MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
The crowd in the Kona Room of the Officers’ Club was quiet, save a few whispers. All eyes were on retired Master Sgt. Dionisios Nicholas, who stared straight ahead. Slowly he breathes in, and breathes out, and raised a compressed-air pellet pistol to a target on his left side. A small crack erupted from the pistol, as a pellet pierces the brown paper target. Just as slowly and methodically, he lowers the weapon to the table.
The wounded warriors and staff of Wounded Warrior Battalion West - Detachment Hawaii watched the multiple gold medalist demonstrate how to operate one of several weapons available to them during a special shooting and training certification event, June 24 through 26, 2013.
For the first time, certified coaches instructed Hawaii-based wounded warriors of Wounded Warrior Regiment to earn a level one coaches certification course, followed by training in compressed-air pistol shooting and archery. The course, which is approved by the National Rifle Association, taught students how to shoot a precision pellet air rifle and also small bore shooting.
Upon completion of the course, the participants were equipped to train any of their peers, wounded or not, in this style of shooting. In addition, wounded warriors can use this skill toward competing in the annual Warrior Games, an event reserved for wounded service members, said John Schwent, the head coach of the Marine Corps Wounded Warriors Shooting Team, and retired Marine.
Schwent added that the commanding officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment, Col. Willard A. Buhl, initiated this event in order to help give the warriors training they can use as they return to civilian life.
Schwent and the shooting team’s assistant coach retired Maj. Bill Barker, along with Phil Bryant, a shooting coach and Annaleis Woodsum, an archery coach from Wounded Warrior Battalion West at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, led classroom instruction at the Officers’ Club and the Marine Corps Community Services Archery Range.
Shooting is also an activity in the Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program, which encourages wounded warriors to participate in a sport to aid in their recovery.
“We have found that adaptive sports have helped tremendously in the healing process,” Schwent said.
Nicholas, of Mililani, Hawaii, who was also certifi ed with the wounded warriors this week, has earned numerous medals in past Warrior Games and trials, though he considered the medals “icing on the cake,” and merely being able to shoot “would be medicinal enough.”
“It gave me purpose again,” he said.
Through this week’s course, he learned about gauging a student’s shooting skills and tailoring instruction to benefi t them, helping calm a student who is nervous when shooting, and information about range safety.
Marines were not the only ones getting certified. Petty Officer 1st Class Zach Johnston was one of the wounded warriors from the detachment to attend the course. Although the Hemet, Calif. native doesn’t shoot often, he has found benefi ts from it, such as the ability to practice breathing, keeping calm and focusing.
“I always look for something I don’t do all the time,” Johnston said. “With wounded warriors everything is a new experience.”
Johnston eventually plans to complete his degree in social work and mentor troubled teens. He said certifications like these are just one more “tool” to help him fulfill his goal.
On Wednesday morning, the group turned to archery, first receiving classroom instruction. Woodsum, who taught the archery portion of the event, said she immediately took the opportunity to become an instructor for the wounded warriors, because she looks “forward to seeing a spark of hope in their eyes.”
“Archery specifically is a sport where you can (take the) focus away from yourself,” Woodsum said. “For that one hour, or even a single shot you can free your mind to focus on what you’re going through and you can find peace.”
In the afternoon, they headed outdoors to the MCCS Archery Range on base to practice shooting with both high-powered compound and recurve bows. Each student was tasked with coaching someone as they practiced shooting. At the end of the day, the warriors also left with a level-one archery certification.
“(Archery is a) lifelong activity they can take back, do with families, compete, make a career out of it, and it’s my job to make them successful and heal,” Woodsum said.
Schwent expressed his gratitude to Lt. Col. Burl Hudson, officer in charge of Wounded Warrior Battalion West - Detachment Hawaii, for aiding in coordination of the event.