In the early morning light at the start of a 100 degree August day in southern Idaho, the following dedication was read aloud:
“Captain Ronald G. Luce died while conducting combat operations in Qole Gerdsar, Afghanistan, August 2, 2009 while serving as the Special Forces Team Commander with Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Luce, 27, was killed when a command wire improvised explosive device struck his vehicle while deploying to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom….”
Suddenly, competing in the 3-gun match we were attending seemed inconsequential. We felt small. More than a few eyes moistened as the reading went on to describe Captain Luce’s background, training, and decorations which included a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Eleven competitors listened to the dedication while similar readings were going on across the Parma Rod and Gun Club. Over two days of 3-gun competition such dedications were read before every stage, as competitors honored veterans who died in combat. This was no ordinary competition. It was the 3 Guns 4 Vets match, and it would have a bigger impact on this writer than any other competition had before.
The 3G4V match was a fundraiser for the organization by the same name. In August of 2015 Mike Meehan founded 3G4V, a group dedicated to helping veterans who struggle to adjust back to civilian life. Having spent many years in harm’s way taking it to our enemies, Mike Meehan’s new calling is saving the lives of fellow veterans. With so many veterans returning from active duty only to find no support structure, no connections like they had overseas, and no team, re-adjustment to civilian life can be overwhelming. For many it is literally a life or death struggle. Roughly 20 veterans commit suicide a day. This is a serious issue. 3G4V is a small, but promising organization dedicated to helping our veterans make the transition from active duty to living state side.
Upon returning from multiple deployments overseas Mike found himself at odds with his wife, his family, and the world. He fell into a deep void. He was rescued almost by accident. He had never been into competitive shooting, but it would be competing in 3-gun that would ultimately save him. Though still active duty today with over 17 years of service, Mike’s true passion is recreating a support structure that helped him at his darkest time.
For those who don’t know, 3-gun is a rapidly growing shooting sport that involves competing with a rifle, shotgun, and pistol. Scoring systems vary, but fast accuracy is the common denominator. Not neutralizing a target adds penalty seconds, and the shortest overall time wins. Matches include several courses of fire called stages. Competitors are read a stage description and then given five minutes to figure out how to shoot it. The 3-gun community is a competitive bunch, but as Mike would learn it is also a welcoming group.
Mike Meehan’s career has spanned service in the infantry, as a pilot, and as a sniper and sniper team leader. In February 2005 Mike’s best friend Zachary Ryan Wobbler was killed in action after engaging enemy insurgents that were setting up an IED. This started a downward spiral for Mike. He went on to do three more deployments in Iraq, but when he got back stateside he had challenges. “Some want to call it PTSD, or anger issues or whatever,” said Mike. “That was the first time I was back home after Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. I didn’t know how to adapt. Things got really bad for me, for my wife, for my family and I had to go and seek some counseling to get myself on track. It just wasn’t working.”
“I had some buddies from Ranger Battalion who were filming a commercial for the History Channel. Ian Harrison was the host of the show. They were looking for some extras to knock down some doors and blow some stuff up so my buddy called me. Ian invited a few of us to go out shooting the next weekend. Afterwards Ian said ‘you need to come out and shoot a 3-gun match.’ Ian pulled some strings and got Travis Gibson to let me be a Range Officer at the 2008 MGM Ironman 3-gun match.”
“As soon as I showed up to Ironman, I felt an immediate welcoming atmosphere. I was shooting with civilians, first responders, cooks, reporters, you name it. Everyone from all walks of life, but they all had a hobby and they were all willing to share what they knew about it. I had never been to an event where everyone was willing to help each other out. I ended up making friends with a lot of people out there.”
“I didn’t think much about the exchange of contact information at the time. I got back home and I was getting phone calls and emails to see when we were going to shoot together again. What I started noticing and my family started noticing was that I was changing. It was making a daily impact on my life. Things just started getting better – better with my family, with my wife. I was able to concentrate on school and my job. Every time I went to shoot a match and I saw these people it was like ‘Hey how’s life going? How’s your wife? How’s your kid? How’s school? How’s work?’”
For eight years Mike competed in 3-gun, but he never told anyone he was suffering. “The whole time I was with them they had no idea that they were actually curing me” said Mike. “It didn’t take pills; it didn’t take a therapist; it just took camaraderie. It took the experience of shooting 3-gun and being in the same kind of environment I was in when I was downrange. It was just a different group of people, but it was everything I needed to get me back on track.”
Mike credits not only the welcoming 3-gun community with his recovery, but the nature of shooting sports themselves. “3-gun and 3G4V just happens to be the thing we are doing and the name,” said Mike. “It’s what did it for me, but 3G4V is about any form of shooting that gets a vet off his ass, on the range and back in life.” Sean Pearsall, formerly of 11 Bravo, was one of the first veterans to go through the 3G4V program. Sean told Mike what he really enjoyed about 3-gun was when he was looking at a stage trying to figure out where to shoot and reload, it was very similar to what he did when he was downrange. Each mission involved extensive planning – what to do if the group had to react to contact, where to go if there were casualties, etc. Quoting Sean, Mike said “A light went off and he thought ‘How could a vet not relate to this? You have camaraderie, a sport, and guns and you still have #$%@ talking.’” He continued, “What was similar is that when we were downrange we were doing all that planning with people we trusted, with brothers and sisters,” said Mike. “And here we are at a 3-gun match but we are still with friends – people who I may not know but they are there to help me. There is no personal gain for any of these people. They are just in it because of their passion for the hobby and the sport. And they enjoy sharing it with others.”
