In the Corps we have a thing about being good with a rifle. This stems all the way back to World War I. Germans first encountered the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments at what they thought were distances well outside accurate rifle ranges. Marine accuracy was such that German soldiers mistakenly believed they had engaged a battalion of snipers. The lethality of Marine marksmanship led General Pershing to remark: ” The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”
Rifle and pistol badges can mean quite a bit to young Marines. To be “unq” or “unqualified” with the rifle is the most egregious of crimes and can cause a Marine unbelievable shame and ridicule. The marksman badge or “pizza box” is the lowest of qualifications but at least the bearer can hit paper with a weapon. In all fairness, there are those who cannot hit the target with a bayonet let alone live ammo. Nonetheless, Marksmen are looked down upon for their lack of ability. Next are the Sharpshooters, whose skill is such that they can at least say they aren’t Marksmen. Finally are the heroes who are qualified to sport Expert badges. They righteously look down upon the rest for their inability to manipulate a rifle accurately. The only thing better than an Expert is a multiple award Expert and, of course, being a double expert in both rifle and pistol.
I qualified Expert with just about everything I ever shot. Eventually, anyway.
The Army may not place the service-wide emphasis on marksmanship that the Marines do, but in the infantry, at least, it is still a point of pride to shoot well.
Having said that, I’m actually a terrible shot. I’ve needed glasses since I was 11. And the service issued “BCG” glasses fog up instantly on every range. Accordingly, I had to shoot without them. Given that my right eye is 20/400, that poses a challenge. Since I can’t really even see the 300m target.
So, I did master the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, and over the course of my service, even managed to hit one or two 300m targets. But I certainly never got a perfect score with the rifle.
And when firing on live fire maneuver, I could tell I wasn’t even close to the target. Moving from team leader to squad leader was a relief. A team leader is expected to shoot. A squad leader is expected to direct others to shoot.
Moving from the dirt to the turret was even better. You can be pretty blind as a bat and still shoot well in a Bradley. That’s the miracle of modern technology. And moving from the gunner’s seat to the commander’s seat was even better. I just had to tell my gunner what to shoot.
Going through Ft. Benning in 1985, as the Army was just getting ready to introduce the M16A2 into service, my company actually fired a slightly odd Basic Rifle Marksmanship course of fire. Normally, the Army fires 20 rounds from the prone supported position, then 20 rounds from the foxhole supported position. But we fired two other positions, for a total of four, with ten rounds each. Never mind we were still firing M16A1 rifles. And we didn’t realize that we were firing a non-traditional course of fire. The four positions were:
- 10 rounds prone supported
- 10 rounds prone unsupported
- 10 rounds kneeling
- 10 rounds foxhole supported
When I got to my first unit, A-1/27IN Wolfhounds, almost the first thing that happened was the company went to its regularly scheduled rifle qualification. They looked at me like I had two heads when I asked why we were only firing from the two positions.