Sadly, this program has suffered greatly since Heritage Shooting Inc. and NRA Field Representative Scott Taetsch ended statewide coordination in 2016. Heritage denied the use of the rifles used for this program and deceptively did not apply for ammunition for 2017. Volunteers from Beloit, Sheboygan, and Wausau struggled, but held camps in 2017. Without statewide coordination, only these three of the six camps offered the program. Only 230 of the average 300-400 Marine recruits attended.
In 2018, the program suffered another blow when the Marines suspended all “Poolee” events they deem higher risk, including at the last minute, this program. According to the 9th Marine Corps District, they could not get approval due to issues at events in other districts. As Wisconsin has a phenomenal safety record, they stated that it was absolutely not due to this program. It remains to be seen if the program will survive, especially without statewide coordination.
Starting in 2004, all signed Marine recruits (Poolees) from the 9th Marine Corps District have had the option of attending the Armed Forces Camp prior to leaving for “boot” camp. 5558 recruits have attended since inception. In 2011, the Marines reported that only one recruit of the first 2800 attendees failed to qualify - an unheard-of accomplishment. A Poolee is a young man or woman who has made the decision to serve our country by enlisting in the United States Marine Corps and is waiting in a “Pool” of like-minded individuals, training and preparing to take on the challenge of Marine Corps Recruit Training at one of two Recruit Training Depots - San Diego, CA (males) or Parris Island, SC (females and some males). One is not considered a Marine until after they have successfully completed the 13 weeks of Recruit Training, qualified in several skills (rifle range, swimming, first-aid, martial arts, etc.), and passed the 54 hour “Crucible” (simulated combat environments over a 50+ mile course in full combat gear with a total of four to six hours of sleep across the event). It is the most difficult Recruit Training in the world, an estimated one in five Recruits will NOT finish Recruit Training successfully. Those recruits that DO finish Recruit Training successfully earn the title of United States Marine. It is truly “The Few, The Proud.”
The recruits that attend a U.S. Armed Forces Camp are introduced to the M16/AR15 type rifle. The course simply gives them a quick overview of the rifle and allows the Poolee to safely handle and fire 25 rounds of live ammo through the rifle. Originally created by Heritage Shooting Inc. volunteers with the assistance of USMC Master Gunnery Sergeant Mike Krueger, this program was designed to introduce young Poolees to the M16. Although there are opportunities for education and training with firearms before enlistment, many of the recruits have not had any type of proper training, have not handled an AR, or even had the opportunity to fire a gun. The goal is to help build confidence and help prepare young men and women who have committed themselves to defending our great nation and cherished freedoms.
A recruit that arrives at basic training in good physical condition has an advantage over one that doesn’t. Those that arrive out of shape still have a good chance of becoming a Marine with the help of the Marine staff, but that road is longer and harder. The Armed Forces Camp is not designed to make them Expert Marksmen, but prepares them for the finest instruction in the world. The program has been constantly updated to improve the opportunity offered to the Poolees. The goal is to make the program available for as many recruits as possible. This is accomplished by keeping it a single day event and restricting the instruction to just introduce the recruit to the rifle and the Marine Corps safety and training procedures. With this advantage the recruits that attend have an edge as the Marines make riflemen out of all of them with their state of the art training facility.
The first camp, known as “The Poolee Program,” was held at Heritage Shooting Inc. located at Stone Bank Sportsmen’s Club, Ashippun, Wisconsin. Heritage was formed in 1995 to foster and promote the shooting sports by educating the public, especially youth, promoting hunter safety and ethics, and fostering and encouraging the rights of American citizens to own and bear arms as provided by the Constitution. Heritage has developed several training/introductory programs, including the Armed Forces Camp, that are now offered nationally by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
At the inaugural camp in 2004, only the local Wisconsin recruiting stations, Milwaukee and Racine, were invited with 165 recruits attending. In 2005, volunteer and Marine father, John Nielson, created the PowerPoint Briefing for the recruits, and the Sheboygan recruiting station was added.
