Saturday, June 13, 2015

Qual Day

Fridays often evoke jarring memories for this old Jarhead.
This morning, as the strong coffee courses venously, clearing the sleepy sludge like a downpour through a storm drain, the Colonel remembers the rifle range.
By this hour of this day of an old Corps annual requalification range week the loudspeakers would crackle with instructions no Marine will ever forget, though the intervening years be many and his brain cells few.
"Shooters! This is your fifth and final stage of fire -- 500 yards slow fire from the prone position -- ten rounds with a time limit of ten minutes. All ready on the left. All ready on the right. Shooters, your long range targets are in the air -- you may commence firing."
The Colonel invites you to study the accompanying picture. That's what a man-size target looks like through the iron sights of an M-16 at 500 yards.
An impossible shot.
Yet, Marines in the Colonel's day were trained to make ten of those impossible shots in a row.
500 yards.
Iron sights.
Iron sights are a thing of the past and the Colonel has lost touch with what the current Marine Corps rifle qualification requires. He, frankly, doesn't care to know.
He'd rather remember, like a pre-Chicxulub Cretaceous creature (that's a "dinosaur," for you Bama Bandwagon Boors), the sensory overload of recoil, burnt powder, the crackling cacophony of dozens of rifles to left and right, and the manly satisfaction (term used in the most gender-neutral way the Colonel can) of punching tight groups of 5.56 caliber holes in black paper at long distance with 100 year-old rifle sights.
There are five stages of fire to qualify as a rifleman in the Marine Corps, serving as an enduring waypoint in every recruit's and every officer candidate's right of passage toward earning his or her eagle, globe, and anchor insignia and the right to be called "Marine;" and also serving as a yearly touchstone to the "rifleman ethos" for the rest of a Marine's career.
At 200 yards, five rounds each are fired at a 12-inch round target, from the standing ("off-hand"), sitting, and kneeling positions. Ten more rounds are fired "rapid-fire" (less than a minute) at a foot and a half tall and two foot wide top-half silhouette, from the sitting position.
At 300 yards: five rounds, sitting, at the round target; and ten rounds, "rapid fire," at the half silhouette, from the prone position.
Those two lines of fire always felt "mechanical" to the Colonel. Hard to put into words, particularly given the Colonel's lack of education (he went to Ole Miss instead of college, remember), but it just felt like "target shooting."
The 500 yard-line, however, had a whole different feel.
Every time the Colonel wrapped his service rifle in the prone embrace and squinted over open sights at a full-size silhouette, he couldn't help but feel an affinity with some long-forgotten Marine infantryman in the defense outside of Paris in the early summer of 1918.
With their 1903 Springfield rifles reaching out and touching at long range and with such rapidity, the Marines in 1918 so impressed the Germans attacking their lines that they reported back that "every Marine seems to be armed with a machine gun."
At least that's the propaganda we Marines kept alive three generations later...
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