Combat pistol program reaches Okinawa
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Marines with III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installations Pacific executed newly instituted combat pistol program qualifications with the M9A1 9 mm pistol Oct. 29 at Range 15 on Camp Hansen.
The new pistol qualification, which was announced March 28 in Marine Administrative Message 168/13, incorporates a faster paced and more realistic course of fire, forcing Marines to react to their targets as if they were in combat.
Improvements to Marine pistol training and qualification have been under development since 2008. With assistance and approval from the operating forces, Weapons Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., developed, tested and validated the improved training program, resulting in Marines effectively employing the pistol, according to MARADMIN 168/13.
“What has changed are the starting position and the drills compared to the older pistol qualification,” said Cpl. Alonso Chavarria, a pistol range block noncommissioned officer with Range Control, G-3/5, training and operations, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC. “Marines used to fire from the alert carry, shoot one drill, and stay at the alert carry unless the drill was over.”
With the pistol not slated as a primary weapon, it is reasonable to assume that it would be drawn and fired from the holster when needed, according to Sgt. Samuel R. Holthouser, a range safety officer with Range Control.
Now, Marines begin every drill during the CPP with the pistol holstered and transition to the alert hold, in which the barrel is pointed at the ground and down range before firing.
“This simulates a real-life scenario where a Marine might rely on his pistol, taking it out of the holster, searching and assessing to locate the enemy,” said Chavarria. “For example, Marines who normally guard ammunition, valuable assets or work with the Provost Marshal’s Office could use this training to better themselves in speed, reaction and retaining a combat mindset.”
The program uses 20-inch wide by 40-inch tall silhouettes of a human figure as targets with more details than previous silhouettes to include facial features.
While the badges remain the same from the previous pistol qualification’s course, the scoring system has changed, including a larger 10-point scoring ring.
The new scoring system requires the shooter to earn at least 264 points to qualify as a marksman, 324 points to qualify as a sharpshooter and 364 points to qualify as an expert, according to Staff Sgt. Robert Valdez, a combat marksmanship coach and trainer with Range Control. This is based on the higher value placed on more accurate shooting.
The Marines executed controlled pairs, hammer pairs, and failure-to-stop drills during the training from distances of 7, 15 and 25 yards inside of time limits ranging from 5-12 seconds.
During controlled pairs, shooters aim slowly before the first and second shots. While in comparison, during a hammer pair a Marine rapidly fires two consecutive shots. For a failure-to-stop drill, Marines execute a hammer pair combined with a well-aimed shot to the head.
In another drill, the Marines simulate running out of ammunition and having to reload their weapon and continue firing within a nine-second window.
“No Marine is going to stand comfortably and take their time while they are in combat,” said Holthouser.
Computers control the targets, turning the silhouettes toward or away from the shooters to simulate an enemy combatant appearing and disappearing behind cover.
“The targets and drills help simulate enemy contact and, unlike the previous pistol qualification, this forces me to react as fast as possible while still hitting accurately,” said Lance Cpl. Colin A. Sepulvedabenson, a heavy-equipment operator with Landing Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III MEF. “I can see this new system being useful (when) I am authorized to engage the enemy, I’ll quickly pull out the pistol and use a drill like the failure to stop if necessary.
“This qualification is good practice for the real thing and learning from it can help me protect important assets supporting the overall mission,” added Sepulvedabenson.