Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~ Confucius
While Monday is considered the worse day of the week, for Petty Officer 1st Class Charlie Petrotto it is just another day for him to get to do his favorite job and participate in his passion.
As the armory supervisor at the Coast Guard Academy and a competitive shooter himself, Petrotto has been able to follow his passion for competitive shooting by working with the cadets on the shooting teams and hone his own skills as a marksman.
One of his duties at the Academy is to customize the pistol and rifle competition guns the cadets use. This craft consists of spending many hours perfecting the grips; sights and total feel of the gun. Each shooter has their own needs and Petrotto will spend several hours after the work and school day is over to help the cadet shooters.
Much of what he does for the cadets on the Academy Shooting Team during their competitive season is adjusting their pistols.
“Its not just the weapon grips but the triggers as well,” said Petrotto. “As an avid competitor, I know what they want to feel when they use descriptions for the trigger like ‘closer,’ ‘lighter in the front part’ and ‘squishy.’”
It’s not uncommon for him to adjust the many articulations of a match gun trigger for a shooter.
After going back and forth between the armory work room and the range a few times for adjustments, the shooter may ask for the trigger to go back to the way it felt before.
“I smile when this happens, because I know exactly how they feel,” said Petrotto.
Once Petrotto has completed his double-action with the cadets at the Academy and armory, he heads to a private shooting club to work on his own marksmanship or will conduct dry fire drills at home.
Dry firing is when the shooter takes aim and pulls the trigger of a weapon without ammunition. Petrotto believes dry firing drills are the key to success because they help tighten your hold and keep the process sharp. Most nights, he conducts more than 30 dry fire drills to stay sharp and train trigger control.
“As a gunner’s mate and competitive shooter, many people think I shoot a lot,” said Petrotto. “I really don’t. I may have shot around 5,000 rounds last year, but conducted more than 20,000 dry fire drills.”
His love for shooting started at an early age. Growing up in Forsyth, Georgia, he started small with a pellet gun but graduated quickly to a Colt AR-15 rifle that he purchased on his 18th birthday.
“I bought my gun and 1,000 rounds of ammo,” said Petrotto. “The ammo was gone in a week; I knew my future was in firearms.”
Though, he grew up competing against his friends on the range, it wasn’t until he was in Coast Guard Gunner’s Mate “A” School that competitive shooting became centered in his crosshairs. While studying the ordnance manual, he came across the information on the distinguished shooting badges and President’s Hundred Tab.
A marksmanship badge or distinguished badge is a U.S. military award, which is presented to personnel upon successful completion of a weapons qualification course or high achievement in an official marksmanship competition. Coast Guardsmen are able to wear some of these badges on their uniform.
The President’s Hundred Tab is a badge awarded by the Civilian Marksmanship Program to the 100 top-scoring military and civilian shooters in the President’s Pistol and President’s Rifle Matches. The tab is authorized for wear on military uniforms.
Petrotto earned his first President’s Hundred Tab in 2015 and has continued to earn one every year since. Currently, he is one of only five Coast Guardsmen able to wear the badge.
“The President’s Hundred Tab is very hard to get,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Eric Lange, one of Petrotto’s school instructors. “But tabs and badges aside, he has done so much more for the gunner’s mate community such as designing an online portal page for gunner’s mates discussions.”
The road to get here hasn’t been easy. Petrotto must continuously train and travel to keep an eye on his front sight.
The training started with double distinguished Chief Petty Officer Wes Fleming. Taking Petrotto on as a mentee, Fleming made him attend several matches, train at Fleming’s own home gun range and devote his life to learning the art of competitive shooting.
“Fleming devoted hours and hours to coaching me,” said Petrotto. “When I asked how I could repay him, he looked me point blank in the face and told me to shoot matches and get more Coast Guardsmen into the sport.”
Petrotto is still repaying Fleming by competing in matches and spreading the word about the sport.
At the Academy he has the ability to teach cadets who then go out into the fleet and continue spreading Fleming’s message.
Petrotto and the other gunner’s mates’ stationed at the Academy supervise and train the cadet pistol and rifle marksman club teams. The club teams do compete but not at the collegiate level as the official shooting team for the Academy.
“Without the club teams, some of the cadets would never get access to the world of competitive shooting,” said Chief Warrant Officer Paul Lahah, the chief of marksman training at the Academy. “Petrotto’s personal commitment, marksmanship and experience has brought in a fresh perspective to competitive shooting here at the Academy.”
Petrotto’s favorite part of working at the Academy is working with cadets who are eager to learn.
“This is the best job I have ever had,” said Petrotto. “Watching the cadets’ faces light up when they finally qualify, to working with the star cadets and seeing them take national titles and badges.”
The Academy has several members of the pistol and rifle team who travel and compete in matches all over the nation. Two of those cadets are national title winners Helen Oh and Brian Kim.
In 2015, Kim traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia, for a match. After arriving at the hotel he discovered his custom-shaped free pistol grip had broken during transit and he was going to need to use a loaner gun for the match and was disappointed.
Following a text from Kim explaining what had happened, Petrotto was on the road from Connecticut to Georgia within the hour.
“He begged me not to make the trip, but I know the feeling of dread when your equipment fails and I was not going to let a member of my team down,” said Petrotto.
After driving 16 hours straight overnight, Petrotto arrived with enough time to repair the gun and give Kim time to zero in. His first practice shot was a center shot.
“It was my best match,” said Kim. “I would not have been able to do it without GM1.”
As a competitive shooter himself, Petrotto’s aim is high.
“I want to be the first Coast Guardsman to be triple distinguished,” said Petrotto. “It’s very hard; it’s a long shot, but it doesn’t discourage me.”
To become triple distinguished a shooter has to earn badges in service pistol, service rifle and an international match like the Olympics.
Currently Petrotto is pistol distinguished. This weekend he is competing in a state championship rifle match that could earn him the rifle distinguished badge and take him one step closer to achieving his dream.
Good luck Petrotto!
List of weapons Petrotto uses for competitions:
National Rifle Association Bullseye:
-Primary- Custom-built Caspian 1911 with Slide mounted 1” Ultra dot scope. (.45 ACP)
-Primary- Hammerli 208S (.22 LR)
-Back up- 1957 Colt 1911 Slide mount Wad gun (.45 acp)
-Backup- Caspian mounted Nelson .22 Conversion unit
CMP Service Pistol:
-Primary- Les Baer Custom 1911 “Hardballer”
-Backup- Custom Built Caspian 1911
CMP High Power:
Rock River Ar15 Flattop with CMP Nightforce 1×4 Scope