Sonoran Desert Institute

All the Latest News, Reviews and Developments happening with the Sonoran Desert Institute!

Garett Speaking With the Raider Project

SDI and The Raider Project

Nearly two-thirds of new veterans say they faced a difficult transition from military to civilian life, either professionally or personally. For some, the transition can be the toughest battle they have ever fought.

In support of these veterans, the Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) is a proud sponsor of The Raider Project, a subsidiary of GallantFew, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, which works to help these combat veterans transition smoothly, peacefully, and successfully into the private sector.

The Raider Project recently held its first seminar, and the event rallied some of the brightest minds to have served our men and women in their transition process. SDI liaisons Dale Grinage and Garrett Bischoff attended the two-day seminar and met with many of the veterans.

“We have developed a really good relationship with The Raider Project, and we are proud to support the Project and the many veterans who are transitioning to civilian life,” says SDI Education Liaison Coordinator, Dale Grinage, a retired U.S. Marine and tactics instructor. “The seminar was an amazing event that brought together service members who are separating soon from the military and veterans who are still in a transitional period with a single purpose of equipping them with the necessary tools to transition successfully. It was an honor and privilege for SDI to be there.”

Keynote speakers for the event included Nick Koumalatsos, director of The Raider Project; Randy Hetrick, former Navy SEAL and TRX founder and inventor; Kirk Weisler, former Ranger and 19th Special Forces group member, who now serves as chief morale officer for companies and organizations around the globe; Dr. Carrie Elk, CEO of The Elk Institute; Jeff Nichols, founder of Virginia High Performance; Karl Monger, director of the veteran non-profit GallantFew; Dr. Cagan G. Randall, D.C., co-founder of Cerebrum Health Centers; Michael R. Rodriguez, a retired Special Forces Green Beret; Mike Schlitz, special advisor to the GallantFew board of directors; Nick Palmisciano, CEO of Ranger Up; and Vincent Vargas, COO of Article 15 Clothing.

The Raider Project assists veterans through peer-to-peer counseling, unconventional brain treatments for TBIs, PTSD, and disorders of the brain and central nervous system, short-term financial assistance, resume coaching and small business support, get-away retreats and fishing trips, as well as community sports programs.

For more information on The Raider Project or to show your support, visit

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Jennifer Blake Spotlight

SDI Advisory Board Spotlight: Jennifer Blake

Women are the fastest growing demographic among gun owners. According to NRA data, there has been a 77 percent increase between 2004 and 2011 in the number of women who own firearms. Plus, more than one-third of the women who participated in a recent survey by the National Sports Shooting Foundation identified themselves as new gun owners. These facts are no surprise to renowned firearm instructor Jennifer Blake, who is also a new and welcome addition to the Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) Advisory Board.

“As our nation faces challenges with crime, personal protection, and defending our Second Amendment rights, women have a key and pivotal voice, and SDI is extremely honored to welcome Jennifer to our SDI Advisory Board,” said SDI Executive Director of Strategic Development, Wes LeMay. “Jennifer’s firearm experience and training will be a valuable asset to SDI in developing programs that welcome more women into the firearms industry and shooting sports.”

An NRA Life Member, Blake is the owner and operator of Ohio Firearms Training, and is a certified instructor in the Shoot Like A Girl program, which is dedicated to growing the number of women who participate in shooting sports by giving them the opportunity to do so in a safe, controlled environment.

She holds firearms qualifications in NRA Basic Pistol, NRA Basic Rifle, Personal Protection Inside the Home, Personal Protection Outside the Home, and as an NRA Training Counselor, NRA Refuse to Be a Victim regional counselor, and NRA Chief Range Safety Officer. Blake is also a conceal carry instructor in Ohio and Utah.

“I absolutely love shooting sports and hunting,” states Blake. “I take pride in training new or experienced shooters. I enjoy helping people receive their concealed carry permits and knowing I possibly helped keep them from becoming victims. I plan to further my education in firearms, [gain more] experience and continue to be active in the NRA. I take great pleasure in sharing my knowledge of hunting and outdoors, and learning from others.”

