Wednesday, April 18, 2012

BlogMeat for April

I know I know, I haven't been talking here for .... well, far too long. Almost every night when I turn the lights out I lay in bed and think about the things I want to talk about here. But by morning, it's all gone out of my head.

So what I'm going to do, with your kind permission, is to just grab a few of the many subjects that won't let go of my brain and do kind of a free-style "chain of consciousness" core-dump.

My Lai:
I went to the local library yesterday and checked out some DVDS from their limited stock. I ran across a short series pertaining to the Viet Nam war, and I brought that home. The video on the My Lai Massacre was so horrendously sickening to watch, I had to shut it off last night and finished watching it this evening.

The thought that anyone, especially American Soldiers, could willingly ... even eagerly ... take part in a massacre of men, women, children and infants is appalling. The video ( available online through experience ) made me almost ashamed to be an American, let alone a veteran of that horrible war. I understand the combat pressures and failed leadership which drove those soldiers to such extreme reactions, but I still cannot countenance it.

The massacre took place on March 16, 1968. The first news became popular media grist a year later. I entered the service in September of 1968, and went to Viet Nam a year later. We were just becoming aware at that time. I remember being horrified even then, and my determination was to NEVER find myself in a position where I was as helpless as those young men in C-company must have felt. I went through NCO school, and arrived in Viet Nam as a Staff Sergeant (E6) on September 20 of 1969. My determination was not only to bring every man in my platoon home, but to prevent ANY combat reaction which preyed on unresisting, unarmed civilians.

(I didn't bring 'every man' home; one man was killed by a booby-trap, another was wounded. One man was snake-bit; the venom gave him a 70% profile, and got him out of the field, so at least HE was satisfied.)

Thankfully, my experience was not that extreme, and the situation was not one with which I had to contend. But I had nightmares before Vietnam, and during my tour .... and they were much worse than those which I experienced after I returned to civilian life.

The nightmares are few and far between, but I suspect I will experience "What Might Have Been" nightmares for a few days to come.

Introduction to USPSA classes:
The Albany Rifle and Pistol Club, where I conduct these introductory classes in IPSC/USPSA training, has historically worked hard to ensure that the people who show up a the classes have at least rudimentary skills in firearms handling techniques. This year, the 'filtering' process broke down; I was designated at the primary contact person for enrollment, and most frequently prospective students contact me only a few days before the next scheduled class.

So I don't have time to insure that they have the background in gun-handling and pistol shooting, and sometimes when the students begin their live firing exercises I discover that they have some seriously bad habits which are not consistent with shooting under the pressure of competition.

When that happens, I notify Mac that this person should not be allowed to sign up for a match, and I watch the registration for that match to insure that they are not accepted as a competitor. Usually, I respond to their registration email to inform them that they need more training.

That was the case last class (actually, this month/first Saturday) with a student I'll call "Vern".

Vern is a helluva nice guy ... well, almost all of the students are (is there something about personality types of those people who want to compete?) ... and when I contacted him after the class I told him that I would prefer that he get more training.

The problem appeared to be that he learned to shot handguns as a child, and he was given a revolver to shoot. Unfortunately, whomever taught him allowed him to brace the heavy weight of the revolver by bracing his right wrist with his left hand, his left thumb over his right wrist.

That works fine for revolvers, but he planned to compete with a semi-automatic pistol; a Beretta 92 variant, if it matters.

EVERY time it was turn to shoot, he started out with his left thumb in the way of the recoiling slide. I would shout "STOP!", explain to him that it was personally dangerous to put his thumb in a position where the slide might hit his bracing thumb. He acknowledged the danger, but could NOT break himself of the practice!

That night, I decided that I could not let him shoot. I told ARPC that he needed more training, and then I told Vern that this was a problem which could not be ignored. Sure, he had no problems with just casual shooting at the range, but under the pressure of competition it was almost inevitable that eventually he would do himself a damage.

Vern replied with a surprisingly understanding tone. He realized that my concern was for his personal safety, and was not offended that I had singled him out for special treatment.

So he and I made a date to meet at the range this afternoon (he is a club member, so access to the range was easy for him), and I agreed to coach him.

We started out with dry-fire exercises. Then we went to one-round stages, where I watched him carefully for his instinctive "thumb-over" grip. We worked together for two hours, and I tried every trick I could think of to rattle him. I kept telling him his draw-to-first-shot time, thinking he would be so concentrated on improving his shot that he would forget his grip.

He did not.

I gave him shoot-then-reload exercises. Surely that would distract him from reverting to his old grip.

It did not.

Finally, after two hours and over fifty separate live-fire exercises ... he had been gripping his pistol safely 100% of the time.

