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Cpl. Travis Walto, an aircraft electrical systems technician with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, fires a shot on the 500 yard line during a Combat Marksmanship Coaches course at the Combat Center’s Rifle Range in May. As summer creeps closer, qualifying Marines run into more elemental obstacles on the firing line.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Hitting black with sun on your back

5 Jun 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Qualifying at the rifle range is an annual requirement Corps-wide and some Marines cannot escape from shooting during the summer.

Even with the scorching desert summer season quickly approaching, the Combat Center does not put a stop to its training.

According to the 2008 Combat Center community impact assessment, there are about 8,500 active duty Marines and sailors here who require this annual training. This means many of them will need to qualify during the hottest months of the year.

Due to extreme desert elements like light, heat, wind and sand storms, qualifying shooters may feel anxious or doubtful about hitting in the black.

Marines of the Marksmanship Training Unit here have a few words of wisdom for those who may be “sweating” the summer qualification months.

Sgts. Peter E. Cornelius and Jacob T. Addington, MTU instructors at the Combat Center rifle range, explained the effects of bright, consistent light on targets, weapon sight systems and the human eye.

“Bright light can distort the image of your front side post if it’s shiny, causing the shooter to aim at one spot and shoot in another,” said Addington, a Sauquoit, N.Y., native. “This effect can be minimized by preparing your weapon with sight black.”

In addition to sight distortion, bright light also impacts the shooter’s vision. Although shooting while wearing black lenses is a preference, Cornelius recommends shooters qualifying in brighter months bring sunglasses to wear when not shooting.

“The more time you spend out in bright light, the more fatigued your eyes will get,” Cornelius said. “Minimize that exposure as much as you can.”

Addington suggests shooters with rifle combat optics on their weapons put either drab or black electrical tape on their fiber optic light collector to reduce glare and eye fatigue.

Extreme heat, an element exclusive to summer, has an even greater effect on sights, targets and vision.

Heat creates mirages on both the barrel of the weapon and on the target, causing the target to either “float” or move.

“A lot of the effects on heat are illusions, but it increases the chance of fatigue and you’ll be more likely to perceive something that isn’t there,” Cornelius said. “When the heat starts getting to you, you body functions start shutting down in a sense.”

To prevent a majority of heat related issues, he suggest the cure-all liquid, water, and a controlled amount of electrolytes to help the body produce saline, the salt-water coating that protects and hydrates eyes.

Other external characteristics, like wind and sand, cannot be controlled by preparation of the shooter.

“Getting sand blasted can definitely put you in a bad mood,” Cornelius said. “If you’re ready to take a shot and you suddenly get sand blasted, you might jerk or twitch and miss your shot.”

Addington and Cornelius suggest wearing clear, protective lenses or sunglasses to reduce sand damage to the eyes or distractions.

Intense sandstorms could also pose a threat to weapons if they are not properly maintained and cleaned daily, Addington said.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Frederick T. Keeney, the MTU range officer, said shooters should also make a point to be in good physical shape, bring food to the range, and wear sunscreen.

“The sun will drain all of your strength and if you do not mitigate its effects, it will affect your shooting,” Keeney said. “Don’t be a fat body. Overweight Marines are not effective in combat or on the range.”

All in all, shooters may have a better chance of staying safe and hitting black by following these, and other MTU instructions and tips covered during class time before each relay steps on the firing line.


Range Officer’s summer qualification tips:

• Eat breakfast

• Hydrate

• Don’t be a fat body

• Wear sunblock

• Wear sunglasses

• Use sight black to reduce glare

• Bright sunlight makes the target appear smaller and farther away then it really is, therefore, placement of the front sight post/RCO reticle aiming point center mass on target is all the more critical even if more difficult

• Heat mirage can make targets appear to move or drift from side to side. Shooters can ensure natural point of aim by focusing on a clear front sight tip as the shot breaks

• Help MTU help you. If you move slow, the range moves slow, too

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