Staying on target

By Petty Officer Third Class Tara Molle

Seattle – Gunshots echo across a small, dimly lit room. Four figures in protective gear stand in a cemented stance with pistols drawn firing straight ahead. Their eyes are transfixed on four paper silhouettes 25-yards ahead. Hole after hole is torn into the center of the paper targets. A whistle is blown.

“Are there any alibis?” says Petty Officer 2ndClass Neil Bacewicz, a gunners mate and small arms instructor (SAI) at Coast Guard Station Seattle. No one answers, ensuring Bacewicz that everyone shot the required amount of bullets in the allotted time and that their firearms are empty.

The shooters release the empty magazines from their guns, check for any remaining bullets and place the guns safely on a counter.

Bacewicz is conducting pistol qualification and re-qualification training and explains the different levels of qualification in the Coast Guard.

“There are three levels that help establish who has to qualify and at what interval, Levels one, two, and three,” said Bacewicz. “Level one is your initial firing of that weapon in the service.”

All Coast Guard recruits going through boot camp are considered level one shooters and have to be trained on pistol basics. Many members have never shot a gun before in their life.

“The first time I ever shot a gun was in boot camp,” said Petty Officer Third Class Dana Carver, a boatswains mate at Station Seattle.

Boot camp recruits are taught safety measures, how to handle a gun and how to shoot properly. It is not required to qualify during boot camp. Members who qualify earn a ribbon for their uniform and, depending on how well they shoot, can be designated a sharpshooter or an expert marksman.

Carver qualified on the pistol during boot camp and worked on getting qualified with Bacewicz on the Practical Pistol Course (PPC) along with other members of Station Seattle.

“Level two is training or re-qualification for personnel whose billets require performing unit security and not performing LE (law enforcement) operations and they are required to shoot annually. Level three are your LE teams, anyone who performs maritime law enforcement and your SAI’s. They are required to shoot semi-annually,” said Carver

“Any unit that does LE has to have their members get PPC qualified,” said Carver.

“When training time comes around you have two chances to get qualified in the same day,” said Carver. “I was really close the first time but didn’t make it. If you don’t shoot all of your rounds the first time a point is taken away. I just try to leave the time constraint out of my head and just focus on marksmanship, which is why I lost one round. But I qualified the second time so that is a big relief!”

Most Coast Guard members will probably not have to fire another weapon for the remainder of their career but, for many, re-qualifications become part of the regular work routine. Boarding team members and boarding officers are required to be qualified on the pistol and maintain that qualification.

“The command may designate a few people to get ‘long gun’ quals and maintain them through their duration at the unit. Who gets qualified on what is really up to the command.”

Members must demonstrate a certain amount of maturity to their command and SAI to actually become fully qualified to carry a weapon.

“A member needs to qualify on both your basic and practical courses of fire and pass the Judgmental Use of Force Evaluation (CGJUFE,)” said Bacewicz.

The CGJUFE is a course of instruction to evaluate the use of deadly force judgment of Coast Guard personnel who carry weapons.

Coast Guard units vary on the use of different weapons depending on their mission, but a member needs to qualify on both basic and practical levels of either the pistol or M16 before they can attempt to qualify with a shotgun. Coast Guardsmen attached to stations or Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST) usually become qualified to carry weapons on base and on board boats and cutters.

“I am now qualified on almost everything here at the station…pistol, rifle, the M240 mounted automatic weapon and other stuff as well,” said Carver.

“GM2 (Bacewicz) is great to work with because he is very encouraging,” said Carver. “He is always like, ‘You got this!’ It felt really good to get qualified.”

At the end of the training day, Bacewicz has managed to coach and help all but one qualify or re-qualify on the pistol and shotgun. Those who do not qualify are given another chance in the near future. When the next training rolls around at Station Seattle, there will be four more paper silhouettes sitting at the 25-yard line and four more figures will stand with pistols drawn waiting for the whistle to blow.

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