USMC Precision Weapons Section

USMC Precision Weapons Section

24 June 2011, MCB Camp Pendleton, California. What happens to 2112s after their three years at PWS? Many, like Staff Sergeant Gilbert Aragon, go out to maintain sniper rifles and other precision weapons used by fellow Marines in training, competition and combat operations. This photo shows Aragon disassembling an M16 National Match rifle at his workbench in the armory at Headquarters Support Battalion. (USMC photo by Lance Corporal Lisa Tourtelot)

SADJ:  And those who do make it?  

Hanus:  They spend about one year here in the school, then two years on the production floor.  They’ll work, let’s say, in Pistol Section building M45s for a year ….  Even though it’s a formalized school we still do a sort of on-the-job training because they just get the basics in the school.  For instance, they only build two sniper rifles in the course.  Then we’ll give them a year’s worth of experience out on the floor building several sniper rifles.  Then we’ll move ‘em into the other section for a year and then we’ll get them orders out of here after that.  That’s the three year rule.

SADJ:  What recommendations would you like to send up the chain-of-command to improve PWRC?

Hanus:  We’ve got everything we need right now.  We’re waiting for our fiscal year 2012 funding.

SADJ:  What’s the most recent significant change to POI (Program of Instruction)?  

Hanus:   The length of the course.  I’ve been doing a course analysis and we found that we can whittle it down from twelve to ten months.  We found some dead time when students were running into each other in the curriculum.  For instance in the machine shop where there are only so many machines for them to use.  Also, we looked at the need for 2112s out there in the Marine Corps compared to the student through-put.  We’re set up for sixteen students but we’re going to twelve per year with four months between classes.  If need be we still have the capability for sixteen students.

Mr. Schumacher’s ‘the man,’ the one who basically wrote the POI.  A lot of it was what we were teaching before in the OJT (on-the-job training).  We brought this right into the POI.  All the lesson plans were already there, what they call the ‘KSAs’ – Knowledge, Skill and Attitudes – we want the individual to learn.

Something I changed when I got here was because we were having a quality control issue on the production side.  Some of the weapons were getting out and the quality control wasn’t where it needed to be.  Mechanical aspects and a little bit of cosmetics.  I didn’t feel the weapons looked and performed as well as they should.  However, they did fall within the scope of the sub minute of angle accuracy requirements.  We established a Quality Assurance Team using the experienced schoolhouse civilians who had been here, the continuity.  They don’t have a production quota they have to meet.  I brought them in as inspectors to hold the production guys to the quality standards.  ‘We know you have to build this many but you can’t sacrifice the quality to meet that number.’  So the Quality Assurance Team, when they’re not instructing, are doing checks on the production guns that are going out of here.

October 2011, MCB Quantico, VA. Out on the production floor, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Roderick Fiene (center), Officer in Charge of Precision Weapons Section, confers with Master Gunnery Sergeant James Hoffart, Senior NCOIC (left) and Master Sergeant Daniel Hanus, Chief Instructor and Production Chief. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  On the production side, are there problems with replacements for machine tools wearing out?  

Hanus:  Oh they do but we’re proactive, constantly ordering replacements.  There was an issue recently with the Fiscal Year 2011 budget getting passed so we weren‘t able to buy anything.  But we build the guns for Systems Command so we called them and they were able to get the money for whatever we needed.

SADJ:  Briefly note the reasons for the several professional development courses listed in the POI for Instructors and AIs.  Tell us about what’s found at the S.H.O.T. show or elsewhere that’s of value to PWRC and/or PWS.   

Hanus:  (Reads off names of several courses from a dozen listed “to maintain instructor proficiency“):  Welding for Gunsmiths, Match Accurizing, Custom Bluing, and others to stay on top of the latest developments.  We’ll rotate them out to gunsmithing schools in North Carolina and Colorado.  Mr. Schumacher just went to the annual NRA show, an opportunity to meet with the gun companies and find out the latest techniques and procedures they’re using.  Two go each year to the SHOT Show.  The biggest thing of value is maintaining the personal relations with the vendors themselves.  Going back to quality control, sometimes we get parts in for production that aren’t necessarily the dimensions they should be.  It‘s nice when you‘ve met someone face-to-face to call ‘em up and usually get those parts turned around pretty quickly.

SADJ:  Explain Overhead Requirements staffing.

Hanus:  All the Marines on the production floor who can step in if, let’s say, one of the instructors has to take off, I can pull in a section head to teach that weapon system if need be.  We all use the same build procedures.  Sometimes a procedure may change – the way we build a weapon, a certain technique they use when cutting or fitting a part.  If that happens, if it’s directed through Systems Command and an engineer comes in and says ‘you guys need to start doing it this way and this is the reason why,’ that’s a change we need to implement immediately in the schoolhouse.  Students are also producing guns that are going out to the fleet.

SADJ:  Tell us about that 6 hour field trip the students get to take. 

Hanus:  They go to the NRA Firearms Museum in Fairfax (Virginia).  No special behind-the-scenes tour, just an opportunity to look at the many different weapons on display.

SADJ:  Why are total training days specified for both peacetime and mobilization the same?

