Service members send rounds down range during the 52nd Annual Interservice Pistol Championships in June. Leaders are fighting to recruit the next generation of premier marksmen and preserve team budgets. (Lance Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot/Marine Corps)
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Master Sgt. Lee Duncan, a San Antonio native and the captain of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Pistol Team, based out of California, prepares to shoot during the 52nd Annual Interservice Pistol Championship matches in June. The service's shooting teams are feeling the crunch of budget woes. (Lance Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot/Marine Corps)
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Like all corners of the Marine Corps, the service’s shooting teams are feeling the crunch of budget woes, the manpower drawdown and the effects of more than a decade at war.
While the Quantico-based rifle, pistol and combat shooting teams continue to make strong showings at competitions across the country, their leaders are fighting to recruit the next generation of premier marksmen and preserve team budgets.
The teams must now have every one of their trips to attend a competition approved by a general officer, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Martin Dankanich, the pistol team’s officer in charge. Fortunately for the shooters, they have been approved in all but a handful of cases. Leaders like Dankanich have successfully lobbied for the merits of the teams, which were created in 1901 to improve combat marksmanship through competition.
He is convinced that funding will continue to flow because of the vital role the teams play in developing skills and equipment that make their way into the fleet and onto the battlefield. The team created the precision ammunition now used by scout snipers, for example.
“The recipe for that ammo came from this team,” Dankanich said. “That load was developed here and found its way to combat, but only a handful of snipers in the Marine Corps know that.”
However, despite their significant contributions to the marksmanship community, the teams are not immune to the effects of a two-front war or the manpower drawdown. Both wartime deployments and increased competition to stay in uniform have made recruitment to the shooting teams difficult at times.
“The Marine Corps shooting team needs qualified people. We have seen less participation over the last 10 years because of op tempo,” said Dankanich.
He encourages anyone with a love of shooting to compete at regional and local base matches and to apply for a spot on the teams.
One challenge in convincing Marines to apply is the oft-heard concern about how a three-year tour outside of their primary MOS would affect promotion opportunity. That is especially worrisome during the drawdown, when competitive Marines are expected to have strong MOS credibility, combat deployments and a special duty assignment as a drill instructor or embassy guard for example.
The lack of a primary MOS for competitive shooters is one of the program’s challenges when recruiting but also one of its greatest strengths, said Master Sgt. Gregory T. Schardein, the Marine Corps Shooting Team’s staff noncommissioned officer in charge. It means team members must eventually return to a billet in their PMOS if they are to continue advancing in their careers. In doing so, they spread their finely honed marksmanship skills throughout the fleet.
The key to preserving career prospects while serving on the team is to first establish a solid base of credibility within one’s primary MOS, he said. Once that is accomplished, apply for the shooting teams. You will then stay on track for promotion.
By contrast, competitive shooters in the Army have a dedicated career path, meaning they can spend 20 years or more doing nothing but honing their shooting skills. While the Marine Corps uses its teams to hone combat marksmanship, the Army uses its teams primarily as a recruiting tool.
Unfortunately, that also means that the Marine Corps finds it difficult to compete with the Army at national competitions. Simply put, Marine competitors don’t have as many years singularly dedicated to competitive shooting as soldiers.
“We come in just a few points behind, but the Army comes in first,” said Schardein.
Who exactly are the Marine teams looking for? Anyone who loves to shoot. Rank and MOS are inconsequential.
“It is one skill that ties every Marine together, from the young recruit on the yellow foot prints to the commandant,” he said.
Current team members come from all specialties and include musicians, infantrymen and machinists.
“They should have a passion for shooting but also be squared away with a good attitude and ability to do the right thing because they are in the public eye. They may be the only Marine some people meet,” Schardein said.
To get noticed by the teams, Marines should begin by competing at local base matches. Those who win medals or show strong talent may be approached by the team or can apply of their own accord.