Castra Praetoria: Concerning marksmanship badges…

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.

via Castra Praetoria: Concerning marksmanship badges….

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.

14 thoughts on “Castra Praetoria: Concerning marksmanship badges…”

  1. Some tend to dismiss the USMC emphasis on classic marksmanship, even though the Army taught it precisely the same way (though without the emphasis) 60 years ago. But teaching basic marksmanship, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger pull, body position, breathing, all that does indeed come into play in combat marksmanship. Someone versed in basic marksmanship and who knows his weapon can master any fire and movement course. Not necessarily true for someone who doesn’t. Ditto reaction shooting with the pistol. (Though the Corps used to do a lackluster job of teaching Officers how to shoot the pistol. I had to teach myself) Basic marksmanship is always a good base, and without it, the fancy stuff is almost impossible. Which is why, it would seem, most of the cops in my area are such horrendous marksmen.

    In each instance, I think it is like trying to teach someone to hit the curveball without teaching them how to hit.

    1. I’m always surprised when anti-gun folks are shocked at how badly police officers tend to shoot. Police officers didn’t join the force in order to shoot and may well never practice at all. A civilian with a CCW permit likely enjoys shooting and goes to the range often, making them far more competent with their weapon. Somehow, the anti-gun folks refuse to understand.

    2. You do realize they didn’t just hand us a rifle and say “Go!” right? We were properly instructed on BRASS and the other basics of marksmanship. I’ve spent plenty of time in dime/washer drills.

      The big difference was the Army didn’t put any emphasis on Known Distance firing (though apparently, that’s changed a bit since my day), and instead fired for qualification on a hit/miss pop up target system. Which, that had its own advantages. The reason the Army went to that wasn’t a lack of faith in marksmanship training, but rather a realization early in Vietnam that while graduates of the old KD system could hit paper, they were not doing well at engaging fleeting battlefield targets. That it was quick, cheap and easy to train on was a bonus.

      But personally, I’ve long felt that KD shooting is a very valuable tool for marksmanship, and wish we’d done more of it.

    3. My Dad thought highly of the extra $3 month he received when he fired expert. Does a pay supplement still exist?

  2. O gracious host, I do know that the Army did indeed train in marksmanship. However, the breaking away from the KD course caused skills to diminish significantly. The USMC drew precisely the opposite conclusion from Vietnam, in that both types of training were required and that more trigger time, and not less, was much preferable.

    Once upon a time, I was a part of a target pulling detail on a Saturday at Quantico (Second Lieutenants being a source of very cheap labor) for a company of Army infantry who were experimenting with the KD course. It was better than 25 years ago, so I cannot remember if they were reservists or not, but I know we were told they were NOT National Guard. The coaches and line NCOs put them through our 250-point KD course, and the scores were pretty horrendous. A large number went UNQ, somewhere around a third, if memory serves. Not many broke 200, and only a handful shot expert (220+). Our Student Platoon Cdr told us that this was a good lesson in leadership, that these soldiers should have been taught marksmanship and had it reinforced, but someone someplace thought something else was more important. That lesson stuck with me since.

    1. I agree that there is something to be said for KD range training to reinforce basic marksmanship skills. I am curious how long you have to fire each round on KD range. I can say that the army’s methodology is basically to get you to rapidly align the weapon”s optic (or iron sights) somewhere on the target and pull the trigger in about 8 seconds as opposed to lengthy target exposure. I can say that I am still messed up from shooting competively for time in high-school with ten rounds in ten minutes each or prone, kneeling and standing that those 8 seconds feel like 3 and I rush through it. We do focus much more on reflexive fire, stress shoots, and target discrimination inside buildings than we used to. Bottom line, there is only so much time to get out to ranges, so much ammo, and so many skills to master that KD slips to the bottom.

  3. Like I said, without KD it is like teaching how to hit a curveball without teaching how to hit.

    Time should be made for KD ranges. Once annually. Do it in conjunction with fire and movement, etc. but do it.

