Thursday, June 5, 2014

Is The Line Ready?

Marine rifle training is rigorous. There is a tradition, “Every Marine a Rifleman”. Basic proficiency with the service rifle is systematically taught, and before a recruit can graduate and be called a Marine, he must be a rifleman. This is where I learned my second set of basic lessons about the art of shooting.

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.


Dan said...

A nice description of the early morning atmosphere. (I haven't been out of the Army long enough to be that, um, complimentary about my earliest training...)

Old NFO said...

Yep, still doing it that way today! And it STILL works!!!

Robert Fowler said...

500 yards was my favorite range. The last time I qualified (1976)I shot 9 5's and a 4. Shortly after, I was transferred to weapons training. Some of the best duty I ever had.

Windy Wilson said...

That reminds me of the time I competed in the CMP Western Games at Pendleton, and you make me want to do it again.

Goober said...

The problem with this is that most people don't really have a good concept of how DAMN far 500 yards is.

I go the the range regularly, and there are people there talking about the 250 yard targets being 400 to 500 yards away. I was practicing on the 600 yard target and a guy asked me how far I have to hold over to hit that 1,000 yard gong. I corrected him and showed him the 989 gong (the most distant gong on the range) and he was gobsmacked. He hadn't even seen it and I needed to direct him with field glasses to find it.

To most people, 200 yards is 500 yards. 500 yards is a thousand.

Let's put it this way - if you take your average white chinet plate, 11" diameter, and put it out at 500 yards, most people won't even be able to see it at 500 yards. Now try to hit it with a rifle with open sights.

Another thing lots of people don't get is the sheer distances of hold-over required. When I shoot the 989 gong, I'm holding about 12 feet high. Yes. I said FEET. THat's with my .300 win mag, too. Imagine how high you'd need to hold with 7.63 NATO!

Jay G said...

About 400 inches, IIRC. .308 Win. drops like a stone after ~ 400 yards... ;)

Ted said...

Put in terms that most people can relate to better...... 500 yards - Just over 1/4 of a mile.

Goober said...


I usually make it a bit easier and just use the paper plate analogy.

At 500 yards, you will most likely not be able to easily see a target the size of a paper plate without optics of some sort. Chances are you won't be able to see it at all if it does not contrast drastically with the surrounding environment.

Now, hit that with open sights. Ready? GO!