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NEWS | April 11, 2012

U.S. Army Reserve Shooting Team: Serving The Force

By Sgt. 1st Class John Buol Army Reserve Marksmanship Unit

The USAR Shooting Team is a powerful force multiplier that enhances readiness and saves money while improving training and earning positive publicity.

You'd be surprised how many people view the shooting teams as a good old boys club. They have no idea of the benefit and skill these soldier-shooters are bringing to the Army Reserve. It's like accusing an NFL team of being nothing more than a group of drinking buddies that play catch on Sunday afternoon. Outsiders to US Army Reserve Shooting Team fail to understand why such a team exists. Unless one has been involved in small arms training or higher level shooting activity, marksmanship experience is typically limited to basic qualification. Just as retaking the same elementary arithmetic test will never teach Calculus, marksmen need to evolve to gain proficiency. Shooting teams were established in enact this and provide other benefits as well.


Through the 1960s the USAR Marksmanship Program consisted only of an ad hoc Service Rifle and Service Pistol Team that would be constituted as the Battalion, Brigade, ARCOM, and Army Area Matches were conducted. The All-USAR Teams would then compete in the National Rifle and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry and then disband. MG William Sutton, then Chief, Army Reserve, was a Distinguished Rifleman and strongly believed in marksmanship. During World War II he had to deploy cooks, supply personnel, truck drivers and other support personnel to defend his unit. He learned that it was important for all soldiers to know how to shoot well. MG Sutton and later CAR's supported the USAR Marksmanship Program very well into the late 1980's.

Lt. Col. Joseph B. Berry joined the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve in 1967 after a career as an Infantry officer, serving in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II and the Korean War. LTC Berry had shot on the All-Army Service Rifle Teams in 1955-57, was a Distinguished Rifleman and had served as the Executive Officer, National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP). When MAJ Bruce Meredith, the OIC of the USAMU International Rifle Section, left Active Duty in late 1968 Berry asked that he start an International Division for the USAR Marksmanship Program. MAJ Meredith championed the concept of year-round training and competition. The teams reaped the benefits and eventually a small nucleus of the top shooters were kept more active throughout the year and the USAR Marksmanship Program was a force to be reckoned with. After 1985 there was a major push towards training the USAR troop units, but the various USAR teams and individuals still continued winning their share. Politics and budget cuts finally took their toll. While only Service Rifle, Service Pistol and the Combat Team are currently being supported, and with no Army Area Matches to help bring new talent in, but the USAR Marksmanship program is still acquiring solid talent.

Matches Are Training

Marksmanship programs were not invented as mere sporting pursuits. Following the Civil War, Gen. George Wingate and others held shooting events to learn the best methods of small arms use, striving to promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis. Wingate would publish his findings in Manual for Rifle Practice, which became the US Army's first marksmanship text. More recently, in addressing participants following an All Army events, AMU commander LTC Dave Liwanag would explain the intent was to host a high level training event cleverly disguised as competition. The learning tool GEN Wingate first used still works today.

This is spelled out in official doctrine as the best approach. Quoting from FM 3-22.9, “Instructor-trainer training courses and marksmanship certification programs must be established to ensure that instructor-trainer skills are developed.” Army Regulation 350-66 directs the sort of training authorized to enact this: “Army personnel should be provided opportunities to prepare for and participate in small arms marksmanship competition. These preparations, which include those for international competitions, are classified as training.”

Organized shooting is a proven, objective approach for sorting out your best talent, which is why it is directed by published regulation. Taking this talent pool and employing them as instructors is an effective force multiplier. “We aren't merely training better shooters. We're building marksmanship instructors,” states two time President's Hundred winner Norman Anderson. Put a champion shooter on the ground and he is another rifle. Put him in a position to train others and he can raise the skills thousands.

As an example, when demands for instructors exceeded the capacity of current USAR Shooting Team members, First Army funded the Small Arms Instructor Academy at Camp Bullis. Course attendees had recently returned from deployment and were selected by their commanders. Despite many of them arriving already performing at Army “expert” qualification levels the average class improvement rate stood at 60 percent with three days of range training. Some individuals tripled their day one scores! The bulk of the SAIA cadre consisted of USAR Shooting Team personnel.

Of course, funding the marksmanship training and learning events known as shooting competition does cost money, but this is a routine, on-going training expense. Every Soldier attends Initial Entry Training and MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) courses for each slot they hold during their career. Some fields require additional skill identifiers and attendant training requirements. Every Reservist will be placed on orders for Annual Training each year. As soldiers earn rank and are put in charge of subordinates they will attend multiple levels of leadership courses, such as Warrior Leadership Course, Advanced Leader Course-Common Core and Senior Leaders Course. Each of these levels are further broken down into multiple phases. On-going attendance at training events is a normal part of every soldier's career and is no different for personnel assigned as shooter-instructors.

