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Around The Fleet

Midshipmen Qualify on Small Arms

Plebe Summer

"Load! Make ready! Fire!" - These are the commands given to the new U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen during Plebe Summer at the small arms qualification course. Marksmanship training, like every challenge a midshipman faces, is overcome one step at a time.


The plebes will fire the M11 service pistol and M4 carbine, a lighter and shorter version of the M16A2, in a day at the range.

According to the Commandant of Midshipman Instruction 3591.lB, such marksmanship training will not only educate every midshipman in the basic use of small arms, but ensure each midshipman knows how to "safely and effectively use small arms to protect life and government property in combat and security situations."

The night before range day, instructors visited Bancroft Hall, the midshipmen's dorm, to educate the plebes on the firearms they would be using and the safety precautions that must be followed to ensure a safe environment at the range. This will happen about 25 times over the course of Plebe Summer.

"Safety is paramount; it's always the number one thing here," said Midshipman Joseph Flemming, pistol platoon commander. "Some people have never shot before, so you want make sure when they're up on the line, firing a real weapon, that they know what they're doing and are comfortable doing it."

After arriving on the academy range early the next morning, the plebes went over every inch of the weapons. They received instructions on each piece of the guns and what they do, then were allowed to "dry fire" the weapons. This typically gives new shooters a chance to get a feel for how much pressure is needed to pull the trigger and when the hammer will strike.
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"You never want to anticipate the recoil; let the recoil surprise you," said Flemming. "It's one of the best feelings, coaching somebody who has never shot before and watching them succeed."

The plebes were split into groups starting with either the pistol or the rifle, and upon completion of one, they switched to the other. Midshipmen then had the chance to learn about the weapons on a more comprehensive level, ensuring they learned to use the firearms properly and safely. According to Flemming, about 75 percent of plebes will walk away with at least a score of marksman on each of the weapons when they finish their day at the range. If they're unable to pass the first time, however, the new midshipmen would be given another chance.

"During Plebe Summer, the midshipmen come here, 80 students a day, and we qualify them in the rifle and pistol courses," said Gunner's Mate 1st Class Mark Mather, range safety supervisor. "This is a basic Navy rifle and handgun qualification course. I definitely see a change in their confidence level as they progress through the courses of fire."

Read more about the United States Naval Academy here.
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