Efficiency and focus drive Darren Mulford in everything he does. The civil engineer and administrative contracting officer at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, is also a competitive pistol shooter ranked in the top 15 percent of classified shooters in the U.S. Practical Shooting Association (USPSA).
“I don’t know what it is about shooting. I’m good at it; I love the competition,” Mulford said. “I think if you’re good at something, you should not quit doing it. You should continue improving because it’s a gift you’ve been given.”
Mulford said he’s always loved shooting. “I grew up in a small farm community in northeast Missouri shooting BB guns and rifles; it was not a big deal to go shooting all the time.”
The type of shooting he’s doing now – competing mostly in USPSA events – is more exciting than shooting at the tin cans of his youth, he said.
“You’re shooting on the move; you’re shooting targets that stand still; you’re shooting targets that move; you’re shooting paper targets and steel targets. And it’s up to you to figure out the most efficient way to navigate a course of fire. It’s about speed, as well as accuracy.”
It’s a constant conflict, Mulford explained: “The faster you go, the less accurate you are; the more accurate you are, the slower you are – so you have to find the right balance. What it boils down to is conservation of energy and movement to achieve that right balance.”
Shooting well requires focus, any extra movement, any extra steps reduce your efficiency and negatively impact your performance. The “OCD” engineer, as he refers to himself, said that same focus on efficiency translates to his work, as well. On a project, anything that affects the critical path reduces efficiency and negatively impacts the schedule and quality of the product.
Mulford said his path toward an engineering career began as a child during the summers spent with his grandpa.
“Although he was not an engineer, he was a tinkerer,” Mulford said. “He was always making something. When I wasn’t mowing grass, he always had me making something. Whether it was a chess board out of oak and walnut or stained glass windows or blacksmithing, we were always doing something, and I loved making things.”
He said when he asked himself, “What career can I pursue to make things?” He always thought it was engineering.
Mulford got his start with the Army Corps of Engineers during college as a coop student at the St. Louis District during the Great Flood of 1993. It was that experience that also led him to change his major from mechanical to civil engineering.
The University of Missouri-Rolla graduate was a sales and marketing engineer in private industry before a downsizing forced him to look for something new. He landed back at the St. Louis District as a civil engineer.
After 14 years working on civil works projects at the St. Louis District, the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan presented itself at the right time and he jumped at the chance. Mulford said he got his introduction to military construction in Afghanistan, where he was a senior project engineer in Bagram and then promoted to resident engineer at Camp Qargha outside Kabul.
“One of the neat things about the Corps is the projects we work on,” said Mulford, who has been a design engineer for several projects in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, resident engineer for the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Afghanistan, and now an administrative contracting officer. He has volunteered for flood fighting missions, disaster relief teams, debris removal and Temporary Roofing Planning and Response Teams.
“If you are willing to travel and willing to get out of your comfort zone, there are so many different things you can do in the Corps.”
Following his deployment, Mulford and his family made the move to Huntsville, where he joined Huntsville Center’s Chemical Demilitarization Directorate in January 2016.
The part-time gunsmith who builds his own competition handguns said he keeps extremely busy outside of work shooting, reloading or gunsmithing – or talking with people about shooting, reloading or gunsmithing.
“I love helping people; it’s something I’ve always done so it comes natural to me.”
A Cabela’s Shooting Pro-Staffer for two years, Mulford makes in-store appearances and gives seminars about shooting, reloading and weapon safety.
Nationally ranked as a master in the U.S. Practical Shooting Association and the International Defensive Pistol Association, Mulford said he typically shoots 15,000-20,000 rounds per year. Before deploying to Afghanistan, he was competing in one to two local matches every weekend and one or two major matches each month during the April to November competition season. He has competed at all levels of the sport, winning several area and state level competitions and placing 31st of more than 200 shooters in the invitation-only 2014 USPSA Nationals. In 2012 he was both the Illinois and Missouri IDPA state champion.
Mulford said he’s undecided about what he considers his most significant accomplishment in shooting. He said earning his master ranking was a significant achievement – similar to earning his professional engineering license.
“But I think the thing that I’m most proud of is my constant progression toward the top,” said Mulford, who admitted he’s still striving to be known as one of the top handgun shooters in the country. He really enjoys sharing his knowledge and introducing new people to the sport any chance he gets.
“I feel I have a lot to offer, and I just want to make a difference.”