Her most recent accomplishments include becoming a sponsored shooter in the sport of 3-Gun and filming her hunts.

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SDI Visits Springfield Sportsmen’s Show

The recent Springfield Sportsmen’s Show was a huge success as school representatives from Soronan Desert Institute spoke with attendees about the variety of offerings provided by the accredited gun and firearms technology school.

“This is one of the larger events we attend that takes place in the United States,” Garett Bischoff of SDI said of the event, which is held annually on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA. “Our main goal is to put SDI out there in the best light possible.”

According to the event’s website,, “The Springfield Sportsmen’s Show is undisputedly the largest ‘pure’ sportsmen’s show in the Northeast!” The show highlights the best of hunting, fishing, boating, and adventure recreation in one location, making it easier for enthusiasts to find the resources they desire. The show features 80,000 square feet of vendor, retail, and concession space.

Bischoff, who attended the event with coworker Gabriel Wren, said his goal was to enroll students in the clinics provided and “help get the students involved in our courses and excited about the classes [we offer].” While he met current and past students that came out to the event in support of SDI, he was also introduced to prospective students who had never heard of the institute and were excited to learn more.

While it was Bischoff’s first time attending the Springfield Sportsmen’s Show, he said school representatives frequently attended shows, expos, and military events. “That’s how we reach the public, especially since we’re an online college,” Bischoff explained. “By us deliberately pounding the pavement, we’re able to let people know about the programs we offer.” And while each event is challenging, Bischoff pointed out that the events are fun and always provide a great venue for informing people about the college, which offers an Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree, a Gunsmithing Certificate, an Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate, and Advanced Armorer courses.

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Dale Grinage with Marine at Camp Pendleton

SDI Visits Marine West at Camp Pendelton

During Marine West, a Military expo held earlier this month at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Marines learned firsthand about the products and services companies like firearms technology school Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) can offer Military personnel. “It was great for us to have a presence there and we had a big draw,” said Dale Grinage, education liaison coordinator at SDI, as he explained his role in helping fellow Marines understand the importance of learning everything there is to know about firearms, including the AR-15. “Every Marine is a rifleman,” noted Grinage, a Marine Corps veteran. “Every Marine should have overall knowledge of that weapon.”

Grinage spoke to more than 200 Marines during the two-day expo and discussed how the courses offered by SDI can help them delve deeply into firearms information. For example, classes teach the origins of the AR and other firearms — from their inception to modern-day technology — and the steps for properly cleaning these guns by dismantling them. SDI offers an Advanced Gunsmithing certification program and an Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree. “Marines (when I was active duty), were not allowed to completely breakdown the weapon for cleaning,” Grinage explained. “This meant that we had to get the weapon as clean as possible with it not being fully disassembled. Military personnel can greatly benefit from our courses, such as the Advanced Armorer’s courses, although they still need to abide by the military regulations regarding what they can and cannot do. But they will have an extensive knowledge in that particular platform.”

Marine West, founded in 1992, is annually hosted and held at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, at Pacific Views Event Center. During the event, Marine commands throughout Southern California send delegations to visit the exposition, which showcases “the latest technology and prototypes aimed at preparing today’s Marines for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.” While Grinage wasn’t able to actively recruit Marines to SDI, he did provide information about the school and the education it offers so that the Marines can contact SDI directly. Military personnel are able to take advantage of Military/VA benefits to fund the 8-month certification program or the 16-month associate’s degree program. “They’re [Military personnel] promoting education for younger Marines, so this is a good fit,” the Marine veteran and education liaison pointed out. Grinage went on to explain that students are also eligible for field-study programs and could possibly have opportunities to be hired either by companies they’ve studied under or by similar companies.

