By Rick Cicero
A Tool for Overcoming Physical and Mental Disabilities
Impetus for Learn to Shoot Again Program
In August 2010, I lost my right arm and leg from injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Six months later, after learning to walk again, a trip to the range with my Dad rekindled my love of shooting. Over the next several years via trial and error and with guidance from other shooting professionals in the military and police, I developed new shooting techniques to work within my physical “limitations.” I was my own worst student. I knew what a proper stance and all the fundamentals should look like, I found myself shooting well, yet I would look down and see that my stance and grip were not what would traditionally be correct. That’s when I finally came to the realization that I had to learn to shoot again using different techniques to suit my abilities.
Advancements in technology, including the SIG SAUER Brace, have been instrumental in honing my skills. Each new success is built on previous successes. After attending an Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) Family Day event, I became involved in supporting such activities. This organization created associations with other accomplished shooters such as Trevor Baucom and Chris Fleming, also injured veterans. The true success of that day was when I began taking fellow wounded veterans to the range, which was the impetus for what is now the Learn to Shoot Again program—LTSA.
Immediately following SHOT Show 2016, we assembled a team of combat veterans—most of whom sustained and recovered from major injuries including paralysis, loss of limbs and spinal injuries that would have sidelined most. With the support of the NRA and HAVA, the entire team became certified NRA Instructors. Additionally, SIG SAUER Academy has been instrumental in advancing the skills of the LTSA instructors by offering advanced pistol instructor and advanced carbine instructor courses. One of the main focuses of LTSA training is not only to perform, but to perform to the highest standards of the able-bodied shooter without any special considerations and in all environments. All of which lead to the most important benefits: teamwork, espirit de corps, return to a known work ethic, visual success and HAPPINESS!
LTSA has established monthly classes in Florida. Additionally, we work diligently to travel the country and bring the classes to those who will benefit from them the most. Our class format develops shooter skills to compete in pistol, carbine, 2 and 3 gun, and most recently long range.
The positive feedback within the veteran community and firearms industry has been nothing short of amazing. The industry stepped up immediately with optics provided by Leupold and SIG SAUER and rifles provided by Savage. When Kestrel offered to help, they provided directed training, products, shooting opportunities and fundraising; all of which was far beyond our expectations.
This past April, we conducted the first full Long Range Class at the Peacemaker National Training Facility, where Katie Godfrey was a remarkable asset. Kestrel sent her with knowledge, rifles, ammo and Kestrel devices. Katie conducted her full classroom presentation followed by days on the range using the Kestrels to maximize every shot.
A unique challenge was offered to every student—those who hit a three-shot group on a Kestrel zero target at 400 yards would be given one. Even with stiff winds, every student completed the challenge and left with a Kestrel. All of these students now use the devices regularly to compete and or hunt; two of the students have become LTSA instructors.
Kestrel further surprised us by making HAVA/LTSA the benefactor of the Kestrel Challenge Precision Rifle Series (PRS) match at Peacemaker in August. Not only did Kestrel donate product, time and money, they coordinated with other industry support. Ruger donated two rifles, Leupold and Vortex donated scopes, Hornady donated ammo, and the list goes on. The funds raised from that event and match supported multiple classes for our veterans.
The greatest value of that match was to have two of our students compete and learn to be Range officers that weekend. Both Justin and Tyler have overcome significant limb and internal injuries that would have stopped most veterans. However, both of these men raised the standard by completing the match, assisting with the fundraiser and working as Range Officers for the match. Nothing can put words to the expressions on fellow shooters’ faces when they see these men in shorts and realize the injuries that no one noticed.
The secondary benefit from that match was the number of shooters who approached us throughout the day and thanked us, not for our service, but for motivating them. We have learned the unique aspect of providing a perspective to the able-bodied shooter that they often forget: it is about the team and not the individual.
