ABOARD USS IWO JIMA (Aug. 23, 2006) -- In the old American West, heeled gunslingers sought the morbid truth in black cordite smoke, often finding it lodged in the small, deadly spaces separating the quick from the dead.

Today, living amongst a new generation of gunslingers, the task of settling quarrels still falls to tough men with guns – and is still fought in small, deadly spaces. It’s no longer the time of the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s now left to the skill of the few, the proud, the Marines.

To ensure that today’s leathernecks are as skilled as their legendary predecessors, Marines with Alpha and Weapons Companies, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), have continuously honed their close-quarter battle skills by participating in numerous small arms ‘shoot-outs’ in the hangar bay of the USS Iwo Jima.

Deployed as the Ground Combat Element of the 24th MEU, each infantry Marine may be called upon to enter a number of chaotic battlefields that could compel them to meet the enemy at distances of less than 20 yards. While not exactly “high noon,” making sure that each Marine survives these showdowns means that training needs to be constant, with hundreds of repetitions cultivating an instinctive action.

The training is specifically designed to simulate these close-quarter encounters in urban environments -- a scenario calling for Marines to engage their targets quickly and with pinpoint precision, said First Sgt. James Cully, Alpha Company first sergeant.

Cully said that regardless of the setting, whether in a hangar bay or on a battlefield, no matter what the target, the end result for his troops is consistency and making certain that “everything becomes automatic.”

“The training keeps our muscle memory sharp,” said Cpl. Lee Wadsworth, a BLT 1/8 scout sniper from Wayland, N.Y., who recently participated in the range. “There should be no thinking involved; you concentrate on your target and everything becomes second nature.”

To build these skills and instincts, Marines fire their weapon from standing, kneeling and prone positions, dropping their target with various aiming techniques. Working on fast reloads, magazine changes and remedial action in case of jams -- all while changing firing positions -- Marines are trained to perform without wasted movement in the maelstrom of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

With this type of training and persistent attention to detail, Marines with the 24th MEU will continue to maintain a sharp-edged expertise while handling any gunslinger foolish enough to set foot in their part of town. In the end, it will be their mastery of the small, deadly spaces – and their weapons systems – that will allow them to operate without fear and walk the earth as cammie-clad undertakers sorting the righteous from the dead.

Currently, the 24th MEU is in the midst of an expected six-month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters of operation. The MEU is now in the Red Sea, having departed the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 20 after completing a 35-day mission in and off the coast of Lebanon, where Marines and sailors facilitated the departure of nearly 15,000 Americans from the war-torn country.