Marines blend tradition and technology

16 Mar 2001 | Sgt. Arthur Stone

Every Marine is a rifleman.  This solid fact is a mainstay of Marine Corps training.

A group of veteran marksmen and quite a few beginners gathered this week at Stone Bay Training Area for the Division Championship, competing with other teams from across the Marine Corps for medals, trophies and points toward distinguished marksmanship.

The history of the matches is a vibrant one, according to CWO-3 Anthony J. Carbonari of Murfreesboro, Tenn., senior range safety officer for the Division Championship.  He dates the championships back to the turn of the last century.

"The matches were developed in 1901," said Carbonari.  "We had Marines in Cuba, the Philippines, China and on ships all around the world.  They were in small conflicts all over the place.  Marksmanship was way down and the Commandant directed the Director of Target Practice, Maj. Charles Lauccheimer to fix the problem and make them effective in battle."

According to Carbonari, Lauccheimer noticed that civilians and other services participated in competition shooting, so he developed the Marine Corps Rifle Team.

In 1902 the team went to its first match in Sea Girt, N.J., and was sorely defeated.  However, he said Lauccheimer kept the team in competition.  In 1909 the Marine Corp Rifle Team won the national championship and has dominated marksmanship ever since.

In 1911, the Division Championships were developed.  Laccheimer's goal then still holds true today.  He trained Marines in advanced techniques, who in turn taught other Marines throughout the Marine Corps.

"Today, Marines are known for four things," said Carbonari.  "Discipline first, then physical fitness, customs and courtesies - and marksmanship.  We have to work hard to hold true to that.  These matches inspire Marines not to be complacent."

With the 100th birthday of the Marine Corps Rifle Team comes a process of training that has come into use within the past two or three years.  Shooters at the Division Matches spend their first week in a classroom environment, reinforcing the fundamentals of marksmanship and learning new skills from the more seasoned marksmen at the competition, according to Carbonari. 

There are four Division Matches annually around the globe, with the last one being here at Camp Lejeune.  Carbonari said only one Marine out of 10 at the matches is an experienced competition shooter, but the goal is to train them in advance marksmanship technology and get them back into the fleet to benefit their units.  A select few will be chosen to represent the Marine Corps around the world at events such as the Olympics, a very effective recruiting aid.

"Unlike intramural volleyball, football and basketball, intramural shooting competitions directly correlate with our mission as Marines," said Carbonari.  "We keep the spirit of competition alive while improving marksmanship in the Marine Corps." 

Even though the Division Matches did not have as big a turn out this year as expected, the caliber of marksmen at the matches has impressed CWO-3 Carroll D. Duncan, chief range officer at the Stone Bay Ranges. 

"I've run a lot of matches over 20 years," said Duncan, a Waynesboro, Va., native.  "This year we have more talent than I've ever seen.  We're going to see some records broken and some awesome scores this year."

Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock of Virginia Beach, Va., an instructor with the Marine Corps Rifle Team, taught the rifle clinic to the shooters during the week of classes, teaching and reinforcing the basics that every marksman must master.

"The intent is to teach the fundamentals of marksmanship in stages," said Hathcock.  "As you go back you have more variables that come into affect on the shooter.  We want them to master each stage before we go on.  We have them concentrate on one yard line before we introduce something else into the equation."

Hathcock said that the practice makes a remarkable improvement on the shooters, especially those new to competition shooting.

"This is fundamental marksmanship at its best," said Hathcock.  "You take the variables out of it.  We do combat shooting, because we found out that if you can't handle combat shooting you can't handle match style shooting with the time constraints.  This is the root of marksmanship.  It all branches out from here.  Once they get the training and practice the skill for a length of time, the learning curve goes up with it."

The same techniques were driven home by the instructor of the pistol clinic, SSgt. Jeffrey Watkins of Rock Hill, S.C.  Watkins, a member of the Marine Corps Pistol Team, knows the value of having seasoned shooters in the matches and utilizes them routinely to train new competitors.  Distinguished shooters both compete and teach.

According to Watson, they introduce the old competitors and new competitors to the Division Matches course, expounding on the fundamentals that are no different than those of the regular requalification course.  Emphasis is placed on site picture, site alignment and breathing control.

"The first couple days we step back and give back some of the knowledge and technique," said Watson.  "The purpose is to enhance marksmanship throughout the Marine Corps.  Nobody is a loser here.  Some will take home medals, but everyone takes home the experience."