EDINBURGH, Ind. (Army News Service, Dec. 28, 2011) -- After ten years of conflict, some Army units may take for granted that their Soldiers are well-versed with the weapons on which they are expected to qualify.

But that complacency creates a risk that Soldiers won't be given the opportunity to achieve the high state of readiness they might otherwise have.

The Regional Training Institute at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Edinburgh, Ind., has taken steps to help prevent that training shortfall with the "Small Arms Master Gunner Course" held there in December.

"We teach these Soldiers the best techniques to use when firing almost all of the small arms commonly used by our troops on the ground," said Staff Sgt. Robert H. Berentes, an instructor at the Regional Training Institute. "Then, we instruct them on how to teach those same skills to the Soldiers in their home units when it is time for them to qualify."

Students in the course are taught the ins and outs of advanced-level maintenance, marksmanship and safety on several weapons systems, including the M4, M249, M240 and M2.

"We especially like to try to pinpoint weapons systems with each student that they, personally, are weakest on," said Berentes. "We then give them primary marksmanship instruction on those weapons, show them everything we can about those weapons, and give them the opportunity to pass that knowledge on."

"When I came here, I really didn't know half of the stuff that was covered," said Spc. Marc O. Parrett, a heavy equipment construction operator with the 76th Special Troops Battalion. "I'm really learning a lot."

Students such as Sgt. Robert E. Cote, a senior mechanic with "A" Battery, 1st Battalion, 163rd Field Artillery, say they look forward to bringing their new skills back to their unit.

"I can now train my unit on proper firing techniques, qualifications, and range operations on just about all of our small arms weapons systems," Cote said. "I've only been in the course a week, and I am already shooting a lot better using the skills they have taught me."

As with almost any training opportunity where participants are allowed to live-fire a variety of weapons one might normally see in movies and video games, there is an air of fun that goes hand in hand with the educational process.

"I can't wait to take the M4 to the range to fire it at a 600 meter target," said Cote. "That's the carbine's maximum effective range on a point target. Your standard qualification range only extends up to 300 meters. Getting to push it to the limit like that is going to be awesome."

Other students were interested in more powerful weapons systems.

"The M2 fifty cal is my favorite," said Parrett. "It's an old system and it might not have the finesse some of the other systems have, but it still does the most damage. Browning built the machine gun right the first time."

Students walk away from the Small Arms Master Gunner Course with a better understanding of small arms weapons and are given the skills necessary to pass those skills on to fellow Soldiers. According to Berentes, that is the primary purpose of the course.

"We want to set their units up for success," said Berentes.

Page last updated Wed December 28th, 2011 at 00:00