The Marksmanship Training Unit aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, has completed its the inaugural first Designated Marksmanship Course for the M27 Infantry Assault Rifle, the first of its kind for West Coast Marine infantrymen.

Over the three-week course that ended Jan. 28, about a dozen Marines in two-man shooter-spotter teams from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, and 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, honed their abilities to use the inherent accuracy of the IAR to identify and engage targets up to 600 yards 550 meters.

As an organic asset supporting tactical movement, riflemen acting as marksmen for a squad need the ability reach out and touch a target, said 1st Lt. Lauren Luther, officer in charge of the marksmanship unit and chief instructor for the course.

"It’s about finding what the Marines ‘doing the do’ — the maneuver units, the rifle companies and rifle platoons — needed to be more deadly," she said. "Marines at the squad level aren’t leaving the wire with match-grade ammunition, good optics or a sniper rifle, they’re leaving the wire with an IAR, green-tip ammunition and a [standard day optic]; [we wanted] to cover down on what they actually need."

The IAR was initially fielded in December 2010 to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon as the standard automatic weapon within all Marine rifle squads.

Cpl. Robert Ellis, a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, spots targets for his shooter.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Julio McGraw/Marine Corps

At half the weight of the SAW, with a lighter ammunition load and greater precision accuracy over similar ranges, the IAR gives Marine infantry better mobility and lethality.

There are 4,153 IARs fielded across the force, said according to Maj. Anton Semelroth, a spokesman for Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

Marine infantry riflemen are formally taught the basics of the IAR when they attend one of the Corps' two infantry schools, either at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, or Camp Pendleton, California. Any advanced training, however, is left to operational units.

Basic IAR training "culminates in an evaluated course of fire, using both semi-auto and full auto engagements at various ranges, from both supported and unsupported positions," said 1st Lt. Matt Rojo, public affairs officer for Marine Corps Training Command. "It does not result in a 'designated marksman' skill set or certification."

MTU’s Designated Marksmanship Course set out to provide this at Twentynine Palms, offering in-depth instruction in accurately estimating ranges with the naked eye, eyeballing range estimation, optics, ballistics and battlefield observation, as well as firing on known- and unknown-distance targets.

Range estimation by eye in particular is a lost art form, Luther said, and with not a lot of resources available, he ended up turning to a British Royal Marines publication from the 1920s to prepare the course.

Cpl. Jared Ingerson, a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, fires his M27 IAR during the culminating event of the Designated Marksman Course on Jan. 28.

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Levi Schultz/Marine Corps

"You'd be shocked at how bad Marines are at guessing, like 700 meters for a target that was at 275 meters," she said. "Range estimation comes into everything we do, whether it's call for fire, small-arms marksmanship or setting a cordon for an [improvised explosive device]; it can be taught, but it's a very perishable skill."

The course culminated in a real-world scenario in which each shooter-spotter team went out to the field at Range 113 at Twentynine Palms.

They were allowed 40 minutes to positively identify 10 targets at ranges between 275 and 600 yards 250 and 550 meters, taking conditions such as terrain, sunlight and wind speed into consideration.

When the 40 minutes were up, the shooter engaged each target; if he missed any, he was given three seconds to adjust and re-engage.

"It was a great experience," said Cpl. Robert Ellis, a rifleman with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. "The instructors were definitely very knowledgeable; they gave us ample time to learn the material and a lot of hands-on time with the weapon system and engaging targets."

Lance Cpl. Colton Rine, Ellis' shooter-spotter partner and fellow rifleman with 3/4 Marines, agreed and said the instruction gave him a step up as a rifleman for his squad when he returned to his home unit.

Cpl. Robert Ellis loads an M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle magazine with 5.56 mm rounds during the Designated Marksman Course's culminating event.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Julio McGraw/Marine Corps

"I had a lot of fun with it," he said. "It helped a lot getting those skills up and preparing you for the future; it's training you can bring back and teach your team."

The idea of Marines being able to share the knowledge and skills gained — "training the trainer" — was intentionally built into the course's design, Luther said.

"We invested a lot of time in making them confident in communicating what they learned so they can go back to their squad and be that subject matter expert and be a force multiplier at the small-unit level," she said.

Luther said the goal is to offer the course once every two months.

MTU intends to make the training available to Marines rotating through Twentynine Palms for training, such as units going through Integrated Training Exercises at the Combat Center.

"If they want to send selected Marines from squads to participate in the designated marksmanship training, we'd be more than happy to accommodate that," she said.

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