By Jerry Merideth
U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade
Sgt. 1st Class Jeramy Smith watched the rounds hit the targets 600 yards away and smiled. His students were improving with each shot and that meant the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit's (USAMU) two-week mission had hit its mark.
Smith led a team of USAMU instructors to train 19th Engineer Battalion Soldiers in Squad Designated Marksmanship training at Fort Knox, Ky. The program teaches Soldiers how to engage targets at distances up to 600 meters.
"The development is phenomenal, to watch the Soldiers listen and learn and see how quickly their marksmanship skills improve," Smith said. "You are seeing combat support Soldiers -- construction engineers getting real marksmanship experience. These are men and women whose job is to support the war fighter."
Squad designated marksmanship develops distance shooting capability at the Army squad level. Today's program was developed from 12 years of hard lessons-learned by many of America's war fighters. Army experts from the 75th Ranger Regiment to the Special Forces helped design the program.
The training is a mix of classroom instruction and homework topped off by the range experience, according to Smith. Smith and his cadre coached 40 Soldiers in both day and night-fire training.
Face red from days of Kentucky windburn, Smith sat with his second group of Soldiers at Scott Mountain Range and provided an update on the day's training.
"We are in the evaluation phase. We start at 600 meters and pull and mark the targets to allow the Soldiers to adjust their fire. At this point we are allowing the students to take the lead. They have had two weeks of training about how to read the wind and adjust their firing technique."
The range stretches the ability of the Soldiers and their weapons. Most Soldiers are trained to engage targets at 300 meters. Their weapons are a mix of M16A2s, M16A3s and M4s. The distance of 600 meters is actually at the maximum range for these individual weapons, Smith said. Their focus is a 25 meter human silhouette target with five concentric circles leading to center mass.. Under the cover of a concrete pit hundreds of yards away, a detail of 19th Engineer Soldiers mark where rounds hit the paper targets.
As Smith and the 19th Engineer Soldiers moved to a firing position 500 yards away, a gust of wind whipped the range flags that tracked the wind at 15-20 miles-per-hour as it bounced around the Scott Mountain terrain.
"It's a switch wind coming in different directions," Smith explained. "The firers have to watch all flags on the range. It can be deceiving."
The shots are slow as firers concentrate and apply lessons learned.
"You don't realize the physical toll it takes to lay in a prone position all day -- the eye strain, the muscle strain," Smith added. "The Soldiers are shooting throughout the day. By the time they push back here, they are tired and worn out."
Spc. Angelina McCune waits her turn to fire. The 19th Engineer Soldier from Pennsylvania said she had learned to adjust her stance and trust her weapon.
"I never thought I could shoot this far in my life," she said. "It's fun. It is beyond normal training, the instructors take the time to ensure you understand it."
It's a new level of marksmanship knowledge for these combat support troops
Spc. Thomas Stewart, a carpentry and masonry specialist from Tuscaloosa, Ala., had moved through an earlier firing order.
"We learned a lot of different positions and purposes," Stewart said. "I had never fired at this distance before but I've got practice now. It shows the impact the wind has coming off different angles of the terrain. "
The ballistics -- how the round travels from barrel to target -- are the same on the battlefield as at an Olympic competition, Smith said. The key to success is finding and refining the technique that works when a Soldier is strapped down with combat protective gear and fighting on a team.
"It's the ability to take that award-winning technique and place it in the warfighter's mind," Smith said.
The first lesson is resilience, Smith said. "You will not hit every shot. It's about mental preparedness, about being able to move and get ready for the next stage.
"There's a Soldier over there whose zero is off. He is hitting off to the right of the target. To anybody else that would be disastrous. But he's adjusted his point of aim to make his shot group center mass. That's talent."
The experience level among the Army Marksmanship Unit cadre is humbling to most Soldiers -- many are wounded warriors with Purple Hearts as well as champion shooters with an ingrained knowledge of both competition and combat.
The cadre members belong to the instructor training group -- an USAMU branch developed to train the war fighter. It is a mission that dates back to 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the unit to raise the level of marksmanship proficiency across the Army. That capability expands this year with the addition of a core of Wounded Warriors. The added Soldiers will compete in paralympic competition and train Soldiers across the Army.
Everything the AMU does benefits the war fighter, according to Smith, who said that lessons learned at shooting competitions translate to effective training on ranges like Scott Mountain.
"It's the best of both worlds, being able to relate the competition mindset to tactical training," Smith said.
The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit is part of the U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade, Army Marketing and Research Group. Commander Mark A. Rado said that marksmanship training remains an important part of the brigade's mission.
"These Soldiers deploy across the Army to help raise marksmanship proficiency," Rado said.
"They are the best in the Army at what they do. The lessons they share with Soldiers are invaluable in an Army where every Soldier must remain combat ready."