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Reservist prequalifies for 2016 Olympic Trials

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Timm Huffman
  • HQ RIO Public Affairs
Standing at the 10-meter firing line, Capt. Caitlin Harris slowly raises her precision air pistol. She takes careful aim as she steadies her breathing; a slow, steady in and out. She knows that the moment to pull the trigger will surprise her. A sharp crack pierces the calm.

The Air Force Reserve Individual Mobilization Augmentee and member of the Air Force International Shooting team, would repeat this same, pain-staking procedure over 100 more times on her way to placing first in her division at the 2015 Shooting National Championship, held at Fort Benning, Georgia, June 24 through July 1.

Overall, the sharp shooter finished 18th out of 41 participants and her performance earned a prequalification to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. 

Harris’s first exposure to sport shooting came in high school, when she competed on the national modern pentathlon team, a five-discipline sport consisting of fencing, swimming, horse-back riding, running, and shooting. After starting her studies at the Air Force Academy, she found the shooting club there had nearly died out and helped to breathe new life into it. 

As a young Airman, Harris said what she discovered and enjoyed about shooting was the mental challenge it presented. She said it takes extreme focus and patience to score high marks at a shooting event. In an international shooting competition, participants have 50 minutes to fire 40 shots at a target placed ten meters away. Harris said she will raise her weapon 60 or more times to ensure those shots are placed as precisely as possible. 
Even more challenging, she said, is ignoring the emotional impact of each shot.

“If you’re nervous and shaking and make a bad first shot, you have to ignore that and look at every shot as its own,” she said. “You have to get into a rhythm. What works best is to make it mechanical and not over think it; make each shot the same.”

It was during her time at the Academy that she first learned about the Air Force International Shooting team. Harris said that after her performance at a local event, she was approached by the then-coach of the Air Force shooting team, Col. (ret.) Richard Poore. He told her about the team and invited her to join when she became eligible following graduation. In 2006, she did just that. She would go on to earn a spot at the 2008 Olympic Trials, where she placed in the top 20, as well as the 2012 Olympic Trials.

After representing the Air Force at the 2012 trials, a number of life circumstances, including a permanent change of station and a deployment, caused the sharp shooter to take a break from the firing-line for the next several years. The 2015 national event was her first time back.

To prepare, Harris took an unconventional approach to training. Since she lacked the equipment to recharge her weapon’s air canister and a proper firing range, she relied on her past training and muscle memory. She would stand in her garage and aim at the wall, focusing on her arm raise, breathing and finding a sight picture, before dry-firing her pellet weapon. Only time would tell if her fundamentals were solid enough to score high marks at the competition.

The first thing she had to do before competing at the national championship was to have her Feinwerkbau Model P44 .177 air pistol inspected. She said she was sweating bullets because she wasn’t even sure if her equipment was still legal and fully functional. Fortunately, everything checked out and she moved on to competition.

In past years, Harris said she would feel pressure to benchmark her performance off of other recent competitions. However, because she hadn’t competed in so long, she was able to go into the 2015 event with the goal of just focusing on the competition at hand. As the competition unfolded, Harris found that her fundamentals were solid and her training approach had worked. 

The contracting officer, who is currently serving on active duty orders with the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, said she would like to compete in the Olympic Trials next year, but that it doesn’t look likely. Budget cuts to the Air Force Sports shooting program will likely result in the elimination of her team next year, taking away her opportunity to represent the Air Force at the high-visibility event.

“It would be great to compete and benchmark my performance [against past Olympic Trials],” said Harris. 

Regardless of what happens next fiscal year, Harris knows she is fortunate to have had the Air Force support this aspect of her life for so long. She said the pride she has felt in representing the United States and the Air Force is difficult to put into words.

IMAs are Air Force Reservists assigned to active-duty units and government agencies. They are managed by Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization, located at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, and serve over 50 separate major commands, combatant commands and government agencies.

Unlike traditional Reservists, who are assigned to Reserve units that regularly perform duty together, IMAs work with their active-duty supervisors to create a custom duty schedule to meet mission requirements.