Range Officer Feature: Bruce Tillotson

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Ready on the right? Ready on the left? Ready on the firing line. If you’ve been to Camp Perry for the National Matches, you’ve heard those words time and time again. The range officers have the important job of ensuring the matches run safely and efficiently, but more than that, becoming part of the CMP NM Support Team is an experience that will leave you with lifelong friendships, a sense of community, and give you a unique way to be a part of the historic National Matches at Camp Perry.

Kathy Harding, CMP’s chief range officer, explains the primary responsibility of a range officer is safety: Making sure magazines are out, actions are open and safety flags in. Each line range officer is assigned a section of firing points to be in charge of, usually around 10, but it depends on the match.

“Some other duties include pit to line communication for things like marking targets, assisting with challenges and communicating with center line if an armorer is needed, delay updates or competitor issues,” she said. A newer range officer will be assigned a place between two experienced range officers so they’re never far away from someone who can help. If you don’t know what any of that means, don’t worry there is training for that!

Bruce communicates with a competitor to resolve an issue during a long range match.

Meet Bruce Tillotson. He has been part of the CMP NM Support Team at the National Matches as a Range officer for nine years. He is from Lodgepole, Nebraska, a small town with a population of 314 that boasts a gas station and a post office. He works installing solar water systems for ranchers to pump water for the cattle. In 2014, he saw an ad in the NRA American Rifleman Magazine looking for volunteers and decided to come give it a try. Although Bruce has been volunteering at Camp Perry for 9 years, he considers himself a newbie compared to some of the other support team members. 

The first year was a learning curve for Bruce; everything was new and a little overwhelming. After one of the matches there was a group of range officers sitting in a table at the end of the day in the shade and invited Bruce to join as he walked by. “They had seen me struggling and so that’s when I learned the value of having somebody else that you can talk with about what went on in the day, get advice and you know, camaraderie or so.” This moment inspired Bruce to get together with three or four range officers to stay in a house on the base each year. 

Range Officers attend a training session before National Matches begin.

He invites the new and returning range and pit officers over to the house for food and drinks at the end of each day. He knows how overwhelming it can be. If they’re on their own, they’re less likely to return.  “If they have somebody to share their experiences with, you have somebody else that has been through the same thing then, maybe it isn’t so bad.” By providing a safe space to vent and learn from seasoned professionals, Bruce said he hopes that new support staff members won’t be so overwhelmed and be more likely to return the following year. Bruce has had over 16 people at the house for an evening of burgers and beverages!

A National Guard soldier helps to as a range officer for the Rimfire Match.

Bruce enjoys shooting WWI and pre-WWI rifles at a 1,000 yard steel range back at home, so he doesn’t participate in the National Matches but many of the Range Officers do while they’re here. 

Range officer indicating that the line is clear with a green paddle.

One of the best parts that keeps Bruce coming back year after year is watching different levels of marksmen and seeing the same faces year after year. “My favorite part is always the end of the day when you sit down, and the chaos is over. But the other thing is we get to see some really good shooters. And after you recognize a competitor who’s been here a couple of years, you can actually see that they’ve gotten better.”

Range officers check that weapons are free of magazines, actions open and yellow safety flag is inserted before declaring that the line is clear.

The range officer community is very welcoming and fun. Aside from the after-work dinners at Bruce’s place, Harding describes them as a family, especially when people stay as long as five weeks. Many of the support staff have days where they compete in matches too. So, if you’re considering volunteering for the 2024 National Matches, it’s likely to be an experience you won’t soon forget.

Gary Stevens and Mike Albracht pose for a photo at a match on Viale Range.

Find out more on the CMP NM Support Team by visiting https://thecmp.org/cmp-national-matches/competition-support-team-members/.

The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.

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