A paper for Command and General Staff College
Updating Individual Soldier Weapon Qualification Requirements
Rifle/M4Carbine, M1911A1/M9/.38 Cal)
MAJ ALAN G. TOLER
15, April 2000
This paper will make recommendations for the United States Army Reserve (USAR) marksmanship program. The USAR should utilize the National Rifle Association (NRA) marksmanship programs to cut costs. Marksmanship should be a requirement to re-enlist and to get promoted. Paperwork has become more important than being able to defend oneself with basic marksmanship skills. Would your soldier(s) be proficient enough to perform immediate action on their rifle to inflict a fatal shot before getting wounded or killed? I have heard "once the enemy overruns the front line everybody becomes infantry". Soldiers cannot have good marksmanship skills if they don't practice. The requirement of qualifying once a year is a good idea but is not enough to maintain basic marksmanship skills. Marksmanship has three simple principles to a good shot: sight picture, trigger control, and firearm maintenance. Sight picture is the alignment of the rear and front sights while aiming at the center of the target. Trigger control is the ability to pull the trigger till the shot breaks without disturbing the sight picture. Firearm maintenance is preventative and ongoing in order to maintain a quality firearm. Sight picture and trigger control seem like two very simple tasks but consistent repetition is very difficult. Theoretically if perfect sight picture and trigger control are repeated over and over all shots would go through the same hole. Human, environmental and firearm and ammunition factors affect accurate shooting. For this paper I will address human and environmental factors.
Human factors affecting sight picture: is the soldier focusing on the front sight in order to maintain proper sight picture? Is the soldier to old to focus on the front sight? does the soldier have the same check weld (rifle shooters) to place their eye at the same spot in relation to the rear and front sights? does the sight picture look the same for each shot? Human factors affecting trigger control: is the trigger pulled to the rear till the shot breaks with no trigger jerk? does the soldier grip the firearm the same way in order to have a repeatable trigger pull? Environmental factors experienced on the range: can the soldier shoot accurately in the rain? are they able to adjust for wind effects on their shot? how does mist / fog affect the way things look? are they capable of being in the hot sun for hours and still shoot accurately? are they able to accurately determine distance to the target, and put the correct amount of elevation on the sights? Simple concepts yes, complex task more so. Dry firing is exactly the same as live fire without the use of ammunition. It is very economical, only takes a few minutes, can be done inside a house, and requires no additional personnel or having to be on a range. This repetition is an excellent way to build confidence in marksmanship skills.
Typically, DA Pam 350-38 requires 80% of the soldiers who are assigned individual small arms to qualify to standard every year. The logistics required are numerous and very expensive: determining who will fire, range planning, ammunition calculations, requesting qualified trainers, weapons draw, range operation personnel, training aids, medical support, transportation, etc. Each of the above requirements could have volumes written on it and the cost for two eight hour blocks of marksmanship training is outrageous. The USAR should permanently issue soldiers their weapon, deliver an initial class on advanced marksmanship training with applicable range time, unlimited gunsmith support and enough ammunition to compete in rifle, pistol, and practice matches. The soldier would be responsible for their weapon's security, proper maintenance, and showing their firearm when asked. Or another option for those who don't like to give soldiers to much responsibility is to issue the weapon for the weekend. With the armor also being a trained gun smith so higher level maintenance is available.
The USAR should make each soldier participate in one rifle and one pistol match every two months while maintaining a minimum average score. By participating in regular competition the soldier maintains and refines marksmanship skills, knows how to maintain a firearm, and can perform under stress. Match participation answers the above question on sight picture, trigger control, and environmental factors. Proper firearm maintenance would be done in order to be competitive and to meet the standard for re-enlistment. To put a soldier under stress, the closest to actual combat would be shooting marksmanship scores to determine if they stay in the army reserve. I can imagine the amount of shaking a soldier would have if it were known that the last few shots would determine re-enlist or promotion. The point being that the more the basic skills are practiced the better soldiers perform under stress. Learning how to cope with stress under match conditions would pay off when on the battlefield. The NRA has an excellent marksmanship program already in place. It would free up USAR units from a lot of logistical work. Each soldier would get himself or herself to the range, and the range would bear the responsibility of the logistics mentioned above. The NRA's program is on computer and the USAR could down load information on a regular basis to monitor each soldier's participation. New matches could be designed to meet the military recommendations for courses of fire; there would be plenty of civilians interested who would make the program that much more successful. The participants at the matches are very friendly, always lend a helping hand, and give excellent marksmanship tips. Matches can range from short distances to 1000 yards. Therefore when a soldier is actually on the battlefield the enemy can be successfully defeated hundreds of yards away. Even at close ranges a soldier would be better prepared. A quick note about the future. Almost everything is electronic and or computerized today. The Army is no exception. In the January issue of the American Rifleman an article on the Selectable Assault Battle Rifle (SABR) - features a 20mm cannon firing smart high-explosive ammunition, the traditional 5.56mm carbine and a sophisticated electric sight with a cost of around $10,000. "Presently the official U.S. military combat rifle is the M16A2 Modular Weapon System (MWS), a 5.56x45 mm-cal. Selective-fire assault rifle . Complete with an M203 40-mm grenade launcher, thermal imaging night sight and a few more gadgets, a combat-loaded MWS tips the scales at more the 24 lbs. And carries a $35,000 price tag."1 This high tech equipment is great and necessary but what happens when on the battlefield when the computer becomes damaged or battery dies will the soldier be able to effectively use the iron sights? In conclusion, this paper has made recommendations that would improve the accuracy of a soldier's marksmanship skills. The USAR would spend no additional money on this program. A re-enlistment and promotion incentive would have soldiers take this program seriously. Paying a soldier a flat rate for each match entered would still cost the USAR less money in the long run. The time saved on drill weekends for other items would be tremendous.
1. Bruce, Robert, "Arming the 21st Century Soldier", American Rifleman,
January 2000, p 42 - 45.
2. Department of the Army Pamphlet 350-38, Standards in Weapon
Training, Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, DC 15 February
3. UASR, Inactive Duty Manual, Small Arms Training Guide (Working
Copy), 21 March 1998.