Michael Dechy brought his ninth athlete to participate in The American Legion’s Junior 3-Position Air Rifle Championship in Colorado Springs, Colo., last month. The Legionnaire and retired Marine master sergeant is an instructor for the Freeport (Ill.) High School NJROTC and has been teaching air rifle for 16 years. A few of his athletes have placed in the Legion’s Junior 3-Position Air Rifle Championship – Emma Thompson was the 2016 sporter winner and Gabriel Palmero was the 2015 runner-up in sporter.
“NJROTC is a leadership, patriotism and citizenship program. That’s what we’re trying to build. We get the kids civic-minded,” Dechy said. “We have a really good program. We work hard, the kids (about 105 cadets) practice a couple times a week.”
The American Legion spoke with Dechy about his why to teaching youth marksmanship and his continuous participation in The American Legion program.
The American Legion: What does air rifle teach young athletes that you like?
Dechy: (Air rifle) teaches them a little bit of hardship – they have to work to get anything, they have to work hard to improve. They have to apply the five fundamentals of marksmanship (aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control and follow-through), have personal discipline and personal self-control. That’s one of the best things is safety, accuracy and discipline. Those are the three words I have on a banner in our range.
Safety is number one. Accuracy because everything in life requires accuracy. Discipline, we make sure they’re controlling their sugar intake, water intake to stay hydrated. Just take care of themselves.
Question: Why do you continue to have your athletes participate in The American Legion’s air rifle program?
Dechy: We like The American Legion program because first off it gives the kids another opportunity to compete and because we’ve gotten so many kids into this, the kids look forward to competing because they really want to get in. The kids (who participate) go back and say ‘hey, we stayed in a five-star hotel.’ Again, we come from a very poor community. Some of these kids have never traveled before. One year I brought three kids and of the three kids, two had never been on a plane. They get to come here and see a five-star event, a nice banquet. And what I like about The American Legion is that everybody affiliated with The American Legion is a polished, mature individual that sets a great example for the kids. It also validates everything that we’re teaching them; they get to see it not just from me.
The opportunity for the kids to actually get this far, they go back and tell everyone what it’s all about. Then those young kids are like, ‘I’m going to go next year and do everything I can.’ So it helps them to focus. Emma Thompson is a great proof of source. (Thompson graduated from the Universisty of Illinois and is now attending flight school in Pensacola, Fla., as a U.S. Navy officer. Dechy helped commission her on May 18, 2023.)
And then there’s Gabriel. That kid is off the charts. He used his money from (The American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle Championships) to get an aviation certificate at Rockford College. Now he works for John Deere, and he does all the GreenStar satellite communication with the tractors. He got married last year, he’s going to have a baby. He has a great job. Participating in The American Legion program, sorry I’m getting choked up, helped him.
The American Legion provides a pathway for these kids to see a sophisticated system that is full of checks and balances and accuracy and making sure that everyone is fair and playing by the rules. It’s an integrity-based program. A polished, professional environment, with integrity, accuracy and self-discipline.