Army gold medalist mourns the loss of his shooting coach

WTU Force Structure William E. Barker (left) holds an air rifle shooting clinic in Albuquerque, NM attended by Sgt. Patrick Haney (center). Barker, Haney’s high school shooting coach, passed away in July 2017 (Photo Courtesy of Sgt. Patrick Haney).

By Whitney Delbridge Nichels, Warrior Care and Transition

It’s been a bittersweet summer for 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games standout Sgt. Patrick Haney.

The New Mexico native - who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury at the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion - turned heads in the early days of competition by coming in first place with a 56 point lead in the standing air rifle qualifying event. It was an accomplishment he was eager to share with his high school shooting coach, retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. William E. Barker.

“I called him from Chicago and he said ‘I’m getting calls that you’re shooting phenomenally,” Haney said. “I told him how well qualification went and finals would be in a couple days. He said, ‘You got this. I know you’ll win gold.”

Haney did just that, with a 26 point lead.

But it was a moment he’d never get to share with his coach. Shortly after the two men spoke, Haney says Barker suffered two strokes and passed away days later.

“It seems so surreal. You come home from winning a gold medal and you find out this happened to someone that helped you along the way,” said Haney, who went back to Albuquerque to train with Barker in preparation for the Games.

According to his obituary, Barker - a former New Mexico State Director for the Civilian Marksmanship Program - will be remembered for his “amazing ability to solve problems, counsel youth and mentor friends and colleagues.”

Haney echoes that sentiment, describing Barker as an “outgoing and caring” person with a great sense of humor. His personality was on full display when Haney brought along Army teammate retired Master Sgt. Shawn “Bubba” Vosburg - who also recovered at the Fort Bliss WTB - to train with Barker before Warrior Games.

“He said ‘We’ll give Vosburg the crappy rifle so you can school him’,” Haney laughed. “He was always making little jokes here and there to keep it fun.”

In their final conversation, Barker made one final request of Haney.

“He said he’d like to see me be a coach,” Haney said, gladly accepting his former mentor’s mission.

“All he wanted to do was be able to provide for others, and it’s my responsibility to carry on the legacy and train others how he trained me.”