14 September 2008

'The Way It Should Be'

One of TRL's occasional contributors, Jude Cuddy, has had some time after his latest participation in the National Matches to think about the importance of competitive shooting. His observations, below, remind us that the use of firearms is far from uncivilized. His "My View From Behind The Berm" essay is titled, "The Way It Should Be."

The Way It Should Be

The 2008 High Power phase of the 2008 National Matches wrapped up about a month ago. Upon reflection, after time to decompress and savor the memory of that week at Camp Perry on the shores of Lake Erie, I must now conclude that this has been the best experience in my 20 plus years of shooting at this historic, tradition-bound facility. From the artillery piece signaling the call to colors at 0730 on “Day One” until being thanked collectively for competing by match officials four days later , it is an immersion into a discipline and an activity unequaled in the sporting arena.

When you arrive at the facility – note that you are now entering a military reservation – you cannot help but sense that you have left the “real” world behind. Everything is neat, orderly and in its proper place. The active duty military sentry greets you in a business like manner, asks you if you know where you are going and offers a map of the post. Of course you are loaded down with all of your accouterments to compete – either a service or match rifle – and enough ammunition to carry you through four days of firing – 266 rounds officially.

To new and experienced hands alike, everyone is polite and accommodating. Everyone being armed may have something to do with it, or perhaps in the big picture just folks who know right from wrong being courteous to one another as they normally would. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), the active military service rifle team members and just plain everyday Americans mingling and interacting with a common goal in mind – to shoot their personal best.

The shooting conducted here is unequivocally the most level playing field in all of sports. From ages 13 to 86, men and women compete on the same ranges, at the same time, by the same rules, with the same conditions. Wind, rain (thankfully none this year), searing heat and humidity are all equal opportunity offenders to all who participate. Despite the advances in technology, this is definitely a low-tech sport, done the old-fashioned way.

Rifle, ammunition, paper targets and scoring by hand - as it has been done for more than 100 years – is the norm. Targets are pulled manually by your opposite numbers in the “pits” where one spends half the day in perfect safety behind a protective berm. This is where you eat, snooze, converse with your squadding partner and obey the rules and commands of the Pit Officer. Basically do as everyone else does and you are just fine.

After each day you return to the “hootch” to examine your scores, clean your equipment and get squared away for the next day. It truly is an exercise in extreme concentration, as you are actually firing for perhaps thirty minutes in a full day on the range. Mentally you are exhausted, but it is good exercise. Yes there is a lot of walking – the facility is set up for 1,000 yard shooting – but physically the demands are such that young and old alike can meet the challenge.

A great way to cap off a week of shooting is the award ceremony, held right on post at the Auditorium. All branches of the service are represented, as well as civilians who have competed. The program commences with the Post Chaplain asking everyone to stand for the Star Spangled Banner – and remain standing for a prayer. It is not often that you hear God, Jesus, the military, the NRA and shooting participants all in the same sentence, but it was heartfelt and fitting. It is a ceremony that would merit the consideration of the Commander in Chief. After all, we ultimately represent and serve our country. Awards were passed out to those that truly are the best in the business.

More importantly, all who competed are not only great shooters who display the dedication, focus and discipline to excel at their chosen sport, but are great Americans as well. After the ceremony, everyone bids adieu to one another and we all pack up and return to our respective hometowns, pledging to be back again next year. When you finally leave for good – for the National Matches are over until 2009 – one must reflect on the return to the real world.

What each and everyone leaves with is skill, discipline - and knowledge that there are still those in this country who truly represent the ideals of the founding fathers. That every citizen has a duty to preserve, protect and defend not only ourselves but our way of life. It rekindles the faith and restores the knowledge that there are fine citizens – future leaders of this country, perhaps – competing. Let us hope that the venue afforded by this storied facility is not overshadowed by those who feel the sport is somehow arcane and uncivilized.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Semper Fidelis,

Jude T. Cuddy

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