Hanus:  We don’t speed it up or slow it down.

SADJ:  Elaborate on need for – and key points of – 10 hours of instruction in PWRC intro and history of PWS plus history and introduction to firearms.  Don’t they already know most of this?

Hanus:  The need for the 10 hours of instruction involves the initial counseling, reviewing and signing the statement of understanding and a review of the course syllabus.  This is so the student understands what is expected of them in the course.  Next we focus on the history of PWS.  A timeline instruction is presented so the student understands how PWS came to be.  Many of the students have been in for less than 10 years so the only Marine Corps they know is wartime.  History focuses on the shooting team weapons and the research & development that went into creating the match weapons.  Next how we took the research used to produce match weapons and transferred that technology into the FMF (Fleet Marine Force) weapons (M40, M39, M45).  This point is driven home especially now that wartime production is slowing down and possibly coming to an end.  Once again the shooting teams and competition shooting will become the become the focus of PWS and the student needs to understand the history of PWS before they can know where PWS is going.  Finally, introduction to firearms is taught to the students.  Due to the wide variety of Marine Corps units not all basic Armorers are introduced to all weapons in the MC arsenal.  This portion does that.  The focus is on weapons produced at PWS and outlines the basics of function and cycle of operations.  It gives the student an understanding of why we make the modifications to the weapons and how these mods affect the performance of the weapons.

14 July 2010, Marine Corps base Quantico, Virginia. Regular live fire practice keeps shooting skills sharp as Sergeant David Hunter, a marksmanship coach from MCB Camp Pendleton, California, and a member of the Marine Corps Shooting Team, squeezes off a round from a special match conditioned M16 rifle. PWS builds the finely tuned match rifles and pistols used by the Teams for Competition in Arms. (USMC photo by Private First Class Christopher Baines)

SADJ:  What specific weapons are built in the practical application for tasks Build Precision Rifle and Build Precision Pistol?

Hanus:  M40A5 Sniper Rifle, M39 Enhanced Marksman Rifle, National Match M16 and .45, M45 CQB Pistol, S&W Model 41 pistol.

SADJ:  What steps are needed and how many hours on average to perform an upgrade from M40A3 to A5 configuration?

Hanus: In accordance with the published DEPOT MAINTENANCE MANUAL WITH MANDATORY REPLACEMENT PARTS LIST  for SNIPER RIFLE, 7.62MM, M40A5, RS 05539E-DE.  Approximately 200 hours are allocated for a conversion.  The M40A3 is inspected and completely disassembled.  The receiver is blue printed (modified) to a standard.  A new barrel is cut, threaded, chambered, and modified to accept a muzzle brake that serves as the interface for the suppressor.  The barrel is screwed to the receiver and torqued to 60 ft lbs.  The glass bedding is removed from the stock and the stock is modified to accept a forward accessory rail and the new magazine feed trigger guard. The barreled action, trigger guard, and forward rail are fiber-glassed into the stock.  After the glass dries for 48 hours, the barreled action is removed and the excess glass is removed and inspected for flaws.  The rifle is completely reassembled, inspected and test fired.  Then disassembled and inspected again for damage that may have resulted from the test fire.  After inspection it’s prepped for refinish. The metal is stripped in a series of chemical metal preparations and chemically blackened in the bluing tanks.  After bluing the metal will sit in a oil neutralizer for 24 hours that arrests the bluing process.  The rifle is assembled and again inspected before is goes to the test facility for final accuracy testing with and without the suppressor. Then, the M40 gets cleaned and inspected one last time before it is prepped for shipment to the FMF.

SADJ:  You spoke about math being a difficulty, what other tasks are usually the hardest for students to master?  And what do the instructors do to help? 

Hanus:  The machine shop portion because up to this point they’ve always had somewhat of an understanding of weapon systems – how they work, putting them together, taking them apart.  They really don’t have much trouble with that.  It’s the machining – maintaining the tolerances that we require.

The very first thing they make is an aluminum block 3/4 inch square.  They start with a one inch block and they have to take it down to a perfect square.  I just pulled mine out the other day, the one I made years ago.  If, for example, a student can’t make that, what happens is first of all the instructor tries to figure out why.  Where did you go wrong?  ‘Well I didn’t have it square in the vise and I took too much off this one side.’  So he’ll remediate him, go back through everything learned up to that point, correct filing procedures, how to measure correctly.  Because it may be something as simple as the student didn’t understand exactly how to measure it.  Then he’ll get an opportunity to do it again.

December 2010, MCB Quantico, VA. This detail of the receiver area of one of the first batch of M40 rifles, built at Quantico by PWS predecessor Rifle Team Equipment Shop, shows improvements credited to Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock and others. Its bolt operated Remington 700 short action, chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO, is glass bedded in a nicely sculptured hardwood stock and fitted with a free floating heavy barrel, The daylight optic is a 3x9 power Redfield on a base drilled and tapped into the receiver. (Robert Bruce)

The remediation is always one on one and not during the regular class time.  It really emphasizes the importance of ‘make sure these guys understand before they start.’  If they don’t completely understand it can come back as a problem.  I tell the students during their initial counseling, don’t just say ‘yeah, I got it.’  If there’s something you do not understand make sure you stop the instructor at that time until you understand exactly what’s being asked of you.

