JROTC cadets set sights on marksmanship
May 3, 2003
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Joseph Middlebrooks squinted. He shifted his weight from one foot to another. He held his breath for a moment before letting it out in a slow, steady stream. This was test day — all or nothing at Kubasaki High School.
Joseph, however, gripped not a pencil but a single-shot air pistol.
The 18-year-old senior smoothly squeezed the trigger. The impact rang from the .177 caliber pellet crashing into the back of the pellet trap, leaving the telltale tear in the paper. The shot was a bit high. Joseph knew he had to do something few other students must do to get a better score: lower his sights.
But then, this wasn’t any normal class.
Kubasaki’s Marine Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets were wrapping up pistol marksmanship qualification, one of the final events before school lets out next month and one of the more unusual classroom activities found today in any American high school: firing weapons.
“Other high schools, you might have metal detectors at the door,” said Jamar Beasley, a 16-year-old sophomore and cadet gunnery sergeant. “But here, we’re learning how to shoot. I can’t think of anywhere else we’d get to do this.”
Kubasaki’s JROTC holds the pistol qualification annually and while most high schools grapple over keeping guns out of schools, JROTC students are graded on their ability to shoot.
“This teaches weapons handling and safety,” explained retired Marine Maj. John Glenn, the school’s senior Marine instructor. “It’s a form of discipline, just like drill. The students gain a sense of accomplishment.”
For instance, Joseph, a cadet corporal in JROTC for four years, said, “This is like one of the most fun parts of the program. I don’t get nervous when we do this. I’ve shot expert every year. I’m used to it.”
All the air pistols are kept under lock and key, Glenn said, and all shooting is done under JROTC instructors’ strict supervision. Still, students themselves are the final safety factor.
“The level of focus by young students, 13 to 17 years old, shows me a maturity of a grown adult,” he said.
Many of the students who go from JROTC programs to college ROTC gain an advantage over other students, Glenn said.
“Colleges and universities with ROTC programs … all have marksmanship teams,” he said. “Marksmanship is another way to earn scholarships beyond academics.”
Students fire 10-round strings, counting shot holes to tally scores. The closer the shot hole to the target’s black center, the higher the score. Shooters with scores of from 12 to 18 are marksmen; 19 to 23 are sharpshooters. Scores of 24 to 30 nab the coveted expert marksmen’s badge.
But actual scores don’t factor into grades as much as getting up to the firing line and taking a turn at something new.
“The students get a participation grade rather than a marksmanship grade,” Glenn explained. “The kids try and try, and some are good shots. Others have to work harder but they want to work. That makes it easy for me to give an ‘A’ for effort.”
Grades and safety rules aside, cadets indicate the pistol qualifications are, at the core, a fun event.
“I’ve never fired any weapon before this,” said Aimee French, a 16-year-old junior and cadet private in her first year of JROTC. “It’s easy. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. Most of the time I thought about how I can’t see the target beyond the sights.”
“I can’t get above a 12,” joked Beasley, the sophomore gunnery sergeant. “Every time I shoot, I yank it up. But it’s fun. As long as I’m next to someone else who’s shooting just as poorly, I’m OK.”