In 2006, Marine Chief Warrant Officer “5” Scott Reinhardt came on board as the one Marine constant contact for the program. Reinhardt called the range commands up until he retired in 2014. The first three years the camp was held at the Heritage facility in Ashippun, Wisconsin with attendees being bused in to attend. Beloit Rifle Club, Beloit Wisconsin, and the LaCrosse Rifle Club, LaCrosse Wisconsin, were added in 2007, opening up additional opportunities for the recruits. In 2008 NRA Board of Director Buster Bachhuber helped expand the program to Wausau, Wisconsin, held at the Duane L. Corbin County Shooting Range, utilizing local volunteers. In 2009, Stone Bank Sportsmen’s Club, Ashippun, Wisconsin, home of Heritage Shooting Inc., underwent a range upgrade and Sheboygan Rifle and Pistol Club, Sheboygan Wisconsin, came on board as a host club to offer another location and fill in for Heritage until the range work was completed in 2010 when Heritage again hosted a camp along with the Nicolet Rifle Club, Suamico, Wisconsin.
The attendees of the Wausau Camp in 2008 had the privilege to meet now retired NRA Secretary and Marine Corps legend, Major Edward J. (Jim) Land (Ret.). Mr. Land’s 24-year Marine Corps career included training the Corps most famous sniper, Carlos Hathcock. Land was also Officer in Charge of the First Marine Division of Scout-Sniper program and USMC Marksmanship Coordinator, just to name a few of his many contributions. At the Wausau camp, Mr. Land coached several recruits on the firing line. His knowledge is widely known, but his ability to immediately connect with the recruits one-on-one was truly impressive.
After volunteering as a coach starting in 2005, in 2009 Jeff Nass took the helm as Camp Coordinator, working with the Marines and volunteers to offer the program. Participants begin by receiving a classroom briefing by Nass on firearms safety, sight alignment, trigger control, nomenclature, Marine line commands, and basic operation of the AR15/M16 rifle.
In October of 2014, Nass was honored to visit the Edson Range and Training facilities at Camp Pendleton, California. The Marines have updated training and have an extremely modern facility adapting their training methods to continue the time held tradition of the making of a “Marine.” Once home, the program was updated including the Marine Corps firing line commands and range operational procedures. A post range briefing was suggested by Battalion Gunner V.H. Kyzer, who was in charge of overseeing the Weapons and Field Training Battalion, Camp Pendleton. The Wisconsin Armed Forces Camp utilizes AR15-A2 rifles with conventional iron sights. The post briefing introduces the recruits to the Rifle Combat Optic (RCO) currently used in the recruits’ basic training. Nass reworked the program for 2015 with assistance and approval of the staff at Camp Pendleton.
With all the changes in 2015, Armed Forces Camp Director Nass traveled the state prior to the camps, briefing 75 volunteer coaches that support the program. Because of the great response from Camp Pendleton and the recruits that have attended in the past, we were excited about the changes that should greatly enhance the preparedness of these great young men and women.” To quote one our female coaches, coaching for the first time, “I have to share that, for me, it was a bit emotional and inspiring to see these young people freely offering themselves to defend our country. A few times I felt myself 'choking' up a bit. We are so blessed to live in the country we do. And I felt honored to be a small part of it.” “I would say that sums it up. Coaches, staff, Friends of NRA committee members, supporters and banquet attendees that supported the camps know that great feeling of doing a small part in protecting this great Nation.” Nass said.
2016 was the last year that statewide coordination allowed the camps to be held at six locations across the state of Wisconsin.
This program is offered Marine Corps Recruiting Station Milwaukee (9th Marine Corps District), which covers Wisconsin and parts of Illinois, Minnesota, and Upper Michigan. The program would not have been possible without funding through the NRA Foundation and specifically the Wisconsin Friends of NRA which up until 2014, funded most of the program. Additional donors for camp supplies or expenses include DPMS (12-AR15A2 rifles), Colt (6-AR15A2 rifles), an anonymous donor that has donated 31,000 rounds of ammunition used in 2014 through 2016, R&R Reloading, American Target, ValleyLaser, D&H Manufacturing, and Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs, and Educators.