The planets have finally aligned as the donated 3D Archery Equipment and Targets made it across the pond to our Troops in Iraq for the first ever IBO Sanctioned 3D Tournament.
September 9, 2008 (COB Adder, Tallil, Iraq) – A unit sponsorship, some creative brainstorming and the outdoor industry coming to the rescue for one Soldier’s “outside the box” idea in Iraq has become a major morale boost for troops deployed to central Iraq. CPT John “Eddie” Gray, the Company Commander of the 603rd Transportation Company when this started and now the 142nd CSSB’s S-4 OIC, began his quest to establish a recreational 3-D archery range for the Soldiers on his base camp just prior to his company departing Fort Polk, Louisiana. The owners of www.MyHuntingRoom.com (MHR) decided to sponsor CPT Gray and his unit after Gray became an active member on their website and learned that the base camp they were headed to did not have many Morale, Welfare and Recreational (MWR) facilities or mainstream events where they were going to be stationed for 15 months.
“Greg Gandolfo co-owner and founder of MHR, asked me to think about some options they could help sponsor while we were deployed after he saw my personal profile on my MHR page. I immediately thought about events that could be ongoing competitions and different from the normal MWR activities. As I brainstormed for an idea, the thought of an archery range just would not go away because I love bow hunting and also love to competitively shoot.” A majority of the current units stationed with Gray are from Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia and Montana so Gray felt an archery range would accommodate Soldiers with a piece of home that would not be experienced anywhere else. MHR stepped up to the challenge and a mass email to members of MHR from the staff was all it took before support of the idea quickly spread and began arriving. Immediately the MHR staff began receiving donated equipment, targets and bows for Gray and his Soldiers to use.
However, the concept of the range spread like wildfire around Gray’s base camp and it was quickly determined there were not enough supplies to sustain the range for so many Soldiers. “Mr. David Sullivan with Buckmasters American Deer Foundation heard about our range and quickly passed the world to several big names in the industry like TruGlo, Mathews, Genesis Archery, Bowhunting.net, the International Bowhunting Organization and the United States Sportsmen’s Alliance to name a few?the rest is history” Gray said. “When IBO teamed up with USSA, National Archery in Schools Program, and their subordinate sponsors to compliment what the members of MHR had already donated, the thought of having a complete 3D range really sunk in. They even coined the effort ‘Operation 3D’ and it stuck.” The unit was then inundated with donated equipment and supplies that have finally made it into the Soldiers’ hands on the range.
“Once I heard the equipment was finally on its way over here, we got to work on the new range location and design. When the range was originally approved last October, we had it in a different spot much closer to our living area. However, over the course of a couple months, different projects began popping up and we had to move the range.” With the help from the Garrison Command, a new site was located and suited Gray’s needs much better anyway. “The new range location gave me much more freedom to put in obstacles, bring in vegetation, and we don’t have any chance for peripheral accidents since the range faces away from the camp.”
Originally the new range was just a bulldozed sand lot surrounded by a 10′ berm and seemed “boring” according to Gray but now other Soldiers have volunteered heavy equipment and have completely redesigned the range by bringing in trees, shrubs, and mounds of dirt to give the range a much more realistic and challenging look. “It (the range) looks great now and we have several obstacles that require the archer to choose their lines carefully; it has definitely brought the range to the next level and made it much more interesting!” Gray and two other Soldiers, SSG Albright and SGT Cain stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, went so far as to match the surrounding of each target to what someone might see in the wild for any given animal. “The panther is situated as if it is coming of its perch from a dead tree while the hogs appear to be in thick vegetation rooting up the ground. We even made the hyena appear to be located in a scrub patch somewhere in Africa after watching the Limbsavers hunting DVD they sent to us which sparked the idea and we tried to imitate it!” There are even plans to have the wild turkey perched on a roost in one of the trees the three Soldiers brought in and replanted according to Gray. “This has all been great. I have never had this much fun working in 130 degree heat but the Soldiers repeatedly tell me how much they appreciate it and can’t believe how much has gone into the range; that is what makes it all worth while! Gray also said he cannot help but smile when several of the participants have told him the range has made the past month go by much faster than all the others since the range opened and that it has brought a piece of home to the desert.
Before anyone can participate in the range activities, they must first take a two part course Gray offers weekly. The National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) curriculum is taught so that even beginners can learn the history of archery, how “Operation 3D” came into existence, proper techniques, the rules of archery, and that the most important part of the range is to have fun and learn something new. “I agreed to give a safety course to anyone who wanted to shoot as part of my deal with Garrison Command and that is when I turned to NASP for the curriculum they use in elementary and middle schools. I doesn’t just cover safety but everything archery encompasses and how archery has evolved from the Stone Age until now.” Gray teaches the classroom portion using power point presentations as well as static displays to explain the different types of equipment being used, technique, determining eye dominance as well as the rules of the range.
