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. :)