On a beautiful, sunny morning in North Carolina, over 40 bright-eyed students of all ages set foot on the grounds of Camp Butner Training Facility to take part in a tradition that has trained thousands of new marksmen around the country—the Small Arms Firing School (SAFS).
Among the crowd were student-athletes from Liberty University—a private institution located in Lynchburg, VA. The school is building a shooting sports tradition for students, introducing a new shooting program with 65 members of four different disciplines of club teams: rifle, pistol, shotgun and 3-gun.
The current Liberty University Flames and Lady Flames rifle team have different experience levels, with some accomplished shooters, while others were competing in their first rifle competition during the SAFS course.
The course combines classroom education and hands-on fundamental, competition and safety instruction on the firing line. At the conclusion, students fire a true M16 rifle match, with the chance to receive Excellence-in-Competition (EIC) points towards earning a Distinguished Rifleman Badge. All equipment is provided, with participants only needing a willingness to learn in order to attend.
The student-athletes of Liberty University were trained by members of the Army Marksmanship Unit.
Displaying the type of talent being cultivated at Liberty, Susie Krupp, a sophomore on the Lady Flames team, was the High Non-Distinguished competitor of the event overall, earning introductory EIC points.
Executive Director and Head Coach of the Liberty University shooting sports program, Dave Hartman, was impressed by the SAFS event and grateful for the education his new team was able to receive. The university hopes to encourage even more young athletes to learn marksmanship fundamentals and safety.
“What’s beautiful about this event is that our competitors can come to this event without any prior knowledge, they don’t need to have a rifle,” he said. “They go through the classroom portion, and they learn a vast amount of information. And having the AMU here was fantastic.”
He added, “They get to come out and learn the process, and I think through the process, they get to become lifelong competitors.”
As members of the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), the Liberty program began with the shotgun team, which competed the most in its inaugural season and showed promising success.
In their first year, the shotgun members traveled to Regionals in Maryland and Nationals in San Antonio, TX, where they finished third overall for their classification. They also finished second overall for the American-style events for their classification.
Hartman is delighted in the accomplishments of his rookie team, saying, “For just getting started, it’s pretty phenomenal.”
Hartman, who helped start a youth shooting team in Spokane, WA, and coached its members (including his son, Tommy) to a National Title in 2015, is familiar with the shotgun and long range disciplines. But when it came to rifle, Hartman admitted he needed a little help.
That’s when he invited in Assistant Coach Richard Mast, who has long had a professional relationship with Liberty University and has always been attracted to the marksmanship world.
“Shooting has been something that I have always enjoyed and have enjoyed passing on to kids,” said Mast. “I always wanted to do it as a kid and didn’t have opportunities until I got older, so I’m helping to give back by helping kids, young adults with something that’s a good sport. And, it’s good competition and good clean fun.”
During training, the students learned basic fundamentals as well as techniques for competitive shooting.
Mast suggested to Hartman that it would be good for the rifle team to be able to shoot both smallbore and high power rifle, since the two classifications work well together. Mast liked the close location of the event and suggested the team take the course as well. Hartman agreed.
Mast went on to say the training was not only beneficial to the members of the rifle team, but to the leaders as well, with some of the best marksmen in the country passing on their experience.
“Having the Army Marksmanship Unit here was just fantastic. I personally learned, taking notes, and the kids were taking notes,” he said. “You have the best of the best here facilitating and coaching on the line, and they can immediately put into practice what they learn in a classroom environment. So this is definitely something that the students will say, that this was fantastic.”
The coinciding M16 match was the first real competition for the rifle team. For the future, Hartman said, “Who knows? Right now, the emphasis is strictly on club level, with a long-term goal of fielding league teams and getting competitors on the podiums at competitions.”
“We’re enjoying what we’re doing and we’re working very hard to excel at these type of matches,” he added.