Shooting to the top

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Retired soldier gives whole new meaning to 'shoot the lights out'

In the Canadian Forces, every medal is awarded — only one can be earned. That decoration is the Queen’s Medal, recognizing Forces members judged to be the best shot in the nation. Only two are given out in any year — one to a regular Forces member and one to a reservist.

Two of those medals belong to St. Albert’s own Dave Oakie, who won the Queen’s Medal for reservists in 1978 and again in 1979.

Oakie has been an infantryman, a sniper, a weapons technician and a sports massage therapist. He’s been a member of the regular forces and the reserves, a competitor, trainer and coach. But most significantly, he’s been a champion sharpshooter on both the national and international stage.

“It’s been an amazing career for myself,” Oakie said during a visit at his Mission home. One room in the basement is decorated from one side to the other with all the medals he’s won during the 40 years the retired warrant officer spent in the army, as well as in target shooting competitions.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing,” he said.

That would start with enlisting in the army back in 1971. Posted first to Victoria with the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), the newly-minted private was handed a brochure on how to be a good soldier.

Master your weapon

“The first one on the list was ‘Master your personal weapon,'” Oakie recalled vividly. “I thought, ‘That’s a good way to start. How do I do that?'”

It was his roommate who pointed him in the right direction. When Oakie rolled out of bed to parade and drill, his roommate would disappear with his submachine gun for the entire day. Finally Oakie asked where he spent all his time. That’s when he found out about the rifle teams.

“I don’t like to call military shooting a sport,” he said. “It’s actually a vocation because it’s our bread and butter. It’s what soldiers do. It’s a way of testing them.”

After a transfer to Winnipeg, the rifle team there put out a call for volunteers. Oakie enthusiastically signed up. It was there he met Sgt. Ed Kingston, the team’s coach who took the young soldier and turned him into a champion.

“Some people can coach and recognize talent and they can feed it properly and he was the guy who did it for me. He got it into me that deep that it stayed with me for life,” Oakie said.

It turned out Oakie was a fast learner. In 1974, his first year as a rifle team member, he finished second in the national championship and won the Forces’ award for first-year shooters.

“In 1975 I continued to shoot but it didn’t go as well. I was going for the gusto. When you’re starting off at the top, there’s a chance you’re going to go down.”

But it was only two years later when Oakie, now a corporal, won his first Queen’s Medal after he had left the regular forces and signed up with the reserves. He repeated the following year. On the international side he won five gold team medals along with 18 individual medals. In 1982, Oakie decided to “re-muster” or re-train, now as a weapons technician. He thought his shooting career might come to an end but it only seemed to grow, as he won second place in England at internationals, then followed that up with the team gold medal at the Palma Match in long-range shooting, originally created by the United States. In 1982, Canada hosted the Palma Match and, with Oakie’s steady hand, won. Canada hasn’t won since.

“The host country supplies the rifle all the shooters will use and they chose the rifle I owned, so I was very used to how it handled. It was in my favour,” he said.

Giving back

Oakie continued to compete, even taking up target rifle shooting. But he soon started looking beyond his role in the military and wondered how he could give back. He decided the best way was to be a trainer, a career that has since taken him to the Olympics and helped him stay in touch with the vocation he loves.

“I had my time on the podium and I just wondered, how can I help other athletes get there? And health care was one,” he said.

Oakie eventually moved on to coaching, which he does today with St. Albert’s own 3069 army cadets and their air rifle program. But no matter what else Oakie chooses to do, shooting will always be a part of his life.

“Shooting has a bad reputation come of late, but it’s something you can do for the rest of your life,” he said. “We’re not all criminals.”

Dave Oakie, St. Albert

When you were eight years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“At eight, I wanted to be a soldier. Even the comics I bought were Sgt. Rock or something. I’d get my 25-cent allowance, go to the corner store and buy my 15-cent comic, it was always something like that. Even when I drew stick men, they’d have flames coming out of them or parachutes.”

What was your first car?

“My first car … I think it was a three-quarter-ton GMC pickup.”

What was your first motorbike?

“That was a 1968 350 Yamaha that could mow a blue streak right down the highway.”

What is your greatest accomplishment?

“What I really enjoyed was coaching … to see the results at the end and to see other shooters as I try to take them where I have been. That gives me the best therapy for myself. My greatest individual accomplishment is the Queen’s Medal.”

Why did you decide to live in St. Albert?

“My girlfriend lived here and I was tired of making the commute. The people were great. Everything seemed to be working well. I was living in Gibbons and when the kids filtered away, there were no reasons to be out there anymore.”

Away from work, what do you enjoy doing?

“Shooting. That’s probably my primary interest is recreational shooting. I’ve done a little bit of hunting but not a lot.”

Why should someone join the army?

“They take you from boot camp where you can’t tie your shoelaces and when you leave, you can do everything. It’s an amazing learning curve in life skills. The discipline has changed but it’s still there. For the most part it will have a positive effect on you.”

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