The Nation’s First Live-Fire Event of its Kind
By Jeff W. Zimba
Like many other days in these brave warriors pasts, on July 10, 2011 the quiet morning they were enjoying was the calm before the storm. The tranquility and joking around would soon be interrupted and erupt with machine gun fire and explosions. What set this day apart from so many others, was this day everyone smiled and couldn’t wait to get some trigger time.
Early in 2011, Alpha Group, LLC from Waterville, Maine was approached by Lt. Col. Robert P. Crowley of the United States Air Force/ANG and Andy Williams from the Williams Machine Gun Range, (WMGR, LLC) and asked to consider providing logistics and support for an event that would be the first of its kind. Paired up with the Warrior Legacy Foundation, it was the vision of Lt. Col. Crowley to take the rehabilitation of some of our combat wounded soldiers to a level never officially explored. Several months after that initial meeting, Operation Wounded Heroes Shoot II was held and was a great success. The next event is already being planned for 2012.
In the Beginning
Lt. Col. Crowley has been working in the warrior rehabilitation field for a long time. Having gone through the rehabilitation system himself, the benefits and the blemishes are of deep personal knowledge and it is his goal to follow the timeless lyrics of Bing Cosby; to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” in assisting our combat wounded veterans. One area he immediately noticed that was lacking in the massive machine that is the VA System all our soldiers go through was the aftercare following the discharge.
As a previously injured reserve soldier (non combat related) working with scores of our wounded warriors, Lt. Crowley’s insight is unique, and his drive and passion in this area is ferocious. Working heavily with those being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) it was obvious to him that even though the visual wounds may appear to be healed, the struggle is far from over for many. The everyday tasks many of us accomplish without a second thought may be overwhelming for those with PTSD and TBI and because of that there are many lost opportunities that are not being addressed, at least until now. Lt. Col. Crowley realized right away that simply “existing” was not enough. These men and women want to excel regardless of their disabilities and get back to the life they enjoy, and that is where Operation Wounded Shooter came to life.
The Original Theory
If there is a common thread among the men and women who serve our nation in the armed forces beyond sheer patriotism, it is the thrill of high adrenaline. To put it in simple terms: most soldiers really like to shoot machine guns and blow things up. Following a discharge due to a serious combat related injury, these are practices that go from “normal” to nonexistent in a heartbeat. At least this used to be the case.
After much thought and preparation, in the winter of late 2010, Lt. Col. Crowley teamed up with the Maine chapter of the Warrior Legacy Foundation and brought some young men who were wounded in combat to the Williams Machine Gun Range in North Anson, Maine for an afternoon of shooting machine guns and reactive targets. It was an immediate success and after months of follow-up with the participants, the plans for a much larger event started to unfold.
Operation Wounded Heroes Shoot II
When Alpha Group, LLC agreed to assist in the organization, safety and security of this groundbreaking event, a few things immediately came to light. The first was that due to a very limited budget it could not be accomplished without the help of several people. A team of security personal consisting primarily of past and present military and law enforcement members was assembled. An equally large group of line safety personal and weapon specialists were also brought on board. The next was a team of “Battle Buddies” whose primary function would be to shadow the participating warriors and provide assistance in any way required. It was an event that would cater to the warriors and an opportunity for the rest of us to work for them for the day.
When the call for assistance went out the outpouring of help was overwhelming. Without the support of every single donor the event could not have been a success, and in the case of a few donors, such as Wolf Performance Ammunition (WPA) and Valkyrie Armament, LLC the event may not have happened at all. Wolf Performance Ammunition provided a pallet of assorted ammunition to keep the machine guns fed for the day, and Valkyrie Armament, LLC provided one of their new BSR MOD-1 Belt-Fed Rifles to raffle that ended up paying for every cent of the labor costs for the security and safety of event. Nestlé provided a pallet of Poland Springs bottled water to hand out for free at the event that proved to be invaluable.
Since the wounded warriors were really the VIP guests of the event it was decided they should be treated to a VIP gift bag like those who attend other high-profile events. Each participant was provided with a donated bright orange Home Depot reusable bag filled with such other donated goodies as CDs, bumper stickers and autographed photos donated by Ted Nugent and family, hats and T-shirts donated by Wolf Performance Ammunition, gift cards from Cabelas, custom made laminated pocket knives from Cousineau Wood Products, several copies of Small Arms Review magazine from Moose Lake Publishing, LLC, “Rogue Warrior” posters donated by Richard Marcinko, American Pride stickers and coffee cups and much more.
