The Marine Corps is full of administrative clerks, combat photographers, supply chiefs and so on, but just like infantrymen, all Marines must become riflemen first.
After four weeks training at the depot, recruits move 40-miles north to Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., for field and weapons training.
Much of the marksmanship training is conducted with classes formed in half circles in which recruits practice aiming in on palm-sized targets. Instructors coach recruits through shooting positions and procedures. All the while, instructors casually preach weapons safety. They want recruits to relax.
“One of the first things we tell recruits or Marines to remember when shooting is to relax,” said Sgt. Matthew J. Maruster, primary marksmanship instructor. “Once you relax, you can apply what you learned a lot better than if you were stressed out.”
To relax while shooting, Recruit Micah S. Parsons, Platoon 1065, Company D, said he used breath control: “The slow, steady breathing really helped slow me down.”
Before actual firing takes place, recruits must become familiar with the M-16 A2, a rifle they carried for the first month of training. Before second phase, however, that rifle has only been a drilling tool to them. The first week of second phase recruits learn weapons handling, safety, functions and marksmanship. Instructors also throw in their own two-cents.
“We give advice on our own experiences,” said Maruster. “Show them some tricks of the trade.”
Different shooting positions are a big part of the syllabus. Recruits learn four: the prone – lying flat on the stomach, the kneeling, the standing, and the sitting.
Maruster said kneeling is the best position to learn because it is used most frequently on the range and in combat.
“Most of the time when you engage your enemy, you don’t have enough time to get down on the deck, so you just go to the kneeling or sitting position,” said Maruster.
“The prone was the easiest position for me,” said Parsons. “Being able to steady the weapon helped me to take my time. I had a little trouble in the standing.”
Marksmanship instructors make sure recruits are familiar with three carrying positions and four weapon conditions because range officials do not tolerate unsafe weapon handling.
“Safety is important, obviously,” said Maruster. “You never want to lose or injure a recruit when it could have been prevented. Most of the time, it is easy enough. The safety is already in their head. It is engrained through boot camp.”
Drill instructors, coaches and marksmanship instructors keep a constant watch on the recruits, who are given no room for error.
“Coaches and drill instructors were always on the alert,” said Parsons. “Making sure your weapon was cleared and on safe after you were done firing – everything was pretty locked on according to safety.”
“Marksmanship in general should be taken very seriously,” said Maruster. “Whether you are an (administrative Marine) or an (intelligence Marine), no matter what military occupational specialty, you should have the ability to put rounds down range in a particular direction and be able to hit a target. The past few years have shown that you don’t necessarily have to be an (infantryman) to be a rifle man.”