First ever Sabot Academy helps prepare Reserve Soldiers for challenging master gunnery course

By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell | 76th Operational Response Command | May 24, 2018

WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas — Charging bolts, clearing feed trays, removing barrels, conducting function checks, performing safety checks, disassembling and reassembling weapon systems, identifying types of ammunition, recognizing armored vehicles from countries around the world, and learning crew gunnery firing tables were just a few of the many tasks a group of Army Reserve Soldiers performed recently as part of the first ever Sabot Academy held here May 19-22.

The academy, hosted by the 76th Operational Response Command, is a four-day in depth familiarization with all things gunnery designed to best prepare Soldiers for the mentally rigorous curriculum of the 35-day Master Gunner Common Core Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“The purpose of this academy is to give Soldiers the knowledge they need to be successful if they go on to the common core course,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Hardman, division master gunner, 76th ORC. “The common core course is a very difficult school and historically we have a huge fail out rate. My goal with this is to help Soldiers know what to expect so they can be prepared for the challenging school.”

The school itself is designed to make Soldiers experts in concepts that apply to all weapon systems. There students learn how to determine range, coordinate crew efforts, ensure safety and assess whether desired affects have been achieved. They learn a wealth of gunnery knowledge including ammunition characteristics, capabilities, and environmental effects as well as how to develop and implement effective training plans to enhance the lethality and readiness of their units.

Preparation for success at the school began on day one of the academy as Hardman gave the students an overview of course material that is covered during the first two-weeks of the common core course. Topics covered included the principles of direct fire, the three types of fire commands, the nine elements of a standard fire command, destruction indicators and identifying types of both friendly and enemy vehicles and weapons systems ranging from tanks and armored personnel carriers to helicopters.

Day two brought more knowledge as students spent the morning learning how to identify numerous types of ammunition for everything from rifles and tanks to mortars and missiles. The afternoon was spent discussing ammunition ordering, learning how to forecast ammo for various weapons platforms and learning about the various types of gunnery tables they will have to become very familiar with.

Day three’s learning was focused around crew gunnery, where the students learned about the required performance measures, threat based methodology, firing platform postures, target types, crew penalties, and setting up and grading crew gunnery exercises. The afternoon was spent disassembling, assembling and conducting function checks on the M2 .50-Caliber Machine Gun, the MK19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, and the M240B Automatic Machine Gun.

On day four, the Soldiers continued to hone their weapons assembly, disassembly and function check skills, and then they were tested on those skills under specific time restraints. They were also given a written exam at the end of the day covering the material they had been given during the week.

“I think this academy has been a huge wake up call to these Soldiers,” said Hardman, referencing all the material presented during the academy. But despite the mountain of knowledge, he said he definitely saw improvement in his students over the course of four days. “Most noticeably, I saw their proficiency increase dramatically with the weapon systems,” he said. “Most of them hadn’t even seen these weapons before arriving here, and weapons familiarity is a big part of this. You need to know how to handle these weapons safely, how to take care of them, load and clear them. That was the biggest improvement I saw in the class, not just learning one weapon system, but learning all three separate systems at one time.”

One of those students getting first hand weapons experience at the academy was Army Reserve Sgt. Scalzo, a training noncommissioned officer and native of Park Forest, Illinois, assigned to the 342nd Chemical Company, 472nd Chemical Battalion, 76th ORC. “I’ve never touched any of these weapons systems before I came here, so being able to have that exposure was invaluable,” he said. “The hands-on training and having people here who have been to the course sharing their experiences and knowledge with us has been great. I think everything I’ve learned here will definitely help me at the common core course.”

Another one of the academy students who said he received valuable training during the course was Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Artem McCall, a pre-mobilization noncommissioned officer and native of Rosman, North Carolina, assigned to the 415th Chemical Brigade, 76th ORC. “I think this academy has been extremely helpful,” he said. “Sgt. 1st Class Hardman was able to articulate and break down the fine points of gunnery in a way that makes it easy to understand.”

Hardman hopes to make the Sabot Academy a quarterly event if time and requirements allow, but he will also make a few changes for the next one. “Based on the feedback from the students, I will make the academy longer next time,” he said. “I’ll add at least add four more days, so I can spend at least twice as much time on each topic. I may also let the students test out after each block of instruction, allowing them to memorize the definitions and know what to study for each specific exam piece.”

He also has some advice for anyone who may want to attend a future Sabot Academy. “If you are serious about going to common core and becoming a senior gunner in the U.S. Army Reserve, attending this academy will not only be a requirement, it will be the best thing you can do for yourself to set yourself up for success in the common core course.”

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