A Bright Spot in Our History: The Oregon Air National Guard's Precision Rifle Drill Team

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Gene Thomas (ret)
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
In the fall of 1960 an organizational body composed of Oregon Air National Guardsmen began work to form an Oregon Air National Guard (OreANG) 26-man Precision Rifle Drill Team (PRDT).

The first meeting was held in the OreANG aircraft hangar in December, 1960, with  CWO-W1 Clarence Rylander was the officer in charge and advisor, and TSgt Robert Cain the team leader.

The OreANG PRDT was strictly a marching and maneuvering unit, using rifles in drill exercises.  It was not part of the regular competition rifle shooting team of that time period.

The team did not have professional instructors like the Drum & Bugle Corps had when it started; they were self-taught using their military experience.  Tech. Sgt. Cain said he watched the active duty USAF Drill Team at Portland Air Force Base and picked up some good ideas. 

The Drill Team had real sharp USAF uniforms highlighted with white scarves, belts, shoulder ropes, shoe spats and rifle slings.  The rifles were Springfield, Model 1903A3's, and operational to fire blanks, but did not have bayonets.  The Team Leader carried a sword which was donated by Capt. (later Lt Col) Gordon Forslund, OreANG.

Both the OreANG Drum & Bugle Corps and the Precision Rifle Drill Team performed many times together.  The two formations merged in the summer of 1961 and were addressed as OreANG Drum and Bugle and Precision Rifle Corps, with a Drum & Bugle section and a Precision Rifle Section.

The PRDT sometimes did a rifle toss or rifle twirl.  The rifle was carried on the right side, and the most impressive maneuver was their "Queen Ann Salute." It was performed at a parade's reviewing stand and ended in a kneeling position, with a left hand salute across the rifle - the leader would then place the sword at the center of his chest.

Back in the early 1960's the OreANG was not as well-known as it is today, so the PRDT's performances helped create awareness of the organization in the community and left a positive image.  They were good recruiters.  Sometimes they performed as a small Honor Guard squad when asked to do so by military leaders.

Although the Drum & Bugle and Precision Rifle Corps had a historian assigned, a complete list of awards and honors has been difficult to establish, however, the 142nd Fighter Group Air Scoop newsletters covering its early days spoke of two first place ribbons earned in performances at Sheridan, Oregon, and Astoria, Oregon, followed by a letter of appreciation.

The original PRDT members were male and represented units from throughout the 142nd Fighter Group, including group headquarters, the 123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 142nd Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 142nd Air Base Squadron, and 142nd Dispensary.

PRDT members listed on rosters from June and September, 1961, and personal knowledge, indicates the following OreANG Airmen were part of the team:  2nd Lt. George Smith, Senior Master Sgt. Bernie Verbout, Tech. Sgt. Robert Cain (team leader), Staff Sgt's Jim Van Vlack, Ed Tennyson, Roger Samel and George Samel, Sgt's Chuck Downing and Ed Bouder, Airmen 1st Class Larry Gathwright,  Jerry Davis, Ron Klupenger and Joe Fellman, and Airman Second Class2 Ev Brown, Bob Baker and Jerry Hupp.  Also on the 1961 rosters were Dave Caudle and William Heniges.

The Precision Rifle Drill Team Leader, TSgt Robert Cain, had both USAF and ANG enlistments and finished his 32-year aviation career as a civilian employee with the AF Reserve at Portland Air Base.

The PRDT performed for approximately three years, from 1960-1963, in the Portland metro area and surrounding small towns.  They were very dedicated Airmen, practicing on their own time on the drill pad at the old downtown Portland Armory and performing on many weekends other than their military training weekend.

Tracing back to find awards and ribbons has been difficult, but volunteer historians are hopeful that a fuller listing of their performances and awards will be found soon.

The Precision Rifle Drill Team left a "bright spot" in the history of the Oregon ANG.  They established a proud heritage which continues on in a slightly different form in the organization today. 

These days the 142nd Fighter Wing's Honor Guard, also known as the Portland Air National Guard Base Honor Guard, includes men and women and incorporates two personnel with rifles.  They bear the classic American M1 Garand rifle, guarding our national and state colors.  The Honor Guard represents the State of Oregon, the OreANG, and serves at official unit events such as changes of command, and performs in the community at sporting events, military reunions, and other venues.