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NEWS | Nov. 5, 2021

Sabot Academy returns at the ready to teach a new crew of senior gunner course candidates

By Sgt. 1st Class Chantell Black 76th Operational Response Command

After a challenging year of canceling, downsizing or modifying in-person training across the Army Reserve due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Sabot Academy returned again this year, ready to train the next group of senior gunner candidates across the 76th Operational Response Command. The Sabot Academy is an 11-day, two-phase course, designed to train noncommissioned officers on gunnery related tasks and doctrine in preparation for attendance to the U.S. Army Reserve Command’s Senior Gunner Course.

Phase one was a distance-learning portion from Oct. 11-15, for students to learn and complete coursework associated with vehicle identification, to include U.S., ally, and threat vehicles, and ammunition characteristics and identification. Phase two followed closely after on Oct. 17-24 as a resident phase for students to learn training strategies such as how to plan and prepare unit training plans, range safety, crew gunnery (to include direct fire engagement process, scenario development, fire commands, and crew evaluation) and preliminary marksmanship instruction on the M240 and M2 machine gun weapon systems.

USARC’s Senior Gunner Course, which is only offered at Fort Hunter Liggett, is a three-week course allowing every student to be proficient in each phase of the operations, from gunner to control tower operator. Due its training intensity and complexity packed in that short timeframe, the course is reported to have only a 60 percent pass rate. The 76th ORC’s Sabot Academy was created in 2019 as a response to Soldiers from the command who were not successfully graduating from the senior gunner course returning back to their home units, requiring more training and preparation. The Academy since its first class, is hitting its target goals as graduates are returning back to their brigades and battalions providing training to their units that some new students come already with some previously learned knowledge.

“What's different about the Academy this year is we're starting to see the effects of the program at echelon levels so now these students aren't coming here and never heard of gunnery before,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Sanders, native of Martinsburg, West Virginia, 76th ORC division senior gunner, creator and lead instructor of the Sabot Academy for the 76th ORC. “They're now familiar with the senior gunner program, they’re familiar with Sabot Academy and majority of the class this year has already attended a gunnery event.”

While some of the Soldiers in the class arrived locked and loaded with some familiarity of the training provided in the Academy, there are a few students in the class that is the first time learning this information. One of those students is Staff Sgt. Blair Weaver, a squad leader assigned to the 377th Chemical Company from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“This is definitely eye opening. I didn't know there was so much stuff involved with senior gunner,” said Weaver. “So being able to come here first and actually get hands on knowledge and an opportunity to actually touch the weapons definitely helped out.”

Another Soldier who was new to the gunnery program was Staff Sgt. Nayeli Crosby, operations noncommissioned officer and native of Sun Valley, California and assigned to the 455th Chemical Brigade.

“I think if you’re not experienced or you don't have the knowledge of what gunnery is, it seems like a lot at first because I was feeling overwhelmed,” said Crosby. “But after a couple days in, now we're doing the hands-on stuff and I think it's something that's good even to teach for battle assembly for knowing how to go to the tables.”

Like Crosby, Staff Sgt. Matthew Harcarik of Flemington, New Jersey, was in her position two years prior as a student of the inaugural class in 2019. He was new to gunnery event training but he had set his sights on exceling in the Academy and successfully going on to complete the Senior Gunner Course. Well, not only did Harcarik pass the course, he returned to the schoolhouse as an instructor and is now joining the 76th ORC as Sander’s successor as the command’s senior gunner and lead instructor for the Academy.

“I am a success story of the Academy,” said Harcarik. “This mission was unknown to me before I came into the division and then it was because my unit was tasked with a gunnery event, in all reality that’s why I'm here where I am today. I think we have like one of the most robust sustainment gunnery programs.”

For the five-day in-person training, Harcarik assisted Sanders in providing the classroom and hands-on instruction as he prepares to take on the instructor role. Sanders is moving to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in November to assume the position of USARC’s Senior Gunner. Although he is sad to leave the program that he created, he’s excited for its future and how his new position can help the 76th’s program and other commands across the Reserve.

“It is a bit bittersweet as I've been at the 76th now for three years and really came into this program in its infancy stages and have worked extremely hard progressing it and getting that knowledge base down through our command and establishing what is becoming a routine operation,” said Sanders. “I'm still going to be in direct communication with Staff Sgt. Harcarik as a mission support command (MSC) senior gunner and in addition to the other MSCs to ensure that the program and the work that I've kind of implemented here I certainly intend on implementing and affecting the command training guidance from the USARC level.”