Marksmanship academy shows Army's adaptability
November 16, 2012
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., (Nov. 16, 2012) -- The Army is made up of individual Soldiers, each unique in their backgrounds. However, when they come together as a formation, they become a cohesive team with strength through unity.
Today's force is proven adaptable and agile by listening to those in the lowest levels, thereby becoming more efficient.
Thus, programs such as the Eagle Marksmanship Academy at Fort Campbell, Ky., were initiated.
The EMA is a train-the-trainer program the Sabalauski Air Assault School offers to all units on Fort Campbell. The most recent attendees were Soldiers with the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, Nov. 13-16.
The objective of the course is to teach leaders how to coach and mentor Soldiers on marksmanship, adding new techniques while revisiting fundamentals.
"It's not about (the leader) getting better as a shooter," said Staff Sgt. Adam Harter, the senior EMA instructor. "It's a techniques-based course, training them to go back and teach their Soldiers better marksmanship techniques."
The course teaches platoon sergeants and platoon leaders how to help their Soldiers adjust their firing techniques for personal comfort, resulting in better accuracy.
"Our focus on coaching needs to be on the Soldier, doing everything they can to become more a proficient firer," said Staff Sgt. Todd Van Dyke, an aircraft structural repair supervisor with Company D, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th CAB.
During Basic Training, drill sergeants teach recruits the standard firing positions, but since each person is built differently, the standard firing positions need more adjustment for individual Soldiers.
"The by-the-book method is not going to be the best for every Soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class Jay Karvaski, the brigade intelligence noncommissioned officer in charge. "There are going to be other techniques you can use."
"The individual's body composition influences how they fire in the prone (position)," Van Dyke said. "There's no one right answer. You see people at the range saying, 'You're not set up right, you don't have the butt stock in the pocket.'"
Physical differences from one Soldier to the next imply variances in where the Soldiers would place their weapons, and therefore create discrepancies in how they fire it.
"A shorter individual won't be able to extend their arm fully if they're firing an M-16," Van Dyke said. "An extremely tall individual -- if you force them to bring their elbows in -- it will put them in a position where they're up high and cannot situate the weapon to themselves.
"You're forcing an individual to be uncomfortable, and it will affect how they fire their weapon," he said. "Being uncomfortable can cause muscle fatigue, which will cause them to shake, and it will severely limit the endurance they have in that position. It will affect their performance when they attempt to qualify."
The silver bullet to the EMA is stress reduction and "the philosophy of confident, competent and capable," Harter said.
"We run a relaxed environment," he said. "It's low pressure. We've found that attitude can account for four rounds, and that can swing either direction."
"Once Soldiers are fatigued or frustrated, they're done," said Sgt. Destry Riggs, a UH-60 Black Hawk mechanic with Company D, 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. "They don't want to fire anymore, and it won't do any good. You want to take as much stress out of the firing as possible by showing them these techniques and building their confidence up."
Harter said it's easy to blame poor marksmanship on the fundamentals, but it could be a number of other causes, and marksmanship success requires the supervisor to know the subordinate Soldier's strengths and weaknesses on the range.
"We can't see what the Soldier is seeing in his sight acquisition," Van Dyke said. "We have to set him up for success, where he's doing everything he can to maintain that sight acquisition, and with that comes comfortable, sustained prone positions."
Another problem on the range is lack of practice. Soldiers who do not fire their weapons regularly are bound to get rusty on their skills.
"Being aviation, especially coming from my background as an aircraft maintainer, where keeping the aircraft up is our primary goal, we don't get a lot of opportunity to get out (to the range)," Van Dyke said.
"Firing is like running," he said. "If you don't do it, you don't get better at it. Most of the time, especially aircraft maintainers, we go to the range two or three times a year, and you're expected to go out and qualify. It takes practice and training to become proficient, with any system -- a weapons system, an aircraft system (and even) the tools we use to fix the aircraft."
The EMA's roots began a few years ago with a simple enough request from the 101st Airborne Division's command sergeant major to determine the division's overall marksmanship.
Master Sgt. Jeff Fenlason, the chief of Individual Replacement Training and the EMA at the time, gathered one week's worth of firing scores from several ranges. He compiled the data, and discovered Soldiers averaged about 40 percent first-time-go.
Now, because of the back-to-basics training infused with individual techniques, that figure has more than doubled.
"We average 95 percent first-time-go. We average about a 32 to 34 (out of 40) end score for these individuals," Harter said.
The figures speak volumes. Harter said while the EMA is exclusive to Fort Campbell, other posts are following suit.
"It's showing a shift in thought that this is something we need to focus on," Van Dyke said. "Before, a range was just getting (Soldiers) out there, doing it, and getting them back to their toolboxes on the aircraft.
"Now the idea is shifting back to basics, back to the Warrior Ethos -- that every Soldier is a rifleman first," he said.