Skirmish Management 101

This month, I want to take readers behind the scenes to look at the amount of work it takes to successfully run a North-South Skirmish Association Skirmish. My unit has been assisting the 27th Va. Vol. Inf. the last two years as they conducted the Mason-Dixon Skirmish, perhaps the largest Invitational Skirmish in the N-SSA. Regardless of your status -- medal winning veteran or rookie recruit - we have all enjoyed participating in skirmishes, so let's look at what it takes from the host team(s) for us to have an enjoyable, perhaps memorable, contest.

If we use D-Day to denote the first day of the skirmish, actual planning for any individual skirmish can begin more than a year before D-Day. Most Invitational Skirmishes are conducted by teams annually, and after a time become routine with a regular schedule followed by the host(s). Skirmishes which rotate responsibility, like Regional and National Skirmishes, have a routine schedule but are conducted by a combination of experienced and inexperienced personnel. One of the first duties is to designate a Skirmish Director, who will oversee all planning and action required to conduct the Skirmish. The Skirmish Director is chosen and he or she assembles a staff of individuals who will all contribute greatly to the operation of the Skirmish.

The Skirmish Director is usually responsible for reserving the facilities necessary to conduct a skirmish. If the unit is requesting the use of Ft. Shenandoah, a request must be made to the Board of Directors in time to be considered at the August National Board Meeting, and a decision on the Ft. Shenandoah schedule is announced at the January Board Meeting.

The Skirmish Adjutant, who is responsible for communication and, sometimes, finances for the Skirmish, will mail out the notices/invitations about 90 days before D-Day. The cost of the material to mail -- envelopes, invitations, schedules, stamps, etc. - comes out of the hosts' pocket, as well as the rental cost of Ft. Shenandoah or other facilities. Host teams must also incur up- front expenses for target material, so you can estimate that most teams are spending from $250 to $500 to conduct a skirmish before they ever take in one dime!

Danielle Williams sings National Anthem during opening ceremonies of 1998 Mason Dixon Musket Match.

As D-Day nears, the Skirmish Adjutant begins to get an idea of how many Carbine, Musket, Pistol, Henry, Mortar and/or Artillery Teams will be competing. All of the target material must be assembled and placed in the familiar boxes we all find on the firing line 30 minutes before a competition begins. To accomplish this task, the hosts of the skirmish will stage a "work skirmish" a week or two before the actual event. If the skirmish is being held at Ft. Shenandoah, the barn is made available, and the team gathers there on the appointed morning to drill pigeons and tiles, punch cardboard backers, cut wood blocks, fill water bottles, cut wire and what ever else needs to be done to prepare the target material for the skirmish. The workers also prepare extra target material for the last minute addition of teams on the day of the competition. The boxes are filled and segregated into Match groups -- Carbine, Musket, etc. - and the barn locked up until the Skirmish.

The Skirmish Adjutant must receive a listing of Individual and Team Classifications before D-Day, but not too soon before so that the rankings are current when received. Usually, the request for this data will be made just subsequent to the most previous National Skirmish prior to the scheduled D-Day. Unclassified shoots do not require this information.

D-Day eventually arrives, and the host team(s) must have plenty of personal on hand. The safety rope must be erected, frame numbers set out on frames, cardboard erected for Individual Targets and personnel stationed in the Stat House to process Individual Target requests. A Tower Announcer is needed at a facility like Ft. Shenandoah with a large firing line, or a Chief Safety Officer may function from the ground at a small Skirmish. Safety Officers are needed on the line for Individuals at all times.

Picture 2, right, shows Mo Messler and Mark Phillips of the 27th Va Vol Inf. entering data into the Skirmish computer.

Beginning activity focuses on the Stat House as skirmishers arrive to participate in the competition. Entry slips have been prepared and are placed in convenient locations. The range flag is red, and the safeties are on the line. Individual target requests are accepted by the Stat House and processed as soon as possible. Usually, one or two volunteers staff the window, receiving requests and making change, while two or three more volunteers prepare targets in accordance with the requests. The targets are presented to the individual in short order, and the skirmishers hang their targets and completes the course of fire. The line safety must clear the weapon, and may be required to go down range and assist in identifying any "questionable hits," which may include cross- fires or double and triple hits on the target. These activities completed, the individual skirmisher turns in the target for scoring in the Stat House.(Picture 3, top, shows Matt Cuttwright, 27th Va, marking up Individual targets in Stat Shack.)(Picture 4, bottom, shows Danielle Williams, 27th Va, entering skirmisher data on Individual target tracking sheet.)

Inside the Stat House, the Statistics Crew is toiling under the direction of the Statistics Officer, who will be responsible for the data entry and scoring of targets. The data entry clerks must be trained to use the N-SSA statistics software, and they may be experienced from previous years or may need some OJT to be brought up to speed. This is one of the duties of the Stat Officer.

