FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Becoming a Soldier is a life-changing event for everyone. It can improve fitness levels. It can alter perspectives on world issues. It can enhance coping skills and decision-making.
For some, all those changes and more may happen. But for one young woman, putting on the uniform and raising her right hand had a very unique effect: it moved her competitive shotgun game to another level.
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Amber English, a Colorado Springs, Colorado native, started shooting shotgun at the age of 16. However, coming from a shooting sports family, she was familiar with the sport much earlier than that since both her father and uncle shot Running Target and her mother and aunt shot rifle. It just wasn't her thing until her teens, she explained.
"Shooting has been a big deal in my family ever since I was little, but I actually grew up doing gymnastics," English said.
When her time in gymnastics came to end, she naturally tried something she'd seen her family involved in for so many years.
"Everyone in my family has a shooting background," English said. "When I left gymnastics, I was still looking to compete in something, so I tried shotgun, and that was the end of that."
With a childhood full of outdoor activities -- hunting, fishing, skiing -- shooting skeet fulfilled her connection with nature and the challenging facets of the game met her competitive drive.
In just a few years on the gun, English was grabbing skeet titles such as 2007 Junior Olympic Championships - Bronze Medalist, 2009 Junior Olympic Champion, 2012 World Cup Acapulco, Silver Medalist and 2013 National Champion, just to name a few.
The sport kept the girl from Colorado busy. Since she was taking college classes, her training schedule didn't always allow for the traditional college experience. She'd miss trips with her friends or hanging out with peers on weekends because she had to compete or train. Back then, it seemed like a bit of a sacrifice for the sport she had come to love. But now, at 28, she sees it a little differently.
"What I thought were sacrifices back then, were not really a big deal the older you get," she said.
So though she may have missed a party or Spring Break here or there, the young woman was having experiences thousands of competitive shotgun shooters across the world dream of: traveling, shooting and competing on the international stage.
And in the process of all that training and competing, English said she was learning lessons that she'd never learn in a college textbook.
"Shooting has taught me a lot about discipline and working hard," English said. "You learn a lot about yourself when you are put in difficult, high-pressure situations. You learn how to control your emotions."
Being good under pressure and having an interest in helping people, English used her degree in Health Science to serve her community in Colorado as a paramedic. Interestingly enough, she said the fast-paced, rough-and-tumble job tied in very well with her side career of shooting skeet.
"That actually helped me on the shooting side and vice versa," she said.
As her skill in skeet continued to grow, English was narrowing in on a Team USA spot for the 2016 Olympics. Then, tragedy struck her family and in the end, she ended up as an alternate, explained English.
"It was really difficult. I was shooting really well that year, leading up in all the World Cups," English said. "I ended up ranked number three in the world that year. But in between Olympic Trials, my dad passed away unexpectedly. So it was tough for me to just get back on the range and shoot the second part of Trials.
"It was tough, but in the same sense, it made me a different kind of competitor after that -- the being so close and not making it," she said. "All my perspectives have changed in the last few years. Although it still hurts every once and a while when I think about it, it definitely motivates me to get onto this next team."
After the devastating loss of her father, and the near-miss at the Rio Olympics, the young competitive athlete said she needed to adjust her plans and life. So, in February 2017 she joined the Army Reserve when she was 27 years old.
"I needed a big change in my life a few years ago, and I was like, 'well, let's just do it,'" English said. "And I am super excited to be here and see what happens."
English had some grandparents with military service, but no one in her immediate circle had joined. However, she would come in contact with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit's (USAMU) Shotgun Team often on the competitive circuit. So military service had always been in the back of her mind, said English.
"I grew up shooting with these [USAMU] guys behind me," English said. "So we always went back and forth for several years on trying to get me into the unit."
Now, as a Reserve Soldier, and a proven world-class skeet shooter, English had a new opportunity and the big change she had been seeking. The Reserve Soldier was immediately put on orders into the World Class Athlete Program and assigned to train with the USAMU.
Ironically though, the new opportunity meant she'd have to put down her gun for over a year to attend all her initial military training. And for any competitive sportsman, that big of gap could have its consequences.
The time away from everything, however, brought the experienced shotgun competitor huge success. Shortly after completing her military training, she claimed the Bronze Medal at the April World Cup in Changwon, South Korea. Then in June, she seized the Silver Medal at the World Cup in Siggiewi, Malta.
The big results, so soon after a long training gap, astounded the new Soldier.
"I was actually very surprised and impressed," English said. "When I came out of my Army training, I was like, 'Man, I might have to take a few steps back just because I had so much time off [from shooting]', but it actually skyrocketed me into a whole new level. I think I learned a lot from all the Army training. I learned a lot of patience ... It definitely helped my shooting career."
So now, when English puts on her gear to shoot, she is no longer just representing herself. Between the Army Reserve, the World Class Athlete Program, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, and USA Shooting, the new Soldier has a lot more eyes watching her. The added layers of organizations don't change anything for the experienced competitor though.
"The responsibility has never changed [for me], because even if you are only representing yourself, you are still representing the U.S. when you are wearing USA on your back," English said.
Adding the U.S. Army Soldier role to her bio is nothing but a pure honor, said English.
"I joined a little later in life. I wish I had joined a little earlier, but better late than never," said the new Soldier who was called "grandma" at Basic Training just over a year ago, when she was 27 years old. "I am super proud and honored to be a part of the Army and the U.S. in general."
Like most civilians who transform into Soldiers, English said her military training has changed some things.
"It's definitely different. The biggest thing that changed was that I don't let the small things bother me as much," she explained. "I learned a lot of patience. Although I wasn't shooting for that year, almost year and a half, I was still thinking about it a lot. So it forced me to take some time back and think about what I was doing before I actually did it."
That new level of calm just may have helped her claim the Silver Medal in Malta. Her skill got her to the finals and everything was going well. She was hitting targets and in a groove. Then, there were some technical difficulties. Machines were malfunctioning. On top of that, there were high winds. So basically, it was turning out to be the nightmare many competitive shooters fear.
But English said she combined her new military training and her practiced pre-shot routine to get through the difficult final.
"I just went through my pre-shot routine and knew that whatever was going on, I didn't have any control over it," English said. "So me getting irritated, obviously was not going to help. So I just went back to the basics and got it done."
Of course, when a getting-it-done effort results in a Silver Medal, something is working right. So when asked about her 2020 Olympic plans, English said she doesn't want to change too much, or in fact, nothing at all.
"Honestly, I am not going to do anything different. After this break, I am trying to work smarter and not harder," explained the World Cup medalist. "I've put the time in. I've put a lot of ammo through my gun. I am kind of shifting my focus ... I am going to keep doing what I am doing, and just learn from each match I go to. Then hopefully, I will have a shinier one at the Tucson World Cup."
And in that order, medal by medal, competition by competition, English will try to work her way to her ultimate goal, the 2020 Olympics.
"My goal is to be having a Gold Medal around my neck on the podium in 2020. That's my goal," stated the Soldier. "I heard Tokyo is amazing... so it should be good," she followed up with a laugh.
With her new role as a Soldier setting in and her shotgun career in overdrive, English said she is in a good place.
"All and all, I wouldn't change where I am at for anything," she said.
And if asked to reflect on her best moment, she simply smiles and says, "My best moment honestly, is right now. Coming out of a huge change in my life and coming back onto the shotgun circuit and being successful on my first two World Cups I've been to this year, this is probably my best moment. And, I am really looking forward to expanding on it."