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NEWS | April 11, 2012

Qualification the right way

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

Too often seen as a mandatory “check the block” military activity, units can aspire to do much more than merely qualify.

Working with small arms is core soldier task, common to all branches and military occupational specialties. FM 7-0, Training The Force, admonishes unit leaders to train fundamentals first to establish a foundation. By learning basic skills to high proficiency, such as marksmanship, units can more easily integrate and master the more complex collective tasks. The problem is defining “proficient.” What judges a high, or sufficient, level of skill? Whom shall we have judge?

Where most assigned jobs have a related Military Occupational Specialty and specialized schooling to teach it, marksmanship training is often tasked by the “Hey You” system and handled by any available NCO. There is no specific MOS or skill identifier for training marksmanship in the Army. Not even the pertinent weapon Field Manuals provide established standards for trainers and fall back on flowery descriptions such as, “Effective cadre/trainers must possess a thorough knowledge of the rifle, proficiency in firing, and a complete understanding of this manual.” No specific, measurable standard is offered and, naturally, every male gun owner assumes statements like this describes them.

Marksmanship training, from bare basics to advanced, can trace its roots back to through the history of organizations like the Civilian Marksmanship Program as nearly all knowledge of the subject was first learned in formal competition. To "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis" was the motivation for Gen. George Wingate to hold shooting events to learn the best methods of small arms use. Wingate's Manual for Rifle Practice based on lessons learned in competitive shooting was the first text on marksmanship training adopted by the US Army.

The legacy of these first efforts remain and all commanders are authorized to have unit members host and participate in such events. Army regulations authorize all forms of competition and marksmanship events to be used as formal training, but the events are never required. It is up to leadership to promote them to subordinates.

Members of the Army Reserve Career Division used this authorizing guidance to expand on routine qualification procedure at Camp Perry by including an Excellence In Competition event during the unit's regularly-scheduled qualification. It may seem odd for an admin unit to worry about rifle marksmanship but all units and every Soldier is supposed to qualify. This event was even more important than that. As Sgt. Maj. James Mauer of ARCD explains, “We handle retention in our region for every MOS. Having my troops proficient in their basic Warrior tasks is important to their credibility. This event left them more savvy at marksmanship than most Army personnel, giving my Career Counselors a leg up.”

The unit first conducted qualification. Lacking RETS range availability for rifle and pistol, the rifle Alternate Course B (KD qual) and Alternate Pistol Qualification Course was use. Regulation-sized silhouettes were used on both, scoring hit or miss only for qual. These targets also featured scoring rings rewarding shots landing closer to center with more points, rewarding shooters for doing better than splattering shots anywhere on the target. This second score was also recorded.

Zeroing and shooting on a scoreable target offers a higher goal. To realize gains, quality instruction and coaching is vital. ARCD happens to be the home unit for several members of the USAR Shooting Team and these shooter-instructors conducted the ranges. Many of these career counselors had not participated in marksmanship training for several years, yet these coaches helped realize a 95% first time go rate. During mass mobilizations over the past decade, Power Projection Platforms benefiting from USAR Shooting Team instructors saw a boost in first time go rates from 40% to 98%. Shooting team members can be requested to conduct training throughout the Army Reserve, provided that their orders are funded. This translates into a huge ammunition savings, something these ARCD Soldiers benefited by putting that saved ammo to good use.

Following qualification, ARCD members were afforded the opportunity to earn EIC points, commonly referred to as “Leg” points, in an effort to obtain awards signifying heightened marksmanship ability. These badges are much more prominent than normal qualification badges, issued in Bronze, Silver and Gold, as opposed to the typical “tin” qualification badge, and eligible for wear on dress uniforms, as per 670-1. This EIC program is governed by AR 350-66 and is recognized by all services, not just the Army, as well as civilians.

EIC events are designed as both a competition and a training event, serving to train and support the war fighter. To earn awards, a soldier must participate in a recognized EIC event and finish in the top ten percent. Unlike routine qualification, where everyone is expected qualify, Excellence In Competition pits skills against the rest of the field and the bottom 90 percent receive nothing. Events that have a restricted roster, such as to a specific unit or command, may only award four leg points to the finishers and only if the shooter does not yet have any points. Such events are said to be “baby legs” and a way to get a soldier started in higher-level shooting. Only events that are open to all comers may award more Leg points and to those personnel having already earned points. Among those in the top ten percent, points are awarded based on order of finish. The first place finisher receives 10 points, the top third receive eight points and the remainder receive six points. Again, those finishing below the top ten percent of all shooter earn nothing. The goal is to not merely pass, but to surpass. Everyone seems to think they shoot expert. Only an event that recognizes the top ten percent can show who the real experts are.

The EIC program awards a Bronze medal after earning any number of points, Silver after accumulating 20 points and the Distinguished Rifleman and Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge after earning 30 points. These points can be accumulated any time in a person's life and are a part of your permanent records. This program began in the 1870's and Army Marksmanship records show that since then only 3,395 Soldiers have earned the Distinguished Rifleman, 1,689 members have earned the Distinguished Pistol Shot badge and 499 have earned both.

Considering that millions of personnel that have served in the Army since then, this is obviously a very elite group. Of course, the easy road is to just conduct routine qualification, check the block and go home. Only exceptional leaders that want their people to exceed in the military career will go the extra mile to make exceptional opportunities for subordinates available.