When American Legion Past National Commander Dave Rehbein saw tears in the eyes of a competitor coming off the firing line following the Legion’s 26th annual Junior 3-Position National Air Rifle Championships, he understood her emotions. For both Rehbein and the competitor, Saturday’s Legion air rifle competition at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., marked their final match.
After 26 years of service and dedication to the Legion’s national air rifle tournament, Rehbein is retiring from the program as the chief range officer – a position he's held for the past four years. While it’s hard leaving a program he loves, Rehbein reminded the competitor and himself that “it’s not about what’s behind us; it’s about what’s in front of us,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of doing many, many things in The American Legion. This ranks up there with anything else that might have been an accomplishment.”
Rehbein was asked to be a part of the Legion’s Junior Shooting Sports Program (JSSP) from its start in 1990, 18 years before he was elected national commander. He has seen many changes with the program over the years, from the sport growing nationwide to advancement in technology with the electronic scoring. But the biggest change he said is the caliber of shooters that come to the Legion’s national tournament.
“The comment was made to me that first year that we had precision gear but no precision (category) shooters. That’s changed,” Rehbein said. More than 1,500 high school marksmen competed in the Legion’s postal match tournament this year to become one of 30 competitors to advance to the finals held every year in July at the Olympic Training Center.
Rehbein said next summer will be different knowing he won’t be traveling to Colorado to connect with friends, meet new ones and see the caliber of shooters the program is putting out.
“There’s a lot of friendships among the staff; it becomes a very close-knit group,” Rehbein said. “But we also see many of the same coaches and parents bringing more than one shooter out here. It’s nice to have maintained those kind of friendships. And I’ll miss just spending four days out here getting to know the kids on the line.
“Our shooters are very respectful because they understand all the help that’s gotten them there. We just have a very well-rounded, potentially successful group of people that come out here.”
The American Legion’s youth programs teach and instill invaluable lessons to its participants, and Rehbein said JSSP and Legion Baseball share one in common – ability to recover from a mistake.
“When you send a bad shot down the line, you can’t get it back," he said. "But the next shot you have to be able to get everything back together, emotions aside, and really give it your best shot. And that’s something all shooters in the Legion program are able to do. When you see shooters that can do that, you understand what their potential is like as citizens down the road.”
As the Legion’s JSSP continues to grow and evolve like it has over the past 26 years, Rehbein understands that means new volunteers and new visions for the program. He advises future program Legion volunteers to remember that it’s “about building a team so the staff are all working together. It’s about understanding you can’t ask a dumb question because there’s a lot to learn here. And don’t bring any preconceptions with you as a new volunteer.”
And he too hopes American Legion departments are part of the Shooting Sports program’s growth. “I hope for more departments to get involved with the program and host a championship match so more shooters get a chance to come together and shoot shoulder-to-shoulder,” Rehbein said. “The American Legion can provide that opportunity for kids who may never get a chance otherwise.”
Rehbein left his last Legion national air rifle tournament with a plaque, thanking him for his years of service and dedication. He’s appreciative of the recognition, but mostly “I’m honored by being able to watch the young people of this country shoot for the past 26 years.”