The windshield wipers flipped the cold December rain out of my line of vision as I turned onto 1st Division Road. I smiled, took a sip of hot black coffee, and thought, "another fine Fort Benning training day." I would be cleaning both my rifle and boots tonight that was for sure. I started passing ranges on the right. Pierce Range, named in honor of SSG Larry S. Pierce, Infantry, awarded the Medal of Honor. Patton, Dianda and Booker Ranges slid by. General to Private, heroes recognized. Kelley Hill on the left, home to the 3d ID's "Sledgehammer" Brigade that had toppled Saddam Hussein from power with the "Thunder Run" into Baghdad. Guided right onto 8th Division Road and past Duke, Porter and Maertens Ranges. Right on Jamestown Road towards the Army Ranger Harmony Church training area and past Martin Range. Passed the turnoff to the left for the CONUS Replacement Center where I and thousands of others had prepared for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, I arrived at Krilling Range, where the USAMU Action Shooting Team practices. The liquid red mud churned under my tires as I pulled into the parking area. I grabbed my Gore-Tex parka and range bag off the seat and walked past the porta-johns to the covered loading tables that lay 50 meters back from a line of fifteen cardboard silhouette targets that were beginning to droop a little in the rain.
The primary instructor for the next two and a half days would be Sergeant First Class Greg Wilson, a world-class pistol shooter and door-kicking deployed Soldier. He is representative of all members of the USAMU. They must split time between competing as athletes, acting as trainers and subject matter experts, deploying as needed, and doing all the other regular duties that come with the Soldier's life. He delivered the range rules and safety briefing as rain lightly drummed the galvanized tin roof, and instructed us to load up our magazines from the crates of ammo already staged for us.
After some dry practice and coaching on an aggressive shooting stance that kept our weight forward but our body armor plate square to the enemy we went into confirming zeros on our M4 carbines with six sets of five round groups, followed by controlled pairs into 6" dots to start, then rapid fire five round strings to practice recoil management. The range at which we shot was varied and SFC Wilson pointed out the differences in point of impact for the M4 at short ranges and the tactical implications this had for engaging targets behind cover.
Everything was focused on being able to put bullets in bad guys quickly and smoothly. An emphasis was placed on centerline hits in the T-zone and taking the weapon up in a true vertical from patrol ready and engaging with aimed shots- all of them. The assistant instructors, one for every three shooters on the line, seemed to catch every mistake and made on the spot corrections. My assistant instructor was Specialist Greg Markowski, himself a national pistol champion in Poland before coming to the United States and joining the Army and the USAMU.
Everything was go, go, go with one relay reloading while the other was coached and shot their stage. We each fired more than 500 aimed rounds on the first day, twice the Soldier's basic combat load. Off the line we pushed to prepare new targets and reload fast enough for the next stage. Nevertheless, like Soldiers everywhere, we talked as we worked. Over two and a half days we had 24 reloading and cleaning sessions, so we covered a lot of ground. Smart-phones and apps were compared, as were Oakley, Wiley and ESS eyepro. The ACOG, Eotech Holosight and CCO (close combat optic, or Aimpoint M68 dot sight) each had their defenders. Those who had been "in the box" shared the durability and utility of different brands of gloves, boots and other kit. Even the porta-johns had their turn, with the consensus being that the ones on the range were bad, but those subjected to 120 degree heat and infrequent emptying in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, were the worst.
Tactical reloads and the importance of doing all elements of the reload with the non-firing hand while keeping the weapon up in your line of vision were naturally integrated into the training with every magazine change. Turning 90 and 180 degrees swiftly without flagging your team mates in the stack and then engaging the enemy accurately got 130 rounds of practice. To train shooters to keep the muzzle down a target frame was placed directly to the front of each Soldier, perpendicular to the line, forcing the firer to keep the weapon low during the turn until the frame was cleared.
The dots moved down to 3" in size to force a higher degree of focus with the "push/pull" drill. You were expected to "push" your speed as you fired four shot strings but "pull" back if your groups started to open. The drill brought us back to fundamentals and reminded us that, "slow is smooth, and smooth is fast" in shooting.
