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NEWS | Dec. 30, 2019

Big game hunting helps with adaptive reconditioning

By Robert A. Whetstone Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs

Churchill High School hosted the first United Warrior Air Rifle Competition at the Navy Junior ROTC building in San Antonio Dec. 10. Active duty servicemembers and veterans from throughout the San Antonio area came together to put their skills to the test, especially big game hunter Army Spc. William McCormick.

After finishing One Unit Station Training in 2015, McCormick would spend most of his time stationed at either the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, or the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. It is here where he kept his shooting skills sharp by hunting big game.

"After we got back from a deployment, I took my neighbor, who was new to Alaska, on his first big game hunt ever," McCormick said. Black bear was in season at the time, and McCormick wanted to share the experience.

"A bear was up the mountain a little bit, so I took a standing offhand shot from about 75 yards and dropped it," he explained. "As it fell off the mountain it knocked some rocks loose. I turned around to communicate with my neighbor about what had happened and a couple of 20-pound boulders hit me in the head."

Neither McCormick nor his neighbor saw the huge rocks coming toward him. He suffered injuries on both sides of his head, one severe enough to cause a bad fracture on one side, and he fell down the mountain. His neighbor emptied a handgun to get the attention of hikers nearby so he could borrow their satellite phone to call for an air medical evacuation.

McCormick's head injuries caused severe traumatic brain injury. JBER was not equipped to handle such an injury, so after he became more stable, he was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion to get care for his injuries and begin the long road of rehabilitation.

A key component to McCormick's rehab is adaptive reconditioning. One of the activities that peaked this infantryman's interest is air rifle shooting.

"I had done air rifle before when I wasn't overloaded with homework," McCormick said.

He was taking masters classes online to prove to himself that his brain was functioning to his expectations. McCormick is an example of the Army Recovery and Care Program's motto of "Recover and Overcome." He took a break from classes to focus on a promotion board and returning to duty.

He heard about the inaugural air rifle event when physical therapist Dr. Benjamin Fogel and others mentioned it to him. McCormick recently placed second at a Halloween sporting clays competition.

"I think that fed into the conversations of people suggesting I try this UWAR as well," McCormick said.

"When participating in an adaptive reconditioning activity, such as air rifle, Soldiers really benefit the most from the camaraderie that results from these competition-like settings," said Kersey Henderson, recreational therapist, supporting adaptive reconditioning. "Benefits from these events include social support, focus/concentration, adjustment to their technique, such as breathing and relaxation."

The UWAR competition is in its infancy, and getting the word out to wounded, ill, and injured veterans is important to those who run the event.

"We wanted to get all of the local injured active duty and veterans together, not just for the shooting match but as a way to gain brotherhood and the camaraderie," said Scott Fitzgerald, Fire Arms Training Simulator instructor, Center for the Intrepid, BAMC. Fitzgerald said shooting is one commonality between every branch.

Adaptive reconditioning competitions like this would be one path of progression; others may want to return to live fire shooting like International Defensive Pistol Association competitions, or hunting, Fitzgerald explained .

"Shooting air rifle and pistol does not have an age limit or a disability restriction," Fitzgerald said. "This is a sport where you could be completely blind and still shoot at a local, national or international level."

McCormick took second place out of the 14 UWAR competitors. Although it was a good showing for this event, he wasn't personally satisfied.

"Placing second just means I need to practice more," he added. "It is very overwhelming with a brain injury, so having something I am comfortable with and something I enjoy doing is a great way to get my mind off of negative emotions that come with a long healing process."

"Let's be honest, if we challenge warriors no matter the task, they will always step up and perform to the highest level and that's what was seen at this inaugural event," Fitzgerald said.

The date and location for the next UWAR match is still being worked out. For more information about air rifle shooting, call 210-916-8345