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NEWS | Nov. 2, 2020

Small Arms Trainer Course Builds Weapon Proficiency in NCO Corps

By Courtesy article 88th Readiness Division

Noncommissioned officers are the foundation of the Army Reserve. As such, they ensure their Soldiers are trained to successfully perform their mission. That includes proficiency in operating small arms like the M4 or M9.

The 103rd Expeditionary Support Command, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, put that concept to the test when its Mobile Training Team of instructors conducted the Small Arms Trainer Course here the last two weeks of October. The course is part of Operation Cactus Gunnery run by the 103rd.

The first phase of SAT-C consisted of hands-on familiarization, loading, clearing, performing functions checks, break down and reassembly of six different weapon systems. The students from throughout the country also had to demonstrate their familiarity with the various weapons by presenting a class back to the instructors for evaluation. The culmination of the training was new weapon qualification on the M4 along with reflexive firing drills.

The six weapon systems taught during SAT-C are the M9 Pistol, M4/M16 Rifle, M249B Light Machine Gun, M240B Machine Gun, M2/M2A1 Heavy Barrel Machine Gun and MK-19 Grenade Machine Gun.

According to Lt. Col. Patrick Lanigan, officer in charge of Operation Cactus Gunnery, the goal of the SAT-C is to produce weapons Subject Matter Experts within the NCO corps and get weapons gunnery back down to the lowest level.

The end state of SAT-C “is to create SMEs who can carry on gunnery at the company level and make the 103rd ESC sustainable on our own,” Sgt. 1st Class Shane Hicks, a SAT-C instructor, said.

Lanigan explained that the new marksmanship standards “require Soldiers to engage targets faster and in various firing positions that are more in line with an actual combat situation. The new tables increase stress and force Soldiers to use processes such as firing position transitions and magazine changes to more closely simulate actual combat maneuvers.”

“These are long days and long nights,” Hicks said of the range qualification. “The training is good. It keeps the students engaged.”

One of the students, Sgt. Carol Maluafou with the 980th Quartermaster Company, Eau Claire, Wis., described the new M4 qualification as “pretty good. The idea is to transition and move from one position to another while firing,” from standing to prone unsupported to kneeling and back to standing.

“The whole idea is that as you transition between positions and you engage the enemy you don’t necessarily have to stay down all the time. There is a point where you’ll have to move forward and still engage,” she explained.

Maluafou found the magazine changes to be the most challenging aspect of the new weapons qualification standards. “As you transition it’s pretty intense and you have to ensure you don’t frag anyone with your weapon,” she said, referring to the risk of accidentally endangering the lives of fellow Soldiers or noncombatants.

“We must treat every weapon as if it’s loaded,” Maluafou stressed. “No matter what weapon it is, it’s deadly. Above all, safety is very important.”

In the last quarter of Fiscal Year 2020 the 103rd ESC conducted three SAT-Cs that helped instill weapons proficiency into the NCO corps, training 44 Soldiers to be weapons SMEs in their units. Following the completion of the first SAT-C of FY 2021, the 103rd ESC will conduct Operation Cactus Gunnery in November. The training is mounted gunnery training for 12 gun crews on Gate 4 and Gate 3 gunnery, creating qualified Convoy Protection Platforms for deploying units.

“We’ve shown there’s a lack of weapons knowledge in the Army Reserve. What happens if you’re in a situation where you have to defend yourself? You’re going to wish that somewhere along the way you were prepared,” Hicks said. “We’re giving Soldiers a fighting chance and the knowledge they need to protect themselves if the situation arises, along with the ability to teach other Soldiers how to do the same.”

Weapons proficiency is a perishable skill. “The biggest thing for us in the Army Reserve is the time constraint,” Hicks said. But by sending NCOs back to units as SMEs means that more people can extend the knowledge base in the shortest amount of time.”

“I want to encourage all units in the Army Reserve to send Soldiers here to the SAT-C so they can understand how the weapon systems work,” Maluafou said. “Eventually units will deploy and at some point they will utilize one of the weapon systems taught here.”