Growing up a military kid as I did, I was exposed to elements a lot of kids never got to experience. I've heard accents from all over the world, moved more times than I dare to count and met people I never otherwise would have. I've gotten to participate in USO shows, decorate banquet halls for the coming home parties of War veterans, swim with Colonels and dance with hero's. I also got to know my Dad - he was my first hero.
Stories of my dad's early years in the military always interested me. I'm a bit of a history buff, so the stories he would tell me of his own father always left me on the edge of my seat as well. Possibly my most favorite story would be during the time we were stationed in Germany - around the time I was born. That's when he was the Sharp Shooter (sniper) for the on base S.W.A.T. team.
Dad grew up in the back woods of Up-State New York. His yard was nothing but trees, and his stomping grounds were also his hunting grounds. He could hardly be found without a rifle of some sort in his hands, out hunting deer with Grandpa Frank or milking cows for Woodrow for pocket change. He told me that even though he got very little money by today's standards, back then a dollar was a lot of money and could go a long way. That part always fascinated me. He said even five dollars would help pay the bills in his family. He helped to support his two sisters while (as my mom puts it) being a Football hero in his school.
He used to make a joke about growing up in Roscoe and going to school in Livingston Manor. He said they lived so far out in the sticks, they had to pipe in the sunshine, and sometimes that took days. Very few people knew where Roscoe was on the map, and that fact remains today. It's a very rural area even now, quite the contrast to what most people think of New York. Looking at the maps, I even recall the street named Beaver Kill Road from his stories.
When I was just a kid we went to visit my Grandfather and Grandmother in New York. I remember even visiting with the neighbors next door to where my father grew up. The brothers were still there, aged and crippled with arthritis. Dad had always thought of them as uncles, the two kind, old bachelors. As he sat visiting with them, my Mother took my brother and I wading in the Willowemoc river. She told us stories my father had once told her about swinging on a tire swing way out over the river and splashing down at just the right moment. All of these stories made my father into a hero in my eyes. He was an adventurer, just like me. He had stories to tell - if I could just get him to tell those stories!
I tried for years to get stories out of my father, but he didn't really talk much about his childhood. Something about it seemed shaded, as though he had been severely hurt somehow. Finally, we discovered a common interest in the love of target shooting and I would work on him during our long drives to the rifle range.
I don't remember what the first gun was that I shot, but it was likely at 10.22 rifle. It's a great starter gun with not much kick to it. All I remember was that it was a lot of fun and the big "bangs" I heard from his hunting rifle as he worked on sighting it in for the hunting season made my heart skip a beat every time. Eventually I learned how to zone that out.
Mom got her own .22 rifle when I was a teenager, and on the weekends she was stuck working, Dad and I would load up the truck and borrow her rifle. We would head to the range on the side of the mountain with all the gear and set up for the day.
Dad would set me up with Mom's .22 rifle at the pistol range. The smaller caliber was the only rifle allowed over there. He would stick little orange stickers on the target for me to aim at, he'd teach me how to sight the weapon and he taught me breathing practices. I would breath out slowly as I pulled easily on the trigger. When the gun would fire, at first I would jump. It would startle me. In no time at all, I was shooting like a pro.
We gathered our targets and looked at our progress. I remember by the end of the first day shooting with my mom's brand new rifle, I had not only shot the little orange sticker, but had blown it completely off the target leaving nothing but a 2 inch diameter hole where it had once been stuck. Not a trace of it was left. Dad was amazed.
Next he pulled out the Swinging Squirrel. The squirrel was set up on a metal bar that we would push into the ground. When shot, the squirrel was meant to swing back and forth, indicating the person aiming had hit their mark. Before long I had the squirrel doing flips over the bar like an Olympic gymnast. The orange sticker on its belly was all but gone.
When we went to survey the damage, the squirrel was no longer black, but the shiny metal surface was showing through nearly every inch. It has bent nearly in half and resembled a banana more than a squirrel. Dad decided it was time for the Big Boy range. Never in my life had I ever seen him more proud of me for anything, even the year I made honor roll.
The very next time we went shooting, he brought out the AR 15, the military version of the M16 assault rifle. It looked big and burly. It was the meanest looking gun I'd ever seen with it's matte black finish, flash supressor on the end and banana clip with 15 rounds. I was in awe.