    1. Not sure I would prioritize it that high, though it is important. If my training objective is to get pretty accurate fires on fleeting targets at varying ranges rapidly, then I need to train that way. For example, reflexive fire/close quarters marksmanship is done independent of a breathing cycle or trigger squeeze, both of which are essential elements of KD marsmanship. If my primary training method reinforces slow and steady, settling in for each shot and then taking it, it could be counterproductive. Bottom line is that everyone should know basic fundamentals of marksmanship, but then must have a range training program that builds the skills necessary to succeed in the environment that you plan on operating in. If you don’t have a variety of skills, you can’t ever employ a variety of skills. Operations in Iraq generally required short ranges, rapid rates of fire, and urban environments. Perfect for reflexive fire training. Afghanistan presents many more fleeting long range shots. A firer should be able to estimate range, understand the ballistics of his weapon, know where to align his sights based on range and ballistics, and know how to apply sight picture, sight alignment, trigger squeeze, and proper firing positions to hit what he aims at-quickly. If you get that from either KD ranges or pop up qualification on ranges varying from 50-300m, then you are a good shooter. If you can’t do that, you need to train more.

  4. Before South Post Fort Myer closed, an indoor rifle club met on Wednesday nights. The club was sponsored by an old retired Army general who participated in both WW I and WW II. His experience was that most soldiers couldn’t shoot well on the range, let alone in the field. In the late 60s, word was returning from Vietnam about the inability of solidiers to shoot well there. The general’s emphasis was teaching young men and women to adhere to the basics of marksmanship so if they were called upon, they would hit what they intended to.

    Ultimaratiogregis is correct if you can’t hit at know distances, you can’t hit on the other ranges either.

  5. Most PDs only require quarterly qualification, and some have gone to annual. Me, I like to shoot, and with my M&P 15-22 I can keep current with the AR at affordable rates. Use of Deadly Force is something you don’t want to do, but you must be prepared should the event come. I myself am amazed at the number of officers to whom the duty weapon is just another thing on the belt. I choose to carry a Heckler & Koch USP45F as my sidearm, but much as I dislike GLOCKs, I agree with them as issue weapons for most people, as you can train a chimp to operate a GLOCK, and simplicity is a virtue in a high stress situation, and you have not put much time and effort into practice with your firearm. The HK is a much better weapon, but you have to practice more with it. I find that the attitude of not caring about the equipment also carries over to other things. I saw a squad in a county I was driving through with a lightbar I had never seen before, parked next to me at a convenience store. I asked the deputy if that was one of the new Federal Legend bars, and she said she did not know, it was just the set of flashing lights that they put on her car. This would be the lightbar that helps clear the way for her through traffic, and protcts her once she gets to where she is going, and is parked in traffic. Cheap just doesn’t make the grade, people! The people who don’t even bother to find out what type of lights are on
    thier squad, or practice with thier weapon are people that I have a lower level of faith with.

  6. As NCOIC of my Brigade marksmanship unit I learned part of the problem first hand. I had the entire team standing by to assist annual qualifications when some asshat Bn Cdr ordered us off “his” range. When I expressed my concern to the Bde Cdr he replied, ” oh, it’s not important for these people to know how to shoot” . This was an infantry brigade! As Bugs Bunny would say, “what a maroon”.

  7. @scott, the devil is in the details (and most don’t care unfortunately). Camp Swift, TX, and Camp Wolters, TX. both have operating KD ranges that have been getting use for 10 or more years in part (here comes a nod USMC), because Marine units use both locations for weapons qual and the local Army units just kind of started to use them, and incorporate them in annual qual depending on that dogface units commander. These KD ranges (the concrete parts) had existed since WWII and perhaps further back thus getting them back in operation wasn’t terribly difficult. In the Great War of the ’60’s (RVN) the first separation of KD ranges started to occur as on the Army side somebody (maybe a distant relative of that asshat Bn Cdr), thought that in a jungle environment most initial contact would happen within 25 meters….bingo, bango, pop-ups. By the way, “recon by fire” is not, I don’t believe, an across the board substitute for Marksmanship. I totally believe that BOTH KD & Pop-up ranges should be an aggregate scoring for weapons qual. for the US Army. Among the other positions used in the way back machine…sitting and standing. In BCT in the year, well it’s not important when, but after qualifying with M-14’s my BCT company was brought out of the field (in vehicles no less), and spooled up on M-16 Operator Maintenance etc. and then qual the next day. I liked the M-14 well enough, but if you try to carry 300+ rounds of 7.62 NATO it becomes a beast, might as well carry a 240D. I used to own an Isreali ARM (Galil in 7.62 NATO) and an FN FAL and had 20-25 magazines for each, and loaded them up a couple of times….made me appreciate 5.56 more the older I got. So now I have an M1 Garand….came full circle. How about another thought, as long as you are assigned a unit you own one weapon and you’re married to it until reassigned….kind of like the Marines. Just sayin’.

Comments are closed.