Youth compete to be 'top shot' at Millstadt police camp

News-DemocratJuly 18, 2013 

Eleven-year-old Chance Ray plants his feet firmly on the grassy field behind the Millstadt Village Hall. He announces he wants to fire the simunition rifle, a non-lethal training gun, which Bill Casto, a Millstadt police officer, hands him.

After Casto reviews the sights of the rifle with Chance, he fires his shot at a target hanging on the side of a large cylinder-shaped water storage unit. Chance hits the target near one of the outer rings.

As he heads back toward the other Millstadt Youth Police Academy campers gathered under a shady tree Thursday morning, Chance says, "look I'm shaking. I missed totally."

Chance's twin brother Chase Ray, 11, then takes his turn. He also requests the simunition rifle and fires a shot at the target with help from Casto. Chase shot better than Chance.

"Good job buddy," Chance says to his brother as he pats him on the shoulder.

Reece Wilkerson, nephew of Millstadt Police Chief Ed Wilkerson, won the top gun award in the 11-12 age group as his shot was closest to the middle of the target. Reece said he wasn't surprised, because he won the top gun award when he participated in the camp last summer. "I shoot quite a bit," he said.

Emily Scott's shot was the second closest one. "I did better than I thought," she said. This is also Emily's second year taking part in the camp. "It's just fun and gives me something to do during the summer."

This is the first year Chance and Chase attended the week-long camp. "It's really fun," Chase said. "It's awesome."

Following the outdoor gun simunition training, the 11-12 year olds headed to In-Land Technology Services in Millstadt. After Millstadt officer Brandon Dugger reviewed weapon safety with the campers once again, each had the opportunity to shoot a simunition pistol outfitted with a laser as part of a computerized training simulation, where they had six chances to shoot three stagnant targets in 12 seconds. Nick Latinette, 12, was the only camper to hit dead center on any of the targets.

In a computerized tracking simulation, the campers had three chances to strike a ball traveling around a three-dimensional area. Max Bach and Mason Roberson, both 11, were the only two campers to hit three consecutive balls. A direct hit caused the balls to explode on the large projection screen.

The PRISM training system allows police officers to train through 800 different video-based firearms training scenarios, according to Dugger. "It's an awesome system." he said.

Prior to the gun simulation activities, Chief Wilkerson discussed gun safety with the campers.

"Firearms are considered deadly force. We don't shoot to kill people. We shoot to stop someone," Wilkerson said. "It's a big responsibility when we choose to carry a gun."

It's important to visually and physically inspect a gun to ensure it isn't loaded, he explained. When handling a gun, Wilkerson advised the campers to always keep the gun pointed in a direction away from others and keep their finger off the trigger.

"The trigger is the biggest safety device on a gun," he said. "The only way a gun will go off is if you pull the trigger. Our main safety is having that finger off the trigger."

The youth enthusiastically asked Wilkerson questions throughout his presentation. One asked, if it hurts to get shot with a gun simunition round. "It absolutely does hurt," the chief said. "It's kind of like a paintball though simunition rounds travel faster at 400 feet per second." A paintball round travels at 300 feet per second. Like a paintball round, a simunition round also contains a colored dye.

When asked why Millstadt officers shoot each other during training with simunition guns, Wilkerson explained it's "stress inoculation training. It inoculates us to actually being shot with a bullet," he said. "We train with real burning bullets like firemen do going into real burning buildings. This gets us to a point that we aren't scared to be shot."

The simunition guns used by the campers were on loan from the Southwestern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission. "We wouldn't be able to afford to have this equipment if it wasn't for SILEC," Wilkerson said.

In all, 20 youth, ages 9 to 12 years old, are participating in the camp. The fee to attend -- $45 -- only covers a small portion of the cost, Lt. Alan Hucke said, and the rest is covered by donations from local businesses and organizations.

Wilkerson started the youth camp in 1998, and Hucke, Millstadt's D.A.R.E. officer, took over as camp coordinator in 2004. "We hope to foster a relationship between kids and law enforcement," Hucke explained. "They learn a great deal and have fun doing it."

The daily camp activities intermix educational and fun components. Hucke said the campers seemed to enjoy Laser tag at The Edge in Belleville and touring Busch Stadium the most this week.

During the camp, Hucke said officers emphasize "respect, responsibility and patience. We need to participate not anticipate," he said.

The camp concludes Friday with a graduation ceremony, which includes the announcement of the two essay winners - one from each age group, 9-10 and 11-12. The top shots will also receive special awards. The top shot in the 9-10 age group was Spreed Ray, no relation to twins Chance and Chase Ray.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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