Dad loaded the clip for the first three rounds and had me finish it. Then, with the clip out, he walked me through the dynamics of the gun. Before ever touching it, I knew how to load a round, eject the round, load and remove the clip, clear a jam, set the safety and fire my first shot. Going through all of that, my intimidation of the AR 15 no longer existed.
My first round sliced through the top corner of the target at 50 yards. The weight threw me off and I yanked the trigger instead of squeezing. The second grazed the field before the target, never even getting close. Then I settled in.
The rifle only had sights. With a gun as dependable as the AR 15, no scope was needed. It was dead on accurate. I grew that rifle as an extention of my arm. I began to squeeze shots off like a pro. Again, he placed the orange stickers on the center of the target, and before long I was as accurate with the AR 15 as I had been with the .22 rifle at 75 yards. Dad beamed.
"Nice shootin," another man at the range said to me as he looked through his binoculars at my target. Dad patted me on the back with his corse, rough hand. He and I both beamed. When I was really little I would proudly say "That's my Dad!" I could feel in his hand as he patted me that he wanted more than anything to tell this stranger "That's my kid."
After a while of blasting groups of 15 in a pattern smaller than a silver dollar, Dad was so proud I thought he would pop. "Hey Kiddo," he said to me, smiling. Mom had just arrived at the range after a long day at work, and he wanted to show off to her. I set the gun on safe, pulled out the clip, ejected the round in the chamber, and set the firearm down on the table. Mom smiled at me.
"Hi!" she said to me. "Your Dad tells me you've done really well today!"
"Thanks!" I said, surely blushing. Nearly all the eyes at the range had been watching me for an hour and I never realized it. Here I was just a 13 year old girl shooting better than most of the guys out there sighting in their yearly hunting rifles.
"Hey Manda," Dad said, "Show your mom your targets." I grabbed them up (I had kept them close to me all day. I was so proud!) and handed them to Mom. As she leafed through them with oohs and aahs, Dad called me back over to the AR 15 rifle. "Lets do one more target for your Mom and then we'll have to get going. I'm hungry!"
"Ok," I said, eager to finish off the clip. Mom came over to watch. I put several more holes in the target before Dad interupted me.
"Hey Kiddo, you see that shining thing up there on the next mountain over?" I looked where he was pointing.
"Where?" I saw a reflection of light against something, but surely that wasn't what he was talking about.
"Right there." Indeed it was.
"Yeah, I see it."
"Look through the field scope, maybe you'll see it better." I looked. "That's the Gong. Do you think you could hit that?"
"I think so," I replied. I didn't even notice when the rest of the range went quiet, watching and listening. I picked up the rifle again, sighted the gong and squeezed the trigger while breathing out gently. The gun fired. One second went by with nothing. Then two. On the third second, we heard it.
"You, you DID it!" Dad jumped up from his seat and his face lit up like the 4th of July. I still didn't notice, but people within ear shot of my father all stood amazed. "Do it again!" I smiled, took a breath, and repeated the action. Again, three seconds went by and we heard the loud "CLANG!" once more. Dad prompted me to do it again, but the magazine was empty. He had said to finish off the magazine and we'd have to go. I set down the rifle and took out the magazine. Proudly, with the broadest smile I've ever seen on his face, he handed me the box of shells. "Again," he said, as eagerly as a kid wanting another piggy back ride.
I went through three more clips with only missing twice. By the end of that third clip, I had a full audience behind me watching. Dad stood proudly by my side, my mother stood back in awe with the masses watching my performance. Each shot rang out, and each time the gong clanged. When my eyes were finally strained and I couldn't do it anymore, I set the safety, pulled the clip and stood up. As I turned around I finally noticed the shining faces behind me. They had all watched my every move.
"Nice job, Kid," a few of them said. "Way to go."
Dad and I rode back to the house that day with him telling me stories of his hunting adventures when he was a kid. He told me about his first gun, his qualifying scores in the Military academy, his days in Germany as the Sharp Shooter for the S.W.A.T. team, and all the stories I had longed to hear growing up.
When I told my father that I wanted to be a Cop many years later, he asked me if it was because I was dating a cop. Though I will admit that it was the reason I decided to try out for it finally, (I never had the courage to try before, but if that monkey could do it, it would be no problem for me), what my father failed to realize is that this memory and the stories he told me were the reason I had wanted to be a Cop since the day I spent at the range with him shooting the AR 15 rifle. I wanted to be a Sharp Shooter, just like my Dad.