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NEWS | March 28, 2017

Operation Cold Steel boasts 81% qualification rate

By Staff Sgt. Debralee Best 84th Training Command

Three weeks into Operation Cold Steel, the exercise is now qualifying mounted gunnery crews daily.

Operation Cold Steel is the U.S. Army Reserve's crew-served weapons qualification and validation exercise to ensure that America's Army Reserve units and Soldiers are trained and ready to deploy on short-notice and bring combat-ready and lethal firepower in support of the Army and our joint partners anywhere in the world.

Approximately thirteen three-man crews, divided into chalks, arrive daily to complete the 12-day gunnery qualification tables. The tables include ground qualification, mounted blank fire, a practice mounted live-fire and finally qualification mounted live-fire. The crews go through primary marksmanship instruction as well as completing a gunnery skills test and simulation training, prior to any qualification.

This training is designed for Army Expeditionary Response Force units of combat support and sustainment Soldiers.

“It’s a brand new concept for Army Reserve combat support and combat service support,” said Maj. Ryan Gore, operation officer for Operation Cold Steel. “Even though it may not be formally stated anywhere, just taking 14- to 16-hundred Soldiers of all different Army Reserve units and running them through all of this, so they can see what gunnery looks like and all the pieces that go into it and all the prerequisites that you have to do, just to start it, that’s probably a training objective, too: to instill that competitive spirit in them to do well in gunnery, recognizing Soldiers who do well, who exceed the standard and shoot distinguished.”

As of March 27, 2017, the exercise had qualified 115 crews, an overall qualification rate of 81 percent, with seven distinguished ratings. To score distinguished, a crew must earn at least 900 points out of 1,000 for day and night qualification.

While the exercise is well underway, the major issue in the beginning was staffing.

“One of the biggest challenges was getting everyone here in the staff to start the training on time through the tour of duty process and then trying to weld or forge that group of people into a staff with range cadre as a part of it and all the functions a staff does in a very compressed timeline,” said Gore.

But the staffing was only the beginning.

“Once we got our arms around that, we had to slew our turrets to the next target which was getting the training audience here, on time, properly licensed and not broken. Some of that, I think, was also due to a short timeline and the amount of time the (Operational and Functional) Commands had to react to identifying and sending people. Then the hand-of-God intervened with a major snow storm on the East coast, which delayed tons of people and flights all over.”

Now, the exercise is running well.

“I think Operation Cold Steel is going tremendously well. We continue to be a learning and self-healing organization,” said Lt. Col. Byron K. Perkins, Operation Cold Steel Task Force commander. “Every time we encounter an obstacle, the incredible staff I have here has figured out ways to work the issue and come up with plausible courses of action to mitigate or remedy the situation.”

In addition to personnel, the staff has altered the training schedule to give the training audience more hands-on time with the weapons including the MK-19 automatic grenade launcher, M240B machine gun and M2 .50 caliber machine gun before firing on the ranges. They have also added additional training objectives including training vehicle crew evaluators and having senior gunners and common core gunnery graduates shadow the master gunners.

The training audience understands this is a new, growing concept.

“I respect and understand it’s the first time they’ve done it so there is going to be a learning curves that need to happen,” said Spc. Jesse Foster, vehicle commander, 406th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

While understanding that, the Soldiers are very excited to receive this training.

“(The best part was) seeing the weapon up close and personal and having my hands on it. I was lucky enough to at least do the PMIs on it. I’ve never touched the weapon before in my life, not that specific one. It was amazing. To hear it, to see it, to be a part of it, it was pretty cool. And also to know we’re one of the first few chalks to ever qualify with this Cold Steel training, no one can take away from us. We’ve all pushed really hard to qualify and it was a lot of fun,” said Spc. Deshawn Proby, driver, 374th Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Company.

Soldiers are already planning for a Cold Steel Two.

“It was fun to actually see it and hopefully I get another chance. We now have the ability to train the other Soldiers in our unit, which is what this is all about to take it back home with us,” said Proby. “We’ve built a crew and we’re going to continue to remain a crew and if they do have the Cold Steel Two, then we’ll come back and light it up again and we will get distinguished.”