Recruits 'dry fire' 9mm handguns at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill. Once in the fleet, dry firing can be used to hone marksmanship fundamentals, instructors say. (MC1 Andre McIntyre / Navy)
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CHESAPEAKE, VA. — While every sailor has to maintain basic proficiency with a weapon, not every sailor is an outstanding marksman.
And though not every sailor may be able to visit the Center for Security Forces here — where sailors are trained in shooting, defensive tactics and visit, board, search and seizure techniques — you can still benefit from advice straight from the fleet’s top shooters.
Master-at-Arms 1st Class (SW/AW) Rene Tomkin, the center’s crew-served weapons instructor, and Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class (SS) Benjamin Bruner, the small-arms marksmanship instructor, train the fleet’s firearms instructors. Whether you’re looking to earn an outstanding marksmanship medal or just improve your level of comfort with firearms, here are some of their top tips.
Practice makes perfect. While budget constraints may limit how much lead a sailor can put downrange, dry firing is free — and can help a lot, Bruner said. That involves practicing things like holster drills and sight alignment with an unloaded weapon to improve both speed and comfort.
Holster drills may be one of the most important things a sailor can do while practicing with an unloaded weapon, Bruner said. He advised sailors to start drawing the gun from the holster slowly, and gradually build up speed as coordination and comfort with the weapon improves. Tomkin echoed the need for sailors to begin slow, as well as work on smooth motions.
“Smooth is fast,” he said.
One of the biggest mistakes Bruner and Tomkin said they see in the fleet is committed by sailors who don’t concentrate during their practice time. They advised making sure that you focus on the fundamentals during dry-fire exercises.
If a sailor does not have access to a real weapon, a ship’s armory has red plastic weapons that sailors can check out, Bruner said.
Breathing. Sounds simple, but it’s an area worth focusing on, the experts said. Tomkin said you don’t want your breathing to be too heavy or fast: Try to take slow, controlled breaths. While it’s not as important for close targets, breath control is crucial for accuracy at a distance, he said.
Body position. Sailors need to point themselves in the right direction before they worry about pointing their firearm, the experts said. Pay attention to body position, making sure you are standing or laying directly behind the weapon.
“Most sailors don’t even think about it, they just walk up behind a weapon,” Bruner said.
He advised sailors to take some time to make sure they’re centered directly behind their weapon and in front of the target.
Get to a FATS. The Center for Security Forces houses a firearms training simulator, or FATS, where sailors can shoot air-compressed weapons copied after the ones they’d use in the fleet. The weapons look the same and have identical recoil, so sailors can get the feel of handling and firing a weapon without paying per round.
In addition to letting sailors fire both small arms and crew-served weapons at virtual targets, the training system allows sailors to practice dealing with real-world situations, such as when a noncompliant person approaches after being told to stop. It allows sailors to get their adrenaline going and practice reacting when shooting at more than a stationary tank on a screen, said Darryl Orrell, a spokesman for the center.
In addition to the simulator here, the Navy has firearms training simulators available to sailors across the fleet, Orrell said, including at other Center for Security Forces sites from Florida to Hawaii to Japan.
Spending time in a firearms training simulator allows sailors to work on fundamentals, Tomkin said, especially picture sight alignment, in which a sailor practices lining up his sights with a target.
Resources on board. While sailors may not have access to Bruner and Tomkin as instructors, every ship should have two small-arms marksmanship instructors, Bruner said.
But if they don’t have access to an instructor, sailors can still improve their skills on their own with documents that are good reference and training tools, Tomkin said. OPNAV Instruction 3591.1F on small-arms training and qualification gives details on how sailors can qualify, as well as sample exercises to practice and dry fire.
Marine Corps Reference Publications 301 A and B on rifle and pistol marksmanship are also good resources for sailors who want to improve their shooting, Tomkin said.