Steady position. Aiming. Breath control. Trigger squeeze.
Perfecting, or failing to master, these four fundamentals of Army rifle marksmanship make or break a Soldier’s success at the range.
For Soldiers whose weapons are at the center of everything they do on the battlefield, failure at the range is not an option. These Soldiers must train to transcend the fundamentals of marksmanship so they can execute their craft on a higher plateau of excellence.
The infantrymen of Company B, with the help of snipers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division, did just that as they conducted advanced marksmanship exercises at the K and J ranges on Fort Stewart.
Snipers from HHC facilitated long-range marksmanship training for the squad designated marksmen " those infantrymen who serve as the primary riflemen in their squads " on range K, while machine gunners attended the School of the Gun, Co. B’s version of advanced machine gun marksmanship training, on range J.
After day two of firing their M4 carbine rifles and M249 machine guns in the punishing heat, the infantrymen were granted a rest period before beginning the night firing iterations. A few of the Soldiers took some time out of their break to reflect personally and professionally on the importance of rifle marksmanship training.
Before Pfc. Jon D. Mahoney, an SDM in Co. B., tore open the main meal pouch from a Meal Ready to Eat, he discussed the facets of rifle marksmanship as they related to his past as a hunter and to his current profession as an infantryman.
Private First Class Mahoney said he has been firing weapons since he was three years old, and that he was 11 when his father gave him a 12-guage shotgun that was about as tall as he was at the time.
The infantryman said learning how to hunt was his way of following in this father’s footsteps. He said he and his father enjoyed hunting deer using old-style muzzle loader rifles, and that they took regular trips from Minnesota to North Dakota to hunt waterfowl. Private First Class Mahoney said having a background in hunting has been important to him for many reasons.
“I’d say a lot of it dates back to our heritage,” Pfc. Mahoney said. “When we had the Civil War ... a lot of the best marksmanship guys were frontiersmen and they were hunters.”
Private First Class Mahoney said hunting takes Americans back to their roots and exposes them to the weaponry that early Americans utilized in the pursuit of survival.
“We’ve survived by hunting, [and] we’re surviving now by defending ourselves,” Pfc. Mahoney said.
As he became a more proficient firer by having learned how to “hold still and breathe right,” Pfc. Mahoney said his father challenged him to hit increasingly smaller targets, such as pennies and dimes. The infantryman said that those exercises and the whole of the marksmanship knowledge he gained in his youth gave him an advantage to excel in Army marksmanship.
Private First Class Mahoney said he enlisted into the Army in 2010 because the state of the economy was impacting his job as a master certified diagnostic technician for a luxury car company. He said the situation was a great excuse for him to become a Soldier and fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming an infantryman.
Transitioning from civilian marksmanship to military marksmanship was pretty easy, the infantryman said, because he said he believes the Army marksmanship program is thorough in covering the fundamentals of firing.
“They break it down better here and they can analyze each individual thing and pick it apart,” Pfc. Mahoney said. “And then they complicate it in a good way.” He said the Army’s marksmanship program needs to continue to be strong due to the fact that the type of enemy Soldiers face in deployed locations today is an enemy force that has been fighting all of their lives.
“It’s going to take our best and most skilled athletes, our smartest guys, [and] our best shooters to counteract that,” Pfc. Mahoney said. “Otherwise we become prey.”
Private First Class Mahoney said he believes that cross-training in long-range marksmanship, as they have been doing at range K, is also essential to the effectiveness of the force.
Staff Sergeant Brandon S. Gilmore, a sniper assigned to HHC, 2nd Bat., 7th Inf. Regt., agrees.
“A lot of the stuff that we use can be used by [line infantrymen] too,” Staff Sgt. Gilmore said. “Cross-training [and] trying to get them trained and proficient in their skills and abilities ... [is] huge.”
Staff Sergeant Gilmore, a two deployment veteran, said he credits his marksmanship skills to his father, grandfather and uncles who all taught him how to hunt deer, pheasant and other birds in Iowa as a boy and young man.
Staff Sergeant Gilmore said the most important fundamentals he learned from his father were how to position his cheek on the buttstock of a weapon, how to squeeze the trigger without jerking it when firing, and how to achieve proper sight alignment. Having an understanding in and experience practicing those fundamentals, Staff Sgt. Gilmore said, definitely gave him an edge in Army marksmanship when he joined the Army in 2006.
Over time, Staff Sgt. Gilmore said he has added three additional marksmanship fundamentals to his repertoire. The sniper said he has learned how to be patient, because long-range marksmanship requires " and sniper missions most specifically require " Soldiers to lie still for extended periods of time.
Staff Sergeant Gilmore said that he has also trained his body to relax when he’s on the firing line. And the third essential fundamental the sniper said he has added to his toolbox is confidence.
“You have to have a lot of confidence in shooting,” Staff Sgt. Gilmore said. “If you don’t have confidence in your shot you’re going to be second guessing yourself.”
Private First Class Alexander S. Miller, a grenadier in Co. B, agreed that having confidence in himself and the weapon he is firing is crucial to the success of the mission of his team.
Private First Class Miller talked about his experience with marksmanship as he filled the bladder of his hydration system at the water buffalo staged at range J.
Almost immediately after having boots on the ground in Iraq in 2009, Pfc. Miller said he was assigned to take a fellow Soldier’s place as a machine gunner to serve on combat patrols.
To gain confidence in his new position, Pfc. Miller said he took extra time out of his days to familiarize himself with the two types of machine guns he would be using, and he said he stayed up late at night to make sure the weapons were free of dust, that they were properly oiled and that they functioned correctly. He said he also fired the weapons at a test fire pit any opportunity he had so he could get used to how they operated.
“That’s the most casualty-producing weapon in your entire squad, so that’s the one thing you don’t want to have backfire,” Pfc. Miller said. “It’s a lot of pressure ... you don’t want to mess it up.”
Private First Class Miller said the marksmanship training he conducted with the M4 greatly prepared him for firing the new weapons. He said the same fundamentals are employed, whether a Soldier is firing a rifle or a machine gun. The only major difference, Pfc. Miller said, is that he has to put his weight into the buttstock of the machine gun because it fires at a higher rate of speed.
Private First Class Miller said that marksmanship is the most important skill an infantryman must be proficient in, and that it should be taken seriously.
“It’s our bread and butter,” Pfc. Miller said. “We need to be good at it to do our job right because lives depend on it. It’s not a game.”
Article by SGT Mary Katzenberger, 1HBCT Public Affairs