FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Two U.S. Army Reserve senior gunnery noncommissioned officers were certified last year during Cold Steel I. This year, they, with the support of active duty master gunners, are passing their expertise on to certify more than 30 Army Reserve senior gunners throughout the country.
“Operation Cold Steel has, from my understanding, three missions,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mau, senior gunnery noncommissioned officer, U.S. Army Reserve Command. “One: to get gun crews qualified through their crew-served gunnery, two: to train (Vehicle Crew Evaluators) so that way we have experienced VCEs throughout the field and three: to actually get certified senior gunners so that way they are able to go back to their home station and actually start training their Soldiers.”
Mau is one of two senior gunnery NCOs who were certified last year during Cold Steel I. This year, Mau is certifying Army Reserve senior gunners during Cold Steel II at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
The first step in becoming a senior gunner in the Army Reserve is to complete the master gunner common core course.
“They have to graduate common core which is literally probably the most challenging course in the Army, mentally, not physically, but mentally,” said Mau. “Once they have graduated that course, which has a 50 percent attrition rate, we get them to a convoy protection gunnery where they can be assessed.”
After being assessed on range operations, the final step is assistant instructing a Vehicle Crew Evaluator Exportable Package course.
Following this process, whoever is overseeing the senior gunner decides if they are proficient enough for certification.
“For the most part, the people who graduated common core have a good understanding of what gunner actually is, so they just get out on the range and they push troops, they run their range, they run their VCEs and they’re good to go,” said Mau.
To assist with this new mission within the Army Reserve, First Army provided experienced master gunners to provide mentorship and oversight to help the senior gunners better understand gunnery, according to Mau.
“They just lacked experience and they’re getting a ton of experience over this three-month exercise,” said Sgt. 1st Class Craig Jordan, master gunner, First Army. “Their progression has been more advanced than we anticipated so we’ve reduced the amount of First Army oversight to just me.”
Jordan has been involved with Cold Steel since its inception, running a qualification range last year. For Cold Steel II, he is the lead advisor for gunnery operations and convoy protection platform qualification.
The ultimate goal of Operation Cold Steel is to train the Army Reserve to conduct gunnery operations on their own.
“Now that we have certified senior gunners, even though the amount we will have after this exercise is still small, but we will have other senior gunners to go out into the field and train,” said Mau. “That way the battalions can now operate their own gunnery at their own home station so we can decentralize Operation Cold Steel.”
Senior gunnery NCOs will be vital assets to commands, providing insight and advice.
“They will have the ability to plan, prepare and execute their own gunnery, train their own VCEs, to be self-sufficient,” said Mau.
The self-sufficiency is a key point to the training behind Operation Cold Steel.
“As a whole, the Army Reserve is going to benefit dramatically by not having to send all their people to an event like Operation Cold Steel. The units will be able to do a lot of this stuff at home station,” said Mau. “They’ll be able to do it at their local ranges, if their ranges are able to support gunnery operation, but that’s going to save a lot of money and time. It takes 400 people to man Operation Cold Steel.”
This is just the beginning, as the senior gunnery program was recently introduced to the Army Reserve.
“The program didn’t exist before 2016. My class was the first class dedicated to the Reserve to go to master gunner school,” said Mau. “There was two others who graduated before my class, but actually certified senior gunners, there was only two of us.”
Familiarizing the Army Reserve with gunnery operations was a shift in mentality within the force and encourages a culture change in combat-ready, capable and lethal Soldiers.
“I think this is the first step. Last year, it was just the implementation of the culture change, get people familiar with firing weapons and gunnery again. Then, we sent all these master gunners to school,” said Jordan. “Now, they’re getting real-world experience so here in the near future, you should actually start seeing the culture change when they start planning and executing their own gunneries. It won’t change completely until we’re through with this turnkey gunnery-style exercise.”