Reveille is 0445. It's still dark outside, but florescent light fills the barracks to signal the beginning of another day. No need for trash cans bouncing or Drill Instructors hollering like they did when the recruits were new. Now, like trained animals, turning on the overhead lights is all it takes to bring them up out of the racks to the position of attention.
Chow and PT take an hour. By 0600 they are in uniform with their rifles marching out to the range. In the late summer at Parris Island those early hours are the best part of the day. The sun comes up through the live oak trees, moisture sparkling on the spanish moss. The dampness in the grass begins to evaporate, and the heat of the day, though on it’s way, has not yet arrived.
The platoon takes it’s place, preparing to shoot off-hand (standing) at 200 yards. Each pair of recruits with a shooting coach, the Drill Instructors pacing along behind the line. There is a history here, deep traditions and institutional memory merging, the experiences of today blending back to all the men who came here before, shot on on these ranges, and passed on.
The recruits get into position, setting their slings, checking the adjustments on their sights. Another group of recruits has taken positions behind the berm where the targets are mounted. When everyone is safely in position, the red range flag is raised. In a tower behind the shooting line, the range officer surveys the line. In a practiced voice he rolls off the range commands that I can still hear so clearly.
Is the line ready? The line is ready. Ready on the right, ready on the left. All ready on the firing line. With a magazine and one round, lock and load. You may commence fire.
There is the sound of bolts closing, and then, as the targets appear, the first crack of rifle fire. There is a rhythm and pattern that everyone involved becomes familiar with. The minutes pass, and then come the commands, rolling out again.
Cease fire, cease fire. Unload, clear and lock. Set your weapons on safe.The marksmanship instructors check the line, double checking each rifle. It is time to move back, another hundred yards. The sun is fully up now, the temperature rising through the 90s. There is more to do at 300 yards, and then at 500. Shooting with iron sights on an M-16 at 500 yards.
There's nothing magical about it. Weapons Battalion at Parris Island is qualifying hundreds of new riflemen every week. The next posts will be about how you can learn to do it, too.