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ONLY IN BEAUFORT: Marine rifle fire: The breakfast of champions

If the roar of jets from Marine Corps Air Station is the "sound of freedom," surely the sound of shots from the Parris Island rifle range must register on some audible liberty scale.

While the Parris Island Marine Corps band may be most recognizable as the look and sound of the recruit depot, the noises from the rifle range are the sharpest and, I suspect, the most surprising.

Part of it is our geography. Because we are awash in water and because sound travels so well over that water, houses and businesses from Port Royal to St. Helena can hear the crack of Marine gunfire. For many Beaufortonians, the sound is as much a part of the breakfast routine as starting a pot of coffee or pouring a bowl of cereal.

Somehow, hearing the rifles as the early morning fog lifts is a signal for some of us that all is right with the world. In fact, Sgt. Jennifer Schubert of the Parris Island Public Affairs Office said the questioning phone calls about the shots have dwindled as "the sound has become ingrained in the community."

That's probably not the case with new residents and visitors. They probably think they missed some obscure local holiday marked by a massive fireworks display or that a minor skirmish has broken out along the Beaufort River.

But the sound of rifles send those who've been around here awhile a message: hear them and they know the trigger men are likely recruits in their seventh week of training. By that point, they've already passed the sort of physical endurance tests the average fall football couch potato or soccer mom couldn't manage in 700 years.

Schubert says the rifles open up right at sunrise, just as the sun starts to hit the range, because, well, that signals the beginning of a new day. No use waiting around to use the range -- just get to it. You're a Marine, after all, and there are plenty of other tasks to be accomplished before the sun goes down again.

Down in the dirt and grass, you shoot from sitting, kneeling and prone positions. That means you're also dealing with the same mosquitoes, fireants and gnats that torment us civilians -- the difference being we can stop what we're doing to swat or scratch. Not so the recruits

Noisy or not, there's one thing to remember: In Beaufort, that sound is right on target.

Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at