I told Vern that he could shoot on my squad any time, and I would be glad to watch him complete his certification match safely. We parted friends, still, and I think it's going to be really fun watching him at his first match.

On the other hand, sometimes there's an impulse to just let the shooter try a match and see if they can consciously overcome their ingrained problems. It doesn't always work.

Barb and her husband first come to my August, 2010, class. She was completing her chemotherapy treatments for Cancer, and she was totally bald. Immediately I attached my feelings about SWMBO's long (30 months) losing battle with Cancer, so Barb became something of a "Teacher's Pet" in my mind. I was so determined that she get through her training successfully, I may have been less critical than I should have been about her inability to keep her finger off the trigger during loading/reloading/clearing a jam.

Some time went by after her August training, during which they were unable to make it to a Certification Match; so they came back to my February, 2011 class for a "refresher". By then, Barb had successfully completed her chemotherapy and had her hair back! But Barb still couldn't keep her finger off the trigger, even though I "DQ-ed" her during the class.

Finally, she shot her certification match in February. I was the RO for her first stage, and she violated the "FINGER" rule three times in quick succession before I finally (reluctantly, but necessarily) DQ'd her.

It pissed her off. She wasn't mad at me; she was angry with herself. She knew that we had worked on that, and she just hadn't been able to overcome her bad habit. The problem was, she became self-conscious when being watched by a lot of people, and under pressure she reverted to old, bad habits.

The next month, I asked her to not only come to the class, but to be my "Demonstrator".

In each class, we set up from 5 to 10 different stages (depending on how much daylight is available). I explain the shooting problem to the class, take questions, and then my Demonstrator shoots the stage so the new students can see what should be done.

That put Barb very much in the lime-light, when she knew that everyone there was watching on her ... and counting on her to set a good example.

Barb performed beautifully on each and every stage. Of course, there were some glitches when she had to clear a jam on one stage, but that was also a training experience.

Finally, this month (last weekend) she shot her Classification Match clean; I squadded with her, and I got to RO her for several of the stages. There were some awkward moments, which is natural ... I had a few awkward stages too (I have GOT to practice more!) but she was always safe.

At the end of the match, I got to award certification cards to Barb and to one other new shooter, Bob. (Bob had his wife and his little daughter with him for the last two stages, as an Unofficial Cheering Section; it worked well for him, but his daughter wouldn't share her Oreo cookies with me.)

During the award ceremony, traditional at every club match in the Columbia Cascade Section ... when Barb came forward to receive her certification card, there was just the slightest hitch in my throat.

She had told me earlier that this day, April 14, was exactly the one-year anniversary of when she had been diagnosed with Cancer. That day was very special, to her and to me. That she was there, and able to play with new friends as a "normal person", was a bit of a miracle. I don't know which of us was the most moved; Barb, her husband, or me.

New Shooters who intend to take the Introduction to USPSA class in July ... are probably not reading this. But I have already informed Mac that I will not be available to instruct the July class.

My son, my daughter, and both their families all live in San Diego. Independence Day is the Wednesday before the "First Saturday" of the month. I'll be in Southern California on Independence Day, and I don't expect to return in time to attend the class. I've already told Mac, but if you are planning to suggest that friends attend the class in July ... take a hint. I don't know yet if the class will be cancelled, or Mac will teach it, or it will be rescheduled. We're still trying to work out the details.

I have my priorities, and I'm very clear on them. Family first, THEN shooting ....

Snow Bird:
The Hobo Brasser and his charming wife Sharon "Spicey" Brasser typically spend their winters in a trailer park in Texas. This has been problematic for them.

Last year, some fool put regular gas in their fifth-wheeling diesel pickup. They spend two weeks in Shasta, California, waiting for the local mechanics to put a new engine in (which cost them much more than their retired-folks budget could easily accommodate).

This year they experienced a hail-storm .. with hail the size of golf balls ... just before they were scheduled to return to God's Country (Oregon, for those of you who are not familiar with the concept).

Since then, they have experienced a few other mechanical calamities, including the need to replace three tires on the New/Improved Pickup.

The Hobo Brasser has requested and required that I meet him at the Dundee match at the end of the month .... that would be the 28th. We will retire, after the match, for our traditional repast of Wheat Bear and Linquica Pizza at the Abby's Pizza Parlor in Newport Newberg, Oregon. Fellow devotees of the shooting sports are invited to join us: the story telling will be dominated by the Mad Irishman, but you must buy your own freakin' pizza & beer!

changed NEWPORT to NEWBERG as the closest Abby's Pizza Parlor. thanks for the Hat Tip, Guy!