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Recruits practice proper weapons maintenance to ensure their rifle functions properly. Recruits clean their weapons forty-five minutes to an hour while at the range. Every Marine must know how to take care of their weapon because if it isn't properly maintained it could jam costing a Marine their life.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Crystal Druery

'Every Marine a rifleman' begins at recruit training

11 May 2012 | Lance Cpl. Bridget M. Keane Marine Corps Training and Education Command

“Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman. All other conditions are secondary.” This quote, spoken by Gen. Alfred M. Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, is printed in rifle data books issued to recruits during training and to Marines for their annual marksmanship qualification.

Without a doubt, the famous saying is what Marines are best known for today- their one shot, one kill mentality.

The rifle has been at Marines’ sides since the induction of the Marine Corps in 1775. As technology advanced and battlefield’s evolved, the rifle’s design has changed becoming a more proficient weapon throughout the centuries.

“The Vietnam War was the turning point that improved the weapon,” said Sgt. Marcus Terry, primary marksmanship instructor, Weapons and Field Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. “It was re-evaluated and made into a weapon that can be easier to operate with more accurate results.”

Today, the M16-A4 service rifle is the preferred weapon of the United States Marine Corps and is being used in combat and during annual training requirements.

The M16-A4 service rifle is a lightweight, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed carbine weapon that uses 5.56mm ball rounds. Once proper marksmanship fundamentals are applied, the weapon can be easily manipulated to deliver accurate shots, explained Terry.

“Marines are trained to be combat-ready,” said Terry. “Every Marine must know how to operate their rifle if they were to deploy.”

A Marine is first introduced to the rifle in recruit training. From the moment they place their hands on it, their drill instructors stress the importance of understanding the rifle by explaining the different parts, conditions and safety rules of the weapon.

“The recruits are taught to know every part of their weapon, from the inside and out,” said Terry. “If they don’t understand it, using the weapon can be difficult for them.”

The responsibility of maintaining a weapon can be overwhelming for some recruits. For many of them, it’s the first time that they’ve actually held and fired a rifle, explained Terry.

“Since it was my first time using a rifle, I was intimidated,” said Recruit Alec Kunesh, Platoon 3214, Company I, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion. “But the more I handle it, the more comfortable I am.”

Two weeks of recruit training are dedicated to teaching recruits the basics of marksmanship.

The first week, known as “Grass Week”, includes classes on trigger control, sight alignment, and breathing, which are the fundamentals of marksmanship. It also covers the different positions the recruits will be shooting in: sitting, kneeling and standing. They practice these positions for several hours a day to learn what works best for them and provide a stable position.

Week two is “Firing Week”, which is where recruits can apply what they’ve learned. Basic marksmanship-trained coaches assist them as they go through the course of fire that they will shoot on qualification day. It’s up to the recruit to apply the fundamentals in order to be successful, said Terry.

While at the range, drill instructors focus on maintenance and continue to instill weapons safety rules.

“Every day we have them clean their weapons for about forty-five minutes to an hour,” said Sgt. Carlos Soto, senior drill instructor, Plt. 3214, Co. I, 3rd RTBn. “Proper maintenance is stressed; if you don’t take care of your weapon it could jam costing you your life and the lives of fellow Marines.”

In the unfortunate event that a weapon jams or when all ammunition has been expended, recruits also become proficient using bayonet techniques with their rifle through the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, which allows them to manipulate the rifle in close-quarters combat, making it the ultimate weapon.

The knowledge and skills that recruits learn throughout training helps them live up to Gen. Alfred M. Gray’s quote.

“The rifle is a great tool to educate recruits to make them into better Marines,” said Kunesh. “No matter what your job is in the Marine Corps, there is the chance to deploy and you need to be ready.”

Marine Corps Training and Education Command