Military Life

Why the term 'every Marine is a rifleman' needs to stop

The 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Alfred M. Gray Jr., once stated, "Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman. All other conditions are secondary." The problem here is that being a skilled shooter doesn't equate to knowing how to handle the job of an infantry rifleman.


To be fair, when the statement was issued, it was probably true. In a type of war where the battlefield is all around you and every soul out there is equally subject to the harvest of death, like the Vietnam War, grunts were taking many casualties on the front lines. The powers that be had to start pulling Marines from POG jobs to be riflemen to fill the ranks.

But, in the modern era, the more accurate statement is, "every Marine knows how to shoot a rifle," because they're taught to do so in boot camp. But being a Marine rifleman is so much more than just shooting a gun well.

Related: 6 ways for a POG to be accepted by grunts

Now, it's important to note that there are plenty of POGs who can shoot better than grunts but, if all it takes to be a rifleman is accurately firing a weapon in a comfortable, rested, and stable position, then why have the Infantry Training Battalion?

Why spend so much time and money to teach a Marine to be a rifleman if they learn the skills they need in boot camp? It's because the job of the rifleman is not so simple. What POGs need to understand is that when they don't know the fundamentals well enough, they become a liability on patrol.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Robert B. Brown Jr.)

If you find a desk-bound POG who thinks they're superior because of their shooting ability, ask them the preferred entry method of a two-story building. Ask them what the dimensions of a fighting hole are and why. Chances are, they'll try to remember something they learned back in Marine Combat Training, but won't be able to. This is where the divide is — this is why riflemen are so annoyed with this statement. We know our job is much more complicated.

Not that you would want to dig a fighting hole anyway... (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Lukas Kalinauskas.)

General Alfred M. Gray Jr.'s iconic statement has become, frankly, kind of insulting to the job of the rifleman at this point. It's really annoying, as a 21-year-old lance corporal walking around the base in a dress uniform with ribbons from deployment, to pass a 19-year-old POG sergeant with two ribbons that thinks, for some reason, that they're better than you because of rank.

The rank deserves respect, absolutely, but when you sit there and think you rate because of rank, you're an arrogant prick and no grunt is going to want to work with you.

The most annoying argument we hear is along the lines of, "I'm better than a grunt because I have to do their job and mine." First off, it's flat-out false. You don't do our job; you do your job and the only time you get anywhere close to ours is the annual rifle range visit. And even then it's immediately clear who the POGs are (hint: they're the ones with the messed-up gear, usually no mount for night vision goggles, and rifles that look like they just came out of the box).

Second, if you were better than a grunt, you wouldn't look so damn lost when you do patrols or any infantry-related tasks.

Exhibit A: What's wrong with this picture? (Image via United States Grunt Corps)

Also Read: 6 easy ways for a grunt to be accepted by POGs

The statement, "every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman," is an insult to the job of an infantry rifleman. The notion that POGs take away from this statement, that they're equal just because they know how to shoot a rifle, is absolutely not true.

The new Battle Skills Test is a solid step in the right direction, but POGs need to realize that their job is not more or less important and stop trying to feel better about not being grunts. After all, we're all on the same team.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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