Retired Federal Air Marshal establishes firearms academy–Blue Skies Firearms Academy, O’Brien

Owners Heather and Rick Banke stand in front \of their newly constructed shooting range at Blue Skies Firearms Academy in O’Brien, Florida. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

By Tami Stevenson

A Grand Opening was recently held for Blue Skies Firearms Academy, LLC in O’Brien. Owner and instructor Rick Banke, with over 38 years experience through the military and municipal and Federal Law Enforcement, is excited

to have the opportunity to teach people how to defend themselves now that he is retired. The facility is not just a new shooting range, it offers tactical instruction for novice through expert with NRA certified classes, concealed carry certifications, firearm fundamentals, handgun marksmanship, women’s practical pistol defense and home firearm safety courses.
Rick’s wife, Heather, says he has always been a good teacher.
“Years ago he taught our niece, Megan Richardson, how to shoot. She went with them one day to watch. She was petrified of guns, her back was up against the wall and like teary-eyed.” Heather said. “Rick asked her if she wanted to leave and she said no. A couple minutes later she asked him to teach her how to shoot.” A little while later she was shooting what they call a “rat hole” in the target and loved the experience.
“Rick is very passionate about teaching and helping people learn how to defend themselves,” added Heather. “He’s very good at it. He makes it interesting and fun and has the ability to make everyone feel comfortable.” She added he is very safety oriented, even the berm is higher than it needs to be, according to state regulation.
Rick joined the Army when he was 18. After the Army he served in law enforcement. Two days after 9-11 happened in 2001, he signed up again as a Federal Air Marshal and remained in that position until his retirement this last June.

The Banke’s have been married 17 years. Rick says he specifically has a focus for women, being a husband and the father of a little girl. “I asked God for one just like my wife and that’s exactly what He gave me.”
He went on to say, “Teaching women is a priority to me. The way society is treating each other these days, in my opinion, there’s very little respect for human life anymore, much less, common decency towards each other. So there’s a threat out there and there’s a reason we moved down here (from Maryland) was to get away from that nonsense. But it’s everywhere you go.”
During the course of the interview, Banke said, “My big focus is tactical defensive shooting. I can train you to be a bullseye shooter, which is a lot of fun to do (he offers courses on that), but that’s not what’s going to save your life.”
We talked about a scenario using a shotgun to defend your home. “The very first thing you do is call 911, have it on speakerphone. Tell them you have someone breaking into your house, you have a shotgun, and they’re still coming in. Then you just forget the phone is even there, just let it go, and to whoever’s breaking in the house, say, ‘I’ve got a shotgun, STOP! I have 911 on the phone!’ Then you rack a shell in it – if somebody keeps coming in after they hear that very distinctive sound of a shotgun being racked, you need to be ready – because they’re crazy (on drugs or whatever). If they keep coming after all that, you have a horrible problem. You’re going to have to use what they call ‘extreme violence with action.’”
Having the right mindset is so important. “I don’t teach you to be Wyatt Earp, I’m teaching you to stay alive,” he explained. “You have to have the right mindset. Nobody wants to shoot another person. No good person wants to shoot another person, it’s not natural.” He explained, ”But, God forbid, if you are ever put in that situation, to save your life (and your children), you have to know how to switch on that extreme violence with action mindset. It’s not natural. Otherwise, you’re just going to be a victim, unfortunately.”

They are putting in a 20x21x18 building on a concrete pad at the range for course work and teaching. They were hoping for the cement to be poured this week.
The Banke’s said they were very pleased with the turn-out for the grand opening. Friends and neighbors such as Mr. Lee, who heads up the security team at Christ Central Church in Lake City attended, Donald and Sherry Roberts along with Donald’s father, Albert, Marine Corps Recruiter David Berryhill of Valdosta, were among those that came by to show their support, some visitors simply saw the sign and stopped in to check it out.

David Berryhill about to enjoy some bratwurst from the grill during the grand opening. Berryhill is a Marine Corps recruiter in N. Florida and S. Georgia. He says, “If you ever want to change your life, talk to your local Marine Corps Recruiter.” -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

Banke explained that a U.S. Federal Air Marshal is basically an undercover law enforcement officer on an airplane. “There are a whole bunch of different things they teach you that I’m not allowed to talk about. Any incident that might occur, nine times out of ten, the air marshal is the fire extinguisher to put it out.” From celebrities to politicians, he has had a lot of experiences and said it would be nice to write a book someday.
When asked if he enjoyed his time spent as an air marshal, he said he did enjoy it. It was a career, “I believed in the mission.”
Visit Blue Skies Firearms Academy online at the range is located at 24070 101st Road in O’Brien. Their phone number is 386-324-1558 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Also at the Grand Opening, L-R: Spencer Jeffries, Zoey Moody and Vivian Banke. No doubt they thoroughly enjoyed Heather’s awesome homemade chocolate chip cookies calling out from the food table. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson