Sonoran Desert Institute

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

NRAAM Show 2017

National Rifle Association Annual Meetings

Over 800 exhibitors and 80,000 attendees traveled to Atlanta George from April 27th to April 30th for the National Rifle Association Annual Meetings (NRAAM). This is one of the main events of the firearms world. Hank Williams Jr., Chris Janson, Josh Thompson, Lindsay Ell, Cary Barlowe, Matthew West, a conference with Kellyanne Conway, and a visit from the President of the United States were some of the highlights of the show. The centerpiece of NRAAM was the exhibitors. Almost every major firearms company you can imagine was in attendance. For 4 days, Atlanta was the center of the firearms world and SDI was in the middle of it all.

The SDI booth lineup of presenters read like a who’s who of the firearms world. We Like Shooting, Tim Harmsen of the Military Arms Channel, Kimberly Intagliata of Taurus Holdings, Inc., Jeremiah Savoy of Savoy Leather, Modern Spartan Systems, Keybar, professional shooter and six-time Open National Speed Shooting Champion KC Eusebio, Hickok 45, Joe Meaux of Aklys Defense, 22 Plinkster, and the loudest, most obnoxious prize wheel to ever set foot in an exhibit hall were all at the SDI booth. In case that list was a bit overwhelming, we can summarize by saying that the SDI booth was a place to be. Did we mention Taurus also gave away a PT111 Millennium G2?

The SDI staffed booth stayed on their feet through the entire conference with special giveaways like the Taurus PT111 Millennium G2 as well as SDI swag and prizes from our many presenters. SDI Vice President of Growth and Marketing Jennifer McInnis stated that one of the highlights for her was the number students that visited the SDI booth during the show. The enthusiasm showed by former, current and future students of our school demonstrated that what we are doing matters. This enthusiasm has also given our staff an extra fire to keep growing our programs and improving our curriculum to provide the highest value education possible for our students.

If you happened to catch one of our many live video feeds you can see the enthusiasm was contagious around the SDI booth during the NRAAM show. 5 seconds into watching one of Garett Bischoff’s videos and you can see the energy that he and the rest of the SDI crew brought. It’s not just the students and staff that crowded the SDI booth during the show. SDI Executive Vice President of Product and Placement Zeke Stout stated that one of his favorite parts of the show was the level of recognition SDI is gaining within the industry, and not just with students. Building relationships in the firearms industry like our recent partnership with Taurus along with our many established relationships, (which can be seen here) affects the school greatly. Zeke first noticed our chemistry during the setup for the NRAAM show. “Right off the bat, the team came together. There is a certain amount of chaos that goes into setting up a booth and despite that, the SDI team encountered nothing but positivity and teamwork. It was really impressive to see.” SDI Industry Relations Chief Dale Grinage noticed the energy as well. “The turnout was pretty incredible. There were a lot of companies coming to us at the show. They want to be a part of what we do here.”

The team from Sonoran Desert Institute came away from the National Rifle Association Annual Meetings with a drive to make our great program better. Vice President of Growth and Marketing Jennifer McInnis noted the conversations taking place. “We have a lot of great things going on but we came out of this having conversations on how to make our curriculum even better. We want to increase the opportunities that we have for students. We don’t ever want to stop improving.”

As the doors closed in Atlanta, Georgia our SDI team walked away with sore feet and a goal to not only keep doing what we are doing but to keep doing those things better. We would like to thank those that attended our booth at the show and remind those that could not attend to keep an eye on our news feed for shows near you.

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KC Eusebio With Trophy

Shooter Spotlight: KC Eusebio

Sonoran Desert Institute sponsored shooter KC Eusebio has been called a freak, a phenom, and just about everything else that is said about people with extraordinary talent. In the world of speed shooting, he is one of the greats. But to say he is a freak is far from the truth. Thousands of hours and exceptional discipline have created this shooter and he is a creature of his own design.

KC made the decision to start competitively shooting at eight years old. In fact, he grew up on the shooting range. “There’s pictures of my little bald head at the shooting range, sitting there eating rocks and chasing snakes,” he reminisced. His father was a masterclass competitive shooter and a professional gunsmith, and once KC decided he wanted to shoot competitively, his father took to coaching as well. Though just a boy, KC Eusebio began to do daily strength training, like pushups and squats, as well as various cardio exercises. Every night after school KC would practice drawing and dry firing his handgun 300 times. The gun was even loaded with a weighted magazine to make sure it felt like a loaded firearm. Tuesdays and Thursdays, KC’s father would pick him up in “the old Nissan King Cab” and take him to the range for training. Saturdays and Sundays were competition days and the entire family would pack up and drive to the nearest competitive shooting event. KC was responsible for collecting his brass and reloading all his rounds. At a young age, KC took on a lot of responsibility, but it was something he wanted.