Target scorers receive used targets and score them in the Stat House. Three or four scorers are required all day through Saturday to keep up with the volume of incoming targets at a large Skirmish like the Mason-Dixon. After scoring, the scores are entered in the computer located in the Stat House. More than 1,000 data entries will be made during the course of the skirmish. Scored targets are stored in the Stat House for record purposes, which includes use during the Protest Period.(Picture 5 shows Vince Turner of the Chesapeake Artillery scoring Individual target in Stat Shack.)

Individual competition is going smoothly, so let's look at the Team competitions. If a Mortar event will be staged, the Main Range must be closed and secured, all cardboard removed and frames relocated from the 100-yard area where the Mortars will compete. Staff must be on hand for Safety duty if needed, however, and the closure of the Mortar event brings an end to the first day's activities.

Bright and early Saturday morning cardboard must be hung on the frames for Individuals. Stat House activities pick up about 0730, and the Skirmish staff repeats the Individual processes from Friday. Individual reentries increase on Saturday morning, as does all Individual competition. The Skirmish Director is called upon to make a decision about the last relay for Individuals, the decision is announced and the sound of a farm tractor is heard on Sutlers' Hill. It is time to prepare for the Carbine Team Match!

The Skirmish staff has placed all the Carbine Match target boxes on a flat-bed trailer up at the barn, and usually must provide the tractor driver for the Skirmish as well. The boxes can be placed on the trailer during the work skirmish, or during the morning on Saturday if staff is available. The Skirmish staff places the required target material at each position. Extra team additions have been noted by this time, and the procedure is completed about 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the Carbine Match. Usually, the empty trailer is staged by the east end of the firing line, and the target crew returns with the tractor to pick up the Pistol Team target boxes and transport them down to the Pistol Range at this time.(Picture 6 shows Tom Cuttwright (on tractor), Larry Nelson, Dave Boyle, Gary Reed-Chambers (behind Dave) and John Murphy delivering target material boxes before Carbine Team Match.)

Before any team match can begin, the Stat Officer must print out the little score reports that are needed for each relay of the match, and make sure that the right sheets are scheduled for the right console. New entries may be penciled into vacant spots created for such a contingency. The Pistol Range crew will continue to function in their "Individuals" mode while the Carbine Team Match begins. During the Carbine Match, skirmish staff will serve as: console attendants, recording scores from each team; score runners, bringing score sheets from the console to the stat shack, and; in the Stat Shack as data clerks, entering team scores. Some skirmish staff may have to serve as timers and/or safeties where team scratches have created voids in the schedule.(Picture 7 shows Klif Niessen (r) of the Chesapeake Artillery receiving Carbine Team scores at a console during Saturdays match.)

At the end of the Carbine Match, the results are tallied in the Stat Shack and posted on the east wall of the Stat Shack, affectionately known as the "Wailing Wall" by skirmish staff veterans. The processes are the same for Pistol, Musket and Henry Team matches, with score reports, target material and data entry required just like carbine.

After all Individual target scores have been entered, Preliminary Results will be posted on Saturday evening on the Wailing Wall. This is the first step of the protest process and must be completed on Saturday. Computer glitches and fatigue not withstanding, the Stat Officer, Skirmish Director and data enterers never rest until this process is completed. (Picture 8 Skirmish Statistic Director Mo Messler ponders Individual results of the Skirmish before posting preliminary results Saturday evening.)

Individuals who believe that their targets were mistakenly scored are entitled to protest on Sunday morning at the posted time. Usually running from 0730 to 0930 or about, the protest period is the last step before Final Individual Rankings are determined. With more than 1,000 targets being sold and most of those turned in for scoring, even a 99% accuracy rate is going to result in about 10 errors. Once these errors are identified and corrected, the finals can be posted and Individual winners announced. All decisions of protested targets are made by the Skirmish Director, whose decision is final.(Picture 9 shows skirmisher participating in protest period Sunday morning.)Picture 10, below, Genie Lynch and Mo review Individual results after completion of the protest period.

With Individual medals decided and team events concluding, the skirmish is winding down. Target trash and empty target boxes are collected and returned to the barn. The trash is placed in the N- SSA designated vehicle, the boxes stacked in the barn, the trailers secured and the barn locked, with the keys returned to the Property Manager. Medals are claimed at the Stat Shack, and another successful skirmish concludes. It takes a lot of organized effort for that skirmish to be successful, and we can all tell when it's not.

This quick course was meant to familiarize you with the effort put in to conduct any skirmish. I hope even grizzled ol' veterans learned something about Skirmish Management. Until you next participate in a successful skirmish, shoot safe, have fun and promote safe gun ownership by your thoughts, words and actions.

1998 by Tom Kelley

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