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124th Fighter Wing marksmen host local vets for shooting, camaraderie

2/29/2012 BOISE, Idaho -- Idaho Air National Guard airmen host local veterans to honor their sacrifice and share in the camaraderie of target shooting.

Richard Nelson's fondness for accuracy and precision goes back nearly 70 years to when he used to send messages in Morse code as a young radioman serving in the U.S. Navy.

Just as he still remembers Morse code today, he still finds ways to use his penchant for accuracy by taking aim with a .22-caliber target rifle a few times a year with the help of the Airmen of the 124th Fighter Wing Marksmanship Team.

Nelson and other residents of the Boise Veterans Home were the team's honored guests, Feb. 29, for some fun and friendly competition at the Boise Rifle and Pistol Club.

"It's our way of giving back and thanking them for their sacrifice," said Chief Master Sgt. William Mattravers, the team's captain and longtime veterans supporter.

Wednesdays are normally reserved for team practices. The team practices year-round, both outdoors at the Black's Creek Range during the summer and indoors at the Boise Rifle and Pistol Club in the winter. The team gladly took a week off from target practice to host the veterans.

The rifles were ready. Boxes of bullets were available at each station for the veterans to fire as much as they wanted. There were even high-visibility targets that, when hit, revealed fluorescent pink and green spots that, even for aged Korean War vets like Nelson, can easily be seen from 25 yards away - the distance from firing line to target.

Chief Mattravers tried to avoid answering questions of where the money came from to buy the special targets and other equipment only made available for these veterans. It was obvious he didn't want any credit or acclaim for buying them out of his own pocket.

"If it wasn't these veterans ahead of us doing what they did, we wouldn't be here," he said.

The crack in his voice made it obvious that the evening with the veterans gave him as much enjoyment as it did the veterans who got away from the veterans home for an evening of target shooting. For many of these wheelchair-bound patriots, it was a rare night out.

The experience was not lost on the younger generation of target shooters, either. Among them was Staff Sgt. Brant Clouss, a security policeman for the 124th Security Forces Squadron, a husband and father with a wife and young children at home who gladly took time away to support the cause.

"They don't need much help shooting. I just reload the gun for them and swap stories, it's a lot of fun," he said.

As Nelson was wheeled away from the shooting line and into the reception area to enjoy some soda, popcorn and other snacks provided by the team, he holds his target high. Dotted with tightly grouped fluorescent green and pink holes, he proudly smiles and simply says "Not too bad at all."

No matter how much success in competition the team has and will continue to enjoy, giving back to the veterans gives them a similar sense of pride.