His work paid off. At 10 years old, KC Eusebio was the youngest USPSA Master, by 12 the youngest Grandmaster, and by 15 he became the youngest person to win a speed shooting title. At 18 years old, thanks to the strict guidance of his father, KC said he was where he needed to be as a shooter. He decided next to enlist with the United States Army, joined the Army Marksman Unit, and served for the next four years.

Team Glock sponsored KC shortly after he got out of the Army and the spotlight soon followed with his appearance on the show Hot Shots. KC was entertaining on the show—famous for wanting to look cute in his lavender shirt and confident attitude. It did not hurt his reputation that he also won the championship in Season 2 of the show, and broke the world record during a showdown with shooter Max Michel.

KC continued to shoot for Team Glock until 2014 when his contract ended. That’s when Sonoran Desert Institute jumped to sponsor this young man. KC is currently competing year-round as well as teaching. His ambitions have shifted a little as he has grown and matured. As a young man, his primary focus was to win. He wanted to dominate the sport as a competitor. He has since broadened his goals and seeks to educate the public about firearms as well as spread the word of speed shooting. “You know, I’ve achieved everything I ever wanted to in speed shooting. I’m still competing but I really want to grow the sport.”

“I’m trying different things now. I practice using my left hand, different foot positioning during obstacle drills, or new ways to lean while acquiring a target,” said KC on his current practice schedule. Crediting his father’s strict discipline in making him the man he is today, KC has expanded on that. He is now a shooter of his own design and he is obsessive with perfecting his craft. KC’s view on firearms is that they are tools that must be owned with discipline and responsibility. Even when it comes to introducing children to the safe handling of firearms, KC believes in absolute safety. “You know, it’s really dangerous to introduce firearms as a toy. I was not even allowed to point a toy gun near a person or it was a quick smack on the top of the head. I’m glad I was taught the responsibility of firearms. Kids need to know how serious it is.”

Having 20 years of experience has obviously made KC an excellent shooter. Watching him compete is incredible. While he is always innovating, he says the hardest part is the mental side of shooting. In a recent session with the U.S. Army, he had this to say, “There’s not much I can teach those guys regarding tactics. They are all very well trained by their instructors. I am there to teach them shooting fundamentals. The mental game. It’s the hardest part. I teach them to shut off their brain and use their training. It’s amazing how much more accurate and quick their shooting is when they learn to control the mental aspect of shooting.”

KC Eusebio is only 28 years old but carries himself as he is: a 20-year veteran of shooting sports. He is a fierce competitor and keeps a heavy regimen of practice, physical fitness, teaching, and competing. For SDI, having an affiliation with KC the last few years has been an honor and a privilege. We can’t wait to see what he does in the next few years as he continues to grow. You can track KC’s stellar career through our updates at or on KC’s homepage .

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Featured Grad Banner

Feature Grad: Ian Simpson

“I was working a dead-end job,” said Ian Simpson in a recent phone interview. This is the same epiphany a lot of people have, but what makes Ian exceptional is that he took action to change the situation. He already had a family but really wanted to do something to give to the world around him. So, he joined the United States Army. But once enlisted, he felt there was still more to be done and began thinking What can I do with my life? As a result, Ian enrolled at Sonoran Desert Institute and this February he graduated.

Now Ian Simpson is SDI’s Feature Grad. And selecting him was easy, as he is one of the most engaging and enthusiastic students in recent memory—and his energy is contagious.

After enlisting in the Army, Ian wanted to earn a college degree. He had enrolled in college once before but quickly realized the coursework did not apply to him. For Ian, it was not a matter of his ability to do the work; he just wasn’t into it. This all changed when he met one of SDI’s Education Liaison Officers (ELO) at a base career fair.

