Darnell Rias prepares to shoot his M4 at a range in Dillsburg, Pa., Friday, Novemer 9, 2012. Rias was serving with the Marines in Afghanistan when the MATV he was driving was hit by an IED. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and shattered vertebrae from the explosion. No longer physically able to serve, he retired. Rias now uses an M4 for target practice, the same type of weapon he used while in the military. He says he's comfortable with the gun. "It seems natural, I know everything about it." DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - KATE PENN
Darnell Rias prepares to shoot his M4 at a range in Dillsburg, Pa., Friday, Novemer 9, 2012. Rias was serving with the Marines in Afghanistan when the MATV he was driving was hit by an IED. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and shattered vertebrae from the explosion. No longer physically able to serve, he retired. Rias now uses an M4 for target practice, the same type of weapon he used while in the military. He says he's comfortable with the gun. "It seems natural, I know everything about it." DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - KATE PENN

Ex-Marine from Pa. finds PTSD relief at shooting range

A bright afternoon, warm for November, and Darnell Rias went shooting.

Wearing a black T-shirt and desert camo fatigue pants, he loaded his firearms into his Dodge Sebring at his West Manchester Township apartment and drove to the range at the state game lands, just off Route 74, near Dillsburg.

He headed to the pistol range first; the rifle range was crowded and he had the smaller, adjacent range to himself. He walked to wooden frame 50 yards down-range and tacked up a target, a grimacing man in combat pose, two hands on a revolver, a target used by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.

He returned to the table at the head of the range and took his Smith & Wesson .40-caliber semi-automatic out of its case. He deftly disassembled the gun and cleaned it with gun oil, a wire brush and a dental pick. Satisfied that it was spotless, he pushed six rounds into each of his two clips.

Each clip holds 15, but the rules of the range forbid firing off 15 rounds at a time. Handguns are limited to six and rifles, three. Rias learned the hard way that that law is strictly enforced. He had previously been cited for firing five rounds at one time at the rifle range.

He assumed the position, his boot-clad feet at shoulder’s width, his weapon in a holster on his right hip. He drew, two hands on the firearm, and squeezed off six shots, one right after the other.

He holstered the weapon and walked to the target.

The man in the target wouldn’t have made past the first shot. All six bullets found the man’s head, neatly grouped.

It may seem odd that those few hours on the range provide him with an escape from his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But they do. Focusing on the target and shooting, doing something he likes and is good at takes him away and relaxes him. He packs up his S&W .40 and his M-4, purchased recently at Atlantic Tactical in New Cumberland, and heads to the range. There is something peaceful about it, he said.

It’s almost counter-intuitive, that firing a weapon, being around the constant report of rifle fire, would serve as a treatment for a disorder brought on by exposure to gunfire. But that’s the way it is.

“It’s hard to explain,” Rias said. “At the range, I know it’s coming. I know there is going to be gunfire. It’s the ones that I don’t know what’s coming that bother me, like a door slamming.”

He said he had been diagnosed with PTSD before he shipped home with a broken back and a traumatic brain injury, injuries he suffered when he drove over an IED on Oct. 8, 2010, while on patrol in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. His back still bothers him, and he can’t lift heavy objects or bend over. He gets debilitating headaches from his brain trauma.

 

 


Now discharged from the Marine Corps, he goes for treatment at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, about an hour drive away in Lebanon County. So far, he said, it’s mostly been for evaluation and testing.

He lives with PTSD every day. It’s not something that comes and goes, he said. It’s constant.

“Some days are better than others,” he said. “It’s hard to describe.”

He gets frustrated easily. He’s quick to anger. He’s hyper-sensitive to loud noises. It could be anything — bad drivers, something not going right, stress from his studies at Harrisburg Area Community College — that triggers it.

“If I have a lot of homework, or studying for a test, I’ll get frustrated fairly easily,” he said.

When that happens, he takes a break, walks around, does something, anything else.

And when he needs to really relax, he goes to the range.

