With vet's methods, bn.'s rifle scores up
By Cpl. Jess Levens
| | November 27, 2007
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
As of late, the Headquarters and Service Battalion's rifle scores have vastly improved. Marksmanship instructors have created a stress-free, relaxed environment so shooters can focus more on shooting without being worried about micromanagement.
One of these instructors is Sgt. Mark Sarmiento, a relaxed Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who has a smooth trigger squeeze and a keen eye for a target's center mass.
The Los Angeles native is an infantryman by trade who arrived here a little more than a year ago after displaying some heroics in Iraq. Sarmiento was assaulting through An Nasiriyah, Iraq, with 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, Task Force Tarawa, when his convoy changed course off the main road.
"We called that road 'Ambush Alley,'" said Sarmiento. "In OIF 1, An Nasiriyah was the bloodiest battle. Anyway, we turned off Ambush Alley and started driving through the streets of the city. The (amphibious assault vehicle) my squad was in and another vehicle got stuck in the mud. We were sitting ducks. I could here rounds bouncing off the metal."
The squad's lieutenant advised the men to stay in the vehicle for their own safety, but Sarmiento had other ideas.
"I was thinking, 'Someone is going to walk right up to us and put a grenade on the roof,'" recalled Sarmiento. "I knew we would die if we just sat there, so I opened the top hatch and started shooting."
Sarmiento was armed with an M-203 grenade launcher. He said he spotted a sniper and launched some ammunition toward the enemy. Shortly afterward, the enemy fire stopped and the Marines were able to leave the town. The lieutenant recommended the sergeant for the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a combat distinguishing "V," which Sarmiento earned. The certificate for the medal says, " ... for eliminating enemy threat."
After 45 days of heat, long vehicle rides and skirmishes with the enemy, Sarmiento's unit returned home. Sarmiento volunteered to come to the depot as a combat readiness instructor. Now his duty is training Marines to shoot the M-16 A2 service rifle.
"He really likes teaching marksmanship," said Sgt. Matthew Maruster, also a combat readiness instructor. "He takes the time to teach the individual Marine thoroughly. Also, he's a great shooter, so that helps him train the Marines. He doesn't just talk about the techniques - he can apply them."
Sarmiento is modest about his shooting capabilities, even though he shot a 63 on the rifle range. A 65 is a perfect score, which he said he would have shot had he remembered to reset his sights from the day before.
"I missed my first shot because my rifle was set to fire at 500 yards," said 24-year old Sarmiento, who was at the 200-yard line when he missed.
"I've never seen a higher score on the range," said Maruster. "That talent helps him as an instructor. I can remember several times when we have been able to take shooters who where in danger of failing and trained them to be experts. We make a great team."
The third corner of the marksmanship triangle is Sgt. Raymond Acosta, who is attending the Depot Competition in Arms Program - a marksmanship competition - at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Sarmiento and Maruster both agreed that the relaxed environment they create for the rifle range cultivates higher scores than in the past.
"Its all about relaxation," said Sarmiento, a five-year veteran.
"We don't micromanage the shooters," said Maruster. "We give them the responsibility. And if we see something wrong, we correct it, but not in a derogatory way. We correct constructively to fix the problem, not add to the stress."
The battalion leaders have noticed the rising training trend also.
"Since they took over the rifle range, stats have gone up considerably," said H&S Bn. operations chief, Gunnery Sgt. Charles S. Sanderson. "I've also been able to volunteer for duty in the Republic of Georgia and in Iraq. I can do these training revolutions because I have competent sergeants serving with me. Their hard work and efforts allow me to do the things I enjoy."
With battalion stats on the rise and the fight in Iraq still burning strong, Sarmiento said he wants to go back to an infantry unit when his time on the depot is over.