Commandant: It's not the round, it's the shooter
Close with. Destroy. Repeat. The basic recipe for the perfect Marine infantryman is usually a simple mixture. Toss in a little kill, capture or repel, sprinkle in some fire and maneuver, then separate into four-man teams and bake under the hot sun.
Easy as pie, usually, except the Corps' top officer says there's something wrong in the kitchen.
He's been getting complaints from the field about "stopping power." Grunts say they have to pump handfuls of rounds into insurgents before the bad guys hit the dirt, and some still manage to keep coming.
Some say the rounds need to be bigger if they're really going to wreck the enemy's day.
Commandant Gen. James Conway has a different view: Put a round in the right place, and you'll stop the bad guy, no matter the size of the bullet and how fast he's moving.
So prepare to adjust fire, because Conway's new weapons training initiative puts a premium on hitting moving targets and shot placement, and reminds infantrymen that they are the predators and not the prey.
In other words: teach the grunt to hunt.
Ask leathernecks with combat experience if their M16 gives them enough stopping power, and you'll get a mixed response. Battlefield lore says some Marines picked up AK47s during the battle of Fallujah because they weren't confident their own rifles and 5.56mm rounds would be potent enough in stopping the enemy.
One temporary fix is to give out heavier rounds, and Corps officials have received requests for just that.
"Based on the specific threats encountered, the Marine Corps determined there was a requirement to provide commanders with a heavier-grain 5.56mm round, the M-262, to be employed as required," said Corps spokesman 1st Lt. Brian Donnelly, speaking for Marine Corps Systems Command.
Conway has heard these complaints, but says a bigger round isn't necessarily the answer to increasing Marine lethality during combat. Special operations forces, however, use weapons that fire 7.62mm rounds, the commander has noted. "We're going to take a hard look at that and see if it's something that we need in this day and age in terms of a heavier caliber," he said.
While the Corps is researching whether that's worth doing, turning away from the M16 to a new rifle is not a priority right now, Conway said.
To change that, Conway has directed officials at Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force to take the lead in developing a weapons training course that will instill what he called the "hunter" mentality.
"[I MEF commanders] believe that if we create a mentality in our Marines that they are hunters and they take on some of those skills, then we'll be able to increase our combat effectiveness," Conway told Marine Corps Times on March 1.
"A hunter can hit a moving target with a great deal of frequency," he said. "Maybe we start with shotguns and build a level of confidence in hitting a moving target, skeet or trap, and we go from there to rifle shots."
Conway is looking for quick results, and wants I MEF to push leathernecks through the new training before they head back into their next rotation in Iraq this time next year, Conway said.
"Sooner is better," he said. "I'd like to see people act on that pretty quickly."
Taking it up a notch
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