ADA Soldiers 'master' Avenger training

By Ms. Marie Berberea (TRADOC)April 10, 2014

Feed the machine
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers load a .50-caliber machine gun on the Avenger Weapon System April 8 as part of the Avenger Master Gunner Course. Three students set up the range and training as part of their course work to teach Soldiers how to shoot ground engagements as i... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Avenger Master Gunner Course
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla. -- Most Soldiers are trained to be experts on their weapon system, but Soldiers in the Avenger Master Gunner Course, must be experts on training and safety, too.

"This is the epitome of the air defense world - to be a master gunner," said Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Kagan, Avenger Master Gunner Course senior instructor. "Across the Army they have master gunners for the tanks and the Bradley fighting vehicles. The [Avenger] has its own master gunner as well, and it's the most prestigious position to have on the enlisted side of the house."

Three Soldiers were chosen by their commands to take on the challenging course work. Kagan said the class has a high attrition rate, but those who pass are a huge asset to their units.

"We become [subject matter experts] that are basically the commander's experts on the weapon system ... from training the Soldiers at the unit level in all phases of the training they need before gunnery, and then all the way up to the range itself to make sure all the tables are met and no training gets left before they come out here."

The Soldiers in the course first had to verify the range met all the criteria for training. After deciding it did, they created a concept of operations and practiced how they would brief their commander.

"On a range as a master gunner we won't be firing, we'll be in the shadows like a puppeteer making sure everything goes to the right places. That's what we're working on today is being that overall safety kind of like that eye in the sky," said Staff Sgt. Savannah Huelsman, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery.

Huelsman is taking her training back to her National Guard unit in Cincinnati as the third one in her brigade to acquire these skills.

"It's definitely a good look on your profile just being the and especially being a female, it's unheard of."

She reclassified as an Avenger crewmember from combat medic two years ago for more promotion opportunities, and she said so far, the course has challenged her limits.

"Its' unreal how much you think you know coming in and it's just an eye opening experience to realize how much you didn't know about a system you've been working on for two years."

Kagan said besides knowing all the training and safety requirements, the students will also know how to assist maintenance crews in repairing a malfunctioned weapon system.

"It's a lot of pressure, but that's what this course is developed to do is make you deal with the under-the-pressure situations and on-the-spot situations," said Huelsman.

Huelsman and her classmates graduate April 17. They will receive a belt buckle and have an additional skill identifier for the rest of their careers.

"This is absolutely one of the best jobs in the military. There's nothing like putting my stamp of approval in saying I trust these Soldiers are trained to the highest standards and they'll get out and be able to do great things for their units," said Kagan.