CAMP SCHWAB, OKINAWA, Japan – --
Marines take a deep breath as they focus in on the targets. Slow and steady, they pull the trigger, absorbing the recoil. The crack of rifles echo in the air. “Cease fire! Cease fire!” is called out and the range goes silent. Marines put their rifles on safe and remove the empty magazines. As range coaches approach the Marines one-by-one, clearing rifles and giving tips to improve their shooting.
Rifle qualification is an annual requirement for all Marines. While every Marine is a rifleman, there is always room for improvement. That is where range coaches come in. Range coaches are mentors on hand at each range to help Marines improve their techniques.
“I see coaches as guardians,” said Sgt. Tyler McIntosh, a block non-commissioned officer with the Marine Corps Installation Pacific ranges. “They help Marines build confidence in their abilities and build on the fundamentals they were originally taught. They give the Marines necessary refreshers about the range and the different positions to shoot in. After that, they help them find what works best.”
To become a range coach, Marines must be a lance corporal or above, qualified as a sharpshooter or higher on the rifle range and qualified on the pistol range. The Coach’s Marksmanship Course teaches Marines about the basic functions of the service rifle and service pistol, safety and the different weapon maintenance and procedures. They are schooled in wind adjustments, night vision devices and rifle combat optic.
“At the course we are taught everything all over again and more,” said Lance Cpl. Shondalle Castile-Washington, a range coach with MCIPAC ranges. “We also learn things that aren’t used on the range like advanced wind reading and adjustments, but they are important to know because it gives us a bigger picture. It gives us another tool to work with.”
Coaches start their day around 3 a.m. to do prep work before the shooters ever get out to the range. During the different courses of fire, they spend the day helping shooters with problems big and small to improve their performances. When the shooters are done and return home, the coaches make sure that scores are calculated and submitted correctly. Their hours are longer than a shooter’s and when one range ends there are others that need to begin. A coaches’ work is never done.
“Range coaches are essential to the Marine Corps because without coaches how are shooters supposed to learn,” asked Castile-Washington. “Not just learn how to shoot but have confidence in their shooting? That is what we are here for, to build that confidence. Our job as a coach is not to put shooters down, it’s to build them up.”