Sonoran Desert Institute

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

Paul Jackson First Responder Scholarship

SDI Unveils Paul Jackson First Responder Scholarship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI), an industry leader in providing accredited and accelerated online learning, is proud to announce a new academic scholarship to assist active duty military personnel, veterans, and first responders in achieving Firearms Technology degrees. The Paul Jackson First Responder Scholarship is a full scholarship, providing full tuition and fees.

The Paul Jackson First Responder Scholarship is for individuals who are currently serving or are retired from the armed forces or law enforcement, or who are currently serving as or are retired firefighters or emergency medical technicians.

“We are very excited to provide these new scholarship opportunities to the men and women currently serving in our military, our honored veterans, and the first responders who put their lives on the line in communities across the country,” said SDI Executive Director of Strategic Development, Wes LeMay. “The training, experience, and professionalism of our military personnel and first responders make them uniquely qualified for the firearms industry, so we are pleased to provide these new funding opportunities through which they can achieve their academic and professional goals.”

The scholarship is named in honor of a man who served his country with honor and distinction.  Paul Jackson served in Bravo Company, 501st BN, 101st Airborne Division during World War II. As a paratrooper, Jackson made the jump into Normandy during Operation Overlord, the jump into Holland during Operation Market Garden, and was wounded on Jan. 12, 1945 in Bastogne, Belgium.

The annual scholarships provide full tuition and fees for SDI’s Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree program to two recipients, one in the fall semester and one in the spring. Applications must be submitted by midnight (MST) on December 1 for the spring award and by midnight (MST) on June 1 for the fall award. For eligibility requirements, please visit


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Salute Veterans National Honor Society

SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society

The Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) has always demonstrated a deep commitment to serving the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, and today SDI is pleased to announce their new Charter Membership with the national SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society.  SDI’s affiliation with SALUTE will provide well-deserved recognition for the academic achievements and contributions of student veterans.

The SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society originates from the ACE/Wal-Mart Success for Veterans Grant, which was awarded to Colorado State University in 2009. SALUTE — an acronym for Service, Academics, Leadership, Unity, Tribute, and Excellence — is the first honor society created for student veterans and military personnel at two- and four-year higher education institutions nationwide.

“Bringing the SALUTE program to SDI is our way of honoring and acknowledging the academic achievements of those who have served and continue to serve our great nation,” said SDI Chief Military Liaison, Walter Howard. “Our service men and women have shown courage, strength, leadership, excellence, and perseverance in their military endeavors and are now showing that same commitment in their academic careers. Being part of the SALUTE honor society allows them to forge relationships with their peers that reach beyond the classroom.”

There are many outstanding benefits of SALUTE membership, including membership certificates, eligibility of members to apply and compete for national SALUTE scholarships (not yet available), and more. SALUTE has been specially structured to operate with low costs, so the majority of membership fees can be dedicated to scholarships for student veterans across the nation. These nationally awarded scholarships are designed to support student veterans who need supplementation of their GI Bill® funding or who do not have GI Bill funding.

To qualify for SALUTE membership, undergraduates must be currently enrolled as SDI students in the Associate of Science program; have completed a minimum of 12 semester hours; have a minimum 3.0 GPA ; be currently serving in the Armed Forces (Active Duty, National Guard, Reserves); and if veterans, must have been honorably discharged.

For more information about the SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society, visit

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Advisory Board Spotlight, Dan G. O'Kelly

SDI Advisory Board Spotlight: Dan O’Kelly

A life-long study of firearm design, history, and manufacturing combined with a career in law enforcement often creates a unique body of work and experience that is highly valued within the firearms industry. However, Dan O’Kelly — a new addition to the SDI Advisory Board — takes it all to a new and intense level.

O’Kelly began his career as a police officer and detective in Indiana, but his abilities, knowledge, and expertise soon led him to criminal investigations at the federal level, as well as to providing unique services that would include personal protection details for the president of the United States, foreign ministers, and the United Nations General Assembly.

“We’re very excited to welcome Dan to the SDI Advisory Board,” said SDI Executive Director of Strategic Development Wes LeMay. “With his unique background and experience, Dan brings a rare insight to our firearms technology degree programs, and the primary beneficiaries of that knowledge will undoubtedly be SDI students.”

O’Kelly became a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in 1988, where he conducted criminal investigations for arson, bombings, explosives, organized crime, drug trafficking, and alcohol/tobacco diversion. He served as the lead instructor of firearm technology at the ATF National Academy, and also led the ATF Undercover Training Program for two years. He has successfully worked undercover operations that netted international gun traffickers in Europe and infiltrated organized crime groups in the United States. In fact, one of his most recent cases was covered by the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine.

He is qualified as an expert firearm witness in U.S. District Court and as a teacher of firearm interstate nexus and testimony for ATF. He has also served as ATF’s Resident Agent in charge of the State of Delaware, and as firearm instructor coordinator of the ATF’s Tampa Field Division. In 2003, O’Kelly co-wrote the Certified Firearm Specialist program for ATF at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

O’Kelly is a certified firearm range instructor; a builder and collector of firearms and ammunition; and a factory-trained armorer for 13 gun companies. He has toured and conducted research at numerous firearm and ammunition factories and firearm reference collections in the United States, Europe, and Africa, and regularly presents seminars on firearm enforcement, technology, markings, and ammunition to law enforcement, licensed dealers, and collectors.

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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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