MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Of those that claim the title of United States Marine, only a select few earn a coveted place on the Marine Corps Shooting Team, where the time honored art of Marine marksmanship is a full-time job. They are a dedicated few, and Gunnery Sgt. Joshua A. Peterson is one of their best.
Peterson recently received distinction as the top shooter in the Eastern Division Match Championship held at the Stone Bay ranges aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, dropping only 12 points out of a possible 600. It’s a memorable feat for a man who hails from a small town in North-Central Wisconsin, but Peterson was no stranger to rifles growing up.
“I grew up shooting with my dad,” said Peterson. “I learned on iron sights as a kid and he wouldn’t let me shoot with scopes or anything like that until I was proficient.”
Peterson says the examples his family set and the qualities they instilled in him helped his development into the Marine he is today.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life that probably haven’t been the greatest, but you always have to deal with those and take that right step forward,” said Peterson. “Character just comes from my family. My mother and father always pushed me to do the right things and do the best I can and the best with what you’ve got. I give a lot of credit to both of them.”
His work on the Marine Corps Shooting Team helps to spread the art of shooting into the wider Marine Corps community: a favor that he returns every chance he gets.
Peterson even takes what little time he has to himself to share his passion for shooting with the next generation of shooters at the West Potomac High School air rifle team, which broke the school’s record this year.
“The shooting team keeps us on a pretty busy schedule,” said Master Sgt. Gregory T. Schardein, the Marine Corps Shooting Team’s staff noncommissioned officer in charge and an accomplished shooter himself. “I know he likes to ride (motorcycles), but what little time he does have he’s coaching the high school shooting team.”
It’s not the kind of activity one might expect upon meeting Peterson, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom with a Bronze Star for valor, though he’d never bring it up in an interview. He’s not a man to revel in his own accomplishments, nor does he ever stop pushing to do better.
Peterson enlisted in 1997. In 1998, his feet graced the same yellow footprints that greet the future of the Marine Corps today at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. He considers himself fortunate.
“I have had the opportunity to serve with some of the best Marines that have come into the history of the Marine Corps,” said Peterson, as he patiently waited for his turn on Stone Bay’s pistol range. “The Marines (in Afghanistan): Phenomenal.”
A stoic with a quiet but sincere passion for shooting, his solid frame, shaven head and strong gaze say more than words about his character and seem as ominous as his mastery of the rifle. His teammates describe him as an asset, menacing and a known threat with a weapon in his hand.
Schardein calls Peterson an “alpha,” a natural leader with the skills to back up his position on the team. He’s the kind of shooter other competitors can never discount.
“He’s highly competitive and forces everyone to bring their ‘A’ game,” continued Schardein. “Gunny Peterson is a known quantity. He’s someone you can count on, highly reliable.”
It’s not a game to the man who has dedicated his career to leading infantry Marines. Peterson believes the skills and discipline that are forged on the range are not about winning competitions.
“I don’t consider this to be a sport,” reiterated Peterson. “I consider this to be training, (preparation) to go back in country to take out those that are putting our guys in harm’s way.”
With a storied carrier behind him and no intentions of ending it anytime soon, Peterson’s rifle will continue to lend its hand to the Marine Corps Shooting Team for another year and a half. After his three-year tour with the team is finished, he hopes to rejoin Marine units preparing to deploy.
Since before the specter of Marine precision struck fear into the German soldiers at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, the stern Marine and his rifle have been a symbol of dedication, discipline and marksmanship. However, symbols don’t hollow out targets hundreds of yards away.
“There are some really good shooters, one or two that could probably match or, on a good day, beat him,” said Schardein. “He’s probably one of the top 10 shooters in the Marine Corps.”
Shooting at the competition level takes mental fortitude and physical strength, said Peterson, who sets aside time every day to make sure his body remains up to the rigorous demands of the Marine Corps.
“You wake up every morning and the first thing that you see in the mirror is what you are,” said Peterson. “You’re a Marine.”