Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton -- Around 350 Marines and civilians arrived at the doorsteps of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 21 for the annual Competition-In-Arms Program (CIAP) Western Divisional.
Gathering from every region of the West, spanning the Pacific eastward toward the Mississippi River, these participants came eager to hone and prove their marksmanship capabilities, hoping to earn a medal and a possible spot at the CIAP Marine Corps Championship.
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, along with Marine Aircraft Group 13, represented Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., in this CIAP bout in hopes of becoming the alpha-unit the rightful owner of bragging rights as the best team coming out of MCAS Yuma in the CIAP Western Divisional.
Over the course of this two week competition, the participating Marines immersed themselves in classroom training, mustered every morning before sunrise, hiked from place to place and fired off over 600 rounds with their rifles and pistols in the process.
“It’s been a great time. Just being able to see the green and the California weather and being able to meet a bunch of people who take shooting so seriously,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Adams, the power line division chief for MCAS Yuma-based Marine Attack Squadron 211. “Yeah, we have long days… we start drawing weapons by 5, which takes a while. Then we do our parts in pulling pits and firing off our rounds with the pistol and rifle, so we’re out here from the crack of dawn until sunset.
“We’ll get into our racks anytime around 8:30 to 9 p.m., try to get a seven or eight hours of sleep, and repeat it all over again the next day. That kind of wears you down,” explained Adams, also a member of the MAG-13 rifle team.
The days were long and the courses of fire were unforgiving.
While Marines are only required to shoot five times from the dreaded standing position during their annual rifle qualifications, in this competition they fired 20 rounds during the first string of fire. Ten shots in the prone from 500 yards out are upped to twenty. Consistent snap-in and dry-fire time, which Marines usually take for granted, paid off for those who embraced the pain it involves.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call if you’ve only shot the normal rifle qualification,” said Cpl. Travis Hurley, a rifle coach for MCAS Yuma and H&HS rifle team competitor. “After being in the standing for that long my sights start to wobble more than I’m used to and I started feeling some pain in my non-firing arm. It’s all just a learning experience. You have to learn how to face those adversities and continue shooting like you know you can.”
Coming out victorious on the other side of this grueling competition, by objective statistical measures, was H&HS. The squadron finished 7th and 5th in the team rifle and pistol competitions, respectively, defeating MAG-13 in both.
Corporal Keontaye Dawson, a range coach for MCAS Yuma and H&HS team member, took home a bronze medal in the individual pistol competition, and Staff Sgt. James Lyons, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Marksmanship Training Unit aboard MCAS Yuma, took a silver in the rifle and gold in the pistol.
Lyons served as the coach for the H&HS team and formed the team after observing MCAS Yuma’s station intramural shooting competition in early February.
“Selecting the members for our team was tough,” said Lyons, who took gold in the CIAP Western Divisional rifle competition last year and was chosen for the Marine Corps Rifle Team last summer.
“Being the team coach was a new experience for me and everybody on the team was new to the competition besides me; but we did a good job at getting after it and coming together collectively in putting up some decent scores.”
Staff Sgt. Elliot Stanton, an F-35B avionics technician with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 based out of MCAS Yuma, followed up his first overall finish in last year’s CIAP Far East Divisional individual pistol competition with yet another gold medal performance this year. Adams finished with a bronze in the pistol competition, rounding out MAG-13’s top individual competitors.
As a team, MAG-13 finished 15th and 7th in the rifle and pistol team matches, respectively.
Stanton, the veteran of the team in terms of competitive marksmanship, believes his team fared well considering they did not have the opportunity to participate in the MCAS Yuma intramural shooting competition earlier in the year.
“We did pretty well considering we didn’t have any practice
whatsoever going into it,” said Stanton. “Everybody on the team, besides Gunnery Sgt. Adams and me, were first time competitors. I had some guys who showed potential and almost landed themselves a medal and, if they were to have a few more days, definitely would have polished their skills up a little bit.”
Regardless of the outcomes, for many contenders, simply being in this competition is a moral victory to be proud of.
“I joined the Marine Corps to compete,” said Adams. “My recruiter always told me you could try out for rifle team, and I was like, ‘That sounds great!’ But then, over the years, I got caught in the Marine Corps grind and totally forgot to even ask anybody about it.
“It wasn’t until about two years ago that I read a MARADMIN [Marine administration] talking about the competitions. Last year I got lucky and found out about it last minute and got a spot on the MAG team, earned a medal in both the rifle and the pistol. From there I was hooked,” said Adams.
With the CIAP Western Divisional in the history books, the competitors from H&HS and MAG-13 traveled back to MCAS Yuma, yielding a mutual gratitude for the experience that had just unfolded along with the knowledge they amassed in the process.
“It was an awesome experience to get eight other Marines together to experience this, so now they’ll go back and talk about it with their unit and hopefully next year there will be a lot more interest in joining this competition,” said Stanton. “Of course we wanted to be the best team coming out of Yuma, but, regardless of the scores, we all learned a lot. Next year, with a little more preparation, we’ll put up a better fight.”