I’d like to start out by apologizing to the many people who emailed and tweeted me (is that the right verb?)  hoping to get together at the NRA Annual Meeting this year. It was really hard for me to give up going, as I was looking forward to meeting my fans and so many other great people – in particular my personal role models Julie Golob and Massad Ayoob. However, after much consideration, I realized that it was a no-brainer; I needed to stay and help our heroes.

Baretta 92 Fs

If you have read through my blog, you may have read my article A DAY WITH THE OREGON NATIONAL GUARD; in that article I pointed out what a tragedy it is that many of our National Guard soldiers are sent into war zones with very little training with their service pistols. Some had been sent overseas with only thirty rounds through their handguns. Yes, I said thirty. That’s not even enough to learn the mechanics of the gun, its reliability rate, or its rhythm. Also mentioned in the article is that the handgun issued to these men are Beretta 92Fs (the military designation is M-9). These guns actually take a little more time to master than most other combat-grade pistols as they have a rough trigger reset and a funky thumb safety that doubles as a decocker, easily confusing the operator.

On Saturday, April 14th, 2012 the Clatskanie Rifle and Pistol Club, in cooperation with Packing Pretty, had the honor of providing a day of M-9 pistol training as well as Oregon Concealed Handgun training to Detachment One Bravo of the 186th Infantry Division of the (Oregon) National Guard.  Three NRA-Certified Instructors (myself included) and two range safety officers donated their time to provide a full day of fun and learning for these troops.

The day started out with classroom instruction including the safety rules, nomenclature, cartridges, cartridge malfunctions and the how-to of loading and unloading.

The first thing I noticed as I started lecturing was that I had the undivided attention of each and every soldier.  They were just as serious about learning as we were about instructing – and if you’ve ever taught to a group of people on any subject matter, you know that that is a rare sight to see. On top of that, all the questions that were asked were intelligent and well articulated. I was in my “teacher heaven” to say the least.

After beating the classroom material into their brains, we headed into the range for hands-on lab with simulated M-9s.  We actually divided the class into three groups, one group worked with me on grip and stance, another on shooting positions, and the last in the classroom practicing loading, unloading, trigger control and sight picture with A-Zoom snap caps and real M-9s.

All that work must of have built up an appetite, because as soon as everyone had been rotated through each station, the men headed out into the sunshine (sunshine is rare in this part of the state by the way) to soak up some rays and chow down on some MREs.

Lunch was by far one of the most entertaining parts of the day; it reminded me of being at “the hob” from The Hunger Games.  It was great to see the guys loosen up a bit and between the trading and passing around of crackers and other side dishes wrapped in little foil pouches, I was actually able to get in some conversation.  What really amazed me was how gracious the men were with what little they had to eat. Each time I talked to a soldier he offered me some part of his MRE. One even gave me a bite of his entrée, straight out of the envelope. Come to find out, government-issue Mexican food isn’t half bad. Meanwhile, we shared and compared CRKT knives, which gave me chance to show off my favorite blades. That reminds me, the only bad part about that whole day was that I lost my M16-14SF CRKT knife.

After lunch, we headed back into the classroom for a lesson on Oregon Law. I applaud these guys for not showing the slightest sign of disinterest, as it would have been easy (with full bellies and all) to nod off in the back of the classroom.  Once Gregg Smith finished his legal lecture (he actually keeps it pretty entertaining) it was time to have some fun.If any of you have been to my classes, you know I tend to run the firing line like a drill sergeant. Come to find out, these guys understand that!  We split the men into groups again and went through a series of shooting exercises. With a just a little coaching they were getting some nice groups on the targets. Many of the guys probably heard me in their sleep that night… “More finger on the trigger,” “Less finger on the trigger”, “Front sight!”… I was trying to get it cycling through their mind like a mantra. That way, as they did their qualifications, they’d have a little piece of me with them.

Okay, I really wasn’t hoping for something that cheesy, I just wanted it to stick.

Once the exercises were finished and the shooting qualifications completed, I took some of the soldiers out to the pistol bays to shoot my pink XDm (often referred to as “The Pink Gun of Shame”). Talk about troopers – these men shot it with no shame, and even allowed me to take pictures. They especially liked the Springer Precision combat carry trigger job and tritium fiber optic (TFO) sights.

SSG Baker Shooting the "Pink Gun of Shame"

One of the men brought out his Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotgun (we all know I love those) so we played with that as well…

The highlight of the day was the steel competition. We set up an array of steel targets, including plates, poppers, and even a dueling tree.  We all took turns shooting against one another – I got my butt handed to me by First Sergeant Clarke (twice); talk about a talented shooter:  1SG Clarke even took our very own, dead-on-accurate and super speedy Gregg Smith.  In defense of both Gregg and myself, the First Sergeants’ civilian job involves a lot of training on the range, and Gregg was operating with a minor injury he had sustained the day before.Over four thousand rounds were fired during training that day from the M-9’s…

With over 500 hours of instruction time under my belt I can honestly say that I have never trained a more respectful group.  Each and every soldier was the perfect gentlemen. I’ve never had so many doors held open for me in my life, and not once did I detect anything flirtatious. I’d train this group again in a second! Best of all (though I’m certain the material was review for some) they didn’t once get an attitude, or question my instruction.

Overall, I think the day was just as much fun as it was educational for everyone involved.  As for myself, well, I’m convinced that I had the most fun of all.

While I regret not spending time in St. Louis with the rest of the gun writers, a day with those that defend our freedoms was a higher calling. If just one of those citizen-soldiers is safer (both at home and on deployment) as a result of our training, then it was worth a day of my life.

To all those in uniform – my thanks to you and your families for your service and sacrifice.