It was the school’s first time making an appearance at Marine West. But Grinage said school representatives have visited Marine South, held annually at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, NC, and Modern Day Marine, held annually at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, VA. Students from both events have attended the school.

For more information about the expo, please visit their website at

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SDI Announces Launch of Shooting Team

KC 2

Sonoran Desert Institute has a new reason to celebrate. The school has partnered with “KC” Eusebio to lead a new shooting team.

Eusebio is an International Practical Shooting Confederation and United States Practical Shooting Association’s member and Steel Challenge action shooting competitor who is featured on the Hot Shots TV-series.

Eusebio said the partnership will enable him to give back to the youth who can then set “a trail for the new generation.” Eusebio, who was the youngest USPSA master at 10 years old and who has 20 years of experience, said he can relate to younger shooters.

“I’ve been blessed with so many opportunities in life that I told myself at a young age that if I was ever in a position to give back, I would pay it forward,” he said. “I guess this is me being able to pay it forward.”

While the team will afford members with shooting lessons, coaching and competitions, Eusebio’s goal is for students – and the community – to garner a deep appreciation for firearms’ education.

“I want others to see (how) education and firearms can work together, and minimize the violence within today’s society,” Eusebio said, adding that he wants people to understand the value of SDI and the benefits students receive from attending the institution. He said he also hopes team members will help propel sport shooting to “a household name” so that negative stigmas that are sometimes associated with the sport, are removed.

While he waits for the school’s board to approve the new shooting team and a timeline for it to begin, Eusebio said he’s most excited about seeing each student succeed by tapping in to his or her “inner self.”

“(I want them to) show me, their families, and themselves they have what it takes to be a champion,” he said. “I hope to teach the students not just how to be a champion, but to be respectful to their peers, disciplined to the craft, and to give their all under pressure.”

Eusebio said will recruit three core members to head the SDI Shooting Team, and said he believes the individuals should display initiative, discipline and a desire to win and learn. While he said he has two male shooters in mind, he’s seeking one female “who has what it takes to win.”

During the team’s first year, Eusebio said he will select five USPSA matches and allow students to shoot while he coaches. He said he plans to also have the team compete in shooting competitions against other schools such a Yale, Harvard, and Texas A&M.

The goal for shooting team members is simple, Eusebio said. He wants of them – many of whom are juggling schoolwork, training, competitions, and everyday life – to learn to use their time wisely, and apply what they learn to everyday life.

“I believe this program will teach students responsibility and show them that they are new role models for children to look up to,” Eusebio said.

Keep an eye on future newsletters for information on try-outs, which will happen this fall. If you have any questions in the meantime, please


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New Website Q&A

SDI Launches New Website!

If you’ve been a fan of ours for a while now, you know that we’re constantly striving for better ways to offer our students and prospective students the best of everything. We’ve made major upgrades to our programs and courses, added easier ways to learn, and have tirelessly worked through the various processes involved in offering our students even more funding options than before. We hope you enjoy the facelift we’ve given our website, too. Here’s a little on what to expect out of the new site:

1. A Simpler Approach

We’ve pared down the overall site in many ways, making it easier for you to find the things you need. Whether you’re looking into SDI for the first time or are a student in need of assistance with your current program, we want you to spend less time sifting and more time learning. You’ll notice that we’re focusing on firearms, offering downloadable content, and getting you info in a much less cumbersome way. If ever you feel like you could use even more information on something, please use the DEPARTMENT CONTACTS page to reach out to the people who can help you the most.

2. Fewer Portals

As we’ve evolved into a primarily online school, we found that our students were logging into multiple portals–one for the Learning Management System and another (the SDI Student Portal) for student resources, Field Study applications and more. We decided to save you the headache of extra passwords and are now housing the SDI Portal’s best resources on our regular website. You may now apply for Field Studies, reach out to your instructors and more without logging into a separate area.

