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Gunnery Sgt. Nathaniel Baker with Weapons and Field Training Battalion was awarded the Gunnery Sgt. Carlos N. Hathcock II award on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Sept. 30, 2020. Baker was awarded for his performance while serving as the Hue City Range Officer-in-Charge in 2019.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Hageali

Parris Island Marine receives Hathcock award for making recruits into riflemen

15 Oct 2020 | Gunnery Sgt. Tyler Hlavac Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island

A Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island Marine was recently awarded for his outstanding contributions to training recruits aboard the depot in vital marksmanship skills.

Gunnery Sgt. Nathaniel Baker was awarded the Gunnery Sgt. Carlos N. Hathcock II award Sept. 30, 2020 for his performance while serving as the Hue City Range Officer-in-Charge in 2019.

According to Marine Administrative Message 424/20, the awarded is reserved for “an enlisted Marine who has made an outstanding contribution to the improvement of marksmanship training.”

In 2019, Baker helped train over 6,000 Marine Corps recruits who developed their marksmanship skills on the Hue City Range. For many recruits, basic training at MCRD PI is the very first time they learn to fire a weapon, which is why career infantry Marines like Baker are typically chosen to take on the task of making raw recruits into rifleman.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Maximo Veliz, who oversees all training ranges on the recruit depot, said range OICs like Baker are responsible for everything on their ranges – from safety to conduct of the recruits and Marine instructors.

“The OIC is responsible for every round fired on that range,” said Veliz. “The OIC’s here are in charge of taking recruits, many of which have never fired a weapon and in five days qualifying them in what is arguably the [Department of Defenses’] hardest rifle qualification course. Experience matters: it's a very technical job running a range, and OIC’s on ranges who don’t have a background like Gunnery Sgt. Baker and the experience he has, don’t do well.”

Baker said his performance is driven by his desire to ensure every recruit is able to perform as a Marine Corps rifleman.

“Marksmanship is very important to me…every Marine regardless of [their job] has to be able to employ their weapon system effectively,” said Baker. “Being able to effectively engage the enemy faster and accurately will increase survivability through lethality. My team and I train the individuals that come on the range like our life depends on it, because it does.”

During his tenure as Hue City Range OIC, Baker distinguished himself with his range receiving the highest recruit rifle qualification scores on the depot in 100 years. Additionally, 97% of the recruits who trained aboard Baker’s range received qualifying scores. These achievements helped Baker take home the prestigious Hathcock award.

Hathcock was a famous Marine Corps sniper who distinguished himself in combat during the Vietnam War. While not a sniper, Baker served as an infantryman in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and draws motivation towards his job from the Marines he served alongside.

“The brave Marines I’ve served with gave the people of Iraq and Afghanistan a better quality of life and I am proud I was part of that,” said Baker. “Not only were we defending the defenseless but also providing the security needed to open schools and medical facilities.”

Baker, who has been serving in the Marine Corps since 2002, said his mission of making recruits into rifleman is one of the reasons he continues to serve.

“I’ve stayed in the Marine Corps this long because it’s my dream job,” said Baker. “I love what I do. Every day I put the uniform on I know I’m continuing to make a positive difference.  Having the opportunity to impact men and woman on a daily basis is amazing. I get to teach, train, and mentor all the while serving the country. It’s phenomenal and I get paid to do it.”

Col. Timothy Dremann, the commanding officer of Weapons and Field Training Battalion, said Baker has been a cornerstone of establishing the leadership culture in the unit.

“Beyond his involved leadership and active mentorship of Marines throughout the battalion, his passion for training and advancing the proficiency of his Marines is evident in the high quality and demanding marksmanship training he has designed and implemented within Range Company, all of which has directly impacted the training of thousands of Marine Corps Recruits here aboard the Depot,” he said.

Veliz said that Baker taking home the award also reflects on the performance of the depot as a whole.

“Having one of our Marines take home the Carlos Hathcock award is one of the greatest feelings ever,” said Veliz. “We are looking at the highest scores in marksmanship in the history of Parris Island. When you see a man like Gunnery Sgt. Baker win something like the Carlos Hathcock Junior award for marksmanship excellence, it tells us that we’re doing it right.”

Lance Cpl. Ryan Hageali and Cpl. Shane Manson contributed to this story.

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