Even though Pfc. Francis J. Flannery had never fired a weapon before he joined the Marines, he became the second person in the history of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, to score 249 on the rifle range – just one point shy of perfect.
Flannery, 18, explained to Task & Purpose what his secret is to outstanding marksmanship: He did exactly what the Marines taught him to do.
“I just listened to what they said, and I did it,” said Flannery, of South Plainfield, New Jersey — likely to the cheers of NCOs everywhere.
At Parris Island, Marine recruits practice shooting at targets up to 500 yards away, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bobby Yarborough, a spokesman for the depot.
The recruits also use optics while learning the basics of marksmanship, Yarborough told Task & Purpose. More than a decade ago, the Marine Corps phased out having recruits use iron sights on the rifle range.
“Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we were using optics on the battlefield,” Yarborough explained. “The whole point of the marksmanship program is to emulate the battlefield, and we use those [optics] on the battlefield so we train Marines accordingly to the tangible skills that they are going to use on the modern battlefield.”
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Only one other Marine who has graduated from Parris Island has managed to get the same overall marksmanship score on rifle range: Pfc. Austin Ferrell in 2020.
For Flannery, most of the training he received at Parris Island on firing his M16A4 came naturally. The most difficult part of the process was learning how to control his breathing. He had to teach himself to inhale as much air as his lungs could take in and then let it all out before firing.
“That was kind of hard for me because I’m always a little antsy,” he said.
It was early into his marksmanship training that Flannery realized the lessons he was getting from his drill instructors were sinking in.
“The first time we shot live rounds, it was like: Whoa, I didn’t think I was going to be this good,’” Flannery said. “And then it was qualification day, and I hadn’t missed a shot yet. I wasn’t really expecting that.”
Flannery was especially motivated to excel at marksmanship because one of the other recruits in his platoon had been shooting firearms for his entire life and he routinely “talked smack” of how well he would shoot on the rifle range.
“So, I really wanted to get good at it so I could show him,” Flannery said.
Flannery vividly recalls the one shot he missed. He was trying to hit a target 500 yards away, and it was the first time that he had to account for the wind.
He moved his sight to the right of the target and expected to hit it. The recruit next to him suggested that Flannery had not moved his sight far enough, but Flannery disagreed.
“It was definitely not far enough to the right,” Flannery said. “He likes to say that if I had just listened to him, I could have got a perfect score. But then all of the other nine [shots] after that, I did what he said and I moved it more to the right, and boom, boom, boom, boom, boom: all 5s [center of the target] after that.”
Flannery graduated from Parris Island on Nov. 9. His graduation was initially scheduled for Nov. 10, but was moved up a day due to the Marine Corps birthday.
He has contracted to serve in a cyber and crypto military occupational specialty, proving that every Marine is, indeed, a rifleman. He had initially planned to become a Recon Marine or join the U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command, but he felt it would be hard to start a family under the conditions that those specialties require.
Flannery’s advice to potential Marine recruits on mastering marksmanship is to take in everything they are taught – and not to assume that they know more about shooting than their instructors.
“A lot of times, people come in with a lot of experience and they shoot worse than people with no experience because they think that they know better,” Flannery said. “When you’re at Parris Island, you need to go in thinking that you know absolutely nothing, because they will teach you every single thing you need to know. And as long as you listen to what they say and do it exactly, as they say, with 110% effort, you will succeed.”
UPDATE: 11/18/2023; this story was updated to clarify that Pfc. Francis Flannery and Pfc. Austin Ferrell achieved the same overall marksmanship score on the rifle range.
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