“I’m walking around and I see an AR-15 on a table at a career fair. I had to stop,” said Ian. He had always been interested in firearms, and field stripping a rifle was one of his favorite activities. In fact, he was typically first in line to tinker with any mechanism that launched a projectile. Talking to SDI’s ELO he thought, Wow, I can actually get a degree and take classes that really interest me! From there, one of the hardest parts for Ian was making himself enroll in school, but he really wanted a degree and so went for it. Ian found the classes to be challenging but enjoyable. He started out with the Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate program, but after SDI became reapproved for use of Active Duty Military Tuition Assistance (TA) for its Associate’s degree program, he transferred to it. For Ian, this degree was highly important.

Ian did his research before enrolling. What impressed him the most was when he checked up on SDI’s instructors. “They had a lot of qualifications. They were competitive shooters and professional gunsmiths,” he said. These same instructors further impressed him with their responsiveness while he was taking classes. “I can only think of one time that an instructor didn’t respond within a couple of hours. I even had an instructor respond to me at like 9 p.m.” Adding to his surprise, there were individualized responses on his papers. “Honestly, I was shocked that they had obviously read through each report in full…they must have had a lot of papers submitted. That’s a lot of work!”

Ian also found it helpful that the school is supportive of its military students. On one occasion, Ian’s duty in the Army interfered with his ability to deliver work on time. He received an immediate response from his instructor saying that it was completely understood and to hand in his work when finished with his obligations.

Through his two years in SDI’s program, Ian put in a lot of effort. His house did not have WiFi® and he ran between his home, McDonald’s®, and the library—anywhere that he could get a connection. He maintained a balance between the military, school, his wife, and two children. And what was he most thankful for during this busy time? “Man, my wife was really supportive and understanding.

Ian plans on making a career out of the military and will be enlisted for a total of 20 years. He is currently expanding his knowledge base by working on the firearms of friends and family. His favorite tasks are working with antique firearms, hunting rifles, and shotguns. Crediting SDI, Ian has developed a comfort to dive into any rifle or handgun because he knows he has the tools to fix it or how to do the proper research to figure it out. He does have one hang-up, though. “I wish I could keep those training videos on me.” Being a visual learner, Ian found those videos to be especially helpful.

There is now a framed college degree on Ian Simpson’s wall. Even so, he doesn’t feel like he’s finished. “I may want to go for a business degree down the road, but I feel like I have great fundamentals from the business course at SDI.” Someday, Ian would like to open his own sporting goods and outdoor survival shop. But for now, he is keeping himself sharp by repairing hunting firearms and antiques. Given his strong record, we have no doubt that when Ian decides to take action on business school or opening a store, he will be successful.

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Zachary Wannarka and Michael Paez

Field Study Report: Sons of Liberty Gun Works

Zachary Wannarka was looking for a career change. He started looking for ways to break into firearm industry but without experience in law enforcement or military service it proved rather difficult to get a foot in the door. Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) became an avenue for him to gain experience as well as attend a field study internship with Sons of Liberty Gun Works (SOLGW) based in San Antonio, Texas. This is his story.

Growing up, his dad owned some firearms but Zachary had never shot nor had he taken it seriously. Starting at 21 years old, Zachary bought a handgun and began teaching himself to shoot. After 15 years of developing his knowledge with firearms he decided to enroll in Sonoran Desert Institute. While investigating the SDI website he noticed our field study program and saw that one of our locations was in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas and he enrolled in the program before his graduation. While the location was perfect, what Zachary liked most was the company’s philosophy and products. “The Military mindset of doing things right and for the good guys was really appealing” said Zachary.

On his arrival at Sons of Liberty Gun Works Zachary let the company know he had done his homework. He had familiarized himself with their product lineup and set about earning their trust on the machinery. The staff approached Zachary in “broad strokes” and started by familiarizing him with the individual components he would be working with. Zachary built a lower receiver and moved on to the upper receiver right away. After building an entire AR15 from the ground up he permitted to test fire it at their facility. Performing proper prep work like degreasing, etching and texturing surfaces for cerakote was a big learning experience for Zachary as he did not have any previous experience with cerakote. In total, he spent 5 weeks with Sons of Liberty Gun Works and loved every minute of it. When asked which skills he found most improved with his experience, he said enthusiastically “ALL OF THEM”. He likened his experience to “building a Ferrari instead of just doing the oil changes”.

Zachary came away from his field study experience realizing how much of a benefit it is to gain hands on training at a place like Sons of Liberty Gun Works. Working beside experts in the AR-15 platform proved indispensable. He stated his impressions of the company “SOLGW AR-15’s are top of the line”. Using the education and the kits from Sonoran Desert Institute enabled him to jump in and be productive with his time on field study.

