JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. –
“Two rounds and we’ll see where you are hitting,” said Master Sgt. Peter Berry, Small Arms Readiness Training Section, Massachusetts Army National Guard, to the blue uniformed personnel at the U.S. Coast Guard firing range. “Then we’ll … make some sight adjustments.”
It has become such a common event for service members from different branches to work together on a mission that a new term was added to the military vocabulary: purple. This happens when Army or Marine Corps green, which are different shades of green, works with Navy or Air Force blue, which are different shades of blue.
Approximately 15 years ago a very different shade of purple appeared. What makes it unique is the men in Army green working with the boys (and girls) in Navy blue.
“It’s something that evolved out of a conversation,” said Lt. Cmdr. James McLoughlin, commander, Gosnold Division, U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.
The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps began in the late 1950”s. The U.S. Navy instituted a program designed to create a favorable view of its self with the nation’s youth, by exposing them to naval life and the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment; and so the Sea Scouts were born. One of the aspects of naval life is learning the fundamentals of marksmanship and firearms safety. “We started out using our own weapons … the dads … myself and other people donating weapons and ammunition,” said McLoughlin, “there was no standardization.”
McLoughlin works as a civilian employee on Joint Base Cape Cod and had met John Sterns, a noncommissioned officer from the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s Small Arms Readiness and Training section. In the course of that conversation, Sterns suggested that McLoughlin and the Sea Cadets see if they could use the Guard’s equipment and trainers. This would allow the cadets to all use the same model of .22-caliber rifles; as well as making it easier for the instructors to make adjustments to the rifles.
The day began with McLoughlin, Barry and other members of the SARTS instructing the Cadets on the rules of safe firearms handling, the basics of marksmanship and the characteristics of the firearms they would be using. When this was done, small groups of Cadets donned eye and ear protection; then they entered the range.
Before the Cadets handled the rifles, firearms safety the Soldiers again stressed safety.
“If you see any kind of unsafe act, let us know … call a cease fire … we’ll be right here,” Barry told the Cadets as they stood behind their rifles. “Any questions?”
There were none.
For hours, the Soldiers instructed and supervised the Cadets as they practiced before firing the rifle qualification course. While there were many who had shot in the past, there were others who had never held a firearm before.
“Safety first, it’s my biggest concern,” said Ellen Hanson.
Hanson’s triplets, age 11, all fired together. She stood in the back of the range and watched as they shot.
“To hear [the Soldiers] remind [the Cadets] and see the kids understand and get it … and listen and pay attention,” said Hanson, “[A gun is] dangerous and you have to take all the precautions.”
Her daughter, Heather never fired a rifle before; she outshot her two brothers.
“[The SARTS team] showed me what to do. I did pretty well,” said Heather Hanson. “They told me never to point a gun at someone and to put the safety on when you aren’t shooting. [Guns] are very dangerous and they could hurt someone.”
While teaching firearms safety and marksmanship is the mission of these Soldiers. They also taught something else, confidence.
“You build confidence,” said Sgt. Jasen Gonzalez, 101st Finance Detachment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, who was assisting the SARTS team. “That black circle is not just a target to them. That’s them doing something amazing … that’s an achievement. For [Soldiers], we go to the range because we have to; it’s part of our job. For them that a huge achievement … to be able to go say ‘hey, I hit the bull’s-eye’. They’re all going to go home and show their parents.”
At the end of the day all the Cadets had qualified.
“They listened, their attentive … when you’re giving them direction, they followed it,” said Barry, “They’re good kids.”