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.
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)
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.