Stop Marksmanship Training

Since this organization is very gun friendly and dedicated to knowledge I should now have your attention. I just said it and will reiterate. STOP MARKSMANSHIP TRAINING IN THE ARMY.

Weapons proficiency training is just that. If you call it marksmanship training and that’s your focus you’re doing it wrong. I’ve used the terms weapons proficiency training and weapons employment in my circle for a while and gotten on my soapbox when friends and colleagues say marksmanship training. I’ve verbally bludgeoned young NCOs and company grade officers to change their vernacular and some came along, some didn’t.

Why? It’s simple. My personal definition of marksmanship is the ability or act of using a ballistic tool to put a hole in something at distance. It’s that simple. You’re a great shot? Awesome. Can you reduce a complex stoppage, in the dark, with rain or mud slickened hands? It doesn’t matter how well you shoot if you can’t keep your gun running. Do you have the mindset to continue shooting until the threat is down and obviously out of the fight rather than firing that shot or pair and looking to see where your bullets went? Good job champ- you just got yourself a second place finish in a fight to the death.

Marksmanship is only one third of LTC Cooper’s Combat Triad as taught by Pat Rogers. The triad consists of marksmanship, manipulations, and mindset. Conducting marksmanship training instead of weapons proficiency training handicaps you and everyone under your charge if you’re the leader. It ignores two thirds of the equation.

If you’re a leader and calling it marksmanship training you’re embedding into the minds of your subordinates that it’s all about putting holes in things. They don’t know any better unless taught better. The system doesn’t work with components missing. How well and how far would a race car run if everything was in the engine minus oil? It would probably start and likely get a few laps in but would almost certainly not make the checkered flag because it was missing something vital when it left the garage.

If manipulations drills aren’t conducted one can’t be considered proficient. SPORTS has officially been dead in the Army for almost a year when conducting immediate action on the rifle. How many are still conducting SPORTS instead of tap/rack/reassess in accordance with TC 3-22.9? How many have never trained reducing a bolt override? How many don’t know the difference between a speed reload and a tactical reload and how many don’t know the value of a tactical reload let alone when to conduct one?

Automated targetry on Army ranges can be programmed to drop after anything between 1 and 99 hits. How many units’ leadership have said I want this target to drop after 2 hits, this one after 4, this one after 7, and that one after 1? Yes the targets can be individually programmed. Some targets such as the human urban target (HUT) used primarily in urban operations training sites can be utilized to record and react differently to switch, timer, or periphery hits. Of course paper targetry used in shoothouses and flat ranges can be used to show the same. How many units force shoot/no shoot decisions through use of non-threat targets? How many units are using objective measures to judge weapons skills during collective tasks training? If it’s not being done with the goal being mindset and lethality over just hits, the leadership is failing.

Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) is much more than the mandatory “hunt the good stuff” briefs that serve little training value once they’ve been heard for the third time. CSF2 utilizes human performance experts that train resiliency as well as techniques to maximize performance potential in all areas of life, Soldier skills including weapons employment being prime examples. If the unit leadership isn’t leveraging CSF2 assets that are at every major installation, again they’re failing.

Leadership must be on another level. Too often I see individuals in leadership positions that barely understand their own weapons but are charged with employing multiple different systems to achieve desired effects downrange. Paragraph 1-52, Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 3-21.8 (April 2016) states in part, “During operations, the squad leader—

  • Is the subject matter expert on all battle and individual drills.
  • Is the subject matter expert for the squad’s organic weapons employment, and employment of supporting assets.
  • Knows weapon effects, surface danger zones, and risk estimate distances for all munitions.
  • Uses control measures for direct fire, indirect fire, and tactical movement effectively.
  • Controls the movement of the squad and its rate and distribution of fire (including call for and adjust fire).
  • Fights the close fight by fire and movement with two fire teams and available supporting weapons.
  • Selects the fire team’s general location and temporary sector of fires in the defense….”

I know for certain that I was not that guy as a squad leader. I hadn’t been taught surface danger zones. I had an idea of control measures and could employ my organic weapons but was hindered through my lack of in depth understanding. In fact, I didn’t get to understand some of it until I educated myself, and even retired after 20 years of service and having not been a squad leader for quite a while would give myself a B grade on these things. I would guess many others are in the same predicament or worse. The point here is if one is not driving himself to learn and is relying on being taught he’s failing. He’s failing himself, his organization, and his subordinates.

Do your machine gunners understand fire missions? Yes a machine gun engagement is a fire mission. Reference is TC 3-22.68 (July 2006) Chapter 5. Do they know fire commands? Do they know the value per click on the T&E mechanism at 600 meters? Do your grenadiers use their M320s as primary or secondary weapons? Can they effectively employ their grenade launchers to cover dead space? If not you’re failing. I did too.

But your weapons qualification statistics briefed at command and staff meetings are all green. Cool story bro.

If you’ve read this far, thank you and congratulations. These things are probably tough to read, tougher if you realize they’re true in your own formation. They were tough for me to write because no one wants to see their own shortcomings.

So with that, I’ll take a step back from my opening statement. Don’t stop marksmanship training. Look at marksmanship training as an isolated portion of a larger weapons proficiency program. Conduct marksmanship training as a part of a comprehensive program and tier the program with necessary knowledge and increasing skill sets according to skill level (Soldier, TL, SL, PSG/PL, etc.). But please, please stop calling the overall program marksmanship training. It’s supposed to be much more.

 

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Mike Lewis
Retired Senior Noncommissioned Officer of Infantry with 20 years of active service in the United States Army.

"During my tenure, I was blessed to serve in some of the most storied units in the Army, including the 82nd Airborne Division and the 506th Infantry Regiment (AASLT) (Band of Brothers), and with some of the finest human beings one could know. I have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in support of combat operations, served on deployments to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in support of peacekeeping and stability operations, and served on the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). My final assignment in the Army was as the 82nd Airborne Division Small Arms Master Gunner, developing and instituting weapons training, conducting force modernization activities pertaining to small arms weapons and enablers, and consulting with the Maneuver Center of Excellence (Fort Benning, GA) on said subjects. I have attended both shooter and instructor level classes from some of the best trainers in the industry, am an NRA certified instructor, and have conducted firearms training on the civilian market for concerned citizens since 2007."

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