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Paralegal PV2 Emily Stith Has the 2020 Olympics in Her Sights

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Paralegal PV2 Emily Stith began shooting seriously when she was thirteen years old. In the six years since, she has medaled in five international competitions. She now has the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in her sights. We interviewed Stith recently about her interest in shooting and the challenges of training for the Olympics while serving in the JAG Corps.

Tell us, how did you get into shooting?

Growing up, my dad was on the Navy Hi-Power team. A friend of our family knew of a junior team at a club where he shot. My dad and our friend took me shooting at that club on a cold Saturday, and I fell in love with the sport right away. Prior to that weekend, I had only shot a BB Gun. I was thirteen years old at the time, so it was almost six years ago. Normally, we like to start juniors at age eleven or twelve, but I made up the difference of starting a little late by taking it very seriously. My family picked up and moved to Colorado Springs so I could train at the Olympic Training Center.

Why did you decide to join the Army?

My father was in the Navy, my uncle was in the Army, and my sister served in the Marine Corps. The military influence in my life was so heavy that I could not picture life without the military. I didn’t want to go straight into college and the secondary training I could receive from my Army MOS was appealing. I competed in the U.S. Army Junior Air Rifle National Championships at the Fort Benning United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) range and fell in love with the facilities and the unit. My enlistment contract had an “Option Nineteen,” where you choose your unit, and therefore, I chose the USAMU. Although I was still nervous walking into the recruiter’s office, I had a letter of acceptance to the USAMU to help with the processing.

How did you decide what weapons system to compete on? What do you find compelling about international rifle competition?

I fell in love with competition rifles because you could change so many things to make yourself shoot even better. To the degree that if you change the way your feet are positioned, it changes your center of gravity and it can impact your shot. At times, you are making adjustments that can make a correction equal to a single hair’s width.

In what disciplines do you compete?

I compete in two disciplines: the 50-meter three position women’s rifle and the 10-meter women’s air rifle. The 50-meter three position you compete with a small-bore .22 caliber and take forty shots in each position. In that event, the “10-ring” is the size of a little pinkie finger nail. In the 10-meter air rifle, you shoot sixty shots, all from the standing position. In that discipline, the “10-ring” is the size of a twelve point font period at the end of a sentence. In both events, the shots are scored electronically by the targets downrange and you see the results on a monitor at your firing point.

There are only six females in the Marksmanship Unit. Two of us are in International Rifle competing in the same disciplines. The others are: two in shotgun, one in service rifle, and one in service pistol.

In my discipline, you are considered a “junior” competitor until December of the year you turn twenty-one years of age.

How did marksmanship go for you in basic training?

I had a lot of fun! I ended up helping other trainees who had never shot before. Personally, it went well, shooting thirty-seven out of forty in qualification. Some of the male basic trainees who had done a lot of shooting before wanted to go head-to-head with me, but I think I proved that was a bad idea.

Why did you choose the paralegal MOS?

In a separate part of the enlistment contract, you have to pick an MOS in the event you decide to move on from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. I always had an interest in law. A paralegal job was open, which was very unusual. I had a GT score of 117, which opened doors to a lot of different MOSs. What I really like about the 27D MOS is that we do not have to wait to start taking college classes with tuition assistance (usually one year wait in other MOSs). Once I am settled in here, I plan to sign up for online college.

Where does interest in the law come from? Any legal background in your family?

My dad was the Navy’s equivalent of an MP (MA – Master of Arms). I also developed an interest in the Advanced Placement (AP) courses (civics, government) I took in high school. I like studying the application of law and regulations.

Do you get a chance to interact with the legal office at Fort Benning, GA?

Not with the office at Fort Benning, but I was briefly an advanced individual training (AIT) holdover, and I had a chance to help the J Co with legal work they would receive from their brigade.

I have really benefited from my NCO leadership between 1SG Robles at J Co. and here at my gaining unit with 1SG Baker. Both are phenomenal leaders and a joy to be around.

Have you ever heard of the publication The Army Lawyer?

Yes, I have! The instructors at AIT familiarized us with JAG Corps resources like The Army Lawyer.

Have any of your Marksmanship teammates asked for a POA or legal advice yet?

No, they have not, and it’s a good group of people in the unit, so there are no legal issues that I know of. However, when I first got to the unit I found myself correcting in-processing memos that were not in compliance with Army Regulation 25-50!

Do you think your role as a Soldier helps you be a better competitor now?

Attention to detail has been reemphasized to me going through basic training and advanced individual training, which is very important in shooting. It has been good to regroup and go back to the basics on my shooting after being away from competitive shooting during my Army training. I have a ton of trust in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and it has a positive family unit dynamic, which helps foster a good environment for shooting success.

International rifle requires you to take notice of very tiny details and adjustments and the legal field is all about facts and details. What draws you to those two very different and yet similarly detail-oriented fields?

Shooting is all about chain reactions—footwork impacts balance. Paralegal work is also full of chain reactions. For example, the way you write a charge on an Article 15 impacts the disposition of punishments. In both disciplines, you want to do everything right and prove you know how to apply your knowledge.

You have a busy year planned. In what events are you competing?

I have the USA Shooting National Rifle Championships here at Fort Benning, Georgia, starting in June. Then, I have the Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany, at the end of August 2018. After that, it will be the World Junior Championships in Changwon, South Korea in the beginning of September.

I assume your goal is to go to the 2020 Olympics, correct?

I missed out on Rio by not making it through preliminary rounds. I have learned from that and put Tokyo 2020 in my sights. Winning a medal internationally five times has helped. The Olympic selection procedure is a single, three-day match during the spring of 2020. I will know if I make the 2020 team in the spring of 2020. I am currently working on my training plans, all the way to the details of my meal preparation. My leadership likes to say that if you want race car results, you have to use race car fuel. Our unit’s mission is to win, support Army marketing, and increase lethality. It is inspiring to be here in the Home of Champions. Everyone in the unit has the goal to be a champion, it’s in our motto.

Is there anything you would like to message to other paralegals about the opportunities the Army offers?

Keep certified within your MOS, but also strive to be well above the standard with what you know. “We are the standard” was the AIT J Co. motto, but the knowledge is perishable. Stay on top of your craft.

What do you want people to know about you?

I am easy to get along with, but I’m extremely competitive. If you put in ten reps, I’m going to put in twelve. I have worked hard for what I have and everything I have is by the grace of God.


MAJ Cohen is a currently a student in the LL.M. program at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. CPT Ulrich serves as the editor of The Military Law Review.