FORT SILL, Okla.-- Striving for excellence is something for which the noncommissioned officers of 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade are known.

A shining example of this is the two-week Pre-Patriot Master Gunner Course offered to aspiring Patriot master gunners.

In September 2010, 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery took note of the 65-percent graduation rate of students going through the course held on Fort Sill. The leadership wanted to be proactive in ensuring their students had the best training available before the course so they developed the pre-course.

The pre-course is usually taught by the battalion Patriot master gunner, but due to the high operations tempo of the brigade, the course is being taught by the brigade Patriot master gunner, Master Sgt. Jeremy Chapman.

Chapman said the course benefits Soldiers, because it gets them ready to absorb all the master gunner course can provide them.

"This course offers an in-depth introduction to the Patriot weapons systems and better prepares the student for the 10-week course taught by the Fires Center of Excellence here at Fort Sill," he said.

While the current average graduation rate of the FCoE course is 72 percent, since the inception of the 31st ADA pre-course, the brigade's Soldiers have achieved an 85-percent graduation rate.

Both the pre-course and master gunner courses are open to all staff through master sergeants who hold the military occupation specialty 14T, Patriot Launching Station Enhanced Operator/Maintainer; or 14E, Patriot Fire Control Enhanced Operator/Maintainer.

The master gunner course offers three basic advantages to the student upon graduation: each graduating noncommissioned officer becomes a system expert which creates a more technically competent, confident and agile leader; they become better trainers for their Soldiers within their firing units; and they earn the additional skill identifier of T4, which helps them for promotions and other duty positions.

A big portion of the pre-course is taught on the Reconfigurable Table-Top Trainer or RT3, which allows for various scenario-based simulations to be conducted and immerses students with the Patriot system and its intricacies.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Garrett, a launcher platoon sergeant in D Battery 3rd Battalion, 2nd ADA, is working his way through the pre-course to improve his knowledge of the weapons system.

"I wanted to get a better understanding of how functioned downrange," he said. "Before this course, I had a vague understanding of the processes; really has made me appreciate and respect the system and its capabilities a lot more."

The course begins and ends with written tests which are respectively designed to establish a preliminary knowledge baseline of the student's understanding of the systems, and to provide an assessment of the skills learned and retained.

The students are due to finish the pre-course April 5 and begin the Patriot Masters Gunner Course April 8.