August 24, 2009

Soldiers Take Time Out to Teach New Shooters

FORT BENNING, Ga. (August 24, 2009)--Every summer at Camp Perry, Ohio, prior to the National Rifle and Pistol Trophy Matches, soldiers from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit pass their shooting knowledge on to the next generation of American shooters at the Small Arms Firing School.

The school was instituted in 1918 by the Department of Defense and is conducted by the USAMU, along with assistance by members of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Army Reserve and National Guard.

The school is held so the military can teach the efficient application of the fundamentals of marksmanship, said Sgt. 1st Class Jason St. John, USAMU. More than 1,000 eager-to-learn shooters took part in this year's class.

Small Arms Firing School

Courtesy, USAMU

The Small Arms Firing School was instituted in 1918 by the Department of Defense and is conducted by the USAMU, along with assistance by members of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Army Reserve and National Guard. More than 1,000 eager-to-learn shooters took part in this year's class. Sgt. Nathan Verbickas instructs the class.

"We are teaching civilians so that in a time of war, with the knowledge that they have and if it's a real bad deal, then they can help out the military," said Sgt. 1st Class Lance Dement, USAMU. "But they are also going to become competitive shooters. We're going to show them what is right and stress to them the basics of shooting."

The day starts with classroom instruction and covers everything from the functioning of the weapon to proper positioning. The instructors are among the best in the industry, as evident at the pistol class, where 2009 National Pistol Champion Sgt. 1st Class James Henderson of the USAMU was among the lead instructors.

After a few hours in the classroom, the students make the short trek to the range and get a feel for the weapon in dry fire simulation. There are two students per military instructor. Upon their return from lunch, students load live rounds into the chamber and shoot, some for the very first time. The USAMU provides M16A2 rifles for the students to use and installs a block to deny the use of the "burst" or automatic function on the rifle.

The school ends with a sanctioned Excellence in Competition match where shooters are afforded the opportunity to earn four points toward their distinguished badge.

The school was tweaked this year and broken into a basic and an advanced class. The basic class was tailored for those who have never shot a pistol or rifle, said St. John.

"The advanced class was a clinic for middle-of-the-road to top-of-the line competitive shooters and covered mental management training, preparing for a competition, and basically what it's going to take to get to that next level," said St. John.

"It's the first time we've done this and I think it's the way to go," Dement remarked. "In previous years we had around 400 students or less (for the rifle class) and now we're close to 700. They are the future of the sport."

The students ranged in age from 11 to 70, St. John said. State junior shooting teams showed up, families planned their family vacations around the trip to Perry, and others flew a very far distance to learn from the best military in the world.

"I've been looking forward to this for sometime," said Stewart George, who made his way all the way from Belrose, Australia with three others to take part in the school. "A friend of mine heard about the school and we wanted to learn from the best, so here we are. I've done some Army reserve time and shot a rifle, but not an M16A2."

Jim Davis of Hamilton, Indiana, took his son and three other children from the Dekalb County 4-H club to the rifle class. "This is the best place in the country, maybe the world, to learn about shooting and everything that goes with it."

Comments (16)

I still recall doing a live fire walk through on a target range in 1992 and how foolish I felt during that military training exercise. I thought we slipped back to the 1770's. A few days prior I was laying down suppressive fire on a bunker with my M60 and then lift and shifted fire to my secondary target while an assault team located 50 yards to the left advanced and cleared the bunker. I guess in hindsight, I was trusted with live ammo but my fellow soldiers were not. I would have been bored as hell if our officers were more like Jacoby and Layfield. It's good to hear the training has finally changed. I hear Basic Training has drastically changed as well because the Drill Instructors can no longer knock you on your butt when you take matters into your own hands. I would have preferred calling a time out rather than quickly jumping to my feet, brushing off my britches, and shaking off the momentary blurriness that accompanies a good solid blow.

