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Top Marine marksmanship trainers learn the new Combat Pistol Program

Jul. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Combat Pistol Program MWM 20130709
Sgt. Martin Graham, a combat marksmanship trainer with Weapons Training Battalion at Quantico, Va., offers advice to a trainee on July 9. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Commands across the Marine Corps are not required to implement the new Combat Pistol Program until late 2014, but many units are eager to start now.

Some commands are expected to begin training base marksmanship coaches immediately and implement the program this fall, if not sooner, Marine officials said.

CPP replaces the legacy Entry Level Pistol Program, which thousands of Marines are required to take annually if they carry the M9 pistol. It marks the first significant change in pistol quals since the 1980s, incorporating significantly reduced time limits on individual training blocks and a new, human-shaped target.

Marine officials outlined the implementation of the program in March in Marine administrative message 168/13, giving units until the end of November 2014 to make the transition to the program. Doing so afforded units more than a year to train marksmanship coaches, order new targets and make other required changes.

But Marines overseeing the shift are well underway with training. Weapons Training Battalion began bringing some of the Corps’ gunners and other top marksmanship trainers here to learn the new program in April. A second wave of instructors came through from July 8 to July 12. They will bring the program back to their commands, and begin training marksmanship coaches, typically noncommissioned officers.

“Looking at the last group that came through, and this group, these sites want to get onto the program. They’re chomping at the bit,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Wade, a gunner at Weapons Training Battalion. “There are a couple of gunners out there who are saying, ‘I want to get going on this.’ I know at Hawaii, they were ordering targets, they were getting their range infrastructure figured out, and they were training their Marines. As soon as they’re ready, they want to go.”

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Duane Ledford, a gunner at Twentynine Palms, Calif., was at Weapons Training Battalion the week of July 8, and told Marine Corps Times he expects he will be ready for Marines to qualify on the new program at his base beginning in October. Implementation, he said, will depend in part on how quickly he can get the new targets, 20-inch-wide, 40-inch-tall gray images of a man that include such details as facial features and pectoral muscles.

“Our Marines and our coaches aboard the base and the other units that come to us, they’ll be trained,” Ledford said. “They’ll be ready to go.”

Until the end of November 2014, both ELP and CPP will be valid, depending on whether individual commands have made the transition. In the meantime, Weapons Training Battalion has developed a conversion card that will scale scores on the CPP course of fire to match scores on the old ELP program to keep both fair, Wade said. Marines scoring 370 on the new program, for example, will receive a 353 for the record.

“We wanted to stay true to Expert, Sharpshooter, Marksman, Unqualified,” Wade said, referring to the Corps’ marksmanship badges. “That was our guiding force right there. We didn’t want to turn that on its end, and make it unfair or anything like that. We wanted to stay relatively true to the pistol badge construct that we had before.”

Once the November 2014 deadline passes, the conversion card will go away and CPP scores will be used directly.

Preparing for combat

Marine Corps Times visited Weapons Training Battalion on July 9, observing as its Marines trained two groups on the new pistol program. In one group were Marines from across the National Capital Region, who must qualify on the Combat Pistol Program because the region has made the transition to the new program. In the other were instructors from across the Corps learning the program for their own commands.

The Marines overseeing the course repeatedly stressed an overarching principle: The new program underscores the need to be ready for combat, rather than leisurely lining up the most accurate shot possible. That’s by design as the new 200-round course of fire requires Marines to engage targets quickly, drawing from newly issued polymer holsters in some training blocks.

Another program change comes in the stance used while shooting. Marines are now told to engage from the isosceles stance, in which a shooter spreads his feet so he has good weight distribution and forms a triangle with his arms, with the pistol at the point. Shooters also are discouraged from leaning forward while shooting, which could be problematic in combat, said Sgt. Phillipi Sanz, an 0311 rifleman and combat marksmanship trainer.

Sanz said when he sees Marines leaning forward while using the pistol, he tells them to picture a squad of Marines stacking up to enter a room, each wearing 75 pounds of armor and gear.

“I’ll tell them, ‘If you have 75 pounds of gear on and you’re the point man in a stack, and I’m 220 pounds with another 75 pounds on behind you, and I bump you, are you going to be OK?” Sanz said. “If I come by you and bump you as we split the stack, are you going to maintain position? Probably not.”

Some Marines qualifying also have struggled to manage the recoil of their weapon, getting it back on target as quickly as possible to take the next shot, Sanz said. In one stage of the legacy ELP Program, Marines were given 10 minutes to work through 15 shots at 25 yards. The new CPP training blocks require personnel to work through stages at seven, 15 and 25 yards, going through 40 rounds in a series of increments timed at between five and 12 seconds.

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