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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., -- Marines with 1st Marine Division stand on line and practice shooting techniques during a combat marksmanship coach course here, Oct. 30, 2013. Graduates of the four-week course gain the military occupational specialty of combat marksmanship coach. The course was recently modified to add the combat pistol program. The CPP is designed to be more combat-oriented than previous programs. The new silhouette targets allow shooters to identify facial features, body structure and if the target is holding a weapon or posing a potential threat.

Photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan

Blue Diamond Marines experience new combat oriented pistol qualification

12 Nov 2013 | Cpl. Joseph Scanlan 1st Marine Division

A silhouette target holding a pistol faces toward a Marine, and he only has a split second to determine the threat and engage the target.

With the new fast paced course of fire, an individual might consider this re-enacting a combat scenario, but it will shortly become a qualification all Marines must complete to qualify with the pistol.

For decades, the Marines Corps qualified its Marines with the pistol through the Entry Level Pistol Program, but by November 2014 a new program will replace it. The combat pistol program is being implemented, which features more combat oriented courses of fire, new silhouette targets and allows shooters to holster a loaded weapon. Marines currently enrolled in the Combat Marksmanship Coaches Course at 1st Marine Division Schools are currently utilizing the CPP to earn their qualifications.

“The combat pistol program further develops a Marines’ combat skills,” said Sgt. David Lombardo, a chief instructor with 1st Marine Division Schools.

The new course of fire is designed to keep shooters prepared to mimic combat situations. Less time to engage targets during drills forces Marines to have a constant combat mindset.

Adrenaline rushes through each shooter on the firing line as their targets face them. With only a few seconds to complete each drill, there is little time for mistakes. Controlled pairs, failure to stop drills and speed reloads must be conducted in a matter of seconds before targets face away from the shooters. The fast paced shooting makes the program a more realistic combat scenario than an annual qualification.

Lombardo, a native of New Britain, Conn., said the new combat centered drills cause Marines to develop the mindset of engaging a target with speed and intensity before they lose sight of it or before it engages them. Currently less than three percent of the Marine Corps has qualified through the CPP, Lombardo added.

After every engagement, shooters assess their target, survey their surroundings and check their pistol for ammunition and functionality.

“This program is like nothing I’ve done before,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Houck, a calibration technician with 1st Marine Division and a native of Phoenixville, Pa. “There is a constant level of stress when we go through the course of fire. We have to really know what we’re doing and have some muscle memory because we only have a few seconds to engage each target. If we are nervous and don’t have confidence in our ability, one small mistake could cause us to not fire a round and have a verified miss.”

Shooters have numerous classes and hands-on training prior to qualifying. To develop proper technique, shooters spend numerous hours drawing their pistol from the holster, sighting in on targets, practicing reloading and rehearsing what to do if their weapon malfunctions or has a stoppage. The Marines put their skills to the test when they shot for score and qualified after a week taking classes and two days of practice shooting,

The program is the first significant change to Marine Corps pistol qualifications in more than 20 years. After qualifying on the range, each shooter walked away from the program a more combat ready Marine. Once the Marines graduate from the course, they will return to their units more combat prepared and qualified to teach the techniques they utilized during the CPP.

1st Marine Division