Saturday, April 11, 2009

Laying It down

I've been watching a show called Top Sniper on the Military Channel recently, and I have to admit that it made me a bit nostalgic. Watching those guys engaging targets with their scoped-out rifles while adjusting to the terrain, wind, and various obstacles made me wish that I could be a part of it.

You see, I love to shoot.

This started back when I was six years old and received a BB gun for my birthday. My dad and I used to go out in our backyard and set up skeet for me to plink at. It was there that I learned the fundamentals of marksmanship as well as how to handle a weapon safely. This would be further refined over the years as I learned to hunt dove, squirrels, ducks, deer, and other wildlife with my dad and brothers in the woods and marshes of Georgia and Virginia. Eventually, the Marine Corps would build upon this solid foundation and teach me to hit a target consistently at up to 500 yards using the open sights of my M-16A2 service rifle. My dream was to one day be assigned to the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team and compete in enough matches to earn the coveted Distinguished Rifle and Pistol badges. Alas, it was not to be...

But that didn't mean I couldn't try.

Since all Marines are riflemen, and since officers are required to qualify with both rifle and pistol, I had ample opportunity to show my stuff on the range on an annual basis. In boot camp, the weeks we spent on the rifle range were my favorite times, if anything can be considered favorable during those hellacious 12 weeks. The reason was simple - on the range the DIs couldn't mess with you - it was just you, your rifle, and the target. No distractions, just you in your own little world. I loved it. Unlike others who worried about getting enough points to qualify, my only concern in those days was to see how high I could score in the Expert category. In fact, at one point I held the range record at Camp Pendleton with a score of 63 out of 65 - a mere two points away from a "possible," or perfect score; a record that would remain unbroken until just a few years ago. Eventually, I would earn multiple awards for consistently shooting Expert with both rifle and pistol - as denoted on the requalification bars on the different badges:

This would be enough for many Marines; indeed, most would be quite proud of this achievement.

But I wanted more - I want to compete in an actual match. I finally got my chance in the spring of 1999 when I heard that Camp Pendleton would be hosting the Pacific Fleet/All Navy matches. I found out that my regiment - 11th Marines - would be putting together a team, and that they needed a "tyro," or new shooter who'd never competed before. After begging my CO for permission, I was granted TAD to shoot with the team. The only problem was that the competition was only a few weeks away, and none of us had much time to get familiar with the weapons we would be using - M-14s for the rifle competition, and .45s for the pistol matches.

Still, we did the best we could with the time we had, and by the time the competition rolled around we were as ready as we would ever be. Among our fellow competitors would be SEAL teams, Recon Marines, and marksmanship units from other services. Quite an impressive lineup. In the end, though, our team would go on to take first place in the team matches for both rifle and pistol, have our pictures taken for the base newspaper, and I would earn an individual bronze medal for the Excellence in Competition (EIC) pistol match.

Sadly, those glory days are long past. To add insult to injury, as a (future) chaplain I am forbidden from even carrying a weapon, much less shooting one - not even in training. It may not seem like much, but this was a hard thing for me to give up - to sacrifice on the altar as it were. But, I know that I'm answering a higher calling and that certain desires must be set aside in order to accomplish the mission that God has set before me. I don't regret it - not even a little bit - but I still feel a longing as I watch the show and wonder what might have been if I had pursued a different path.

I think I would've made a pretty good sniper.

But, I have to admit, I'm pretty pleased with the fact that the Army at least allows me to wear my EIC badge on my new uniform - I figure it lets the troops know that I'm not a complete pogue. :)


Dana Michael Krull said...

Amen, brother...laying down that M4 has been tough for me too. Guess that just means it's time to pray for a chaplain assistant who's not a pogue either, lol.

Doctor Eric said...

I have a slightly funny, mostly sad, story about my expert shooting medals (or lack thereof).
I entered the Navy through the ROTC, which does not see fit to train future naval officers in the proper use of small arms (consider that when you see a junior naval officer wearing a sidearm while standing duty as officer of the deck...)
When I joined the fleet and was assigned to my first command, I expected that I'd have the opportunity to get some hands-on shooting experience, and hopefully earn my pistol and rifle medals (I'd taken the time to learn how to handle firearms outside of my military training, and figured I could at least earn a sharpshooter rating, if not expert).
But there was a problem. It seems that every command is allocated a certain ammunition budget, and the ammo is used to train and maintain proficiency among the members. So far, so good. Alas, the previous CO had decided to send herself off into retirement with a, well... bang. For her retirement ceremony, the guest speaker was an admiral who, according to his rank, rated an 15-gun salute. Now you may be conjuring up images of a detail of sailors in their dress uniforms firing their M-1's in unison; please erase that image. She managed to find a full-size howitzer (where, I don't know), along with huge blank cartridges that cost over $100 each. Needless to say, the entire ammo budget went up in smoke in about 90 seconds. Everyone was impressed, but none of the officers or sailors had become any better prepared to use a firearm to support a potential, future military endeavor. (And nobody earned their shooting medals...)
Your tax-dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen!

Dave Harvey said...

Too bad you couldn't have gotten ahold of one of those blank brass cartidges - they make nifty mugs if you can find a decent sized handle to put one 'em. I still have one from when one of my gun crews had the honor of firing the salute for (former) President Reagan back in 1998.

Dave Harvey said...

Oh, and here's another story: back when I was a Corporal my Reserve unit got the chance to qualify with our rifles - something that unfortunately didn't happen too often as we didn't have regular access to a rifle range (being located in Joliet, IL). I remember the weather being pretty crappy - rainy and windy. Still, I somehow managed to shoot Expert, but just barely. A few years later, as a newly minted 2ndLt I was checking out of this unit and was perusing my Service Record Book when I happened to notice that my score & qualification for that particular date hadn't been recorded. I asked the admin chief why not and he replied that since most of the unit had gone "UNQ" (unqualified), the scores had all been tossed. "No way," says I, "I shot expert, and I'll be danged if I'm gonna have my score tossed because of a bunch of non-shooters!" I somehow managed to locate my score sheet from that day (fortunately, they hadn't thrown those out) and had the clerk enter it in my SRB then and there!

Wilko said...

I expect that might be the equivalent of giving up flying for me. "Hold all things loosely" is easy to say, not easy to do at times.
Major Dave-if possible, would you shoot me your e-mail address? You can contact me at my website.