The first time now-Pfc. Francis “Frankie” Flannery picked up a firearm was in Marine boot camp.

Initially, as he and other recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, practiced handling rifles without live rounds, Flannery had trouble getting the hang of the technique for controlling his breathing.

But as Flannery, 18, started shooting live rounds, “it kind of came to me, and it started to become natural,” he told Marine Corps Times Wednesday.

In October, a week and a half after first picking up a rifle, he tied the recruit depot’s marksmanship record.

When Flannery grew up in South Plainfield, New Jersey, he didn’t learn to shoot, and he displayed no affinity for marksmanship otherwise. He was terrible at video games that involved shooting, though good at the saxophone, he said.

He was a smaller kid, never really the leader among his friends. By around age 10, he knew he wanted to become a Marine.

“I thought it would be a good way to gain respect and to grow as a man, and also it would give me a good sense of pride that I’ve never really had the chance to get,” Flannery said.

At boot camp in South Carolina, he learned to shoot the M16A4 service rifle with help from primary marksmanship instructor Sgt. Juan Jimenez, the Marine considered the best shooter there, according to Flannery.

“They see movie scenes of Marines kicking in doors and sending rounds down range,” Jimenez said of recruits, as quoted in a Marine Corps news release. “But to get there, they have to first learn the fundamentals. So that they can do it fast, but right.”

Jimenez and the other coaches taught Flannery how to breathe in, breathe out and then shoot. Flannery learned not to force the shot. If he wasn’t ready, he would take a little more time.

“And yes…he shot with an optic for marksmanship training,” recruit depot spokesman Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bobby Yarbrough noted on a Facebook post about Flannery. “Just as every Marine has for nearly the past two decades. #IronSightsAreGone”

Flannery went into rifle qualification day thinking he would score an expert qualification, which 25% to 30% of Marines earn, Marine Corps Times previously reported. That’s the top rifle marksmanship qualification, above sharpshooter and marksman.

It was the beginning of the chilly autumn weather but still comfortable. Flannery said he and other recruits “may or may not have” taken advantage of the fact their drill instructors weren’t around to sing whatever songs they could think of, because it had been a while since they had been able to listen to music. That helped him relax.

By the time he was shooting at the target from 500 yards away, the target looked tiny in his sight and he had to aim way off to the right to account for the wind. On his one less-than-perfect shot, he didn’t factor in the wind enough, he said.

In the end, Flannery scored 249 out of a possible 250 points on “Table 1,” a known-distance course consisting of shots from the 200-, 300- and 500- yard line, Yarbrough told Marine Corps Times on Thursday. He also scored a 99 out of 100 on “Table 2,” the combat marksmanship course designed to simulate close-quarter battles.

He tied the overall marksmanship score of Austin Ferrell, the private first class whom the Corps dubbed “the deadliest recruit on Parris Island” for his achievements at the South Carolina boot camp in 2020, according to Yarbrough. And Ferrell had been shooting since he was age 5 or 6, he previously told Marine Corps Times.

The Marines working at the range didn’t know if they believed what had just happened, Flannery recounted, so they double-checked the targets and made him come in the next day to verify his abilities. With the recruits from his platoon audibly reacting to each shot, he didn’t do quite as well, but he shot high enough to keep his score, Flannery said.

Flannery was excited, and his fellow recruits were excited for him. Because of his cyber and crypto operations military occupational specialty, he did come in for some ribbing: The best shooter on the island is a computer guy.

Drill instructors aren’t supposed to act excited, Flannery said, but he suspects his drill instructor Sgt. Bryan McGuigan, who taught him shooting fundamentals, was pleased with him. McGuigan was quoted in the Marine Corps news release calling Flannery “an above average recruit…able to retain knowledge quicker than most.”

And Flannery’s senior drill instructor gave the recruit the rare chance to call home. Flannery said his mother was proud, and he was glad to hear her voice.

Having graduated from boot camp Nov. 9 as a private first class, he is back home in New Jersey, spending time with family and friends before he departs Nov. 21 for Marine Combat Training in North Carolina.

Wherever in the Marine Corps he ends up, he said, he wants to go to the range regularly, and he might become a coach there. He also might like to teach his family what he’s learned.

That sense of pride Flannery sought in signing up for the Marine Corps? He said he’s found it.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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