MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Out of roughly 240 Marine and civilian participants, only a handful of top shooters crossed the base theater stage during the 2015 Competition-In-Arms Program (CIAP) Western Divisional ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Friday, March 6, 2015.
Since 1901, the CIAP has emphasized marksmanship knowledge throughout the Marine Corps to improve training and succeed in combat. In doing so, the program’s primary goal stems from a drive for competitors to always seek self-improvement and the desire to place at the top of the podium. For two Marines, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, the two weeklong competition also served as an opportunity to place in Marine Corps marksmanship history.
It takes time
A scoreboard stands adorned in the customary Marine Corps scarlet red with gold lettering outside of the armory. The names of the Marines at the top of this list identify the best of the best – they are the top ten percent of the CIAP Western Divisional.
One of those names is gold medalist Sgt. Tanner Bauer, an F-35B Lightning II avionics technician with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121).
“I went to my first competition in 2014,” said Bauer, who placed fourth and is a native of Hamlin, New York. “Although I didn’t (receive a) medal, I was instantly addicted and had to come back. So here it is in 2015. I came back with a goal, and that goal was to medal. That’s exactly what I did.”
Bauer was introduced to the competition by fellow gold medalist, Staff Sgt. Elliott Stanton, an F-35B Lightning II avionics technician with VMFA-121 and a competitor.
The fire of competition
“For each of the rifle, pistol and team competitions, there are four gold medals, seven silver medals and twelve bronze medals,” said Stanton, a native of Pensacola, Florida.
On the scoreboard, indexed alongside a multitude of ranks, names and numbers, are distinctive letters: “B” for bronze, “S” for silver, “G” for gold, or “D” for distinguished.
For Stanton, this year’s competition is special in more ways than one.
“I am now a distinguished pistol shot in the Marine Corps,” said Stanton. “I was able to make that milestone and that was something I’ve been looking forward to since I first started doing shooting competitions.”
Shooters earn points at every CIAP event they medal in, which in turn, goes toward a distinguished marksman title for the pistol and rifle. When a Marine earns 30 so-called “leg points,” they warrant the title and rate the Distinguished Marksmanship Badge as a uniform item along with up to two other competition, or normal, marksmanship devices.
Stanton’s competition took an even more personal turn this year as he faced off in a spirited showdown with a longtime rival for first place with the pistol.
“Sgt. Richard Salas and I had our first competitions together in the Far East Divisional 2011,” said Stanton. “During this year’s competition on match day one, he was number one and I was number two. It came down to him and me; we shook hands and we shot it out.”
“He ended up shooting better than me, so he won overall pistol and I won first gold,” Stanton said. “The most enjoyable part to me was just having that gentlemen’s duel.”
The learning experience
Although Marines are familiarized with putting accurate fire on target since basic training, shooting competitions are more of an in-depth educational event when it comes to putting rounds downrange.
“When I came to the competition last year, I learned more than I ever thought I would,” said Bauer. “I applied everything in this year’s competition, which helped me win my medal. No matter what, you will learn something new about shooting when you attend the competition.”
The official Marine Corps Shooting Team coaches selected shooters for a week before the actual competition begins, giving each participant tips and tricks to work out kinks and improve their score.
“Between the Marine Corps Shooting team, and every other Marine out there, the amount of knowledge and information you take away from the experience is more than worth it, even if you don’t medal,” Stanton said. “It’s definitely something that every Marine should do at least once throughout their career. Go to the competition and see where you fall when the dust settles. I guarantee you, no matter where you rank, your skills will improve.”