When I went through basic training in September and October 1961 at Fort Knox, Kentucky, we used .30 caliber M-1 Rifles. The same rifles used in World War II. From there to infantry training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, where we used M-1’s, BAR’s (Browning Automatic Rifle), and A-6, .30 caliber machine guns. The same guns used in World War II. We zeroed, and qualified with our rifles on KD (known distance) ranges. Half of the company qualified expert on the 500 meter range. The M-1 had distance and accuracy, but it was heavy and only fired eight rounds at a time. When I got to the 82nd Airborne Division, March 1st 1962, it had 7.62 mm M-14 Rifles. A couple years later we got the 5.56 mm M-16’s, and although modified a couple times, M16A2, and M-4 Carbine, the Army is still using that same rifle. A replacement has been identified. Also, around that time the Army built pop up target rifle ranges. Waist up, man sized, green silhouettes, “pop-up” at distances from 50 to 300 meters. The soldier shoots from a fox hole, with a rest, and must hit a minimum of 23 targets to qualify, 23 to 29 hits gets a Marksmanship Badge, 30 – 35 a Sharpshooter Badge, and 36 – 40 an Expert Badge. That system has been used for the past 55 years.
Every soldier must qualify with his or her weapon once annually. Combat arms soldiers do a lot of shooting, starting with the infantry, combat engineers, armor, and artillery. Many support soldiers only fire their rifle during annual qualification. There were instances in the first Gulf war, Desert Storm in 1990, of support soldiers taking a wrong turn and finding themselves in enemy lines. Some were killed and some captured, many were not proficient with their rifle, they had trouble firing back, and if their weapon jammed, they were sunk. Then the “no front lines” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, put the lack of weapons proficiency by support soldiers on vivid display.
For the past several years, the Army has been fortunate to have had some exceptional people at the top. Many changes have and are happening. After going through several years of relatively easy training, Basic Combat Training is now as tough as it has been since World War II. I know some people don’t believe that. It is not unnecessarily tough, it is physically tough, professional training. After the first couple weeks, basic trainees are having fun, some say the time of their lives. The standard army PT test of pushups, sit-ups, and run, that the Army has used for the past 50 years is out, replaced by a very demanding six event test, which is rapidly changing soldiers’ attitude toward physical fitness, and changing the way units conduct their physical fitness programs.
This year, the Army is instituting a new Rifle Marksmanship Program. Under the old program, for the past 50 years, non-combat soldiers, once a year, drew their rifles, went to the range, zeroed the rifle on a 25 meter range, then went to the qualification range. Qualification firing was from a supported foxhole, with four magazines, each containing 10 rounds, stacked in front of the shooter. After 10 rounds were fired at the pop-up targets, the command “change magazines” came from the range control tower, then shooting resumed. If a shooters’ weapon malfunctioned, during firing, and he or she couldn’t immediately correct it, the shooter held up his hand and claimed an “alibi”, which caused a range cease fire until the weapon was functioning. When I was a Drill Sergeant, before the trainees moved onto the range, the drills would grab a rifle and go “knock down” the targets, to make sure they all worked. We all could hit 40 out of 40 targets. Someone once said that a drunk monkey could qualify as an expert, if given enough time on the range.
This past year the Army published TC (Training Circular) 3-20.40 Training and Qualification – Individual Weapons. It is 800 pages of specific guidance for weapons qualification, to be followed by every unit in the Army, regardless of the type of unit.
Now all army units, regardless of the type, are mandated to conduct the same annual weapons qualification program. It starts with classes on how to properly zero their weapon.
After which, the soldiers must pass a written and a hands-on test before moving to the next phase, which is firing with the simulator. The simulator is the army’s Engagement Skills Trainer, which is an elaborate, indoor, laser based unit with a large screen 26 feet from the firer, displaying terrain and targets, with feed back hits and misses. The rifle is of the same weight, producing sound and recoil very similar to the real thing.
After successfully firing on the Engagement Skills Trainer they go to the actual range for dry drills.
The dry drills are of how they will fire for qualification, which is not all in a rested foxhole, but in prone, kneeling, standing supported, and standing unsupported, and quickly moving between firing positions, just as they would do in combat, and with their ammunition magazines in their pouch, not laid out, and changing magazines automatically, not on orders from the tower. In fact, there are no orders from the tower, except, begin, and there are no alibies. If a weapon malfunctions, get it going or lose shots, because now instead of one target at a time popping up, as many as four pop up at one time. The old way took about 20 minutes to fire 40 rounds, this takes about four minutes.
After the dry drills, they go to the zero range and zero their rifles. Next is practice qualification, go through trough the whole qualification, with live ammo, but for practice. Finally, qualification, but not just daytime firing. Qualification firing in daytime, daytime wearing gas masks, then night time firing, and night time firing wearing gas masks.
One sergeant rifle marksmanship instructor said that he always shot 40 out of 40 on the old way. His first time, while teaching the course, this way he shot 22 out of 40.
Firers change positions on their own, starting with standing unsupported, just like a reaction to contact, then drop to the prone unsupported, then to a kneeling supported position, and finally to a standing supported. Under the old system, a soldier could fire “Expert” without hitting a 300 meter target. Now there are five exposures of the 300 meter targets, so at least one has to be hit to qualify as an expert,
Aside from doing their job to the best of their ability, the Army wants soldiers to be physically fit and good shooters.
Carly Schroeder, an actress who has starred in over a dozen movies, Lizzie McGuire, Mean Creek, and most recently Ouija House, turned 29 this past October, and Hollywood guestimates her net worth at around a million dollars. She also graduated from California Lutheran University with a double major in communications and psychology. In March 2019, she enlisted in the Army for OCS (Officer Candidate School), her intention was to try to get into Military Intelligence. She completed basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in July 2019, and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia for OCS. During OCS, she had a change of desire and graduating in September, she was commissioned a second lieutenant and branched Infantry. She then completed the 17 week Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, during which she, not only qualified expert in the new army marksmanship program, she was the high shooter in her class, beating all the guys. She also successfully completed Ranger school this past June, and is now an airborne ranger infantry lieutenant, somewhere in the Army – no publicity, she is now a REAL soldier.