Corps' top marksmen take aim in shooting competition
By Thomas Brennan | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: April 18, 2014
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Marines from across the Corps gathered at Stone Bay rifle range this week to demonstrate that there is nothing deadlier than Marines and their weapons.
From Marine Corps Base Okinawa to Camp Lejeune and bases in between, Marines took part in the Marine Corps’ rifle and pistol shooting competition, from which the best shooters will be selected to represent the Marine Corps Shooting Team internationally in a variety of matches. Marines compete against civilians and other service members in order to distinguish themselves as marksmen.
This was his first time Cpl. Ryan Butschle, 26, of Camp Lejeune, competed on behalf of the 2nd Marine Division. After more than three years in the Corps, he said he has only shot the rifle and pistol as part of his annual training, but shooting competitively makes things more enjoyable. Even if he didn’t win Wednesday’s match, just knowing that he is in the top 10 percent of shooters at Camp Lejeune is a reward in itself, he said.
“To be noticed as a good shooter and chosen to represent your division and your unit is a huge honor, and not a lot of people get an opportunity to do this,” said Butschele, a Marine with 2nd Amphibious Assault Vehicle Battalion. “Prior to the Marine Corps I had only shot a 9mm pistol once. I didn’t have any experience.”
But having no experience worked out in his benefit, he said, because he didn’t come into the Corps with any bad habits that conflicted with the Marine Corps’ marksmanship fundamentals. His training, he said, has given him every skill he needed to get to the matches he has been shooting.
From recruit training on, the shooting team uses iron sights, which require the Marine to center the tip of the front sight in the center of the circular rear sight aperature, something that many Marines have not been taught since the Corps switched to optics in 2011. Another difference is the competition targets have a three-inch center ring compared to annual qualification targets, which have a 12-inch center ring.
Overseeing the competition was Gunnery Sgt. Tim Lindman, 38, of Quantico, who said that it is important for Marines of all military occupational specialties to compete for a spot on the Marine Corps’ shooting team because the skills the team teaches need to be brought back to their units and shared.
“Our mission is to train Marines in marksmanship, to compete in matches and to share lessons learned regarding marksmanship,” Lindman said.
Prior to shooting on the rifle or pistol range, all 84 shooters attended classes to ensure they fully understood the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, watched demonstrations and given an opportunity to ask questions.
“Marksmanship is important in the Marine Corps because no matter how many smart-bombs you have the battle will always be fought and won with Marines and small arms,” Lindman said. “There is a lot of money invested into our ability to fight, but nothing will replace what we do with rifle and pistol. It is an art that we need to continue to hone in order to win future battles.”
Following the rifle competition, the Marines took part in the pistol portion of the competition. Marines train with a nine-millimeter pistol as part of their annual training, yet for the shooting competition, the Marines used a 1911 model 45-caliber pistol. On the yearly qualification Marines shoot from seven, 15 and 25 yards; but in the competition, they shoot from 25 and 50 yards. Marines in competition must also shoot with one hand, as opposed to their usual shooting position, which requires two hands.
The Marine Corps Shooting Team’s officer in charge, Capt. Nick Roberge, of Quantico, said the shooting position used on the pistol range, the Bull’s Eye Pistol Stance, is a challenge for many shooters, but it is something they get used to.
“The one-handed shooting position enables you to use the weapon how it is designed to be used because it is a hand-gun, not a hands-gun,” Roberge said. “It really makes you focus on trigger control and sight alignment because of how much less stable you are. It makes it much more challenging. When you go back to shooting two-handed, it almost feels like you’re cheating.”
Roberge was part of the detail responsible for teaching the shooters the fundamentals of shooting and the breakdown of the shooting team prior to them ever firing a shot, something he said is rewarding, because Marines take in every bit of information thrown at them.
“You’ve got a lot of Marines nowadays who came in during a time of war so they may have not experienced competitive shooting,” Roberge said. “There’s a definite need for marksmanship in combat, but here in training, there is just enough of a need because we are training for the next fight. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we are doing this.”
The eight Marines who represented the Marine Corps western division, headquartered in Camp Pendleton, Calif., won the matches for all three competitions — the Inter-division Rifle Team Match, the Inter-division Pistol Team Match and the Infantry Team Trophy Match, Lindman said.