Conducting training for our veterans exposes students and staff to so much more. We have encountered and overcome different physical personal challenges I would have never expected. Each student is unique in his or her own way and identical in so many others. We all come from the military whether it is the student with one leg and only two fingers on one hand, the legally blind man who can see through a very narrow field of vision or the man who comes to class in a wheelchair.
Sasquatch, a Defined Success
The success that counts the most for me is confidence and happiness in life. The particular student who comes to mind sustained a gunshot wound in combat and has significant challenges. Unlike most, he completed his tour and was discharged without a full retirement and wanted to go on as a civilian. Unfortunately, his challenges caused him severe pain and loss of consistent ability to hold a regular job. He fell into a depression like so many and expressed to me how he felt a failure.
After attending some of our classes he became a dedicated student in every way. When he told me how much our classes improved his outlook, daily habits and overall quality of life, I was left speechless. We all have demons, and this is the best medicine for so many. Who would have thought that? In true military form we all have nicknames; his is “Sasquatch” (his profile in a shadow is priceless!). He is the great giant of our team. He was among the students in the April Long Range Class and a coach at the Long Range Class just last month. He has competed in several matches and attended the NRA Instructor course. Just last week, he put those skills to work at the HAVA Family Day in San Antonio and the three day class for our veterans in that same area.
As the “Director” of LTSA, it is not a title of management, but a title of responsibility. For students and teammates like the Squatch, the resources, tasks and organization are all worth it. The trust we have in our instructors is exceptional because they are exceptional people. Often the visual prosthetic device or chair gains attention, while others are overlooked. Sasquatch raises that bar and has volunteered to be a leader. Many of us lead in the military, but so many fail to lead in the civilian world. Sasquatch has stepped up and is the remarkable example of this program for so many to follow.
LTSA Tool Box
We create tools to maintain every aspect of our lives—the LTSA tool box is no different. As firearms have advanced over the last several years, we have taken advantage of those that are most practical. We strive to train our students with readily available items that can give them the skills to be as confident and safe as other shooters.
The first tool to provide a significant benefit was the “SIG SAUER Brace,” proving to give stability to the one-armed or impaired shooter to build long-gun skills for stance, grip, sling, balance and flexibility for various platforms and calibers from a .22 to a .300BO.
The advent of ambidextrous pistols like the new SIG SAUER P320, Smith & Wesson M&P, Glocks and more are making one-handed shooting much more accessible—even for those with only a left hand or with great impairment to their right hand. Every advantage our students have helps to overcome their challenges.
Within our long range program, the benefits of left-handed bolt rifles create an option that is efficient and nothing short of a blessing. We have Savage and Remington to thank for such rifles. Even a vertical fore grip on a rifle is a huge benefit to those with prosthetic arms or limited abilities; their control improves drastically.
The Quick Clip provides multiple benefits for those with upper extremity impairments to safely change magazines, clear malfunctions or just walk while maintaining their balance. It also maintains the rifle in a safe orientation for wheelchair users while in motion. And even those with all of their appendages but who have balance issues can maintain control while walking with free arm swing.
Several other manufacturers have supported us by providing unique adaptations to firearms for better access, ergonomics and control.
As our industry develops these unique tools, our community realizes what is already available to expand their abilities. The greatest honor LTSA has is to continue to serve our country and communities through one of the best commonalities our veterans have.
Our Program is Growing
Over the last three years LTSA has trained over 300 students in classes from Florida to California and New Hampshire. We are offering classes for pistol, carbine, shotgun and even long distance rifle to 900 yards and beyond. In 2019 we will be teaching in Arizona, Florida, Maryland, West Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and more. We will also be at events like HAVA Family Days and shooting matches around the country to Coach, RO, Compete and Inspire our veteran community to get out and join us! If you are interested in attending such a class or know a veteran who could benefit from our classes please call Rick Cicero at 434-294-5883 or email at LTSA@honoredveterans.org.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N2 (February 2019)|