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A Citizen Soldier’s Shooting Sports 4-H Story

Pointing kids in the right direction is not what Thomas Sage of Black Hawk County thought he would be doing when he returned from his National Guard deployment. However, Sage has since dedicated his time, energy and skills to becoming an inspirational 4-H shooting sports instructor.

“I really didn’t know when I got back from Afghanistan what I was going to do. I was tired and frustrated with a lot of things,” said Sage. Sage is currently in the National Guard and was previously a United States Marine. He has completed two combat deployments.

“When I got back from my tour in Afghanistan, I was asked to help start a new 4-H program in our county, shooting sports,” said Sage. “I saw this as an excellent opportunity to give something back to the community, and it’s something I really enjoy doing.”

Sage is not alone in volunteering with 4-H. More than 10,000 Iowa volunteers are members of the proud group who contributed time, energy and expertise to help youth strengthen life skills through 4-H learning experiences in 2009.

4-H Shooting Sports
Sage learned how to shoot a gun at a young age with his father and grandfather. While serving in the Marines, he was able to hone his shooting skills through practice and discipline.

“It is a life skill that is fun, practical and teaches the kids to be safe and responsible,” said Sage. “We treat every one of our 4-H’ers as a young adult. They respond to this kind of environment in a positive manner.”

Shooting Sports has been a part of 4-H since the 1980s, but an Iowa program did not develop until 2003. Today the shooting sports program requires instructors be certified and continues to teach youth the self-confidence, personal discipline, responsibility and sportsmanship required for the use of firearms. Shooting sports is just one of many project areas for Iowa’s 4-H youth who number almost 110,000. Check out this video for more information on 4-H shooting sports.

“4-H shooting sports is a positive way to develop important life skills and provide the opportunity for youth to develop a life-long activity,” said Bryan Whaley, ISU Extension 4-H youth development program specialist.

The following shooting sports disciplines are currently available in Iowa: archery, rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader and wildlife skills. An annual state match showcases 4-H’er abilities in the shooting disciplines, as well as communication and exhibition options. 4-H members also have an opportunity to qualify for the National Invitational Team.

4-H Lessons
Sage has made 4-H a life-long activity and credits his 4-H involvement for success later in life.

“My 4-H background was indispensable. It gave me the skills to be a leader of Marines early on, by giving me the confidence that I needed to get up in front of people and teach,” said Sage. “It also gave me the ability to interact with people that I didn’t know.”

While serving on a training team for the Afghanistan Army in 2005 through 2006, Sage credits his 4-H involvement for helping him relate. Many of the trainees came from rural backgrounds and Sage went above his call of duty to give insight on local agricultural problems.

“4-H is the greatest organization to learn the life skills that I use everyday,” said Sage.

Last year, Sage was recognized as an outstanding 4-H leader completing this third year of involvement. The majority of Iowa 4-H volunteers have been doing so for over five years. Even though Sage is not yet to that mark, he has become highly involved leading the Rifle Training Project, Shotgun Skeet and Clay Pigeon Project, and planning the instruction schedule. Sage also designed the badge reward system for Marksmanship, Sharpshooter and Expert.

“It is the best learning environment I have ever been involved with in my life,” said Sage who is preparing for his third tour of duty this summer.


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