FORT HOOD, Texas –
Nearly 400 Army Reserve Soldiers from across the country have spent the last several weeks here conducting a variety of gunnery-related training, honing lethality skills and increasing combat readiness in the first brigade-run gunnery event titled exercise Dragon Fire.
The Soldiers, who are from the 415th Chemical Brigade and the 209th Regional Support Group, 76th Operational Response Command, began arriving here June 27 and will conduct training operations through the end of July as the units strive to qualify 88 individual gunnery crews.
The 25-day exercise provides an opportunity for the brigade’s Ready Force X units to conduct gunnery training and qualification in order to meet the same requirements as those found in Operation Cold Steel, while at the same time building a gunnery infrastructure and knowledge base for future qualifications.
“It’s an Army directive and mandate that units with crew-served weapons qualify on those weapons annually,” said Master Sgt. Richard Evans, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of operations, 415th Chemical Brigade. “With that in mind, our primary goal with this exercise is to get our gunnery crews qualified in order to meet objective T and Ready Force X directives. Our secondary goal is for our Soldiers to gain crucial first-hand knowledge and experience on how crew-served gunnery operates, so they can be self-sufficient enough to run future ranges themselves.”
In order to meet the training requirements and strict time schedule, the brigades have been running six ranges simultaneously day and night at different locations. An enormous task that proved to be just one of many challenges.
“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had during this exercise is just the overall experience level of the brigade staff,” said Evans. “There are only a few Soldiers in the Army Reserve who have any experience running a gunnery range. We have also had a variety of logistical and personnel challenges, but we are learning and quickly developing an understanding of the unique requirements involved in this. This is our first shot at rebuilding essential combat skills needed to shape our Soldiers into lethal warriors.”
As units arrive here, Soldiers are given a briefing to familiarize them with the rules and layout of the exercise. Then the training begins as the warriors take the gunnery skills test to demonstrate proficiency with disassembling/reassembling and performing functions checks on the M240B automatic machine gun and the M2 .50 caliber machine gun. From there the Soldiers move on to virtual battle space training where gunnery crews use computer simulations and scenarios to practice troop commands and build crew cohesion.
The next challenge is two days of ground gunnery providing the Soldiers more familiarization with the weapons platforms as they learn to engage targets up to 1500 meters in both a day time and night time environment. Next the warriors move on to the mounted gunnery portion where they conduct operations using blank ammunition, and then finally they move into the live fire portion for qualification.
“Overall I think the training is going well,” said Evans. “One of the biggest areas that we have seen improvement in is Soldier confidence and proficiency with their weapons.”
One of those Soldiers is Private 1st Class Schwanda Daugherty, a communications specialist, and native of Little Rock, Arkansas, assigned to the 468th Chemical Battalion, 209th RSG. This exercise is her first annual training event since graduating Army boot camp last November. “I never shot a gun before joining the Army,” she said. “And I had never even seen a .50 caliber machine gun before this exercise, so for me to be able to come here and shoot a machine gun bigger than I am is exciting and to me it’s a big deal.”
Daughtery, like many of the young Soldiers of the unit are not only learning everything about the crew-served weapon systems for the first time here, but before leaving they are expected to qualify with those weapons under strict time limitations and with proper commands and procedures.
“I’m definitely a lot more confident in this weapon now than I was when I first got here,” she said. “I have a great crew supporting me and the instructors here have been amazing. If I had to go to war with this weapon, I have a high confidence that I could effectively engage the enemy.”
As each day passes and more and more gunnery crews get qualified on their weapons systems, the future of unit hosted gunnery becomes clear.
“In the future the 76th ORC will no longer have to rely on mass gunnery events like Cold Steel to meet their gunnery requirements,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Hardman, division master gunner, 76th ORC. “This will give them a big step forward in front of the other reserve units out there. It’s a learning experience and a big training opportunity allowing the units to figure out what works best for them as they plan and execute future gunnery events.”
Although Dragon Fire presented more than it’s fair share of challenges to the brigades, it ultimately provided the training the units and Soldiers desperately needed.
“The overall goal of this exercise was to provide qualified gunners throughout the 76th ORC footprint, by consolidating efforts and resources to allow participating units to reach proficiency in their crew-served weapons,” said Evans. “I think we have accomplished that, but there are still areas to improve upon, as with any exercise. For being the only brigade in the Army Reserve that has engaged in this, I would say the first time was a success, but with much room for improvement in the future.”