​​​​​​​ Zachary has an expected graduation date of mid-April 2017 from Sonoran Desert Institute. “This was definitely the right move for me” said Zachary about his experience taking classes from SDI. He found the application to his field study program with Sons of Liberty Gun Works to be quick and easy. It was a blessing to have a location in the same town and enabled him to juggle the field study, life obligations and his current employer. Zachary expressed a lot of praise for the SDI program and credited his student adviser for helping him along the way. He is currently finishing his program by working on the 1911 capstone project.

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KC Eusebio

SDI is Keeping Busy

With first place medals and record turnouts, the Sonoran Desert Institute team was busy in March. Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) is constantly traveling the country, whether it’s to help, inform, recruit, educate, or to compete in the case of our sponsored shooters. If you’ve been following the SDI newsletter you may already know about our success. These stories should be a good reminder to keep following our story.

“We are going back next year and we are definitely bringing a bigger booth!”

Garett Bischoff, SDI’s Chief Education Liaison, sounded almost giddy when he started talking about the attendance of the Arizona Game & Fish Outdoor Expo which took place on March 24-25, 2017. “We were expecting maybe 30,000 people through the entire weekend, but that ended up just being Saturday afternoon. Sunday was almost as busy!” (View our videos of the Outdoor Expo)

It’s understandable that Garett was so excited. He’s been traveling nearly 200 days per year as one of SDI’s most public faces and was confident the Outdoor Expo was one of the biggest and best organized events we have attended. Garett was joined at the Outdoor Expo by Education Liaisons Ed Jauch and Dustin Johnson who ran the booth for the duration of the expo. The Arizona Game & Fish Expo was amazing, but it was not the only activity from our dedicated SDI team.

Our sponsored shooter KC Eusebio won and he won big. KC , who “gained fame from his performance in Hot Shots,” traveled to the South River Gun Club in Covington, GA to compete against 472 other shooters. The Steel Nationals are regarded with prestige among shooters and SDI is grateful to have KC Eusebio representing our school.

How did KC perform? He won both Carry Optics with a total time of 88.19 and the prestigious Steel Master Title as well as winning the 22 Rimfire Optics division with a total time of 62.66. Proving why we like Mr. Eusebio so much, he remained humble. “I didn’t have the best performance but hard work and the best equipment carried me to that first-place finish,” he said. KC will not be resting on his laurels. As you read this he is traveling, teaching and competing all over the country.

Outdoor Expos, Steel Nationals, and Sonoran Desert Institute wasn’t even close to finished with March. Our Educational Liaison team also attended 10 events in Texas, Illinois, California, Georgia, Missouri and Oklahoma. These events let the SDI team consult, educate and chat with current service members, service members transitioning into civilian life, service member families, and masses of the general public. In one month, the SDI team has covered multiple events in over 7 states and won several shooting titles. The year is just getting started so imagine what else we might accomplish in 2017!

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SDI's Troy Hardwick

SDI’s Hardwick Goes the Distance. Twice!

Actions always speaks louder than words, and Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) Teaching Assistant and Quality Control Specialist Troy Hardwick personally honored the brave men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces through his recent actions by going above and beyond the call of duty.

Troy recently ran the Honoring Our Heroes Half Marathon, but he didn’t just lace up his running shoes and complete the course. He ran the half-marathon in full combat gear which included an AR-15 rifle and 45-pound backpack; and immediately after crossing the finish line, he turned back and ran the course in reverse, to find the last runner. Upon reaching that person, he accompanied them to the finish line to symbolize the American military credo that “we leave no one behind.”

After he crossed the finish line for the second time, a uniformed officer removed a flag from Troy’s backpack which he had carried during the race. The flag was formally presented to Ray Horton, a WWII veteran who served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines, and Air Force veteran and Heroes Marathon founder Bob Gravley.

“I went in with the intent of honoring our service members — past, present and future — and with a hope of inspiring people to get out and run, jog or walk the event,” said Hardwick. “What I myself gained from the experience was very profound and unexpected.”

