FORT HUNTER-LIGGETT, Calif –
A military police company from California was the first to test fire a mounted machine-gun course set to debut across the U.S. Army Reserve in the future.
“It’s about readiness. How we evaluate readiness is with real world training. A range like this is the best way to do it,” said Brig. Gen. Kelly Wakefield, deputy commanding general for the 200th Military Police Command, who visited the unit in the field during their qualification at Fort Hunter-Liggett, California, during the first week in May.
The course, known as a Weapons Crew-Served Team Qualification, has already been a requirement for active duty units with “gun truck” teams. Now, it’s being considered as a new standard for reserve units as well, particularly those in combat support roles.
This is a process the Army calls a “proof of principle,” allowing a unit to test out a concept to see if it’s possible across the Army Reserve force.
It wasn’t an easy challenge, but the 341st Military Police Company (Combat Support), out of Mountain View, California, stepped up to the berm and gave it their best shot.
“We were told about this exercise in February,” said 1st Lt. Filipe Marquez, company commander of the 341st MP Co. “This is something we’ve never done, but if you go out and talk (to my troops), you’ll see that they’re having fun. There’s stress, but they’re having fun.”
The course included all three major machine gun systems, the .50-cal M2 Bradley, the M240B and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, each mounted to a vehicle’s turret. The course requires a completion of six “tables,” a term used for firing order scenarios. These included everything from dry-fire exercises, voice commands, rollover drills and both day and night-fire events with targets ranging from 500 to 1000 meters, including a few moving ones.
“I enjoyed it very much,” said Sgt. Joseph Jacques, of San Francisco, who served as a truck commander during the lanes. “This training is also useful for other weapon platforms … the vehicles may change, but the tactics and the training is still the same. So it’s very useful.”
Completing the course requires more than just hitting the marks. Each three-man crew was evaluated on proper use of commands, communication, identifying the right targets and swapping out gunners in the middle of a lane.
“Talking to each other is very critical because if the truck commander isn’t talking to the gunner, and they’re not communicating back and forth about correct enemy identifying to ensure that is the correct enemy or combatant in the region, then you’re going to be possibly killing civilians on the battlefield or damaging property,” said Jacques.
For the proof of principle, the 341st MP Co., implemented three teams (one for each weapon), with a total of nine Soldiers. Still, the lanes required thousands of rounds between the various calibers. The vehicles’ roofs and interiors were covered in expended brass and machine gun clips after each table.
The course is so intensive, it took four full days to complete, shooting from early in the day until midnight or later to fire the night portions. The company commander said he anticipates requiring at least two full weeks if he had to train and qualify his entire company, which consists of more than two-dozen machine gun crews of various vehicles.
“If we were overseas we would probably encounter those scenarios if we were out on reconnaissance or a convoy escort because when shooting from a moving vehicle with a crew-served weapon is very difficult. It requires a lot of coordination. It’s not like sitting in a stationary fighting position or a foxhole or a hasty,” said Jacques.
That’s one of the major challenges reserve units face to make this “proof of principle” a reality. Already, reserve units are tasked to complete annual trainings that focus on their other warrior tasks and battle drills. This machine gun course is expected to be a requirement every two years for them, so that would mean adding 14 days of gunner training on top of their already-scheduled requirements.
“It’s feasible. It’s a feasible plan. It just requires a ton of logistical support for (units) to conduct this type of operation,” said Marquez.
A unit can’t just simply roll up to a berm and start shooting to qualify.
The course requires quite a bit coordination and pre-requisite work beforehand. A master gunner, a vehicle inspector and trained evaluators are also needed to grade the teams. For this portion, the MP company partnered with trainers from First Army, a command specifically assigned to train and evaluate Army Reserve and National Guard units.
“The partnership with First Army … they’ve helped us out, and it was incredible,” said Marquez. “Without their coordination and assistance and mentorship, we couldn’t be out here where we are today.”
Since first hearing about this qualification in February, the MP company has been very busy planning. It took them a few jam-packed planning months to make this happen. Though, if an entire company were set to qualify, at least six to eight months of preparation would be necessary, particularly because most of the pre-requisites would have to be scheduled during battle assembly weekends.
Regardless, the planning and training to make a concept like this into reality is worth it to ensure a combat support unit like a military police company is ready for deployment.
“Whenever called, we have to be ready, and we have to be ready sooner, quicker than ever. Training events like this are going to be of great value for us,” said Wakefield.