By Mark Oliva
Veterans from across Texas gathered at San Antonio’s Police Training Academy as members of the firearm industry and the community celebrated their service to preserving America’s freedom.
Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) hosted its 13th Annual Family Range Day for over 100 veterans and their guests. Veterans and their guests had the chance to shoot handguns, red dot-equipped pistols, pistol caliber carbines, cowboy action guns, archery and even axe throwing during the day that was filled with the sounds of ringing steel.
Shooting those guns were veterans from the Vietnam War, Gulf War, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and military still serving in uniform.
“This is the highlight of our year,” said Tom Taylor, HAVA’s Chairman. “We do a lot of these range events and hunts and things like that all over the country. I think we have touched over 25 states with our events over the years, 17,000 people have been through our shooting programs and hunting programs and equine and a lot of the other things we’ve been involved in – river trips and things like that.”
Taylor explained to the guests that HAVA is staffed by all volunteers, many with military backgrounds and all connected to the firearm industry. The firearm industry is deeply connected to America’s veterans. Most companies have veterans on their teams, from the factory floor to the executive suites. Those companies support HAVA and honor veterans because of the deep appreciation for the service each veteran has given.
“This is why we do it. My day job is in the firearms industry, as are a lot of people who are affiliated with HAVA,” Taylor explained. “The industry supports this organization in a big way. All the guns, the infrastructure, the ammunition, a lot of fun stuff that you guys are going to experience today comes from those sponsors, all throughout the outdoor industry. We all do that because we are so thankful for what you guys did for our country and the sacrifices you made for our country and for our families and for your families and what that means to us.”
HAVA was formed by volunteers within the firearm and ammunition industry, along with other firearm-related companies, to reach out to veterans, especially those recovering from the visible and invisible wounds sustained during war. While the events are centered on the shooting sports, the real intent is to assist veterans in reintegrating back to society and provide support for veterans who have to learn new ways to achieve their goals. Hunting and the shooting sports are the vehicle, but the goal is connection and healing through the gathering and interaction at these events.
Texas Hero Salute to Veterans
Among the guests at HAVA’s San Antonio Family Range Day was Jack Wilson, a retired law enforcement officer whose actions on Dec. 29, 2019, saved the lives of his fellow churchgoers West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. Wilson was the head of the church’s security team when a murderer shot and killed two congregants before Wilson stopped the attack with one shot from his handgun.
Wilson explained to the veterans that when he reacted, there was 46 feet between him and the attacker, with five people – including two children – when he fired that fateful shot.
“In that six seconds, I lost two good friends and took out evil,” Wilson said. “That was my statement that day. That is my statement every day.”
Still, Wilson said it was the veterans gathered at HAVA’s event that he admired.
“It is an honor for me to be able to be speaking with you, the people who have gone and done the things that you signed up for in the military. I spent six years, but I didn’t do half as much as what you people did. It is an honor to be here with you. And my hat’s off to you, each one of you.”
Mark Oliva is Director of Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industries. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Zaire.