Once Mike realized it was 3-gun that had been helping him he tried to figure out how to help others. “My wife says I have a big heart, but I didn’t know what to do. What I realized is when soldiers are downrange we do a fantastic job of taking care of one another over there because that is what we have to do. But when we get back home we don’t know how to take care of each other because we are trying to take care of ourselves. And we don’t know how to do that either because we are in an environment we are not used to. We aren’t used to being back and around kids and driving cars on regular roads and all the normal things we experience back home. We start seeing our friends drop off the wagon. When I saw that, I was so busy trying to take care of myself that I couldn’t help my friends out. I felt like [crap], because this entire time I had been tapping into this resource. I was pulling all this good stuff out of something and I wasn’t sharing it with anybody,” he said. But on his 35th birthday his wife asked him about doing something, about starting 3G4V. “She asked me about it” said Mike. “And I sold off a bunch of my possessions and I put my garage band together.”
These days there are many veteran assistance organizations popping up because the need is so great. A key difference between 3G4V and other organizations is the numbers. “One thing is we emphasize quality over quantity,” stated Meehan. “We are only about a year old. We have graduated just eight veterans so far, but these are some of the most impressive Americans I know.” Mike’s goal originally was to graduate 36 veterans a year – 3 per quarter from west coast, east coast, and central. By keeping the program small he hopes to ensure the people they are spending their resources on are those who are truly going to benefit from the program.
The other difference is follow through. Once Mike’s veterans complete their training they go on a distribution list and Mike stays in contact with them. Actually, through social media they all stay in touch with each other. “I send out a weekly text every Monday to all the graduates of our program. It could be random stuff, anything really, but it’s just to stay connected. And all the [smack]-talking that comes back from one of those texts is amazing. In no time it will be three pages of texts going back and forth between guys who may not have ever met each other on a range, but it’s like they are best friends.”
When you meet Mike and hear him speak about 3G4V his unwavering commitment is powerful. “If the veterans who have literally put their lives on the line for me are in trouble and need help, I owe it to them to do my part and follow through on my oath,” said Mike. “I wish I had done this five years ago and I feel bad that I didn’t. I wish I had been doing this forever – helping other veterans find what I have found, which is just a little bit of peace man. Really that’s it.”
As mentioned at the start of this article, in the 3G4V match I attended, a short memorial for a fallen veteran was read before each stage. The stories were about people Mike and his team had served directly with overseas. The stages were dedicated to those men and women. Hearing the stories of these veterans who gave everything really put things into perspective. To say it was moving is a gross understatement. “The reason we read the memorials from some of our fallen veterans before each stage of the match is to point out to everyone the sacrifice these great people made for us all,” said Mike. “It is not to mourn them, but to honor them. The second reason we do this is for everyone who is gone, there is the one who is left. These are the people we are after.”
3G4V uses some very talented 3-gun shooters as coaches to train the people going through the program. They professional shooters who are friends of Mike’s he has been shooting with over the past eight years: Travis Gibson, Craig Outzen, Tennille Gibson Chidester, Mo Shaw, Rob Romero, Nick Zachman, and others. “I can’t say enough about these coaches,” said Mike. “They are just as active in this as we are. We cover safety considerations and ready positions, but I think we get a lot more out of the impromptu approach. We aren’t training these guys to be grand masters or to win their first 3-gun match. We are teaching them how to get through a stage without disqualifying or hitting the par time on a stage [reaching the maximum time limit]. Our main goal really isn’t to introduce them to the sport. It’s to get them into the community.”
Sponsors provide 3G4V with prize table items for their matches as well as training gear for program participants. Mike is beyond enthusiastic about these companies, “We have some AMAZING sponsors. I owe where I’m at in life and this program to the huge hearts of my friends and sponsors. They are crucial to what we are doing. I’m a voice and I thank God every day that they listen to what I have to say. At the end of the day even with everything I sold off to start this organization we wouldn’t be where we are without them. Our sponsors are as much a part of 3G4V as I am. We are very selective about our sponsors to ensure they are in it for the right reasons.” The 3G4V sponsor list includes Seekins Precision, MGM Targets, Safariland, Warne, 3 Gun Nation, K E Arms, SKB, Vortex Optics, Zero Bravo, C-Rums, and other great companies.
3G4V is funded by Mike’s initial investment and by putting on 3-gun matches. They have also raffled some items off to raise funds. There are no financial donations to the company. Mike and his team are actively involved in the matches they run. They organize the matches, set up targets, and are present sharing their message.
Mike’s ultimate end goal is that 3G4V becomes the first veterans shooting program that is about getting veterans into competitive shooting. He would like to use 3G4V to raise the level of Second Amendment awareness, and get rid of the stigma that guns are weapons of destruction. Says Mike, “I’d like to change that and show people that they are tools of healing. I’d love to have IDPA or USPSA or whatever shooting discipline is out there provide experiences for our veterans and I’d like 3G4V help to do that.”
For anyone reading this that either might be interested or knows someone who they think might benefit from 3G4V, just go to their website (www.3gun4vets.com) and fill out the application to start the process. It’s that simple to start. The initial process takes about 10 days, but it takes three weeks to a month to get an applicant on the range.
The fact that some outreach from 3-gunners can make a difference in the life of veterans is striking. But just as powerful is the impact that little act of support has on those reaching out. When I shot the 3G4V match last August I walked away nothing short of moved. We had a graduate from the program on our squad and during the two day match he opened up a bit about his service to some of us. His experience and the sacrifice he made for each of us is daunting. By his own words the program was working for him, and we could see why. He was on our team so we helped him. We watched out for each other as we attacked each stage. The common enemy was the clock and the targets, and we all went after them together. We struggled together, we triumphed together, and we celebrated together. I stay in touch with him to this day. Through 3-gun competition 3G4V is saving lives.