Posted by: JWallace | August 29, 2009 1:01 AM    Report this comment

I still say that the military is afraid of guns, but maybe I should be more specific: SENIOR OFFICERS in the US military are afraid of guns. As a further example, let me tell you about Major General Charles Jacoby, the Commanding General of US Army Alaska (USARAK), who, on his own initiative back in February of 2006, issued an order that no US Army soldier attached to his command could possess any firearm unless it was registered with the Provost Marshal and stored in the unit arms room, even if they lived off base. No soldier in his command could carry a concealed weapon anywhere in Alaska, even if they had a concealed carry permit, and lived off base. In 2008, Major General Stephan Layfield at Fort Richardson, AK, reaffirmed this policy. As a direct result of that idiotic policy, US Army Sgt. Evan Minnear, a concealed carry permit holder, was defenseless when he was shot and killed by a convicted felon already on probation for a previous assault. Sgt. Evan Minnear survived a 15 month tour in Iraq, but once home and disarmed, he was unable to survive the city streets. In addition, these generals routinely send their troops out on weeks-long training exercises in the bear-inhabited woods of back-country Alaska with ONLY BLANK AMMUNTION. Not a single rifleman is armed with a bear rifle to protect the men. Granted that most bears aren't all that interested in hanging around an Army exercise field, but this philosophy is all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!


Posted by: Lee W | August 28, 2009 2:40 PM    Report this comment

You are right, it would make no sense to hand a civilian with no weapons experience an M16 and demand combat level expertise, but that's not what I was talking about. I was talking about the troops who entered into the initial phase of Gulf War II with inadequate leadership and training, and I still believe that to be a fact. For example, the Army sent men and women into combat without training to maintain their weapons, with CLP lubricant that caused weapons to fail in the dust and sand by turning into grinding compound instead of lubricant, and this was AFTER Gulf War I, which should have taught them this lesson. The Marines did little better, considering that extensive training in the 29 Palms desert training area highlighted that problem years before. And that's just one example.


Posted by: Lee W | August 28, 2009 2:34 PM    Report this comment


I retired in '93, and it's been well over 16 years since I stood a quarterdeck watch. You have no idea how delighted I am to be proven wrong about the status of our military's combat training. I'm afraid it is true that my opinions were based upon what the situation was when I was still on active duty. From your information, it appears that the USAMU's mission has also changed. They used to be THE training unit that trained all of the Army's rangemasters, and their rules were absolute, from basic to sniper. I'm very glad that this has changed as well. I also didn't know that the Army was using "shoot houses," and this is the most welcome news of all. I knew that the Marines were teaching their counter-terrorism units advanced combat techniques, but that was only a small percentage of the deployed troops. So, that being said, and because I'm old but not fossilized, I can change my mind with new information. I'm glad the Army can, too.


Posted by: Lee W | August 28, 2009 2:23 PM    Report this comment

Part III...

What I can also speak to from personal experience is that the military has changed the training of everyone going into theater. They have been teaching reflexive fire for several years now, which is not the sterile M16 range of yesterday. In preparation for my most recent deployment, EVERYONE went through the shoot house and learned how to clear a building. Cooks, admin guys, everyone- even our Chaplain’s assistant went through.

To bring this to a close, I think your comment of “The military is afraid of guns” is way off base. Making a blanket statement like that, particularly when you incorrectly relate it to the USAMU teaching civilians how to shoot is wrong. I would also encourage you to read the official account of what happened with the 507th Maintenance Company. The events of that unit had nothing to do with magazines in weapons and had everything to do with weapons maintenance, situational awareness, leadership at all levels, and the fog of war. You are entitled to your opinion, and I am entitled to mine. That is what makes this nation great, and why I defend it every day of my adult life and why you served the Navy.

Posted by: Matt A | August 28, 2009 10:12 AM    Report this comment

Part II...
Now as to your sons, while I cannot say my experience is representative of theirs, I can say this. Yes, there are ignorant officers out there like your son’s platoon leader. Yes, there are bad decisions that are made all the time. However, there is also a lot of scuttlebutt and overtime spent at the rumor mill about “their buddy over in Bravo Company that heard some officer in the chow hall say….” Am I calling your sons liars? Not at all.

But what I can say is that depending on where they were, it may not have made sense to be locked and loaded at all times. For example, the Green Zone is so large, that one area can be mortared and the other side may never know. The enemy is not stupid, and won’t launch a ground attack on something big like that. If they were on a small COP (Combat Outpost) they were likely locked and loaded, and there was likely not a clearing barrel in sight.

