Sgt. Wayne Gallagher, a 2004 Pickerington High School Central graduate, is a proud Marine who has leveraged his passion for shooting from a young age into a career as one of the top marksmen in the corps.
Gallagher was awarded the 2014 Lauchheimer Trophy Gold Medal in April for having the highest aggregate score in the Marine Corps in a national rifle and pistol competition.
Serving as head coach of his base team, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., Gallagher coached and competed in the Western Regionals in March.
From there he qualified to go to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where only the best of the best, the top 85 shooters from the entire Marine Corps, are invited to compete.
Gallagher's team became the Marine Corps Champion, no small feat considering the quality of the competition.
It is a big deal, even to someone like Gallagher, who is used to winning shooting competitions.
"It is awesome. (I'm) still a bit in disbelief that I did it, as my focus while I was shooting was to ensure my sight settings were spot on for team matches," Gallagher said.
He said he joined the Marines fresh out of PHS Central because he wanted to do something different.
"After my first four years in, and doing three combat deployments, I received orders out to Edson Range," Gallagher said.
"While there, I started shooting with the Marine Corps Recruit Depot -- San Diego shooting team.
"From there I got addicted, and when I got sent to the range (at) 29 Palms, I was excited about the chance to shoot again," Gallagher said.
He said his interest in shooting began long before joining the Marine Corps.
"He was my super-soaker kid in elementary school and middle school and a paintball kid in high school," said Nancy Benadum, Gallagher's mother.
"When Wayne turned 16, he asked to shoot a real gun and fly a plane," she said.
"We started the morning out at a skeet shooting range where he shot a .22 rifle. Out of 22 targets, Wayne nailed 20.
"His instructor kept asking me 'Are you sure he has never fired a gun? He's a natural,' " Benadum said.
Gallagher would go on to earn his private pilot's license before he even obtained his driver's license, Benadum said.
Being awarded an "Expert Marksman" designation in boot camp further stoked his passions.
Gallagher went on to be deployed four times, twice in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan.
After his last deployment, which was from 2011 to 2012 in Sangin, Afghanistan, he was sent to 29 Palms where his shooting career took off.
Gallagher said preparing for competitions is a little different than other sports.
"Shooters don't have to be in the best physical shape like marathon runners or swimmers or weightlifters.
"They do have to have the ability to hold a heavy weapon in various positions and do so with little movement," he said.
"Prior to a match, I try to get a song stuck in my head or relax and hang out with my teammates on the firing line," said Gallagher, adding once the competition starts, the key is to focus "on one shot at a time."
More difficult than shooting, however, is coaching his own Marine team.
"While shooting is hard enough, coaching is harder," Gallagher said.
"As a coach, I need to anticipate what the shooters are doing, how to fix it, and keep their head in the right place," he said.