Darnell Rias carries his M4 to his car outside of his apartment in West Manchester Township, Pa., on his way to an outdoor shooting range in Dillsburg, Pa., Friday, November 9, 2012. Rias says he goes shooting once every three weeks or so to keep his skills sharp and because he enjoys it. DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS – KATE PENN

***

The M-4 is a scary looking weapon. Its stripped-down appearance — it’s essentially a shorter, lighter version of the storied M-16 — oozes lethality. Rias said he bought it because it was what he fired in the Marines, the M-4, along with the M-16, being standard issue in the military. He was familiar with it, at home on it.

“It’s comfortable to me,” he said.

Darnell Rias hangs targets at a range in Dillsburg, Pa., Friday, November 9, 2012. He gets a satisfaction out of shooting even though he is no longer active military. He says there are so many steps you have to follow to hit your target. “Once you do all those steps and then you go down to check your target and see that you did all of them correctly that just, that feels good.” DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS – KATE PENN

He set the weapon up on the bench, resting on its bi-pod, and pressed rounds into three magazines, three rounds each. Each magazine can hold up to 30 rounds.

The range clear, he fired, squeezing off three shots, changing magazines, firing three more times, and changing magazines once again, firing three rounds at the target 100 yards away. When the others at the range finished firing, Rias shouted, “Range cold!” and walked to his target.

Five shots in the torso, one just to the left. One was right next to another and he said, “Almost keyholed it.”

He stepped back from the target and said, “It feels good.”

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  • http://twitter.com/eahce Slim Pickens

    Will he soon becoming to a theater near you?

  • Chilibreath

    For the record the correct term is former Marine not ex-Marine, the theory being that once a Marine always a Marine and there’s nothing “ex” about it. Some of us may not be as lean or as mean, but we’re all still a US Marine until we take our last breath!

  • Courtney

    So proud of you Darnell!! For the record, it says you are quick to anger, but I find that very untrue, at least you don’t show it. So proud of you baby!

  • Tommy Lyons

    If you are going to write articles on firearms then at least learn something about them. For instance they

    are not “clips” they are called magazines. A clip is a metal strip.

    • Joe

      Oh, big deal, they get one word wrong and you’re having an apoplectic fit.

  • David Wilson

    “Darnell Rias prepares to shoot his M4″
    Hmmm, I doubt this. An M4 is a select fire (automatic) assault weapon. It would be very expensive (thousands of dollars) and require a class III tax stamp. What he likely has is an AR-15 (semi-auto and not an assault weapon) with a 16 inch barrel.

  • David Wilson

    “Handguns are limited to six and rifles, three. ”
    What kind of BS range is this? Oh that’s right. It is in a slave state (PA).

  • robert parkins

    his weapon should be carried in sleave or gun case at all times when not on the range. that’s just palin sloppy – and we wonder how accidents happen!!

    • http://twitter.com/GalvestonDuck Duckie

      Palin sloppy? Did she not carry in a case either? ;)

  • easyDoes It

    Hmm? First time I ever heard of this as therapy? I don’t see safe gun handling either. I know Postraumatic Stress and injuries are real. I lived with loved one who suffered in war- shot and left for dead. But why are guns the answer? War is hell. leave guns on the battlefield. Meditation, music therapy , group therapy…being alone with battlefield weapons? There has to be another way.

  • Joe

    Thank God for socialized medicine, the VA that is. He should be taken care of for the rest of his life seeing as how he gave up so much in defense of his country. The VA is even allowed to buy drugs in bulk and to negotiate with the drug companies for lower prices. Medicare Part D is forbidden from doing that. If he has PTSD and anger management problems, should he be allowed to own these weapons? Just asking? Why the hell are we still in Afghanistan after 11 years, the Afghanis don’t want us there and soldiers are still being maimed and killed? Declare victory and leave. Why are we still colonizing Guantanamo, we have squatted on that piece of land from before Castro was even born. We “lease” it from Cuba but they do not accept the money since they object to our occupation of their land. Whoops, sorry for the digression.

  • centerpost

    It was my duty to fire a 50 caliber machine gun during Viet Nam. I never want to handle a gun again. It blows my mind any other veteran would. I wish them all well but I wish they would shoot photographs instead.