Cindy Bither
Administrative Assistant
P: (540) 464-7207
F: (540) 464-7443

111 Smith Hall
Lexington, VA 24450

Firing Range the Venue for Basic Pistol Course



LEXINGTON, Va., Nov. 5, 2012 – VMI employees and cadets made good use of the North Post firing range Oct. 13 as Lt. Col. Bill Bither and Sergeants 1st Class Chris Bean and Carmelo Echevarria offered the NRA Basic Pistol Course.

“The basic pistol course is an eight-hour course. We have several instructors here that are certified through the NRA, and I’m working to certify more instructors to make the program even better,” said Bither. “We’ve had pretty good turnout from faculty and staff who’ve come to learn about the responsibilities of owning and operating firearms.”

With an emphasis on safety, the course offers basic information on all aspects of owning a firearm, from firing technique to cleaning and maintenance.

“With what we’re doing in the pistol course, you’re getting all the instruction on how to safely handle and operate a pistol,” said Bither. “That includes the different actions, different types of malfunctions that could occur, types of ammunition, and the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship. Then we top it all off with a practical exercise on a live-fire range.”

The live-fire exercise is conducted using two pistols. A .22 caliber Ruger is fired first to build confidence since the smaller round produces very little recoil. Students then move up to the 9mm Beretta M-9, the standard pistol used by U.S. military forces.

“After the students come through and take the course, it doesn’t stop there,” said Bither. “We’re offering open range opportunities every other Thursday in the fall, where faculty, staff, and cadets can come up on their own and shoot.”

These activities are being supported by VMI’s range safety officers: faculty, staff, and cadets who have been trained to safely supervise firing range activities through another NRA course.

“We work closely with the NRA in their range safety officer program as well to certify our faculty, staff, and cadets. In the past year or so, we’ve been able to certify close to 30 safety officers,” said Bither.

A greater number of range safety officers translates not only to a safer environment, but to more focused training and a better overall experience for users of the range.

“There is a growing interest in the Corps for range days in which they would be allowed to utilize North Post and shoot,” said Cadet Josh Lawrence ’13. “Many of us on the rifle team are qualified as range safety officers.”

Lawrence, the captain of VMI’s men’s NCAA rifle team, is looking forward to the second year of the 3rd Class marksmanship program, where he’ll work alongside other range safety officers and the commandant’s staff to train fellow cadets.

“In this program we taught the 3rd Class range safety, basic principles of marksmanship, how to load, unload, zero, and qualify using the AR-15s. Many of the cadets we were training had never fired a rifle or any firearm for that matter,” said Lawrence. “Last year, despite being the first year we did it, was well organized and very professionally run with the help of the new sergeants.”

Cadets in the marksmanship program are trained on the commercially available Rock River LAR-15 .223 cal./5.56 mm, which is a strictly semi-automatic version of the military’s M-16 rifle.

In addition to serving users on post, the range is becoming a resource for organizations across the region.

“The range is getting used a lot,” said Sgt. 1st Class Carmelo Echevarria. “From local law enforcement to federal organizations, it’s a very popular little range.”

Members of the commandant’s staff offering these various training opportunities are also drawing on their years of military service to round out the instruction.

“I think that between having our guys with military experience and using the NRA education programs, it’s going to be a great combination,” said Bither. “It’s the best of both worlds, and it’s going to work out really well.”

Several dates in the spring are scheduled for open range hours, and another NRA basic pistol course is planned for next semester.

–John Robertson IV