“On May 11th, more than 37,000 men, aged 19-26, woke up and found their surnames on Lithuania’s compulsory military service list…”
That’s how a recent article from earlier this year started. Just a few months ago, Lithuania responded to the tensions in Russia and Ukraine by reinstating the required service that they had abolished in 2008. We didn’t realize this when we recently went to a gun range in Lithuania. This is how the next three hours unfolded.
For €75, we had arranged to have access to 13 different guns, ranging from pistols to assault rifles. Yuri, our instructor picked us up and ushered us 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, the picturesque capital of Lithuania. We’d spent the morning wandering through old churches and romantic cobblestone streets, and the dusty, open field of the shooting range was a huge (but exhilarating) departure.
Yuri trained soldiers for the Lithuanian military. When he first mentioned this, we didn’t realize the weight it carried. It wasn’t until later on that I understood why he emphasized his training: because many Lithuanians felt unprepared for military service and the issue has been hitting the country hard. “Can you imprison a man’s choice and call it free living?” someone pleaded in this emotional reaction to the unexpected mandate.
The most surreal part in all of this was Yuri’s 6-year-old son who hung out with us the entire time.
Back on the shooting range Yuri made it clear from the start: we would be learning everything from the ground up. First, the pistols…
We learned how load bullets in our own cartridges and to lock and load our own guns.
With every rotation, the guns got heavier.This was the Uzi.
I’m proud to say that Emily was the best shooter of the day. #GirlRepresent.
I liked Yuri from the start. He was like a gentle militant, the kind of dad I’d imagine drilling you hard at soccer practice but would let you get an extra scoop on your double fudge sundae. He made us review our target practices after each and every round, marking each successful shot with tape and teasing us when our aim was embarrassingly off.
And while it was empowering as a woman to own the gun range, I realized that I rarely flip gender story around to talk about society’s expectations of men. Men who protested the military service were quickly labeled “unmanly,” “cowardly” and “disgraceful.”
The Thompson “Tommy” Gun.
Ending the day.
Photo Credit: Calvin Sun
And in the face of all of this, my sense is that Lithuanians are tough people. Case in point, Yuri’s son who had been riding around on this little dirt bike. No big deal. Just hanging with a bunch of rifle-handling noobies on the field.