By Lance Cpl. Eric Keenan, Defense Media Activity
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia -- Smoke erupts; a split second later brass is displaced from the ejection port of an M-16 competition rifle. The target is dropped below the berm, as it rises the black center holds a small white x, a dead center hit.
Service members competing in the 53rd Annual Interservice Rifle Championship are the top shooters from each of their respective service, but the marksmanship skills required for the matches may not be achieved without their equipment.
“If you’re going to be competitive you need to have the appropriate gear,” said Sgt. Neil Sookdeo, the head coach for the Marine Corps Shooting Team.
Every bit of weight, small ray of light and gentle breeze is considered and accounted for.
“By competing and winning we can develop the best rifle possible,” said CWO4 Thomas Layou, an infantry warrant officer and Gunner at Weapons Training Battalion. “So when the Marine Corps needs to make changes to the service rifle, we will already have the blue print.”
The competitors’ rifles are weighted to fit their individual needs, allowing them to keep steady aim and reduce the recoil from heavy bullets.
While the butt-stock, upper and lower receivers are the same as the standard M-16, the competition rifles have a match grade barrel, a float tube and adjusted sites. This gives them a shorter life expectancy than an issued rifle but makes them more accurate with less recoil.
“A heavy rifle will help limit recoil, gets you back on target quicker and allows you to be more stable,” said Capt. Seth Nieman, a wounded soldier and competitive marksman.
The competitors fire 77-grain molly-tipped 5.56 mm rounds, which are heavier than the average green tipped 5.56 mm rounds, keeping the bullet on a straighter path.
The shooters wear M-1907 leather slings. Hooks on the slings hold the exact position needed.
Competition rifles and all the components help showcase the skills of the shooters.
“The rifles make us more competitive shooters; we probably would not be nearly as accurate without them,” said Nieman.
To further their accuracy, competitors are equipped with specialized shooting jackets that are tailored for the three firing positions in the competition: standing, sitting and prone. The jackets have different adjustments for each position, allowing shooters to remain steady.
“The purpose of the jacket is to be supportive because we’re not shooting with a bi-pod and we’re not shooting from a sandbag,” said Cpl. Antonio Diconza, an infantry mortarman and competition shooter with the Marine Corps Shooting Team.
Together, the weight of this equipment can start to add up. In order to stay fresh and organized, shooters load their equipment onto wheeled carts.
“The things that you need are accessible and the cart has become a necessity,” said Nieman. “If you are lugging things around all day you’re going to be hot, sweaty and exhausted, so you won’t hit the targets as consistently.”
Rifle, jacket, ammunition and cart aside, the participants of the competition excel in the task at hand: shooting.
Only the best shooters from all services earn their way into these competitions. The gear they use keeps them fresh and helps them hit dead center.