The second class is then given at the archery range where the Soldiers get fitted for the proper bow for them to use and then discuss the targets and how the scoring is done. Once the Soldiers are fitted for bows and issued their quivers and arrows, the class heads down the shooting line to conduct qualification. “Qualification isn’t about putting three arrows side by side inside the 12 ring, it is about using proper form taught in the classroom and being able to get a good anchor point and shoot consistently on the first day no matter where the sights are set and the arrows hit.” After the participant qualifies, they begin sighting in the bows to the individual so they can start shooting the three dimensional targets set up on the second part of the range. Targets range anywhere from a wild turkey all the way up to a 6 foot tall standing black bear and range in distance from 10 yards out to 60 yards.
When Gray was asked if he shoots with the Soldiers he replied, “not usually; I am there to help the beginners get started by giving pointers and helping them sight in the bows. I also work on the bows that aren’t being used and do odd ball tasks around the range to keep making it better. If the crowd dissipates and only seasoned archers are around, I’ll grab my bow and shoot with them. The range isn’t about me, it’s about getting more people involved in the sport of archery and helping the novice participants become better shots when they return home to either bowhunt or shoot competitively in clubs. I’m just having fun watching them enjoy the range and improving the range daily with more obstacles and more vegetation to make it more realistic.”
Currently 216 residents have taken the required classes but the COB Adder Archers have 167 qualified members who consistently use the range with one more class to be held. Gray expects the largest class to be the one coming up since more flyers have gone out, the commander’s channel is airing the flyer and word of mouth is spreading the news about the range. The next class will be the last one offered before the first ever IBO World Qualifying 3D Tournament that will be hosted 19-21 and 26-28 September at COB Adder. “We still have one last class for more COB Adder residents to participate in if they want to use the range.
However, the IBO 2009 World Qualifying Tournament is coming up and the competition is getting pretty tight already. Some of the beginners have practiced so much that they are out-shooting the seasoned ones.” Once Gray sent an update to all the sponsors in the United States and they realized how big the archery range has become, Ken Watkins, President of IBO, asked Gray if he was interested in making the tournament an official IBO event. With that, the winners of their category would receive invitations and spots to compete in IBO’s annual World Championship in August 2009. Gray said he eagerly obliged and began working closely with Mr. Watkins on the specifications and rules that needed to be adhered to as well as the proper range set up. “Mr. Watkins sent me all the rules and how the tournament needed to be coordinated and handled. He gave me flexibility on a lot of things considering where we are and what we have available but we have been fortunate to stay pretty close to the original rules and layout.” What makes this tournament unique is that it is the first ever IBO sanctioned event to be hosted in Iraq as well as the caliber of prizes donated by MyHuntingRoom.com members and IBO. “The first place participant in each category will get to choose between competing in the IBO World Tournament next year or selecting one of the three donated guided hunts for either deer, turkey, or a two man duck hunt. Whichever trip they don’t choose will then go to the second place finisher.”
Those are not all the prizes though, Gray also said has free taxidermy for one male and one female in the lower 48 states, camouflaged clothing, Limbsavers archery, firearm, and sporting goods products, fleece jackets, hats, mugs, stickers and even DVDs to be given out as prizes for various categories. “Another part of my deal with MHR, IBO, and the other organizations is that all the equipment that was sent to us will be raffled off to the participants. If you only wanted to use the range for recreational shooting, you get five raffle tickets but if you compete in the tournament, you get a free IBO membership as well as ten raffle tickets. Whatever bow you are after comes with all the components like the donated TruGlo sights and Easton arrows it has with it and you can either put all of your tickets on one bow or spread them out across several.” Gray said some of the details still need to be ironed out but that participants who have already left theater by the time the bows are raffled off need not worry; if they win, the bow will be sent to them through the mail. With that, most of the participants have already had their personal bows sent to them or they have taken advantage of BowTech’s “Bows for Soldiers” program where any deployed Service Member can purchase a fully equipped 2008 BowTech Guardian camouflaged bow for $500.00 shipped to their APO address. “The BowTech, Diamond Archery, and Trophy Ridge VIP Pricing or programs for deployed Soldiers have been an awesome program that the Soldiers haven’t hesitated to take advantage of. These programs can only be utilized while deployed and do not apply to back home so we all jumped on the opportunity to supplement what we already have here. Now we are just waiting for our bows to arrive and hopefully they get here before the tournament!”