While the finishing touches were put into place, the EMTs were in position, the Mobile Vet Center pulled onto the scene and set up shop and Life Flight, who had been arranged previously with a special landing zone was contacted to confirm that the event was about to commence.
As over 50 machine guns were readied on the line, the warriors were broken into two flights. Each flight would shoot at separate times giving the others time to relax, mingle and enjoy the provided BBQ of pig, deer and moose provided for them. As the line prepared to open, William Schneider, Maine’s Attorney General (also a combat veteran) arrived and asked to work on the firing line where he stayed all day, loading magazines for the shooters and was accompanied and assisted by State Representative Susan Morissette. Between flights they were joined by Maine’s Governor, Paul LePage, who also came to the event to honor our veterans who were being recognized this day.
The line was officially opened with a member of the line safety crew firing a full belt from every gun on the line, one at a time. It was ended with a twin PKM setup doing a single burst from two fortress belts. As soon as the last rounds hit the impact area it was time for the first flight.
As the VIPs were escorted to the line by their “Battle Buddy” they were greeted by Brig. General Donald McCormick who shook hands with each participant entering the range followed by the line safety officers. They were allowed to choose any gun or combination of guns they wanted to shoot. After a brief function check with the weapons specialist assigned to each specific firearm it was nothing but noise, smoke, explosions and smiles for hours. Prior to the event several watermelons were filled with Tannerite and placed in safe places in the impact area. The VIPs were asked to help the Williams Machine Gun Range “seed the area” in an experimental and unconventional method being tested for the first time. They happily agreed.
As veterans from numerous wars and conflicts, with varying levels of injuries and issues fired machine guns all day long, for this day, they were not focused on their disabilities, but had the opportunity to showcase their marksman abilities, many greatly proficient. They were in a place where they were simply “Brothers in Arms” and the high-fives, and “Oooh-Raahs” all day long made it obvious.
As this writer observed and coordinated the firing line from an observation tower, there were a few who really stood out and will remain in warm regard for some time. Jon Kessler, a 101st Airborne Ranger who served in Operation Desert Storm was in attendance with his son Cameron, a 20-year-old paratrooper getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. As father and son “talked” their belt-feds, an M60 and an M240B through their entire belts, as soon as the last round was fired, they high-fived and the father turned to the tower and exclaimed, “THIS is a dream come true! To have that memory of my boy and I “talking” entire belts like that will be with me FOREVER!” That, ladies and gentlemen almost made this long time wordsmith and trigger-puller choke up.
Just the Beginning
Although Operation Wounded Heroes Shoot II is in the history books now, this is just the beginning of the network being built to better serve those most in need as Lt. Col. Crowley envisioned. Another shooting event is being scheduled and planned for 2012, and a new organization has been formed to better suit these needs. The Maine Wounded Warrior Rehabilitation Program is in full swing and already planning “outside the box” aftercare to help these warriors get back and stay on track with living the way they want to. Hunting trips are being planned and shooting events will take place along with fishing trips. Along with a little assistance, those who have given more than most will have the ability, and be welcomed with open arms to no longer be forced to live as victims, but as proud providers like they are at heart.
Since Operation Wounded Heroes Shoot II was a groundbreaking event, it was mandated that it be run as a closed event and not open to the public. This was done to ease the concerns from those at the reigns, who were brave enough to allow such an unconventional event to proceed in an official capacity. While it provided a very orderly and secure atmosphere, it severely limited the fundraising capabilities normally available at such an event. Because of the inability to raise funds on site, the donations made prior to the event and all the hard work provided by those who spent countless hours to see this through as a success were invaluable The number of supporters was so great, all the names cannot possibly be printed in a small article. If you were involved in this amazing event in any way, please look at the smiles in a few of the included photographs. It was your effort that provided the ability for this event to happen. Thank you for your support.
For More Information:
Maine Wounded Warrior
Alpha Group, LLC
P.O. Box 61
Fairfield, ME 04937
Warrior Legacy Foundation
Williams Machine Gun Range, LLC
636 River Road
N. Anson, ME 04958
Ph: (207) 635-2686