Saturday, March 28, 2015

Into Thin Air

"One can decrease the impact of luck with training, experience, skill and strength, but inexperienced climbers can make it to the top while experienced climbers can be stumped near Base Camp." Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air (1997).

Uncomfortable, overwhelming foreboding always accompanied the trek uphill. Mental rehearsal had begun weeks, sometimes months before - encouraging self-talk, positive imagery and, of course, denial. Drills to build muscle memory, easy enough to perform in the calm of the basement, would soon be put to the test of real life consequence. At the top existed a world of pass or fail, hit or miss. The sleepless night before lent a physiological fog that did not help. The mechanics rarely (and unpredictably) worked in smooth sequence. More often the wheels came off dramatically, in front of friends who were too busy to do more than cluck sympathetically.

Range qualification day.

Fantasy scenarios never materialized. The place didn't burn down. Ammunition rarely ran out (although signing up for the last day of the session maximized this possibility). Snow, rain.... There was no such thing as an ill wind if it blew all of the targets onto I-70, which happened once a decade. Trudging toward ignominy past the Jeeps and monster trucks of range staff only emphasized the awful hour to come. 

Believe no one who states it is impossible to alter the path of a projectile in flight through force of will. It was often my only refuge. 

All of which makes the certificate I hold in my hand all the more improbable. It says that James Greer "Has successfully completed a 44 hour Colorado POST approved Handgun Instructor Course." It's not a forgery, either. It is signed by the staff members who, each in their own way, emphasized one coherent point. It paraphrases out as - "You are now held to a higher standard because this is not merely a marksmanship class. You will be instilling in your students the necessary skills to use their handgun to save their lives, and the lives of innocent others, in combat with armed criminals."


The class was presented by a splendid staff from the Adam's County Sheriff's Department - the affable, intelligent and superbly capable commander who was at once friendly and demanding; the sometimes sinister but more often engaging and funny presence of the SWAT sergeant (who has been wounded in action) whose mere presence focused my mind on my target; and the jocular, calming, experienced retired sergeant with whom I formed the instant bond of being both grandfathers and thirty-plus year officers.

My final qualification course - required for graduation - was a non-stop shitshow. I dropped a full magazine on the deck hurrying to do an easy exchange (one I've done a thousand times before) between exercises. I was ordered to set up a pistol malfunction and in the process accidentally caused a different one myself (and the commander stood behind me, laughing). I "threw" a round within an eighth inch of failing not from far away, but from close enough to have hit the damn target with the muzzle. Had I learned nothing?

In years past I would have folded on the line, convincing myself that I was always lucky to qualify. This time I ignored the mistakes and focused on success. I now hold myself to a higher standard - I am a handgun instructor. I model the will to fight, the promise never to give up, or give in. The staff had reminded us of this so many times I heard their voices as I retrieved my dropped equipment, resolved my hamhandedness and fired the required perfect score.

One student missed a couple shots on the first try. Several of us stood with her (and others) in support, watching all of them get the job done.On her initial target she wrote "Never give up, never give in" and took it home with her perfect graduation silhouette.

The instructor cadre had taught far more than how to put holes in paper with  projectiles. I am now fit to help others into the thin air, to teach them how to survive when nothing is working in their favor. While there is so much more to learn, the foundation is strong.

I'm ready to head for the range.

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