Tinker marksman shoots for Olympic squad |
Posted 10/23/2009 Updated 10/23/2009
by John Stuart
Tinker Public Affairs
10/23/2009 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Fit your palm neatly into the ergonomic pistol grip and feel it snugly against your firing hand. Check.
Take several deep breaths to lower your heart rate. Check.
Next, raise your pistol above the target and slowly release a breath as you center on the bull's-eye. Roger.
Apply constant trigger pressure until the .22 round fires. If the report doesn't surprise you, you are wrong.
It sounds simple. An apple a day. Take two of these and see me in the morning. A plug-and-play formula for marksmanship success on the pistol range.
But think again.
Come to find out it's not so easy to hit a three-inch bull's-eye from 50 meters with an iron-sight pistol held with one hand. Actually it's on the threshold of implausible. But don't tell that to Alexander Callage. He eats bull's-eyes for breakfast.
"The theory of it is really simple but in reality it's something people struggle with a lot," Callage says of marksmanship form. "You're always going to have motion no matter what. The key thing is to accept that motion and just stay on the trigger."
At just 20 years old, the soft-spoken, straight-talking Callage carries himself with the air of an older soul. The Airman keeps his answers on topic and his goals honed with the accuracy only a master marksman can muster.
Most people don't spend 12 hours a week obsessing about the intricacies of how their next pistol shot will be better than their last.
But Callage isn't like most people.
His training bywords are a boon for any upstanding military member: precision, consistency, determination.
The 2007 high school graduate spent the entire year following his senior year doing one thing: improving his marksmanship. With a hefty diet of target, breathing and concentration drills, he boosted his scores from impressive to, feasibly, Olympic grade.
"Before I enlisted, when I was training full time, I was shooting live fire about five days a week and also dry firing at night," Callage says. "I was working out to try to keep a low heart rate and doing different types of mental training and a lot of competitions."
At a time when many 18-year-olds are sleeping in till noon and amassing the "freshman 15" in college, the marksman had a pointedly different ethos for his time. And as a testament to his hard work, the medals came rolling in.
In June, Callage accomplished what no one expected, including himself. Fresh out of basic training and technical school, the Airman stepped into the junior national USA Shooting competition out of shape. He hadn't laid hands on a pistol in months, but that didn't stop the Maryland native from becoming the top-ranked junior shooter in the country.
"I hadn't touched my guns for about eight months or so and I went out there and won three gold medals, so everyone was kind of like, 'How did you do that,'" Callage says nonchalantly.
"Nationals were a big deal to a lot of people. The national coach was impressed, the Olympic coach was happy with (my scores). The Air Force pistol team was happy about it."
In September Callage struck again. Although he competed against only one other shooter in the junior (under 21) category, he claimed a gold and silver medal in the Army's Champion of Champions match at Fort Benning, Ga.
With a bevy of previous medals in his showcase, Callage was asked to join the U.S. National Development Team in 2008 to craft his two events -- 50-meter free pistol and 10-meter air pistol -- into a science of Olympic proportion.
Callage is on the elite, three-member Air Force-wide pistol team and has an application in the pipeline for the World Class Athlete Program. If selected, he will report to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in July 2010 to vie for a spot in the 2012 London Summer Games. Only two pistol shooters are chosen to represent the United States, and if selected for WCAP, Callage would still have to compete for a spot in the London spotlight.
With a start in the sport when he was 14 years old, the Airman loves the discipline of shooting. "It really all comes down to what you do, your preparation, your equipment," Callage says.
"There are a lot of things that go into competitive shooting. Not only because it's so difficult but because there's this huge mental aspect when you get into this high level shooting.
"There are a lot of people that shoot or hunt, but competitive shooting is just a lot different in and of itself. Everything is precision based, it's very structured and disciplined. I just enjoy the competition and the amount of precision involved with it. It's something that's very addicting."
Callage got his start close to home, at the 12th Precinct Pistol Club in Harwood, Md., not far from the Pentagon and several Air Force bases. It was here that he rubbed shoulders, from an early age, with some of the Air Force's most elite shooters. Callage's scores got a further boost under the tutelage of his eminent shooting coach, retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Kathy Callahan, who serves as the current U.S. Naval Academy pistol coach. Callage was destined, it seems, for an Air Force marksman's life.
But in a sport that's decided by fractions of an inch, the world's marksmanship elites must first overcome their most formidable adversary: themselves. Matches are won and lost in the expanses of the mind, where mental control equates to victory.
"The mental aspect is big. The main thing is finding what works for you," Callage says. "The basic fundamentals of it will get everyone to a certain point but after that it's finding what works for you individually."
He has a specific way to deal with his own competition jitters.
"I try not to focus on score, I try to focus on the process to execute a good shot," Callage says. "It always comes down to sight alignment and trigger control. For me I'm just normally a pretty calm person. I just try not to think about things too much and just focus on what I need to do to execute good shots. Try to keep it simple."
Callage recognizes the people who support his shooting endeavors, which pull him away from regular duties about three weeks a year.
"The big thing is how supportive my shop has been," says Callage, a bio/environmental engineer with the 72nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron. "When I go on these trips for a week that's one less person manning the shop and without my shop and the workers and supervisors there none of this would really happen."
With his application in the works for WCAP, Callage is hoping to learn if he is accepted in several months. In the meantime it's business as usual, accuracy a must. Precision as a lifestyle.
"I'm just working toward the Olympic team and going to national events and the key part is international events," Callage says. "I want to make the (WCAP) team and the Olympics, to represent the Air Force and the U.S. in international pistol."
With his track record and work ethic, Callage has the tools to succeed at the highest level. And the bull's-eye never lies. This Airman is no shot in the dark.