Experience Earned

Experience Earned
by MSG Joe Carlos, US Army Reserve (ret.)

I’ve been associated with military shooting teams since the mid-1980s. During this entire period these teams have been underutilized, underfunded, and misunderstood. Until our wars in the Middle East I was one of the few members of the Reserve Team that had a combat patch. Generals and bean counters tended to think that all the shooting teams did was punch holes in paper and win trophies. When 9/11 hit all that changed real fast, however. Reservists and National Guardsmen from their respective shooting teams stepped forward and volunteered. Some were sent into combat but, fortunately, enough people in charge had the sense to assign most of the shooters as instructors and range cadre at the various Mobilization Stations or Power Projection Platforms.

At these Mob Stations each soldier has to review and demonstrate proficiency in his particular job skills, be it Infantryman, Motor Transport Operator, or Human Resources Specialist. Everyone also has to qualify with his individually assigned weapon, usually an M16/M4. I have all the respect in the world for Drill Sergeants and was one for many years, but Drill Sergeants have to cover all the tasks taught in Initial Entry (basic) Training from Drill and Ceremonies to Combatives. If your son or daughter was mobilizing, would you want any random Drill Sergeant supervising their marksmanship training or would you rather have an instructor that wore a Distinguished Badge on their chest and a President’s Hundred Tab on their sleeve?

When experience in the Gulf demonstrated the need to reach out a little farther on the battlefield, the active component considered all those old Viet Nam-era M14s that had been stored away. However, few personnel knew squat about M14s or shooting at distance because many active duty soldiers put in 20 years to punch the retirement ticket and get out, leaving no institutional knowledge. Reserve component soldiers (Guard and Reserve) tend to stick around longer because the military is supposed to be part time, with some remaining 30 or 40 years. Many on the two reserve shooting teams not only knew the M14 but had earned their Distinguished Rifleman badges with them and were able to show the active component how to do things right. The level of commitment went even further than that. With only 20 or 30 people slotted a military rifle team there wasn’t enough to handle the entire workload. Retired shooting team members stepped forward to help out, not unlike civilian competition shooters teaching marksmanship during the two world wars.

As time went on Designated Marksman training grew. The concept has at least one person per squad trained in long range precision shooting, not as a sniper but as a superior marksman. This person could be equipped with an M14 or M16 with ACOG or similar optical sight. After the fact, a number of organizations tried to lay claim to the Designated Marksman program but it was mostly reserve component shooting team members having competed internationally doing the the lion’s share of the development using lessons learned in those military shooting competitions. When I hear bean counters, politicians, and even other soldiers claiming shooting teams don’t contribute it riles me up and should anger you as well. A military rifle team can be completely funded for the cost of one cruise missile!

Most of the knowledge and research I write in my articles was learned during my decade-plus tenure as a competitor and armorer with the Army Reserve Marksmanship Program.

3 comments on “Experience Earned

  1. SSG Michael A. Soule says:

    I completely agree with everything the MSG has stated.

    However, and with all due respect, but also with brutal honesty, it should also be pointed out, that you guys don’t seem to look at the marksmanship team activity through the lens of the average Joe or Jane, the “Abandoned Brothers” of the average TPU, who see an occasional article about the team every six months or so in Army Reserve Magazine. “Marksmanship Training”, if that’s what it could be termed, is the annual weapons qualification- 1 day-out of a fiscal year.

    Most personnel in the Reserves couldn’t tell you what the USAR Team does, and the few that can, have to get started from the outside, compete on the outside, out of their own pocket, because the team hasn’t made itself relevant Brigade down, not Command level up. When the cutbacks start to hit the Team, take a long look around the force as a whole. If there isn’t a massive outcry from average Joe, you failed in your mission, because that’s where your real support could have come from. The bean counters aren’t, and never will be your friends. They look at the team as a “PR Tool” a “Country Club” and can’t wait to cut sling load on you the first chance they get.

    Even the supposed “All Reserve” match is farcical in its applicability, on so many levels, to the average Soldier in TPU status, and until the Senior Leadership does a rethink in terms of “bottom-up” and not from the “top-down” approach, the Team and its members are about to relive the next 30 years just like they did the last 30-in irrelevance.

  2. SSG Michael A. Soule says:

    What is the relevance of the USAR Shooting Team to the average Joe or Jane across the Reserves?

    Or, asked a different way;

    What if the Team was totally disbanded today, and they took a survey, not of the personnel on the Team, but on the work-a-day reservist, of the action and what effect it would have on them?

    I can tell you as a frustrated machinist that the instrument has yet to be devised to measure their total indifference to said action.

    If that were to be the case, then the Team has made itself about as important to the lower Enlisted as having a Jamaican Bobsledding Team competing in they’re name.

    They need to start by getting the common Enlisted up involved, to come up with (or dust off) programs that applies for the force at large, so that they (The Brass) would never think about budget cuts to them, because they would know just how severe the backlash would be.

    Right now, if a Soldier wants to learn, he has to go outside his Unit at his own expense, normally taught by former Marines, in Known Distance style (or any other) competition, at a civilian range. Or in other words, he gets a more thorough training in Marksmanship then he ever did in the USAR or its Team.

    And that is the most striking damnation on our Leadership across the board

  3. >> What if the Team was totally disbanded today, and they took a survey, not of the personnel on the Team, but on the work-a-day reservist, of the action and what effect it would have on them?

    The same result as if any Reserve element not operating within the realm of their branch/MOS or command or personal interest went away: Likely nothing. Routine qualification is of interest because it shows up on reports commanders are accountable for. However, there are no bonus points if a percentage (or if anyone) in the unit earned leg points that fiscal year.

    >> They need to start by getting the common Enlisted up involved, to come up with (or dust off) programs that applies for the force at large, so that they (The Brass) would never think about budget cuts to them, because they would know just how severe the backlash would be.

    I think it is worse than you realize.

    Army Reserve Marksman was not a name I conjured out of thin air. It is the official name of a publication directed by regulation (AR 140-1, Chapter 7) requiring Office, Chief Army Reserve to disseminate marksmanship information throughout the Reserves. OCAR stopped publishing this in the 1990s due to funding. After reading the reg, I reserved the domain name, created this site, and contacted Public Affairs at OCAR by email, phone, and certified snail mail about it.

    The suggestion was to distribute a brief email monthly with links to relevant articles, making publication cost a non-issue. In addition to regulation requirements, I used the Army Ten-Miler as precedent because information on this event is spammed to every Reservist at their mail.mil email and the supporting website is a commercial domain (.com) and commercially hosted, same as this one.

    At first, OCAR appeared receptive. Their Public Affairs OIC contacted me, saying there would be “… no problem with you producing an email version that we can send out via AKO. We will support distribution of your product via AKO leader email and by highlighting in online and social media. We will also offer a quick review/edit of your product before you go final with it (just for another set of eyes on it for edits).

    Let me know if this meets your needs.”

    A few weeks later I was informed by the same people that this was not going to happen. Guidance from my leadership in the USAR Marksmanship Program was to drop it. And that’s where we stand today.

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