CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --
For years, the Marine Corps’ marksmanship coaches have sported pith helmets on the range. The helmet is an icon of the expertise that marksmanship coaches bring to train Marines as proficient shooters.
The helmet, which was originally worn by drill instructors before World War II, is a common appearance on most rifle ranges today.
Marksmanship coaches analyze difficulties shooters may be experiencing during dry- and live-fire exercises in all phases of the Marine Corps Marksmanship Program during qualification and re-qualification. Additionally, they assist in the operation of firing ranges, according to Marine Corps Order 1200.17, paragraph 3115.
To become a coach, Marines must be qualified sharpshooter or above with the service rifle, complete the Marine Corps Institute course Marine Marksman, and complete the Marksmanship Coach Course Program.
The course includes classes on weapons safety, known distance courses of fire, preventative weapons maintenance, range operations, fundamentals of rifle marksmanship, weapons handling and an introduction to the data book, explained Sgt. Edwin H. Harmon, combat marksmanship trainer, Marksmanship Training Unit, S-3, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler.
Upon graduation from the course, the Marine gains the additional Military Occupational Specialty of 0933, or Marksmanship Coach, and is qualified to coach shooters on rifle and pistol marksmanship, he added.
After the training is complete, coaches are prepared to work with shooters, but must work long hours to gain proficiency in their craft.
On a normal range, coaches have to be awake around 1 a.m., said Lance Cpl. Timothy Yoo, a marksmanship coach with the Marksmanship Training Unit.
“We normally don’t get back from the range until (5 p.m.) or later,” he said.
“At first it’s hard, but you get used to the hours, and the shooters make it worth it,” Yoo commented. “It gave me a new perspective on the Marine Corps when I got to see all the Marines out there together.”
Each coach is in charge of about 22 Marines per range, said Yoo.
“So far, I’ve coached about 528 Marines and about half of them have shot expert,” he added.
Qualifying as expert with the rifle or pistol recognizes a Marine as proficient to the highest degree in non-competition shooting.
A long-standing Marine tradition is for shooters who qualify as an expert with the service rifle or pistol to give one of their collar rank insignia to their coach after they move off the firing line.
“When I get one of my shooter’s insignia, I know they believe I was a direct help in them achieving expert,” Yoo said. “I know that my work was appreciated.”
With training, Marine coaches can recognize common mistakes that may cost shooters valuable points on the range – and precision when it counts in combat.
“After being out there for a while, it’s easy to recognize habits shooters have,” Yoo said. “It’s rewarding to see shooters’ scores improve after you point out their finger movement, body twitching or jerking the trigger.”
One of the most valuable tools of a Marine marksmanship coach is simply their attitude. Most coaches are of the ranks of lance corporal through sergeant, requiring a professional demeanor to give guidance on the firing line. To enable themselves to be as effective a coach as possible, coaches must also be a model of calm authority on the firing line, according to Yoo.
“These Marines are hardworking, and they do their best to help Marines with their shooting while maintaining respect,” Harmon said.
Marine Corps marksmanship coaches have the job of passing on their expertise to make “every Marine a rifleman.”