Soldiers in the US Army are perpetual novices with their weapons. For most personnel, small arms training stagnates upon completion of Initial Entry Training. As the name implies, the training levels there are basic. This makes sense for new recruits and the tested skill levels there are purposely set so new novices can pass them. The problem is these same courses and standards continue to be used for Soldiers throughout their career. Consider that qualification standards are the same to graduate basic as they are for a twenty year veteran. Just as repeating the same elementary school arithmetic test can never advance a student to Calculus, repeating the same basic training-level qualification can never advance a Soldier’s skill beyond basic training levels.
The United States Army Reserve Competitive Marksmanship Program offers classes and courses that take Soldiers beyond basic. Staffed by shooter-instructors competing in national and international shooting events, USARCMP hosts training and Excellence In Competition programs for Army Reservists around the United States. USARCMP shooter-instructors held such an event at Camp Grayling, Michigan.
For SPC Eldon Lucas from Massillon, Ohio and assigned to the 256th CASH out of Twinsburg, Ohio, this was his first competitive event. “I don’t normally shoot at 300 meters based on how I was taught at basic training, but I hit ten for ten on our first day of training on the KD (Known Distance) range. The next day we were shooting at – and hitting – targets at 400. This is a good experience and very useful. I received more helpful instruction on the first day than I have in the last few years going to the range.”
SPC Melissa Lister from Newark, Ohio and assigned to 2nd POG (Psychological Operations Group) out of Twinsburg, Ohio was also a first timer. “This was the first time on a KD range. I like this better because it is a more accurate way to group and zero with better feedback. I wouldn’t want to use a pop up (RETS ARF) range now.”
One of the more experienced competitors was SFC Kyle Vanderlaan, a Career Counselor from Calendonia, MI serving with Army Reserve Careers Division BN 10 out of Whitehall, Ohio. SFC Vanderlaan has competed in the Army Best Warrior Challenge and at three other matches like this. “I love it. This kind of training is awesome for learning marksmanship and I now despise computer-controlled RETS targets. This kind of shooting gives better feedback and you better learn how to shoot on your own.”
Events like this have proven more effective largely due to the personnel running the. SGT Kris Friend of the 351st TPC (Tactical Psychological Operations Company) out of Fort Totten, New York is one such shooter-instructor. SGT Friend has won a number of highly-contested National tournaments, including a high overall win in the President’s Match and first place Service Rifle finish at the Second Amendment Match and overall winner of the National Enlisted Man’s Match in 2007 and 2013.
“These kind of reactions are common, provided that the Soldiers are motivated to train and eager to learn,” Friend said. “Going from a hit-or-miss qualification to a more precision environment with better feedback and effective coaching always yields better results.”
1SG Coker, the 2nd POG First Sergeant put it more succinctly, “Annual qualification isn’t really training. THIS is training.”