championships in Camp Butner, North Carolina.
That constant drive to improve and a never-quit attitude are what motivates him.
“It’s an inner challenge,” Sokolowski said. “There are a lot of different sports out there, but what keeps me coming back to competing is it’s a challenge.”
Now that he has won two divisions, Sokolowski said he may as well challenge himself to win the remaining Open Division.
“I’m compelled to go towards Open. I already planned on shooting in the Open Division this fall just to understand it more,” he added.
As the USAMU’s Service Pistol Team Chief, Sokolowski is responsible for other Soldiers who regularly shoot in that division.
“As the team chief, it’s my job to understand the sport,” he said. “If it goes well, then I’ll focus on that entirely as I did on Metallic, and maybe now that focus will be even more driven.”
Sokolowski hopes to be among the few competitor’s to have claimed all three division titles. It will not be an easy mission, but that’s just the way he prefers it.
“You have to train hard every single day and put in the hours. It doesn’t come easy. But that’s why I do it, because it’s hard, and because it’s challenging,” Sokolowski said. “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun.”