3. Current Student Resources

Speaking of student resources, we think you’ll benefit from the new area we’ve created just for SDI’s current students. You’ll have access to just about everything you’ll need as a student all on one page–and that means less confusion for you. To see how we’ve streamlined everything, visit the CURRENT STUDENTS page.

We’re really pleased with how the site has turned out. It better represents what we do, what interests our students, and what we plan to do in the future. Plus, it’s pretty cool looking. If you have questions, comments, updates, or have found any problems that we’ve missed, please email Jennifer McInnis at Thank you for your patience during this transition, and enjoy the new site!

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SDI Field Study Experience Was “Amazing”

SDI Hands-On Training

SDI Student Mitchell Hill on site at Aklys Defense

In August, SDI helped facilitate a Field Study for the first time, and it was a huge success on both ends.

The selected student was Mitchell Hill, who chose and was accepted for a Field Study at Aklys Defense in Baton Rouge, LA. Mitchell filled us in on his entire time there, and also let us know that he received a job offer upon completion of the Field Study. Joe Meaux, the owner of Aklys Defense, had equally positive things to say about the experience and is interested in another Field Study student ASAP. If you’re interested in applying, please contact for info. Below is Mitchell’s summary. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did!

SDI Field Study, August 2015

By Mitchell Hill

My field study experience began when SDI informed me of the offer, explaining that I would have to choose one of six companies and apply for the position of intern. At that point, the company would review my SDI transcripts and decide whether or not to proceed with a phone interview.

I chose Aklys Defense for two reasons. They were the only company that listed research and development on their description, which was something I was very interested in. The other reason was their personality over the phone and on Skype. They were very nice and understanding of the hardship of moving across country for a month, and helped me with researching places to stay that had weekly rates, were worth the cost, weren’t in a bad part of town, or had fake reviews. They also let me decide on the timing of when it would be most comfortable to arrive at Aklys.

My first two days were spent getting used to the area, getting settled, and learning the shop. I spent the first week learning hand techniques on shotguns and wood sanding and treating, and then learned how to port barrels on a shotgun and how to strip and change the end color of the stock on Mossbergs and Remingtons. After that, they taught me techniques for assembling or upgrading AKs and AR-15s without marring the metal by using punches a certain way and by taking precautions not taught in books so that there’s less time spent on touch-ups and corrections on customers’ weapons.

Next, we got into NFA (National Firearms Act) weapons, such as suppressors, short barrel rifles, and shotguns, and what they do to the weapon when fired. They covered what changes they could make to the NFA weapons to change the sound and the way they reacted when fired. They also explained the different laws that they have to think about when shipping to other states.

After that, they showed me the R&D and CNC side of the shop, the basics of operating the CNC machines, and some of the different things they have to consider when going from a computer design to real life, as well as the different test models they go through to get the best quality-to-quantity ratio for production. During my last week they showed me how they take an idea that works and then develop a plan to be recorded for the CNC machine by making multiple versions using the hand milling and lathe machines and recording the changes to the plan so that the end result is the same every time, testing them against the original.

The last thing we covered was paint (Cerakote) and the best way to apply it to different parts and what changes should be made to the baking time for different types of metal.

I would like to note two things I would do differently if I were to do this again. The first has to do with money. I had planned my expenses based on the cost of living of where I live and not where I was going. As a result, I ended up spending 50% more than I had planned. So, be sure to plan accordingly. The second thing I would do differently has to do with expectations. I had gone with the idea that I would be knee-deep in R&D for four weeks, not realizing that this is not school and that there are slow points in a company’s week and you may spend a day assembling the same half of a weapon waiting for the other half to come back from paint. So, be prepared for tedious work as well as fun new stuff.

Overall, this was an amazing experience and well worth the time. There was a huge amount of hands-on experience I got that you cannot get from a book. I have read a lot of books and passed all my tests with good grades at SDI, but until you have done it and been told all the little “tricks of the trade,” it’s a whole different story. That’s what I loved about this trip. The people at Aklys definitely went out of their way to teach me everything they could think of and I loved it!

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