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NEWS | May 21, 2016

Army Reserve tackles rifle training for ‘digital generation’

By Staff Sgt. David Clemenko 99th Regional Support Command

While the fundamentals of primary marksmanship haven’t changed, training the next generation of Soldiers who grew up playing sophisticated and realistic combat video games can be a challenge.

As budgets are reduced for training, the Army Reserve is utilizing technology to train Soldiers on basic rifleman marksmanship. The technology is not only more cost-effective, it’s something that is very familiar to younger Soldiers.

“Today, we have more flexibility to use technology in training our Soldiers to prepare for qualification,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Arlindo F. Almeida, 99th Regional Support Command command sergeant major. “This saves time and money and allows Soldiers to use that extra time for other warrior tasks like first aid or land navigation.”

One technological advancement designed to assist Soldiers with rifle marksmanship is the Engagement Skills Trainer, which is a virtual rifle range that allows Soldiers to practice shooting in a video game-style environment without expending actual rounds

However, there can be drawbacks to technology – it does not replace the “real thing” that every Soldier needs to experience to completely master marksmanship.

“When you go to combat, the enemy is not electronic,” said Almeida. “You must be able to feel that weapon and the round coming out of the chamber. The emotional part of killing the enemy on the battlefield is different than the digital environment.  

“The Xbox games are great with your thumbs, but we don’t use our thumbs to fire and kill someone in action,” he added.

“Today, we find Soldiers who think they know about marksmanship because they were able to ‘Google’ it,” said Sgt. 1st Class William D. Crosby, drill sergeant with Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 385th Regiment. “They think that if they read about it, they understand it and that makes it easier. What they find out is when you have the ‘real deal’ in your hand, it’s a different story”

Crosby joined the Army in 1988 and has seen many changes throughout his career. What is clear to him is that as each generation carves out their own culture and values, the training will change and evolve to meet the challenges.

The Army Reserve continues to evolve as well. With a digital generation coming through the ranks, training will also evolve.
“If you don’t use the fundamentals, it’s going to lull you into a false sense of control,” said Crosby. “Breathing is the hardest thing to teach because it is so closely related to the stress of shooting the weapon.”

When it comes to basic rifleman marksmanship, the fundamentals of breathing, trigger control, aiming and position will not change, but how these fundamentals are taught and practiced has already evolved. The Army Reserve continues to focus on readiness, and marksmanship is a warrior trait that every Soldier must perform to a standard to be considered combat ready.

With all the current and future changes, there is one thing that may never change – when it comes to Soldier skills, nothing digital can replace the “real thing.”