AIRGUNNERS for VETERANS
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In launching the UpNorthAirGunner lifestyle brand, we wanted to find a way to pay it forward to help other Veterans and First Responders back into shooting sports and hunting through airgunning. We hope the Airgunners for Veterans Initiative will help others find a new community of brothers and sisters through airgunning.
UPNORTH AIRGUNNER will be donating 100% of all profits made from the AIRGUNNERS for VETERANS line of UPNORTH AIRGUNNER apparel and gear to support monthly giveaways to a selected veteran or first responder.
This line of apparel and gear can be identified with the AIRGUNNERS for VETERANS text below the flag on the right sleeve of selected apparel and other gear. THE FLAG IS NOT BACKWARDS! IT IS ASSAULTING FORWARD!
The Healing Power of Air
Like most kids growing up, my dad bought me a Crosman pump BB / Pellet gun and taught me about marksmanship and safety, but my personal story of airgunning and guns in general took a dark path along the way.
UPNORTH AIRGUNNER and my dedication to the sport of airgunning and airgun hunting grew out of some real personal struggles I have dealt with since I was in the military. I often talk about my military service as U.S. Army Tanker (19K) from 1995-2004 with 4 years on active duty and 4 years in the National Guard. In the spring of 2002, my National Guard unit was activated to active duty for Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war on terrorism.
We were at Ft. Hood Texas going through Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP) and to find out where we would be sent to support this mission. This is when my world would be changed forever. It was at this time I got the call you never went to receive. "Chris, your dad shot himself last night and ended his life."
I was allowed to go home to Michigan for the funeral and take care of some family business, but right back in to the SRP sausage making process I went as soon as I got back to Texas. The SRP process consists of EVERYTHING that you are as a soldier. From dental exams, to financial records, to medical exams, to writing a will, to weapons qualification, and in my case quite a few visits to the Chaplain for counseling.
Until that day I got the horrible news, I took pride in my skills as an Expert marksman with all of the tools the Army had issued me. From my 9mm M9 Pistol to my M4 Carbine to the M240 Coax Machine Gun and my favorite of all the 120mm Cannon on the M1A1 Abrams that I called home for 8 years.
But it was during SRP after I got back home from the funeral where I started associating the feel of a trigger pull to the last thing my dad felt before he left this earth. During SRP you have to go through one more official weapons qualification stage with the M4 / 5.56 in order to be deemed "deployable". I went into that stage without worry because I had qualified "Expert" every year since basic training.
We go to the zeroing line and I load a magazine, pick up my sight picture, take the rifle off of safe, and I get to the point of the trigger break and I can't do it. All I can think of is that final click he heard.
I cleared my weapon and claimed I was having a malfunction and left the firing line. I felt embarrassed and like a failure and I didn't know what to do. I knew I needed help. The grief was compounded exponentially with my guilt that I was letting down my unit, my brothers.
I went to see the Chaplain which began a series of counseling sessions to get me through at least some early stages of grief and get through weapons qualification. I made it through the last few years of military service and continued to struggle with PTSD association of shooting with my father's death. I struggled through counseling accepting that it wasn't the tool that ended his life, it was his depression.
Through this process I also had the chance to get exposed to other Veterans and Veterans groups who are also dealing with all different kinds of grief, and guilt, and other feelings that affect them in different ways after they leave the service.
Did you know that based on the most recent VA report, over 17 U.S. Military Veterans end their life everyday due to these struggles and thousands more with depression? When we think of veterans, we usually think of those who are dealing with the struggles associated with combat, but not all of these issues are combat related.
Being in the service is by far the most stressful thing you will ever do. Period. Marriages and relationships are pushed to the breaking point, you spend weeks and months and years away from your family. Financial stress because if you weren't aware, you don't get paid very well to defend the freedoms of our country. Physical stress, well.... Because that ruck sack ain't gonna carry itself to the top of that hill.
So when you leave the service, all that baggage gets brought with you and if you don't deal with it, it will follow you forever. These struggles often turn into drug and alcohol abuse and depression.
Well, I didn't do a very good job of dealing with it until I moved back to Michigan a few years ago and tried to get back into hunting and shooting with my uncles. It was a way to reconnect with my dad's spirit through his brothers, but the shooting thing was still a thorn in my mind.
Then I found airguns. I convinced myself the way to take back the thing I once loved so dearly, was to just get out and shoot more. When I say shoot more - I mean like A LOT. When the guys over at Airgun Depot started the Long Ranger Challenge a few years ago, I was hooked. I am not kidding when I tell you that I pulled more triggers in that first year of airgunning than my entire military service.
So I owe a huge thank you to the guys who started that Long Ranger challenge: Cameron Brinkerhoff who is now the Director of Marketing at AirForce Airguns and Jon Elvegaard-Tueller who is now the President of FX Airguns USA. I owe them both more than they will ever know. Not only did shooting more with airguns help my grief and guilt, I was having a BLAST!
To honor my dad, the UPNORTH AIRGUNNER logo compass is based on the last thing he ever gave me before he died - a lensatic compass. For me this logo signifies adventure and clear direction while remembering my dad. So I hope you can find your own personal meaning in the AIRGUNNER Compass logo and find your own path of adventure and connection to our community through airgunning.