At my recent 250 graduation I was handed a class evaluation form to complete. I answered all the questions but one. On that question I wrote that I would need time to reflect before I could answer it. On my drive home and the days following I have had time to reflect and realized that there were questions that I needed to answer within myself.
I had virtually no experience with handguns when I pulled into the Gunsite parking lot on Monday morning. In my reflection I thought about my last morning there at Gunsite, and my feelings as I interacted with my instructors that morning. Gunsite claims to have the best instructors in the world. That is certainly true, but Charlie, Joe, and Steve will never be just instructors to me. When I was an athlete in school I had two coaches. Because of state athletic rules my actual school coach was not allowed to coach his athletes outside of the specified season. But we were allowed to train in the off season under a coach in the Olympic program. Both coaches were well educated in the sport and considered very good coaches. But I will always credit my success, not to my actual school coach, but to my off season coach. Not once did I ever race under his banner, but he loved to build an athlete. He always believed there was more in me than I thought was possible. And he had this rare, and very special gift that made me believe in myself as he did. I have had 30 years to reflect on how this coach was able to get me to believe in and do the impossible. Your Rangemaster Charlie McNeese has that rare and special gift. I am a 50 year old man, but for 5 days I was starry-eyed young boy again seeking the approval of a man I looked up to and admired. That realization brought my feelings about my last morning at Gunsite into focus. I thought back to that morning as I walked the wash with my instructor Steve Temerlin and now I recognized his voice. It was the voice of a good friend. One who watched out for you and cared enough to tell you the truth, even to protect you from yourself. I thought back to that morning as I went room to room in the house with Joe Nassetta and now I recognized the reassuring voice behind me. It was the voice of a brother. And I know a little about the voices of brothers as I am one of 5. I thought back to that morning as I talked a little about life and what’s important with my great Range Master Charlie McNeese and now I recognized the feeling as he put his hand on my shoulder and told me that he was proud of me. It was the hand of a father. Why was I so saddened to leave? Because Gunsite felt like home and I did not want to leave and go back into the world. Why did I feel so bonded to classmates that I had only known for 5 days who were from distant places, different generations and diverse walks of life? Because we are all brothers and sisters in our love of a way of life that is threatened. It felt good to be in the presence of those who love what I love, cherish what I cherish, and are willing to do something to defend it. There are forces trying to convince us that we are alone. At Gunsite, I did not feel alone. Why was I choking on emotion as Charlie read the 13 folds? Because I could feel Charlie’s love for this country, and I could feel my love for Charlie and all those who still love this country as I do. One night as I was eating at KFC and a bushy bearded man smiled and walked up to me and asked me if this was my first time to Gunsite. I told him that it was and he said, “Welcome to the family!’ What exactly happened to me there at Gunsite? I found a family. At graduation, that question on my evaluation form that I needed more time to answer went something like this: “What do you think is Gunsite’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness? “ Gunsite’s greatest strength is its people, and their love for one another and this country. The first lady of Gunsite, Mrs. Cooper said it best. I hold dear her gracious hospitality in allowing us into her home for lemonade and homemade brownies. I hold it dear because it was like visiting my grandparent’s home. They are long gone, but for a brief moment I felt like I was transported to another time and I felt a great peace. Mrs. Cooper used the word bastion to describe her home. She said she wasn’t sure if that was the right word. I think she was referring to the word bastion in its definition as it applies to a fortification. But bastion has another definition. A bastion is: “an institution, place, or person strongly defending or upholding particular principles, attitudes or activities.” Gunsite’s greatest weakness is that to the world it appears to be just a place where people go to learn how to shoot guns, when it is really an American bastion. A bastion of . . . . Hope.
- Why was I so saddened to leave?
- Why did I feel so bonded to classmates I had only known for 5 days?
- Why was I choking on emotion as Charlie read the 13 folds?
- What exactly happened to me there at Gunsite?
Karl Mueller, 250 Pistol Class, September 3-7, 2018, Gunsite, Paulden, AZ