It is always easy to be an armchair quarterback on Monday morning. If your sons did actually receive an order from their commander to not put a magazine in their weapon while on patrol, then that is not the fault of the USAMU. If the threat of attack was there, then the fault lies with their leaders. In this case, the NCOs did the right thing and had them lock and load anyway.

Posted by: Matt A | August 28, 2009 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Well said Gaviota, I'm sure its just a simple misunderstanding with Matt which got harsh too soon. Anyways, your original point was true. I bought an additional M1911A1 to carry concealed for the reasons you stated, you never want to be caught unarmed. However they went through with a random drug search with the dogs (common after our trips to South America) and they alerted on my locker while I was gone. They had to get my Commander out of bed to cut my lock only to find my weapon, no drugs. Since a soldier is only allowed to have a weapon when they think you should have one and can't be trusted to have one 24/7, my Commander was forced to punish me by his Commander. I got an Article 15 which only cost me $50.00 and my weapon was returned to me on the condition I check it in at the armory and not in my locker. My story is not as colorful because I didn't get to shoot anyone in the ass, however your point Gaviota is very valid. Tell your sons thank you for their service for me.

Posted by: Robert J | August 28, 2009 7:09 AM    Report this comment

Oh, and Matt: To emphasize, reiterate, and reinforce, I deeply respect ALL those who have served, combat or not. That includes you, whether we are in agreement or not. Let me remind you, son, that fire discipine is just as important for your tongue as it is for your rifle. God Bless.


Posted by: Lee W | August 27, 2009 4:00 PM    Report this comment

Part III of III

Now to fisk some of your unsupported assertions:

When back on the FOB, they clear their weapons. Why? Because there are people manning the gates and perimeters that are locked and loaded.

I have been ordered to stand watch at guardposts with an empty weapon more times than I can count. My sons were ordered to stand perimeter guard duty with unloaded weapons, at a time when sniper, RPG, and mortar attacks were a daily event. In addition, all military areas in Iraq were filled with "clearing barrels", designed to prevent discharge of stray rounds while "clearing" weapons when entering bivouac areas. This policy resulted in thousands, I say again, THOUSANDS of negligent discharges because soldiers were improperly trained by the USAMU to handle their weapons in combat.

When was the last time you heard of a ground based attack on a FOB?

In Afghanistan, it happens about once a week. It used to happen in Iraq regularly, before the Army finally got enough troops to quell the insurrection.

Second of all, the USAMU is teaching BASIC marksmanship.

Not true. The USAMU is responsible for teaching ALL marksmanship, from Basic thru Sniper.

As for your comment about the 507th Maintenance Co., that was exactly my point. Their unpreparedness was the result of lousy training, in part by the USAMU. They couldn't even maintain their weapons, much less hit a moving target in a firefight.

The US Military is afraid of guns, and our soldiers, airmen, and marines die as a result. Historically, this happens in every war, but it's unforgivable.


Posted by: Lee W | August 27, 2009 3:41 PM    Report this comment

Part II of III

Both my sons returned from Iraq in the early days of 2002-2003 when combat was still hot with stories about orders to walk patrols and drive convoys with empty chambers and magazines. My youngest son was told by a 1st Lt. Platoon Ldr that the purpose of the M4's magazine was to keep dust out of the action. Neither I, nor any of my sons, has EVER received from ANY military source ANY training on how to handle firearms in combat. My boys learned from the veterans before them, and the first thing they were taught was: "Ignore orders to unload your weapons." The second thing they learned was: "If you can beg, borrow, or steal a handgun, carry it loaded and concealed at all times."


Posted by: Lee W | August 27, 2009 3:38 PM    Report this comment

Part I of III

Matt: I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and not flame your eyes out for your intemperate noob post. Here goes:

Yes, Matt, I was a Boy Scout. I served in the US Navy for over twenty years. I was in Gulf War I. I have never been in combat, nor have I ever been shot. I have two sons, one Army, one Marine, both of whom have been over in Iraq, Marine once, Army twice. They HAVE been in combat. One was wounded. I deeply respect all those who have served, combat or not, and I would never use any disgusting, disrespectful phrase to any veteran such as "get your head out of your ass."

