MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga -- "Ready on the right?" "Ready on the left?" "All clear, ready on the firing line!"
A hail of gunfire explodes from pistols held by members of Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany's shooting team. Round after round echoes down the shooting range, as each Marine hones in on his mark. Between volleys, the shooters pause to adjust their grips and stances while a high-master marksman stands by scrutinizing their every action.
This person would be none other than Master Sgt. Alexander Arrieta - the base's secret weapon in the upcoming Eastern Division Rifle and Pistol Championships.
Arrieta, operations chief, Marine Corps Community Services, is one of the Corps' top five shooters and its only standing national champion. The former four-year Marine Corps Rifle Team veteran is a distinguished shooter with both the pistol and rifle, and is passing on his extensive knowledge by coaching the pistol team here.
Arrieta stresses the fundamentals of shooting, and for those fortunate enough to be one of his students, he offers a laid back approach to learning. Don't let his cool style fool you though. When it comes down to showtime, Arrieta is the seminal professional.
"The mission (statement) of the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team says we're instructors first, competitors second," Arrieta explained. "We view competitive marksmanship in the Corps as a training evolution. We go and re-define our own marksmanship skills so that we can go out into the fleet and train our Marines to be better shooters. We use our training to further instill knowledge in those we lead."
Arrieta is someone who can speak confidently about leading. He won his first gold medal in 1990, only one year after his first competition.
"I got bit by the bullet after I started in 1989," Arrieta boasted. "It was my first intramurals competition, and I placed 15th with the rifle and pistol. I thought I was the best shooter in the world."
Success didn't come automatically for Arrieta, but his dogged determination and commitment to excellence helped him outshine his peers. Even after failing to meet the shooting requirements for the Quantico team, Arrieta pushed forward with his dream to be the best.
"After my first competition, I didn't make the base team but I went up to the officer in charge and asked if I could get a shot," Arrieta explained. "He said I could put up targets for the team which pretty much made me the gopher. Whenever there was a spot open, or if a shooter wasn't there, I would get to shoot. I had to earn my keep, but it was a neat opportunity to learn the pure concept of fundamentals. I just practiced and observed those Marines that were the best in the nation. I got tips from them and started applying them to myself, and that's when opportunities started opening up for me."
Arrieta's peers look up to his leadership and see his commitment on the firing line as an extension of his character.
"I would attribute (Arrieta's) success to his ability to learn, to discipline himself, and to apply the known techniques and fundamentals of marksmanship to a much higher degree than many others have," said Master Sgt. Timothy French, chief marksmanship instructor, MCLB Marksmanship Training Unit. "He's mastered and refined these fundamentals to a fine point, and that's what has made him successful at all higher levels of competition."
These fundamentals are what Arrieta will rely on when he leads the base team in the upcoming Eastern Division Matches.
As he aims to teach, it is there that he hopes to draw from past successes, and use his shooting knowledge to bring home the trophy and the honor of being called "the best."