Commonly known as the father of the modern U.S. Marine Corps sniper program, former NRA Secretary and retired USMC Major Edward James “Jim” Land Jr. has had a life full of significant accomplishments, challenges
Edward James Land, Jr. was born in 1935 and was raised on a farm in Lincoln, Nebraska. Land graduated at 17 from high school in 1953. He had a full scholarship to the University of Nebraska Agricultural College because of his work on his family farm with soil conservation. “Most of the time when we sat down for a meal, the only thing at the table that didn’t come off the farm was salt and pepper,” said Land. A few days after he graduated high school, Land changed course and enlisted in The Marine Corps.
Planning on serving his country and then using the GI Bill, Land was transferred to Marine Barracks 8th & I which is where he met his wife. They were married and welcomed a daughter while stationed there. Somewhere along the way he changed his plans and wanted to become a Marine Corps officer. He started taking college courses and reenlisted for recruit training to become a Drill Instructor (DI). In 1957, Land went to Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego for Drill Instructor School and upon completion of their 9-week school became a DI. After 22 months Land was selected for Officer Candidate School (OCS).
After 12 weeks of training at OCS, located at Marine Base Quantico, Land was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He had 9 months of training at The Basic School (TBS) and was transferred to the 4th Marine Regiment in Hawaii. After being a platoon commander at Marine Corps Base Hawaii for a year, Land began to grow restless. “Mrs. Land pointed out that I had achieved my goal to become an officer. She said ‘You need a new goal, that’s your problem.’” Land said it made a lot of sense to him since he had always had goals to aspire towards, so he set a new one. To get his college degree.
Land was scheduled to go to Marine Corps Reconnaissance Company that was attached to the Brigade in Hawaii. Before joining Recon Company, he had orders to Panama for Jungle Warfare School. Ten days before his departure, Land was informed by his battalion commander that his orders had been canceled and he was now going to Division Matches. “I had no idea what the division matches were, and I had never shot competitively,” said Land. They won the Pacific Division Match Team Championship his first competition. He was then selected to join the FAF PAC Rifle & Pistol team.
Land worked with CWO Arthur Terry to found the Corps’ first modern sniper course. “We decided you can only give the commanding general so many pot medal trophies…we needed to provide a service,” said Land.
“So we were trying to find something that could provide a service.” Land got the idea from an Army shooter who attended a Canadian sniper school. “So that got me started on the sniper business.”
“My mom used to have a saying ‘If you want to hear God laugh just tell him your plans.’ Because I was going in one direction and he took me somewhere else,” said Land.
Land went to Vietnam as Officer in Charge (OIC) of the 1st Marine Division Sniper Teams. It was in Vietnam that he was the Commanding Officer of legendary Marine Corps sniper, Carlos Hathcock.
After his time in Vietnam, Land was Inspector-Instructor (I&I) for a reserve unit. In 1973 he was sent back to Washington, DC, this time to Headquarters Marine Corps Henderson Hall to be a briefing officer for the Commandant. Due to the high-stress environment of the position, briefing officers were only given a 6-month billet. Land was then assigned as the Marksmanship Coordinator for the Marine Corps, making him responsible for all the marksmanship training across the Corps. Unfortunately, the sniper program had been canceled in 1972. Through his efforts and the help of several fellow Marines, Land managed to get the sniper program started again.
Land was able to reestablish the MOS (military occupational specialty), got the table of organization (TO) and the table of equipment (TE). And finally, the Commandant approved the first permanent Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in Quantico, Virginia. It is still in full operation today.
“The good Lord gave me the contacts that helped me make this possible,” said Land. “I had no idea how to function at that high level of bureaucracy of the Marine Corps. I had many help and guide me along the way.”
When Land retired from the Marine Corps in 1977, he had finally achieved his goal that was set back in Hawaii. He graduated with a Bachelor of Political Science from George Washington University in 1976 and upon his retirement he found himself unemployed and again, without a goal. 6 days later he was hired by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and he would start the second career path that would lead him to be the Secretary of the NRA for 21 years.
In 2015, at the age of 80, he retired from the NRA after being there for 31 years. Shortly after his retirement, his wife of 60 years passed away. “When I was on I&I duty in 1976, I was a Casualty Assistance Officer,” said Land. “I knocked on 211 doors for casualty notifications to families, and one of the things I always told them was not to make any major decisions for at least a year.” He took that advice after his wife, Elly, passed and tried to come up with a new plan.
He purchased a small farm in rural Virginia that he says was “the only thing that kept me going at the time.”
Land starts each day as he always has, with his “plan of the day.” He works on projects out at the farm, hunts and encourages other veterans, many of them his former Marines, to continue living life to the fullest. He has a bucket list of items that he checks off as he completes them and has no plans of slowing down.
Also on his list of projects are motivational sayings that he has come up with and used over the years:
“Establish your priorities and get to work.”
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
“Done is better than perfect.”
He looks at this every day to keep him on track and encourages others to do the same.
Not too bad for a “friendly drill instructor.”