A young boy slowly scans the landscape while on the hunt for game, stopping as he stares through a rifle’s crosshairs. Struggling to hold and charge the weapon, his father reminds him to concentrate and places him in the proper stance. As the father’s confident hand drapes over his trembling trigger finger; the boy fires his first shot.
From that first shot many years ago, U.S. Air Force Maj. Robert Davis, 93d Air Ground Operations Wing director of complaints resolution, has evolved from student to teacher and has taken his expertise to coach the Air Force Wounded Program’s shooting team during his third consecutive Department of Defense Warrior Games.
During the 2016 competition at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Davis’ shooting team rewrote history by six athletes winning medals, setting an Air Force record, as well as winning the overall team shooting competition during this year’s games.
“Being a shooting coach for the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program has been the most humbling and best Air Force experience I’ve ever had,” said Davis. “Having the chance to give back to an Air Force that’s given so much to me is awesome. Being able to reinforce in the minds of the athletes that life goes on after adversity, and reminding them to work hard and that trying their best is the most important thing.”
Davis’ ability to give back and impact the lives of Wounded Warrior athletes stems from his extensive background as a shooter both competitively and as a special agent in the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations.
After a former shooting coach suggested that he apply for the position, he instantly gained interest because of what the program stood for.
“Once I became the coach, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Davis. “Just because you’re a good shooter doesn’t mean you’ll be a good coach. The experience was a sink or swim situation because I received little guidance on how to coach. However, I took the time to learn about my athletes, their injuries and mindsets while they learned how to shoot effectively from me.
“As a bond starts to form and they start listening to the coaching advice, they realize the skills they possess through positive reinforcement,” Davis added. “It can be a challenging process but if they stay focused, they can become good at shooting."
According to Davis, one of the biggest challenges is getting the athletes to see that their lives aren’t over as they attempt to come to grips with the reality of their injury.
Retired Air Force Capt. Amanda Frey experienced this sustaining a traumatic brain injury from a convoy rollover in Iraq. Her condition put her job and engineering hopes at stake.
While dwelling on what to do next with her life, she joined the Wounded Warriors and discovered shooting as a therapeutic hobby. Before shooting competitively, she met Davis at the Air Force Trials competition in 2016 who has helped her refigure her life’s purpose.
Frey credits his influential guidance for making the sport easy to grasp and the Wounded Warrior Program’s community support for helping her to constantly seek improvement.
"'Check yourself at the door' is a phrase Davis often says," said Frey. "No matter what is going on in our lives, clearing our minds to have that mental focus to perform the task is his goal for us when shooting. I've carried this purpose into my own life towards reaching my own goals."
Since becoming a coach in 2013, Davis has helped more than 75 athletes reach their goals. With goals of his own and his sights set on doing well in an upcoming competition as the captain of the Air Force International Rifle team, the Wounded Warrior program still remains in clear view.
Staring into the crosshairs as bursts of explosions echo from his Anschutz 1913 .22 caliber rifle, Davis continues to refine his own skills in his backyard and at local ranges while reminiscing of his father.
“It’s funny, my father admitted that he didn’t think I’d grasp the sport like I did,” said Davis. “On my first shooting encounter, he just wanted to introduce me to the sport. It definitely sparked my interest. It’s the same feeling of watching the athletes. Hopefully I can have and sustain an impact of the rest of my students the way my dad did for me.”