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Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Roots in Ripon - Echoes of Boot Camp – Rifle Range (Part 5)
The rifle range is the pièce de résistance
for every Marine recruit. This two-week training evolution, which occurs
somewhere about half-way through your boot camp experience, is critical. Why is
it critical, you ask? Because Marines are known for their rifle marksmanship.
To fall short at this point leaves a bad taste in the mouth of those who fail
to make the grade.
Marine memorizes The Rifleman’s Creed which was first implemented in World War
II by Major General William H. Rupertus. It is also known as My Rifle, or The Creed
of the United States Marine. “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is
mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must
master my life.” It goes on like this for several more paragraphs, concluding with this
final sentence: “So be it, until victory
is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!”
Prior to my platoon’s time on the rifle range, we
were taught how the rifle basically works, which includes knowing every part of
the weapon. In 1969 the rifle used by the Marine Corps was the M14. Prior to
the M14 rifle, the M1 Garand was used. In 1965, the Marines changed to the
M14. In 1970, the M14 was replaced by the M16 which is still in use today but
with updated versions and variations. Today, the M4 Carbine seems to be gaining
in prominence over the M16. Regardless of the type of rifle, Marines are
expected to learn to shoot the rifle and hit their target.
Author, Chuck Roots
Along with knowing everything about your rifle,
you must take exquisite care of it. Cleaning your rifle is akin to a religious
experience. In a combat situation dirt and other foul stuff can interfere with
the performance of your weapon. If your rifle jams or for some reason fails to
operate properly you will need to correct the problem at that moment. Your life
and the lives of those around you may depend on it. This is why every recruit
must learn to completely disassemble and reassemble his rifle. Once he has
shown his ability to take his rifle apart to the drill instructor’s
satisfaction, the room is darkened and we are blind-folded. This is the crucial
test. We must once again disassemble the rifle and reassemble it
satisfactorily. Why is this necessary? Because in a combat situation you may be
slugging it out with the enemy in the darkness of night, or when rockets and
mortars are kicking up large clouds of dirt and debris and smoke. If your rifle
jams you’d better be able to clear it and get back in the fight in a hurry. You
do not have the luxury of calling “time out” while you fix your rifle!
The rifle range for recruits at MCRD San Diego is
located at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Known as Edson Range, our platoon
made the 35-mile drive to the range where we would spend the next two weeks.
Merritt Austin Edson, known as “Red Mike”, joined the Marine Corps in 1917 and
retired in 1947. During WWII he was assigned as the commanding officer of the
vaunted Marine Raiders. Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor, along with
numerous other medals throughout his illustrious career.
Our first day at Edson Range basically consisted
of settling into our new barracks and receiving a “welcoming talk” from our
drill instructors. The barracks area is located close to Highway 5 which leads
north to Los Angeles. The drill instructors informed us of this, suggesting
that even though we could scale the fence and be in LA fairly quickly, we are
half-way through boot camp, so why quit now? Though we were anxious to be done,
and we longed to be free from the rigors of training, no one made the attempt.
The first week there is called “snapping in”. We
would spend hours encircled around large cylinders painted with target figures
that we would later see once we began live shooting on the range. Lying prone,
sitting, or standing were all positions we had to learn in the process of
shooting our rifle. We would aim at the diminutive targets on the cylinders and
become familiar with holding our position. After a week of this we were very
anxious to actually get to fire live rounds on the range!
Physical training did not stop while we were at
the range. Three-mile runs were part of our daily regimen. Also, climbing the
30-foot rope was a favorite, along with push-ups, pull-ups, bend-and-thrusts,
and a wide variety of exercises the drill instructors had in store for us.
When our second week began, known as “qual week”,
meaning we were going to fire live rounds all week with a final day where we
would be shooting to qualify. The center of the bull’s eye was ten points, with
concentric rings moving out from the center in decreasing value (9, 8, 7,
etc.). There are four categories within which a recruit can attempt to qualify:
Expert, Sharpshooter, Marksman, and Unq. Everyone wants to shoot expert, but
it’s not as easy as it appears. The range is very near the Pacific Ocean so we
have winds blowing at times where the shooter must adjust his windage device on
the rifle to counter the turbulence of the wind. You’re shooting from three
positions: Standing position from the 200-yard line; Sitting from the 300-yard
line; and Prone from the 500-yard line. All three positions are added up for
your final score. A score of 220-250 points is expert. 210-219 is sharpshooter.
And 200-209 is Marksman. To fail to score 200 or better means you acquired the
dubious distinction of Unq, which means you failed to qualify, or as we would
say, “you went unq”. A few always do, but it’s hard on any Marine who does so.
Shooting badges are issued to those who scored between Marksman and Expert.
They are proudly worn on the uniform.
Though I had not been shooting particularly well
all week, on qual day I managed to get a good score. I fired expert, and was
the high shooter for my platoon. Later in my career I would qualify expert with
the 9mm pistol.
Next week I’ll share some final
stories, mostly about Christmas in boot camp!