What's more, the real benefit gleaned from the shooting teams for the Army is the fact that members conduct much of their training at their own expense. Prior to competition, these Soldiers are expected to spend considerable time preparing on their own and they are glad to do it. Additionally, most participate in civilian events outside of Army-funded competition. It's like getting an entire company-sized element to attend extra Battle Assemblies for free!

Saving Money

Heightened skills are nice but every organization must address the bottom line. Like it or not, progress and function is driven by the dollar. In light of budgetary concerns it is a common folly to sacrifice shooting team activities but this is false economy. The small investment in maintaining a cadre of top-tier marksmen outweighs the cost. Would you spend a dollar today if you knew it would save five dollars tomorrow? Of course! Investments in the USAR Shooting Team has saved millions of dollars by preventing wasted ammunition and time on the range.

While in charge of a small arms training team at Fort McCoy Sgt. Maj. Steven Slee tracked all training aspects, including ammunition use. During initial mobilization efforts through 2004 the team successfully qualified all assigned automatic rifle and crew-served machine gun personnel, as verified by the local Garrison Support Unit, and did so while averaging 29 percent less ammunition than that allocated by DA PAM 350-38 (STRAC), saving about 30,000 rounds per brigade in machine gun and automatic rifle training alone. Jerry Hale, Fort McCoy's Ammunition Supply Point manager noted that prior to this units were sometimes burning through three to four times times their STRAC allocations and achieving less than 20 percent qualification rates. These shooter-instructors were yielding a savings in excess of $50,000 per brigade in machine gun training before even considering rifle qualification.

This type of savings was common with training elements at Power Projection Platforms staffed with shooting team members. While serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Fifth Army Col. Alfred Dochnal documented that within 200 training days on the ground these shooter-instructors raised weapons qualification rates of mobilizing soldiers at Fifth Army PPPs from the previous 48 percent to 98 percent and that their “expertise has saved about one million rounds of ball ammo alone,” thus directly raising the survivability level of the soldier deploying from there. At $0.27 per round, one million rounds of ball ammunition equates to $270,000 saved in a single fiscal year.

Publicity and Retention

Marketing is defined as activities, institutions, and processes for creating and communicating offerings that have value for clients, partners, and society at large. Maintaining a force of 205,000 personnel requires effort and incentives to get and keep soldiers in uniform. Yes, recruiting and retention is a form of marketing, “selling” the benefits of serving. Traditional advertising is one strategy and sponsoring events is another. The Army has employed these over the years with a recent example involving sponsorship of NASCAR and NHRA racing events. Ryan Newman, the Army-sponsored NASCAR driver claims these efforts have lead to 46,000 leads for recruiters. Sponsoring racing is a good advertising strategy, one outline in The NASCAR Way by Robert Hagstrom, and remains a good fit for Army recruiting.

As with any big organization reaching out to large numbers of people, no single strategy will appeal to everyone. NASCAR sponsorship is popular and known to be a powerful publicity tool, but not with every current or potential soldier. Shooting teams are another, more obvious strategy. While national-level marksmanship competition doesn't enjoy the draw that racing does, the return is similar in terms of dollars spent. In CPM, or cost per mille, terms the combined Army NASCAR and NHRA racing team budget of $16.6 million per year costs $360,896. No word on how many actual contracts this has created.

“My involvement in shooting events with the USAR Shooting Team lead to six signed contracts in one year”, states Staff Sgt. John Arcularius, a Career Counselor with the Army Reserve Careers Division. “Those same events put in me in contact with hundreds of serving personnel from all branches and even more civilian marksmen.” Using shooting teams as a recruiting and retention tool has already been employed by the active component, such as when the Army Marksmanship Unit was reorganized under US Army Accessions Command (USAAC). Putting your best talent in front of others is a solid way to communicate activities and institutions of value. What's more, unlike sponsored race teams, shooting team activity is an additional duty for actual soldiers currently serving in the Army Reserve. This puts real soldiers talented in marksmanship in front of others and able to communicate the values of the Army Reserve.

Each benefit showcased here demonstrates the return on investment the USAR Shooting Team brings to the Army Reserve. Winning matches on behalf of reservists is merely a pleasant bonus. When taken together, the force multiplying training value, money savings and publicity benefits reveal a cost-effective element offering an exchange in abundance for the entire Army Reserve.