Nearly 100 veterans joined Honored American Veterans Afield’s (HAVA) Family Range Day at the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club in Puyallup, Wash., for a three-day event featuring everything from sling shots to tactical shotguns. The event was the first time HAVA hosted an invitation to the range for veterans in the Pacific Northwest.
“This effort is near and dear to gun companies and those who work in the gun industry,” explained Tom Taylor, HAVA’s Chairman.
“The industry is a very like-minded group, with very many employees who served in the military. Additionally, the gun industry serves our military with products and services so it’s even more important that we support our military every way we can. Since HAVA was founded in 2007, support in the gun industry has remained very consistent with over 50 companies involved and many other people and organizations involved in various ways.”
Veterans from multiple wars and service branches were able to experience sling shots, archery, trap shooting and shooting steel targets with Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs), tactical shotguns and pistols with red dot optics. Invited guests were supplied with backpacks filled with gifts from supporting companies within the firearm industry. Raffle prizes were awarded to several veterans including Sig Sauer Romeo optics, handguns from Sig Sauer and Glock, as well as a Mossberg 930 JM Pro shotgun donated by NSSF.
Small Group, Big Mission
HAVA was formed by a small group of volunteers within the firearm and ammunition industry. It’s still an all-volunteer organization. The idea was to create a program in which firearm and ammunition manufacturers, along with other firearm-related companies, could create events that would 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 interaction, connection and healing by gathering veterans together is the goal.
“HAVA was never intended to be the largest military non-profit but rather an organization formed and run by industry volunteers who care for each individual veteran or military service member,” Taylor explained. “We wanted those who attend our events to understand they are the most important person in the world at that moment, and that life has great things to offer going forward. After serving 17,000+ since 2007, we’ve always felt if we helped just one person feel better about their life and their re-integration to the civilian world or in some cases, even saved one life, all of the time and effort was worth it… for that one life.”
HAVA has been reaching out to veterans for invitational range days and hunting excursions for years. These were large events in the past but were scaled back when the COVID-19 pandemic limited the number of attendees. Instead of hosting one large day with up to 200 veterans and their guests, the events were scaled back to 50 guests at a time but run over the course of three days. That turned out to be an unexpected lesson. That’s what HAVA did for veterans near Seattle-Tacoma.
“While HAVA continues to support some of our large events such as our flagship San Antonio Police Department/HAVA Family Range Day, COVID taught us we had to find creative new ways to reach veterans at smaller events,” Taylor explained. “This led us to smaller, but more immersive events, with a focus on being near some of our sponsors geographically. It turns out that we were able to develop an even stronger bond with the participants in the smaller events.”
That doesn’t mean the big events won’t be coming back. There are already plans to get hundreds of veterans back to the range on one day.
“Going forward, HAVA will now re-engage in our large events when possible, but increase the number of smaller, more hands on events in more locations,” Taylor added.
Mark Oliva is Director, Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Zaire.