As the old saying goes, “We all have to start somewhere.” Every firearms instructor who has been teaching for any length of time can remember the person or incident that inspired him or her to go down the path of firearms training as a vocation.

Sometimes it is good to look back and review the path we have traveled since beginning our foray into the world of firearms. Doing this allows us to revisit the influential people who were prominent in our lives and who helped us to become successful firearms instructors. It is fitting that we recognize and pay tribute to them and share what we learned from them with our students.

My Mentors

Early in my life, when I was 3, my grandmother took care of me on days when my parents were out serving the community. My grandmother often reminded me, “Idle hands make the devil’s workshop,” so I was assigned small tasks to keep me busy while she carried out her everyday chores.

One day while I was stacking kindling wood to dry, a squirrel decided to scold me loudly as I worked. The continuous barking of the squirrel irritated my grandmother to the point that she retrieved her .22 rimfire revolver to put a stop to the aggravation. I remember distinctly her pointing the gun at the squirrel with her right hand while placing her left hand on her hip to steady her hold. At the crack of the gun, the squirrel fell from the tree, silenced as it hit the ground. At that moment, I immediately knew that guns were going to be in my future. Little did I know that much of my life would involve firearms and their many uses.

Growing up in a rural area, I had the opportunity to hunt with and shoot various firearms. Joining the military accelerated my interest in firearms and passion for shooting. I was trained as an infantry soldier, which exposed me to all types of guns.

Shortly thereafter, I was selected to attend small arms armorer’s school, where I learned to maintain, troubleshoot and repair all of the guns that I had learned to shoot in my infantry training. I didn’t think it could get any better. Then I was selected to attend Drill Sergeant School, which opened many doors in the arena of firearms.

This progression not only involved teaching firearms-related subjects but also evolved to being selected to shoot on one of several shooting teams. The need was for pistol shooters, so I was assigned to the pistol team. The team leader and coach was 1st Sgt. James A. Gay. He was my next mentor, coaching me and providing me with the guidance necessary to achieve the coveted Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge.

This is not to say that there weren’t others who provided valuable suggestions along the way, but 1st Sgt. Gay was always there to push and encourage me to become a Distinguished Badge holder like him.

After a brief hiatus from the shooting teams, I encountered my next mentor, Sgt. 1st Class Leonard Lorentzen, who recruited me to try out for the Service Rifle Team. Lorentzen, himself a Distinguished Rifle Badge holder, worked with and coached me until I earned my Distinguished Rifleman Badge, achieving the lofty goal of becoming a Double Distinguished shooter.

Give Credit Where It is Due

Without my grandmother, it is likely that I would never have had the initial interest in firearms and shooting. Likewise, without the guidance of 1st Sgt. Gay and Sgt. 1st Class Lorentzen, I would not have experienced what it takes to be a top-level shooter and would likely never have acquired the skills necessary to share my passion with others.

Now with more than five decades of experience, I am still learning. But more importantly, I share my knowledge and experience by mentoring others, giving credit to the various contributors where I can as payback for all that I have received over my career.

British writer Sir Arthur Helps said in 1847, “The education of a man of open mind is never ended.” This adage still applies today, especially when it comes to firearms instructors. Remember, a successful teacher is always a student.