CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq -- When not battling terrorists on the streets of Fallujah, service members here combat foes often times more dangerous: boredom and complacency.
One Vacaville, Calif. native and his fellow sailors have little time and even less desire to sit around moping while at leisure. Seaman Apprentice Andres Santamaria and his teammates prefer to train to battle the terrorists in the nearby city.
Santamaria, a 21-year-old corpsman with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment's Battalion Aid Station, normally spends his days treating Marine infantrymen's acute illnesses and minor trauma injuries inside Baharia's field hospital. Like any job done frequently, he said the routine sometimes feels like a daily drag.
On the morning of Aug. 7, these sailors were in for a change of pace and some trigger time, as they fired their M16A2 service rifles and M9 Beretta pistols on the camp's range.
"I definitely enjoy getting out and doing things like these every once in awhile," stated Santamaria, a former student of oceanography at Solano College. "It stops the 'Groundhog Day' effect around here."
The 'docs' started their day by obtaining a battle sight zero for their rifles. During 'BZOing,' as their Marine counterparts call it, troops adjust their weapons' sights to account for each individual's differences in breathing patterns and eyesight.
Shooters aim at a target's center and squeeze off three sets of rounds: two sets of three, and one of four. After each set, the sailors approach their targets and take note of the impacts. They adjust their sight's elevation and windage (lateral direction) until every round hits bulls-eye.
Afterward, Santamaria and the 14 other 'docs' un-holstered their Berettas to fire the Navy's 9mm pistol qualification course. The time had come to shoot for score.
"I'd shot the Marine Corps pistol qualification course of fire before, but this one today was new to me," Santamaria explained. "It was pretty challenging, because we fired a lot of shots right after drawing our pistols from their holsters. Overall, it was pretty fun, though."
Each corpsman fired a total of 48 rounds from three to fifteen yards away from their targets. Every shot hitting the center black circle netted them five points, while the outer rings were worth four, three, two and one points, depending on their distance away from the bulls-eye.
A sailor could earn a maximum of 240 points on the range. 180 points designated them as 'marksman,' and he or she earned a black-and-green colored ribbon for wear on dress uniforms. A sailor scoring between 204 and 227 points earned the title 'sharpshooter,' and could add a small letter 'S-'shaped pin to their ribbon. Those distinguishing themselves by shooting 228 points or higher are classified 'experts,' and may wear a silver 'E' on their ribbon.
For Santamaria, already a pistol expert, this course of fire served as refresher training and a good chance to work together with fellow 'docs' outside their hospital's sterile surroundings.
"The skills we use on the range can also help us out on missions (alongside the Marine infantry they support here)," he stated. "We learn how to draw our weapons quickly, and we can use this in case we're ever ambushed. The pistol is my primary weapon out here, so I enjoy getting the chance to come out and practice firing it."
Petty Officer 2nd Class Phillip Jean-Gilles, BAS training petty officer, added that he plans to have all the battalion's corpsmen qualify on this pistol course of fire before they leave Iraq.
"Some of the guys who shot the range today were even on their off-duty time," the Miami native continued. "It's good to bring all the corpsmen together every once in a while to train. They can gauge their progress against that of the others, and they get the chance to earn an extra ribbon while they're doing it."
Santamaria and his battalion's corpsmen continue honing their marksmanship and life-saving skills as they assist their infantry brethren secure Fallujah.