One might think the last thing a wounded veteran wants to be around is the sound of live ammunition, but that can be a very erroneous assumption.
None of the wounded veterans at the National Rifle Association’s firing range on Tuesday even so much as flinched as 15 guns were fired, almost simultaneously—in fact, the veterans were visibly beaming.
“This was awesome,” said Army Master Sergeant John Masson, who lost a leg and his dominant left-hand and arm aftera an improvised explosive device was set off in Afghanistan. “It’s the first time I got to shoot using my non-dominant hand so it was real nice.”
Twenty-eight veterans and significant others staying at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda arrived via bus to the NRA headquarters in Fairfax on Tuesday, Jan. 24 for free lunch, a Firearms Museum tour and some shooting inside the range. The event was the first of its kind at the NRA range. Ken Stafer, “Dr. Ken,” founder of Operation Enduring Pride, a Fairfax-based community outreach program for combat disabled military veterans, organized the event.
“I needed to, as a psychologist, close the loop on healing with these wounded warriors, let them experience something they really like—something exhilarating. So I talked to the soldiers and they told me this was what they wanted to do,” said Strafer, a member of the Fairfax Station VFW who is also a disabled Special Forces commander from the Gulf War.
Stafer and Debbie Crews, customer service specialist for the NRA firing range, worked together so that Walter Reed patients will now have excursions to the range twice a year.
“We wanted to show these warriors that they’re not forgotten about,” said Crews. “We want to provide them with a fun and exciting day and show them they have our support 100 percent.”
Six other members from Fairfax Station’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8469 were also there to show their support. The VFW veterans taught the “new folks” how to fire two M-1 Carbines (both made in 1943), a Springfield Armory M1A (ca. 1959-1965), an A1 Colt pistol (1911) and an M-1 Garand (1941).
The veterans were all cleared physically and psychologically, said Strafer, before attending the event.
The veterans, VFW members, NRA employees and everyone involved with the event were in visibly cheery moods that spread across 15 firing lanes. Many veterans visited each lane to try out the different guns available which also included: the M1A1 submachine gun, MAC 10 machine gun with suppressor, AR-15, A-1 Hechler & Koch (H&K) UMP submachine gun, Ruger Security 6 revolver, Smith and Wesson 4566 semi auto pistol, H&K P2000 pistol, and Ruger GP 100 revolver.
“We’re very excited to be here,” said Mike Kazimir, who has been staying with his wife Marcella at Walter Reed since April 2011. While Mike, a Marine and Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, was ejected from his machine gun post after his vehicle ran over an IED in Afghanistan and suffered serious damage to both his legs, has been out of the hospital numerous times, this was his first time at the range. And after firing the H&K UMP-40 submachine gun, the excitement seemed to deepen.
For the veterans, the NRA excursion was a chance to get out of the hospital setting and experience something familiar, noted Lt. Commander Paul Gobourne from the inpatient division of Walter Reed.
“It visibly lifts their mood—helps get them to feel like soldiers again,” Gobourne said.