I was given a summary court-martial in 1977 for violation of UCMJ SEC. 928. ART. 128. ASSAULT, and SEC. 934. ART. 134. GENERAL ARTICLE, 'Disarming a Sentry' when I picked up the M1911A1 sidearm that the quarterdeck Petty Officer of the Watch dropped, and shot a shipyard worker in the ass (technically, in his hip) after he attacked our disbursing officer and tried to escape with the ship's payroll. I was found guilty and fined thirty seven cents, the cost of the expended round, and transferred to another command so that the shipyard administration could be told that the sailor who shot their boy had been punished. My record was expunged by the Board for the Correction of Naval Records a year later.


Posted by: Lee W | August 27, 2009 3:37 PM    Report this comment

PFC Lynch and her comrades were supply soldiers not combat soldiers. Although they were trained to use their weapons, it was not their primary mission. They got lost and were caught off guard. Not all of our soldiers are trained to be killing machines. Thank you Matt A for your service.

Posted by: Robert J | August 27, 2009 2:40 PM    Report this comment

Further... the incident with PFC Lynch was not that they did not have loaded weapons. Their issue was that they got lost, lacked any real leadership to take charge, and did not maintain their weapons.

Posted by: Matt A | August 27, 2009 1:38 PM    Report this comment

Lee W,
You have to be kidding me! First of all, have you been to Iraq? Have you been to any combat zone? Have you ever served in the military? Have you at least been a Boy Scout? I have done a tour to Iraq and returned recently, so I can tell you what it really is like.
Soldiers in Iraq do not "walk around the combat zone with empty chambers" as you put it. When on patrol, they do have weapons loaded. When back on the FOB, they clear their weapons. Why? Because there are people manning the gates and perimeters that are locked and loaded. There is next to zero threat of a ground attack. When was the last time you heard of a ground based attack on a FOB? The last time was back in 2004 when an insurgent blew himself up in the chow hall. And guess what- once he blew himself up, there really wasnt much left to shoot if someone WAS locked and loaded. Insurgents weapon of choice is an IED, followed closely by mortars. Neither one provides much of an opportunity to shoot at anything when you are on a FOB.

Second of all, the USAMU is teaching BASIC marksmanship. They are NOT teaching them to deploy to a combat zone. Part of basic marksmanship is learning how to handle a weapon safely. The article clearly states that this course was meant for people who have never fired a gun before. How much sense would it make (let alone the lawsuits that would surely follow) if they handed fully loaded rifles that were capable of a three round burst?

Get your head out of your a$$ and quit watching CNN.

Posted by: Matt A | August 27, 2009 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Actually, they're afraid of trained soldiers having loaded weapons. Are Military Officers worth more these days?

Posted by: JWallace | August 24, 2009 11:49 PM    Report this comment

I am not criticizing the USAMTU for teaching novices how to shoot, or for winning Camp Perry matches. Go Army. But I'll tell you what I have a huge hard spot with:

The US Military is afraid of guns.

What would a US Army corporal have thought, in 1944 France, if his officers ordered him to remove the clips and magazines from his weapons, empty the chambers, and walk around in a combat zone with sterilized guns? Well? That's what the Army, Air Force, and Marines are ordered to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. TODAY. What about Korea? My father told me that a soldier in Korea was severely punished if he was caught with empty weapons. Vietnam? 'Nam vets I've talked to said the same thing. Empty guns get your own soldiers killed.

For over a century now, the USAMTU has taught boys to target shoot. They shoot on sterile, square ranges, with guns that are rigorously checked to make sure they're not loaded until they are in position on the firing line and the command is given to load. No thought is given to teaching men to kill enemy combatants in the dark, in the rain, in the sandstorm, with constantly loaded firearms. The USAMTU doesn't teach soldiers that, in combat zones, where attack is always imminent, a soldier must keep his weapons ready and at hand while he eats, sleeps, squats, marches, and digs trenches. No, here in the Land of the Big PX, guns are feared, left unloaded, with magazines locked away, lest an inattentive private let off a stray round that could destroy a non-com's or officer's career. God Forbid!

That's why, in the beginning of the Iraq war, a bunch of soldiers, with typically and fatally poor training, got into a firefight with a squad of Iraqis and lost before they got their guns loaded. The story of Private Jessica Lynch and the 507th Maintenance Company, which never so much as got a shot off, makes me want to vomit.


Posted by: Lee W | August 24, 2009 8:52 PM    Report this comment

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