Amateurs take aim with Special Ops 'legends'
Carlos del Castillo leans over a suppressor-fitted sniper rifle, sights the target 100 yards away and slowly squeezes the trigger, sending a .338 slug ripping through the paper target about an inch above its center. “That’s a sweet weapon,” says del Castillo, taking part in “Shooting with SOF,” (Special Operations Forces) an event that brings together civilians and commandos to raise money for charities benefiting veterans and the military. Held this year at Shooters World, a massive weapons emporium on Fletcher Avenue, the event drew about 100 shooters like del Castillo, a vice president with Bright House Networks, and 25 “special operations legends,” says Scott Neil, a retired Green Beret who runs the event. Many of the shooters were veterans. Del Castillo has a special bond to the community. On June 25, 2011, his son, 1st Lt. Dimitri del Castillo, 24, an Army Ranger, was killed by enemy fire in Kunar province, Afghanistan. As a Gold Star father, he was invited to attend the event by organizers. It was an act of kindness, he says, that was both humbling and not surprising. “The brotherhood is amazing,” says del Castillo, who only recently met Neil during a Medal of Honor ceremony the two attended at the Special Operations Forces memorial at MacDill Air Force Base. For del Castillo, his “Team Del” teammate and Bright House colleague Tim Williams and the other shooters, the event was a chance to try out weapons they never had fired. There were four stations: one for handguns, one for sniper rifles, one for semi-automatic rifles and one with a fully automatic Remington ACR. Each shooting lane was staffed by a volunteer; mostly retired but also some active-duty commandos. They went over the peculiarities of each weapon and ensured safety precautions were taken. As he went from range to range inside the 60,000 square-foot Shooters World, del Castillo talked about how the different types of rifles reminded him of some of his son’s missions. “He would have to get ahead of the other guys, because he would climb thousands of feet then have to settle his heart rate,” says del Castillo, explaining that accurate long range firing requires a certain level of calm. The assortment of weapons was so wide that even Williams, a former Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputy and Air Force veteran, and a team of four Lakeland Police Department SWAT members, were firing some for the first time. For Lakeland officers Preston Chatmon, Kolby Hodge, Michael Glass and Jasper Yzaquirre, Shooting with SOF was also a chance to swap techniques with active-duty commandos. “We got a chance to shoot different weapons systems that we don’t normally shoot and talk tactics with the operators,” says Yzaquirre. “It was amazing.” All told, more than 30,000 rounds of ammunition, provided by Remington, were fired, says Neil, who joked before the event that, “I can get money from a leprechaun faster than I can get bullets.” The event raised more than $140,000 -- through entry fees and a silent auction -- for The Green Beret Foundation, the Foundation for Exceptional Warriors and Support the Troops, the Wesley Chapel-based charity providing care packages for soldiers overseas. Stephanie Hayden, one of the stars of the Discovery Channel’s popular “Sons Of Guns” show, was there, with autographed pictures of her among items that were auctioned off to raise money. “We had a really great turnout,” says Neil, not the only one pleased with how things went. Dick Greco, a former Tampa mayor, was smiling as he walked out of Shooters World. A national skeet shooting champion at age 16, Greco says he tried a lot of the available weapons, but had a favorite. “I liked the MSR,” he says of the Remington-made sniper rifle. “I had so much fun today.”