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Weapons Training and Qualification at the United States Naval Academy

plebe summer Jul 18, 2019

Weapon safety and handling is undoubtedly essential to military training. As an introduction, the plebes go through a weapons training and qualification course during plebe summer.

Weapons qualification, or ‘weapons qual’ as we like to call it, is an entire morning event. Qualifications are done by company, and the company whose turn it is on a given day will not go to PEP that morning, but instead take a boat across the river to the Naval Station where they will begin with weapons training. This initial training includes learning the weapons’ safety rules, how to hold the weapons, how to use them, and various other briefings. 

The weapons training is led by what we call the ‘weapons detail’. While composed of a large majority of 2/C (juniors) midshipmen and a few 1/C (senior) midshipmen, the members of the weapons detail are not technically a part of plebe summer. Instead, they are midshipmen who are using their second block training cycle to take on the responsibility of training and qualifying the plebes in the arena of weaponry. Prior to plebe summer weapon qualifications, these midshipmen spend a couple of days participating in training focused specifically on shooting and weapon handling.

After the morning training, the plebes immediately begin qualifications. There are no practice rounds; plebes do not get to shoot beforehand. The plebes will qualify with two weapons: the M11 pistol and the M4 rifle. Depending on a plebe’s score, she or he can earn different marksmanship awards. 

Marksmanship Ribbon

If a plebe meets the minimum qualifying score on a weapon, he or she will be given a Navy Marksmanship Ribbon. The Marksmanship Ribbon for the pistol is black with green accent lines, and the Marksmanship Ribbon for the rifle is navy blue with green accent lines. 

Sharpshooter Award 

If a plebe scores high enough on either of his weapon qualification tests, he or she can earn a Sharpshooter Award. Denoted by the ‘S’ for a sharpshooter, this award will be placed on the respective ribbon. 

Expert Medal 

The highest mark for each weapon is the ‘E’, or expert medal. You might see midshipmen walking around who have ‘double E’s’, or both expert medals, on their chests. 


To put it all together, I included a picture of my ribbon rack in the academy. I earned an expert medal on the rifle qualification and a sharpshooter award on the pistol qualification. The red ribbon on the left is the National Defense Ribbon, which signifies being active duty military in a time of war. 

This is usually the only time for most midshipmen that they will have an opportunity to qualify and earn their sharpshooter or expert designation while at the academy unless they become a weapons detailer.

USNA put together a video about plebe summer in 2012, so I included the bit about weapons qualifications here if you want more information.