Hitting his mark
September 12, 2005
EAGLE – When Eric Sundstrom takes aim at something, he usually hits it. His alma mater, the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., is now taking aim at him. In November, they will induct him into their Hall of Fame for the four years he spent on their rifle team from 1964 to 67.Sundstrom, a five-year resident of Eagle, was twice a member of national championship teams at the Citadel. He is the only person in the military school’s history to be named a four-time All American. Sundstrom got the news from friends about his induction. “It came as a huge surprise,” said Sundstrom, who was born in Marblehead, Mass.Growing up shootingSundstrom’s family moved from Marblehead to Glen Ridge, N.J. before he started high school. It was there, at the age of 13, that he began to perfect the sport of sharpshooting. The local police station in Glen Ridge had a range in the basement, which was also home to the local rifle club. “Shooting was a big deal when I was a kid,” says Sundstrom, who adds that hundreds of colleges had rifle teams in the 1950s and 1960s.
The young shooter made his way through the National Rifle Associations’ achievement program. After completing the necessary NRA training, Sundstrom began competing in junior national competitions. Each summer in high school, he attended the National Marksmanship Championships at Camp Perry in Ohio. The contest, which has been held in Camp Perry for over 100 years, is considered the World Series of shooting. At the time, Sundstrom was competing in small-bore rifle competitions. He won junior national titles three times at Camp Perry. It was about that time that his sport of choice became a passion.College competitionSundstrom pursued shooting as a high school senior at the New Mexico Military Institute. He knew he wanted to compete at the next level, and, at the time, he wanted to go to Annapolis. However, Sundstrom couldn’t get a spot at the Naval Academy, so a friend of his father’s began talking about the Citadel.”There was a board member at Citadel that my dad knew,” says Sundstrom. The friend got Sundstrom in touch with the Citadel’s president, Gen. Mark Clark, a veteran of World War II. “(Gen. Clark) put together an amazing team while I was there,” Sundstrom says. “He bought German rifles for us to use, instead of giving us the old ROTC rifles that many teams used.”As a freshman, Sundstrom was a member of the Citadel’s National Championship team. The team was awarded the William Randolph Hearst trophy for their efforts. As a sophomore, the team finished second nationally.
“Midway through my college career, they made the size of the target smaller,” says Sundstrom. Perfect scores were coming too easily he recalls, so they shrunk the target down to the size of a period on a typewriter. Still, Sundstrom’s team won the South Carolina state title and the Southern Conference Championship when he was a senior. But the victories aren’t what Sundstrom remembers the most. He says it was the people.”We had an instructor there named Bill Willis,” Sundstrom says. “He was a former sergeant major in the army. He was tough, and he made us tough. He would always tell us to suck it up. It helped us mentally.”The mental side of shooting was key to the team’s success, Sundstrom says.”Shooters are pretty calm, thoughtful people,” he says. “They have to be in control of the body and the mind. It was a unique group. It was neat to be a part of them.”Beyond collegeThe world was a tumultuous place when Sundstrom graduated from college. He was stationed in Fort Benning, Ga. for two years of compulsory service. Fort Benning was, and is, home to the Army Marksmanship Training Unit. Virtually all the top shooters in the military were either at Fort Benning or in Vietnam at the time.
“If my wife hadn’t been pregnant at the time, I would have gone (to Vietnam) as a sniper,” Sundstrom says. After Fort Benning, Sundstrom competed in a few Olympic trials, and made two finals, he said. However, he never made the Olympics. Now Sundstrom is a broker for Carpet Direct in Eagle. He took a position here five years ago after working in Colorado Springs. He still shoots recreationally, and attended the national championships for years after his stint at Fort Benning.Sundstrom is planning to return to the Citadel for his induction into the Hall of Fame in November. While it was never a goal of his at the time, he says the induction will hold a special place in his heart.”I really liked the Citadel and what it stood for,” says Sundstrom. “To have my name there in a permanent fashion makes me feel good.”This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.Vail, Colorado