The last two stages of 60 rounds each covered engaging multiple targets. Shooters were paired on the line, each engaging their own and their partner's target. One shot the high dots, the other the low, and it became rapidly apparent who the faster shooter was in each pair, with everyone pushing their engagement speed as a result.
SFC Wilson conducted a review of all the concepts covered that day, and sent the students to police the 15,000 pieces of brass littering the range. As I loaded brass into my cover, something caught my eye. The remains of exploded dice. Specifically, the five spot. Clearly, the USAMU action shooters considered our 3" dots an oversized target.
Tuesday dawned clear and warmer on the range. It was still muddy, but drying. The USAMU Sergeant Major made an appearance and assured us that he had spoken with the Almighty and made the proper arrangements so we would not have to prone out in mud later in the week. We received our safety brief and went to loading magazines and getting targets ready.
Day Two's first magazine from 15 meters covered a reminder on fundamentals as we shot controlled pairs. Instructors critiqued the location of hits in the target dot, reminding us to be always cognizant of where our weapon printed at different ranges. The next magazine was escalation of force. Bad guys do not always drop with a one round, so we shot one, then a controlled pair, then three, four, and five round strings, never dropping the weapon much, just far enough to observe with both eyes whether the target was still a threat.
The balance of the day covered shooting on the move, traveling up and down the range. Everything was practical. The exaggerated "Groucho Marx" or "duck walk" was not taught because, as SFC Wilson said, "Unless you have thighs the size of my waist, you can't patrol in that position all day." A smooth move from the "patrol ready" into an aggressive shooting crouch was the preferred method and we fired 480 more rounds while walking, jogging, running, moving forward, left to right and right to left, all while keeping situational awareness of your orientation relative to the other members of the fire team as you moved up and down the range. The eagle-eyed AIs followed close behind the moving line to insure safety came first and continued to coach technique.
The USAMU Sergeant Major lent a hand with the training. He had spent his career in the Ranger Regiment before his current assignment in the USAMU, and in addition to his numerous current deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan had combat jumped into Panama in the 1980s. He explained the evolution of technique over the years in response to changing enemy tactics. All the drills fit into tactical movement and achieving the point of domination with maximum hurt to the bad guys and minimum risk for your own team. Like Sergeants Major everywhere he also told us that if we got any sloppier with our marksmanship while moving he would have us low crawl the length of the muddy range as a reminder that you cannot miss fast enough to end a gunfight.
Day Three began with 60 rounds of controlled pairs grooving basic technique, then 60 rounds of escalation of force drills. The morning, and CQ portion of the class, ended with several iterations of a scenario involving seven targets that had to be engaged on the move, three as you ran forward and another four as you ran side to side to complete the course of fire. It brought together everything we had learned. Solid sight picture, good trigger control, aggressive stance, tactical reloading on the move, the necessity of constant movement, and little techniques that make a huge difference, like engaging at an angle before you crossed in front of the target. (It is much easier to be accurate when you are shooting within your frontal arc, the enemy is taken under fire sooner, and it is easier to keep your plate squared to the enemy.)
All these seemingly small details had a major end of making us much faster and more accurate than we had started, but it came with a warning from the Sergeant Major that this abbreviated course in advanced marksmanship skills (AMS) had only scratched the surface. For this reason the USAMU's regular CQM and SDM courses are two weeks long each so that muscle memory can truly be grooved in for attendees. Additionally, and more importantly, USAMU course attendees are expected to be marksmanship trainers when they return to their units, and the additional training gives them the expertise to more readily pass on their skill to others.
Nonetheless, the 28 members of the class, many of whom are scheduled to deploy with their units this year, will bring back a set of skills to improve the marksmanship speed and accuracy of their fellow Soldiers.
More information about available courses, dates, and the USAMU itself can be found at www.USAMU.com .
Article by LTC Scott Wales, USAMEDCOM Warrior Transition Command