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Training Emphasis on Weapons Mastery

For TrainingTuesday, we are starting a new discussion on how to train our Paratroopers more efficiently. Specifically, we will be addressing how to train more efficiently. The reference for this discussion is TC 3-22.9, change 1 dated 10 January 2017.

The main thing that I always get asked by leaders is: how do I train my Paratroopers ‘advanced rifle marksmanship?’ The problem I have with this is, we are not training the foundational tasks enough to even be ready for ‘advanced’ skills. So how do we address this?

The answer comes back to a solid understanding of what our organization’s wartime mission is. The mission of the Infantry in War Time is to “to close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver to destroy, capture, or repel an assault by fire, close combat, and counterattack.” (ATP 3-21.8 Change 1 dated April 2016) That mission applies to everyone in the 82nd Airborne Division, not just the infantry, as our mission set of airfield seizure in a unified land operations environment means that everyone is a potential Infantryman.

In order to ensure all our Paratroopers are trained to the same level of proficiency, it begins with leaders placing emphasis on weapons mastery in the formations. It begins with leaders understanding that weapons mastery only comes with repeated practice. It begins with leaders acknowledging the fact that the only things that get addressed are the things that the commander places emphasis on. And the division commander has placed emphasis on refining the skills of weapons proficiency with the establishment of the enduring range for the 82nd.

So since we know it is a priority, how to we ensure it gets done? By using the same methodology we use for physical fitness training. We create a training plan and ensure that it is followed; if there is no plan in place, it will not be done consistently.n and ensure that it is followed; if there is no plan in place, it will not be done consistently.

The training plan is developed by the squad leader. They should know their soldiers and know what they need to work on. Dates are chosen based on training events for the week and templated. If there are specific training events that can be used to assess weapons proficiency (e.g. a road march on Wednesdays) it should be added to the plan for training weapons. Picture two illustrates a training calendar and how it could be set up.

Leaders need to take a realistic view of what their Paratroopers capabilities are. Having external evaluations added in randomly also will give the leader better feedback on their Paratrooper’s skill level. It can also identify issues with the training plan the leader may not see. What this also does, is give both the leader and the Paratrooper some Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures that may be beneficial for the more efficient employment of their weapons.

What we as an organization need to avoid, is the mentality of “I’m such-and-such military occupational specialty, there is nothing you can tell me that I don’t already know about weapons employment.” There is no one person out there who knows every way to relate the employment of weapons to Paratroopers, myself included. Sadly, too many leaders have fallen into the institutional inertia of ‘we’ve always done it this way…’ which may not be the most efficient way to relate to young Paratroopers.

I sit through classes given by young team leaders coaching their Paratroopers on the range and find myself learning ways to relate the concepts of the shot process. I learn something new every day about my craft and am proud to be able to pass that knowledge on to my fellow Paratroopers.

The answer to the question of how to achieve an ‘advanced’ level skillset is for leaders of all levels to crack the cover on the doctrine and actually read it. Then make their Paratroopers read the manuals, and hold them accountable for it by quizzing them, or if they are really not grasping the material, assign them a paper.

When I was a private, I was handed a copy of FM 7-8 (a rarity at the time) and told to learn everything I could from it.  I read it, and in so doing, learned more about how to the platoon works at levels above the team then I would have from a hundred squad training exercises. Today, leaders have all the manuals available to them in an instant… and no one reads them.

We have a solid ability to reference answers now, but no understanding of the material behind the questions. Things like Minute of Angle are considered too ‘complex’ for our Paratroopers to understand. We need to stop insulting our Paratroopers by thinking too little of them, and instead, expect more from them, and ourselves. Only then, will we achieve an ‘advanced’ level skillset across our force.

#weaponsmastery

Raymond Miller
82nd Airborne Division Small Arms Master Gunner: primary weapons trainer, force modernization for individual weapons, and range liason for the 82nd.

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