SADJ:  What would you like to say to young persons considering joining the USMC or currently-serving Marine 2111s about why they should strive to attend PWRC?

Hanus:  It is a career enhancing MOS school.  There are really no advanced schools for the 2111 MOS.  Besides the standard school that’s open to anyone in the 2100 field they can attend the supervisor’s course, the chief’s course.  However, PWRC is for 2111s specifically and the only way they’ll get the 2112 designator.

SADJ:  Prestige?

Hanus:  We like to think so.  It’s a very small community.  Not everyone can fly the Space Shuttle, not everyone can become a 2112.  One thing that some people say is that 2112s are arrogant.  A perfect example – and I won’t mention names – there was a Chief Warrant Officer I came across at Camp Pendleton and he was bad-mouthing 2112s.  He said, ‘I gotta ask a question – why is it that 2112s are so arrogant?’  I said, ‘I don’t know if we’re arrogant, but to answer your question, if there is a reason why it’s because I can do your job but you cannot do mine.’  He stormed off angry.  I use the analogy a lot that it’s like NASCAR.  You can have a really great driver but if his crew chief isn’t any good that driver’s not gonna win on Sunday.

SADJ:  What’s the application process for PWRC?  

Hanus:  The prerequisites are listed in the manual for Military Occupational Specialty 2112.  I incorporated a lot of the prerequisites in the screening checklist.

PWRC Student

A conversation at PWS on 9 May 2011, with Staff Sergeant Justin W. Johnston, a 30 year old Marine from Pinedale, Wyoming, who has been in the Corps for twelve years.  He started the course in August 2010 as the senior student in his four-man class and is on track to graduate in July (2011).

SADJ:  Why did you join the Marine Corps?

Johnston:  I came into the Marine Corps as kind of a family thing, I suppose.  My dad, my granddad and my great granddad were all Marines.  It was never forced on me, it just seemed like the way to go.  It’s all I heard about in hunting camp – Marine stories.  Seemed like the thing to do.

SADJ:  Is today’s USMC like what they talked about?

Johnston:  There are parts that are similar but a heck of a lot has changed.

October 2011, MCB Quantico, VA. ‘NO TRESPASSING. VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT. SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.’ The sign is intended as a humorous way to send a very serious message; warning those who might blunder through this door and downrange into the path of bullets during live fire at Twitchell Weapons and Ammunition Test facility. It is named for Staff Sergeant Abraham Twitchell, a PWS Marine who was killed in a vehicle accident in Iraq. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  Give us a brief overview of your previous assignments.  Any combat experience or deployments in direct support of combat operations?

Johnston:  Just prior to coming here I was with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters group as Armorer for the command element and all the transition teams from the East coast that go to embed with the Iraqis.  They’d come through my armory and get all their weapons and gear to train up in.  A lot of M9s and M4s.

SADJ:  Did you get bored with that and wanted to come to PWS?

Johnston:  Pretty much.  I kind of got tired of looking at the same old weapons and swapping parts is all you can really do with those.  Before that I was on recruiting duty.  I had a successful tour in Salt Lake City, Utah for a year and a half and before that I was recruiting in Orange County, California.  It was a very different culture going from one place to the other.

I was out there in Kuwait and Iraq for the initial push in 2003 (Operation Iraqi Freedom) with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

SADJ:  Give us your perspective as an Armorer on M9 jams and reliability of other weapons in combat.

Johnston:  (Laughs)  Those weapons operated just fine as long as everybody was able to keep the damn things clean.  I remember one evening in particular with a great big sandstorm and it decided to rain right in the middle of it.  For all intents raining mud.  By morning I don’t think there was a sidearm that functioned properly at that point.  It was a stand down and everybody had to turn to weapons maintenance to get back up and going.  M4s and M16s pretty gummed up too, probably a half dozen that Marines had to bring to me to break down.  M249s pretty rough too.  The only things that really stood that test and the bolt would move freely were the M240s.  Most of the Fifties did all right but they needed some attention as well.

SADJ:  Awards, decorations, commendations?   

Johnston:  In 2009 I spent the whole year deployed with ‘Two MEF’ (2nd Marine Expeditionary Force) and the Transition Teams, taking care of all their small arms.  I had to take care of more than just my unit, it was procuring weapons for the Transition Teams in country and taking care of all the maintenance for them as well as seven other subordinate commands that didn’t have any small arms support.  I ended up getting a Navy Commendation Medal for that as well as Maintenance Management Officer for the same, for all maintenance, and a Safety Officer.  That was a heck of a deployment (chuckles).

SADJ:  Explain ‘procuring.’

Johnston:  This was during the changing of the Transition Teams’ mission.  For example, most had a whole bunch of MK19s (40mm grenade machine guns).  By the time I got out there in 2009 the mission of the teams had changed and there is never really any situation where they needed to employ a fully automatic grenade launcher to take care of a situation.  So they turned those in and we had to get those out of country.  We had to procure (through MC supply channels) and distribute smaller weapons, mainly 240 Bravos (M240B machine guns).