Marksmanship programs were not invented as mere sporting pursuits. Following the Civil War, GEN George Wingate and others held shooting events to learn the best methods of small arms use, striving to promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.
Wingate would publish his findings in Manual for Rifle Practice, which became the US Army’s first marksmanship text. More recently, in addressing participants following an All Army events, AMU commander LTC Dave Liwanag would explain the intent was to host a high level training event cleverly disguised as competition. The learning tool GEN Wingate first used still works today.
This is spelled out in official doctrine as the best approach. Quoting from FM 3-22.9, “Instructor-trainer training courses and marksmanship certification programs must be established to ensure that instructor-trainer skills are developed.” Army Regulation 350-66 directs the sort of training authorized to enact this: “Army personnel should be provided opportunities to prepare for and participate in small arms marksmanship competition. These preparations, which include those for international competitions, are classified as training.”
Organized shooting is a proven, objective approach for sorting out your best talent, which is why it is directed by published regulation. Taking this talent pool and employing them as instructors is an effective force multiplier. “We aren’t merely training better shooters. We’re building marksmanship instructors,” states two time President’s Hundred winner Norman Anderson. Put a champion shooter on the ground and he is another rifle. Put him in a position to train others and he can raise the skills thousands.
As an example, when demands for instructors exceeded the capacity of current USAR Shooting Team members, First Army funded the Small Arms Instructor Academy at Camp Bullis. Course attendees had recently returned from deployment and were selected by their commanders. Despite many of them arriving already performing at Army “expert” qualification levels the average class improvement rate stood at 60% with three days of range training. Some individuals tripled their day one scores! The bulk of the SAIA cadre consisted of USAR Shooting Team personnel.
Of course, funding the marksmanship training and learning events known as shooting competition does cost money, but this is a routine, on-going training expense. Every Soldier attends Initial Entry Training and MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) courses for each slot they hold during their career. Some fields require additional skill identifiers and attendant training requirements. Every Reservist will be placed on orders for Annual Training each year. As Soldiers earn rank and are put in charge of subordinates they will attend multiple levels of leadership courses, such as Warrior Leadership Course, Advanced Leader Course-Common Core and Senior Leaders Course. Each of these levels are further broken down into multiple phases. On-going attendance at training events is a normal part of every Soldier’s career and is no different for personnel assigned as shooter-instructors.
What’s more, the real benefit gleaned from the shooting teams for the Army is the fact that members conduct much of their training at their own expense. Prior to competition, these Soldiers are expected to spend considerable time preparing on their own and they are glad to do it. Additionally, most participate in civilian events outside of Army-funded competition. It’s like getting an entire company-sized element to attend extra Battle Assemblies for free!