“My inspiration from the event was a young lady named Hannah Monroe from Salem, Mo., who has cerebral palsy,” explains Hardwick. “She stayed ahead of me for the first six miles of the course. I eventually caught her and when her pace could no longer match mine, she asked to hold my hand…..she said I was her inspiration and she was not going to quit. So I held her hand for the next few miles, through the hills and cold, blowing winds. Some walkers caught us around mile 10 and said they would watch her while I completed the race, as it was known I was going to turn around at the finish and return to the last runner. My race continued and I finished around four hours…and turned around. I dropped my gear (and weapon) off with a police sergeant and headed back to the last runner. Roughly two- to three miles back was Hannah, struggling to make it 100-200 feet before having to rest and stretch. So we paced her to the finish line. At the entrance to the finish area, where the flagged ropes begin, she asked us to let her go so she could finish the race unassisted. Hannah was able to run across the finish line and was the hero of the marathon. She inspired those who had set out to inspire.”

An Army veteran of 20 years, Troy served most of years overseas with deployments in Macedonia with the United Nations, Bosnia with NATO, one year in Afghanistan; five years in Germany; four years in South Korea; and three years in Okinawa, Japan. While stateside, he served two years at Fort Stewart, Ga., and spent three years as an instructor at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He retired from active service in 2013, and is currently an active member of the volunteer Missouri Defense Force which serves to protect citizens in case of natural disaster or civil unrest.

Congratulations, Troy! We’re proud you’re on the SDI team.

For more information on Heroes Marathon, visit


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Veterans Day Thank You

SDI Recognizes Veterans Day

Our veterans deserve our heartfelt thanks today and every day.  This Veterans Day, SDI is making a donation in honor of each of its 16 team members who has served in the military. Please join us in thanking all vets, including our own SDI VIPs:

Mike Olson (Admissions/Career Services) – U.S.M.C.

Dale Grinage (Education Liaison Coordinator) – U.S.M.C.

Gary Zito (Instructional Services/Project Development) – U.S.M.C.

Walter “Rob” Howard (Chief Military Liaison) – U.S. Army

David “Wes” LeMay (Vice President) – U.S. Army

Erik Shaw (Instructor) – U.S. Army

Mark Gibbons (Education Liaison Officer) – U.S. Navy

Danny Guckenburg (Instructor) – U.S. Army National Guard

Bryan Dolch (Education Liaison Officer) – U.S.M.C.

James C. Mead (Instructor) – U.S. Army

Bob Lee (Instructor) – U.S.M.C.

Tim Harmsen (Business Development) – U.S.M.C.

Simona Nichols (Admissions) – U.S. Army National Guard

Candace Horner (Instructor) – U.S.M.C.

Sam Field (Education Liaison Officer) – U.S. Army


SDI is donating to our friends at The Raider Project and Fisher House Foundation in honor of these veterans, who have made both our school and our nation a better place.

The Raider Project connects MARSOC/USMC combat veterans with other veterans to help them transition smoothly, peacefully, successfully into the private sector. For more information on The Raider Project, please visit  

Fisher House Foundation is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. For more information on Fisher House Foundation, please visit

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SDI Booth at Range Day

SDI Attends IraqVeteran8888 Range Day

There’s no better way to promote firearm technology education than in the field and being one-on-one with gun owners and supporters of our Second Amendment rights. Recently, Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) representatives had the unique privilege and honor to attend the IraqVeteran8888 Range Day, an exciting invitation-only event that brought together veterans and those passionate about firearms.

Attending the event was SDI Chair of the School of Firearms Technology Zeke Stout, SDI Chief Education Liaison Garett Bischoff and SDI Student Ambassadors Brianna Phillips of Rock Springs, Wyo., and Sam Scurlock of Bunnlevel, N.C.

“My favorite part of the event was getting the chance to put my hands on and fire quite a few different weapons that I have had my eyes on for a while, such as the IWI X95 and Tavor,” said Scurlock. It was really great to see so many people and companies in attendance, having a good time and swapping stories and experiences.”

“It was one of the most memorable events I’ve had the pleasure of attending,” added Phillips. “Everyone was so hospitable and welcoming. It was an absolute honor to meet Eric, founder of Iraqveteran8888. Since the very first video I watched of him through SDI, I have always referred to his videos first for any job I have. I was also very excited to see a Sig Sauer P320. I had been looking to shoot one but with no luck. So when I saw it at the range day, and in my favorite color — a flat dark earth frame and a bronze slide — I HAD to pick it up. The whole trip was so wonderful and I only WISH I could do it again every year!


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