Marines shooting in the service's middle- and bottom-tier rifle and pistol qualifications will soon have two chances during a single fiscal year to achieve top-shot scores.
The Marine Corps' rifle and pistol qualifications fall into four categories that ascend in achievement: unqualified, marksman, sharpshooter and expert. Beginning Oct. 1, Marines who score as marksman and sharpshooter will be given two more attempts within the same year to improve their score, according to a service message published Wednesday.
Those who do not qualify on their service weapon -- in other words, score unqualified marks -- can requalify and keep the score they earn upon requalification. Marines scoring as expert are not eligible for follow-on attempts, per the new message.
"The modification aims to afford commanders the option to give their Marines more training opportunities to improve their score and individual battlefield lethality," the administrative message said. "Therefore, commanders must carefully weigh their use of available range quotas."
But commanders aren't the only ones who have to carefully weigh these attempts: There is a catch for the Marine looking to increase his or her score. If a Marine makes another attempt at qualifying for a higher score, it is the most recent attempt that will be entered for record, not the highest.
"The most recent qualification score is what will be entered in [the Marine Corps Total Force System], even if the score and classification is less than their last qualification attempt," the administrative message said. "The Marine is not authorized to choose a score and classification from an earlier attempt if their subsequent attempts are lower than the original/previous score(s)."
So, if a Marine scores sharpshooter after their first attempt and wants to improve their score to expert, they run the risk of scoring marksman and having that lower score recorded as final.
There is a boon for Marines who struggle with qualifying at all.
Those who receive an unqualifying score -- under 250 points -- at any time can have their two-attempt ticker reset. For example, according to the administrative message, if a Marine scores marksman and then unqualified for their second attempt, the Marine can then return to the range two more times.
Military.com asked the Marine Corps whether this would incentivize Marines to purposefully score unqualified marks if they are worried about being stuck with a low score or want two more attempts to shoot expert.
According to the service, Marines will still face whatever the administrative or punitive consequences for scoring unqualified are; the nature of those consequences is based on their commander's discretion.
"We want Marines on the range as much as possible," Maj. Joshua Pena, a spokesperson for the Corps' Training and Education Command, said Thursday. "But it's not like you don't meet the standard and nobody cares -- that's where the commanders are given the special trust and confidence to ensure that there is still good order and discipline even in that circumstance.
"They can still go back, but they will likely go back with documentation that they failed," Pena said.
The change was first reported by Military Times, which noted that the adjustment comes after the Marine Corps updated its qualification test two years ago. After the update, which was made to better represent what Marines may face in a combat situation, the service saw troops earning fewer expert badges, the publication said.
The new qualification test was introduced in 2021. It replaced a system that had been around for decades and relied on stationary shooting positions and basic skills.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.