CAMP ROBINSON, Ark. (Sept. 23, 2014) -- There's nothing natural about shooting a rifle. Marksmanship goes against every instinct a Soldier has.
That's why the Army Reserve has a mobile marksmanship training team that travels the country to help units improve their shooting skills and range scores.
"When there's an explosion happening three inches in front of your face, all this noise and such, what's the natural reaction? Your body goes into a preservation mode. It closes its eyes. It flinches. It tightens up. We have to teach [Soldiers], 'No you don't do that.' It's training yourself not flinch, not close your eyes, not jerking the trigger," explained Capt. Samuel Kirk Freeman, who has been an instructor with the Army Reserve Mobile Training Team, referred to as an MTT, for two years.
From teaching a Soldier to support the weight of the rifle on bone instead of muscle, to keeping the shooting eye fixed on the front sight post (not the target), there are a lot of fundamentals the body forgets if not practiced regularly.
"I think people have a tendency to be a little intimidated by marksmanship. If they do it only once a year, and that once a year is qualification, then marksmanship [becomes] a perishable skill," said Sgt. Maj. Mark Bearnson, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Army Reserve Service Rifle Competition Team.
There are approximately 200,000 Soldiers in the Army Reserve, yet only one mobile marksmanship training team. Most units rely on members of their own organization to prepare for the range. The problem is that many of them have never received advanced marksmanship training.
The MTT, on the other hand, specializes in small arms from pistol to squad-level machine gun. They train unit sizes from 70 to 150 Soldiers. Their impact is visible. They take units in which only 80 percent of Soldiers successfully qualify with their weapons, and bring those numbers up to the mid- or high-90s.
"They always leave a better marksman," said Freeman, who is from Hendersonville, North Carolina. "A lot of it is dispelling myths, and just making sure they understand it's these simple, easy fundamentals [that make them better]."
Unfortunately, Army Reserve Soldiers don't get the proper range time to remain sharp, said Freeman.
"They haven't had enough time on the gun, as we say, [not] enough trigger time to screw it up a thousand times," said Freeman. "The average Reserve Soldier qualifies, what, once a year? Eighteen rounds to zero. Forty rounds to qualify? They shoot a 23, and they're told, 'Good job. Get off the Range.' You can't learn much in 58 rounds a year. On our MTT missions, they shoot more in two days than they've probably shot in three or four years."
MTT members said they'd like to see a whole lot more emphasis placed on marksmanship training overall.
"I think marksmanship should have equal standing of importance as physical fitness," said Bearnson, who is from Wanship, Utah. "I've never seen anyone outrun a bullet."
Some of the MTT coaches have served as marksmanship instructors at mobilization sites for five years or more. They're not just weapon experts. In many cases they're downright weapon camps.
If you were to throw a rock at a group of these instructors, you're likely to hit somebody wearing the President's Hundred tab.
The MTT is made up of eight dedicated instructors, but they work within an umbrella organization known as the Army Reserve Marksmanship Program. The program includes three championship teams: service pistol, service rifle and combat. They compete at various matches to perfect their shooting skills.
Most of these shooters have competed in local, state, regional, national and inter-service championships for years. Some have even competed in worldwide matches. Two Soldiers from the program have qualified for the Olympics, and shot in London, in 2012. Another will be inducted in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Hall of Fame in October.
Their total pool of Soldiers consists of about 70 expert shooters. Depending on mission requests, the MTT pulls from these championship teams to serve as instructors.
"Some of those guys can teach as well as shoot," said Master Sgt. Howard Griffith, MTT coordinator, from Milwaukee.
This September, in fact, many of them served as coaches for the inaugural 2014 Army Reserve Small Arms Championship, where 14 teams came from across the Army Reserve to shoot for top honors.
The MTT receives requests from various unit levels, from a squad all the way up to the U.S. Army Reserve Command staffs. Due to its size limit, however, the MTT can take on only 10 to 12 training missions a year. Beside their marksmanship duties, these Soldiers have other Army Reserve obligations, plus full-time jobs on the civilian side.
When requests come in, priority goes to deploying units. They handle the rest on a first-come, first-served basis, depending on their availability.
Another challenge they face is budget. Even though they serve units across the entire Army Reserve structure, the MTT officially belongs to the 416th Theater Engineer Command, headquartered 25 miles outside of Chicago. The TEC is a two-star general command in charge of 13,000 Soldiers. This number makes up less than one percent of the total Army Reserve force. Because of that, the TEC's budget is limited.
Griffith said, ideally, he'd like to see the MTT grow to 25 dedicated instructors. Another solution, he said, might be for each two-star command to have its own training team, so every unit below can get the attention and training they deserve.
"We're at the top of the pyramid, and it's impossible to train (everybody) all the way to the bottom," said Griffith.
Still, what the MTT lacks in numbers and funding, they make up in passion.
"They love what they do. They train Soldiers to deploy, defend themselves and kill the bad guys," said Bearnson.