Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. -- Surrounded by a sea of camouflage, a small group participating civilian shooters stuck out like a sore thumb during the 2014 Competition-In-Arms Program (CIAP) Western Divisional match at Wilcox Range aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Donning whatever attire they pleased, these participants went about their days much like their Marine counterparts; they fired their supplied rounds at the rifle and pistol ranges, performed their obligations in pulling pits, hiked from place to place, and even conversed with Marines about the ways of the world.
These civilian marksmen, some of whom are prior-service Marines, made this CIAP western divisional all the more enjoyable for everyone involved in the 13 day competition from Feb. 23 through March 7.
“Civilian participation brings many positive aspects to the competition,” said John J. Hermsen, president of the Santa Margarita Gun Club aboard MCB Camp Pendleton. “For one, our participation out here kind of lightens the mood and lets the Marines know that there are opportunities after their service to continue in honing their marksmanship skills. Then there’s the fun fact that nobody wants to be beat by that civilian.”
Hermsen was introduced to the Santa Margarita Gun Club at a young age, and though he never served in the Marine Corps himself, the Club has indoctrinated him into the craft of shooting and the rich history of Marine Corps marksmanship.
“My father was a gunner [Chief Warrant Officer 5] and he always had an attraction for firearms. The military was always his first love,” said Hermsen, a native of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif. “He instilled in me the marksmanship skills and appreciation of firearms of all vintages. As a young man, in 1972, he introduced me to the Santa Margarita Gun Club, back when Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock was in the club.”
Although Marines are required to qualify annually with the M16A4 service rifle, the rigorous demands of their daily duties often shifts their attention away from additional marksmanship training.
With more spare time to hone their skills than the average Marine, Hermsen believes that these participating civilians bring a lot to the western divisional in terms of marksmanship knowledge and proficiency.
“Sometimes the civilian marksmen have the ability to refine their skills to a level that can’t be done with the training tempo and operational needs the Marines have,” said Hermsen, who finished 64th out of 325 competitors in the rifle competition. “So those particular skills can be transferred in matches like this during the prequalification period, and a lot of Marines take advantage of that and suck that knowledge up and use it.
“Marksmanship skills are a perishable quantity; so, any time you pull that trigger? You’re training, whether it’s in a match or not,” said Hermsen.
For some of the competitors, competing in this CIAP match is a chance to renew an opportunity that they did not receive while in the Corps.
William H. Frye, a retired Marine and CIAP competitor, opted to try out the western divisional for the first time in 2011. Having spent 11 years in the Corps, he said he wasn’t even particularly aware of the existence of competitive shooting opportunities for the everyday Marine.
“I joined the Marine Corps in 1970 and got out in ’81. I started out as an 0311 [rifleman], because during that time Vietnam was going on and they were signing a lot of us up,” said Frye, a native of Saint Paul, Minn. “When I was in the Marine Corps we never had time for western divisional matches or anything like that because it seemed like every unit that I was in was either deploying or working up for a deployment. I knew, obviously, that the Marine Corps had a rifle team, but I never knew they held competitions to try out.”
What continually brings these competitors back to the western divisional year in and year out, according to Hermsen and Frye, is not only their competitive nature, but their mutual love for the prestigious men and women in arms who compete by their sides during the course of the competition.
“What keeps me coming back is the Marines,” said Frye. “I love talking to Marines and being around them. When you become a civilian you never really get that opportunity anymore. Once you’re out of the Corps and back into civilian life, you’re not really a part of anything; but in the Corps, you’re always welcomed back by these men and women with open arms.”