Pistol champion shoots to the top

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jamal Sutter
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
It's not even 11 a.m. yet, but in South Georgia's brutal summer heat, sweat is already trickling down his face, and aside from the annoying gnats and dragonflies that dart around his personal space, he's alone.

After taking one last deep breath, he raises his arm and aims downrange. Wearing safety glasses with masking tape covering the right lens, he locks his left on target like a one-eyed hawk zeroed in on its prey. Then, after a brief moment of complete silence, "bang!" Finally, after more than a month of no shooting, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Jackson is back in his element.

"When I shoot, I don't care what happened last time," he said. "I don't care what's going on next. I'm in the moment. This is where I'm at ... this shot. This is it. And I'll bring it up, and I'll pull that trigger. And after I pull the trigger, I don't even care where it went. It's down there. It's gone."

When at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Jackson is an aircraft metals technology craftsman with the 23d Equipment Maintenance Squadron, but during his off time, he's an avid pistol shooter and member of the Air Force National Pistol Team. Today, however, is his first time handling a pistol since the National Rifle Association National Pistol Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, which took place July 8-12.

In what was his third time competing in the annual event, Jackson placed first out of all Air Force shooters, sixth out of the all service members in his category and 40th overall out of 656 total participants in the championships.

"When I saw my name on there saying I was the top Air Force shooter, I was like, 'I did it,' " he recalled. "I was excited, but when he announced my name, I was just like ... I don't even know. Words couldn't describe it. This is what I said I was going to do, and I did it."

Last year, he finished second out of all Air Force shooters, behind only to his team captain, Staff Sgt. Terrance Sears out of Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. This year, in an ironic twist of fate, it was Sears who fell second to Jackson. The dethroning was something Jackson had envisioned since their last outing at Camp Perry, he said.

"When I saw him, I walked up and said, 'It's going down ... you're not winning this year,' " Jackson explained. "On the first day for the .22 (caliber) pistol, I ended up shooting my personal best, and he did too, but I think I had him by six points that day. We wanted the team to do well overall, but between me and him, the competitive drive and just trying to push each other ... it was fun."

Not too proud to acknowledge defeat, Sears cosigned Jackson's side of the story but also said he plans to regain his glory.

"Yeah, he finished second to me last year, and he beat me this year In the NRA portion of the matches," Sears admitted. "I didn't go there expecting him to beat me, but I wasn't surprised much when he shot his personal best. It will not happen next year though."

Their determination to one-up each other, though friendly and healthy at its core, even breeds constant trash talk among the two. In fact, Jackson says Sears didn't congratulate him until well after a barrage of insults.

Then, right before he went on stage to accept his award, Jackson said he looked at Sears and told him he hoped he wouldn't trip on the stairs, which is exactly what ended up happening and what Sears jokingly said was a bit of justice for him.

But Jackson's rise to the top, and immediate, laughable fall to the bottom, didn't happen as fast as a speeding bullet, though. Gun shooting wasn't a staple when growing up for the Austin, Minn., native, although he shot his first pistol at age 14. It was his grandfather's, and "I did horribly with it," he said when explaining how well he shot it.

Jackson didn't take pistol shooting seriously until his days stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, nearly six years after he joined the Air Force. He worked at the gunsmith shop there and two of his co-workers were on the Air Force National Pistol Team at the time. They had just returned from team camp and started discussing their experiences there. The conversation piqued his interest, so Jackson asked to join them the next time they practiced.

"I went out there," he recalled. "They gave me a gun and some (ammunition) and basically showed me how to do it and then said, 'We'll see what happens.' So I shot some rounds downrange, and they said, 'Here's some more (ammunition). Keep going.' And that was four years ago."

Since then, Jackson has been hooked and continues to hone his skills while balancing his Air Force duties. Rather than paying membership fees at a shooting range, however, he practices at a friend's mother-in-law's property and shoots outside.

"When I get out there, it's usually Monday through Friday," he said. "I'll try to get out at least three days a week where I'm going at 9 o'clock (in the morning), and I'll sit out there for about two, two and a half hours ... I'll shoot like 300 rounds in a day."

He said shooting there versus at an indoor range is more true to the competitions he participates in, since they usually take place outdoors. Practicing in the heat, wind, rain and other elements trains him better for what he could encounter at an event. But finding the energy to shoot on top of professional and other personal obligations is something he openly said he struggles with.

"It's the same when you're working out, and you're like, 'Man, I'm tired. I don't want to do it,' " he said. "I work swings, so getting up in the morning at 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock to go shoot, and I'm in my bed so I'm like, 'I can talk myself out of doing it really easily,' because I don't want to get up. But, it's just like anything else. You got to put your mind to it. If you want to be the best, you got to train like the best."

Striving to be the best goes far beyond just his individual goals though. During competitions, Jackson participates in team matches as well, and doing what he can to help out his teammates is something he said he takes to heart.

"The camaraderie--it's there," he said. "We enjoy hanging out with each other. We enjoy shooting with each other ... it's like a brotherhood. We're just all there trying to help each other out, because back in the 60s, (the Air Force was) the team to beat. So, we all have the mindset that we want to be that team again."

According to Sears, Jackson's positive involvement with the team isn't limited to just competition.
"Jackson adds a lot to the team," Sears said. "He's one of the top shooters, so he brings a lot to the team matches. He also adds a lot to the team off the range. He helps me a lot with the NCO in charge stuff, handling enlisted issues and being a role model for the younger enlisted guys on the team."

With his roles on the team and recent success in competition, Jackson said he's come a long way since taking up pistol shooting but stressed he still has milestones to accomplish. Of the five shooting classifications, he's currently in the master classification, which is only one below the highest attainable classification.

"My next goal is to be high master," he said. "I'm not too far away from that. That's my individual goal. But ultimately, it's to help the team get back to being that team like, 'Oh crap, the Air Force is here.' When we show up, we're like, 'Oh, the Army is here ... great. This is awesome. They're going to win again, or the Marines are going to win again.' If they do beat us, I want it to be on our best day."

So as he loads his next magazine and places his finger on the trigger, Jackson's true target is to reach his full potential as a shooter and help reestablish Air Force dominance in pistol competition, and he plans to get there one round at a time.