"Lines are ready, switch your selector lever from safe to semi, and fire when ready," said Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Bradley C. Couch, maintenance management noncommissioned officer with the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command, as he instructed the Soldiers on the firing line during weapons qualification Nov. 8, 2016 at a range in Kuwait.
After a short silent pause and the serenity of the wind on a clear, 73-degrees day, shots were fired and the air filled with smoke quickly dissipated with the cool wind. The supply sergeants continued to load magazines with ammunition for the next group, while others watched and ate their meals-ready-to-eat rations, unbothered by the sounds of the shooting.
There was a sense of safety and trust perceived from the Soldiers' calmness at the range. Teamwork, trust, and safety make the firing range an unusual safe haven.
From weapon zeroing to qualification, the Soldiers rejoiced in their ability to shoot the targets. Those who failed to qualify got up, dusted themselves off, picked up their weapon, and got back in line to try again. The coaches on the firing line provided advice to help correct the Soldiers' observed marksmanship mistakes, thus helping them improve.
Rounds were loaded and the firing lines were ready for another group of Soldiers to shoot in the prone-supported, prone-unsupported, and kneeling positions.
The Range Safety Officers or RSOs ensured Soldiers were aware of which targets they needed to shoot to qualify with their assigned weapons.
For the supply personnel, safety was not only about where the Soldiers point their weapon, it was also providing ear plugs to help protect their hearing and having fire extinguishers available. "At least 20 pounds of fire extinguisher is required at every range in the event there are fires. Even out here in this sandy range," said Staff Sgt. Anthony J. Lopreste, supply sergeant with the 451st ESC.
Meanwhile, meters away from the firing line, at the safe zone, stood the combat medic, Staff Sgt. Phillip R. Bush, health care NCO from the 451st ESC, watching the Soldiers, and ready to take action if needed.
Soldiers of the 451st ESC ran the weapons qualification range; safety of personnel was of upmost priority. When the Soldiers arrived at the range, the first order was to get volunteers to serve as RSOs. Soldiers quickly stepped up to the task and looked for the safety communication materials needed to communicate at the range.
There were standard paddles with the white side indicating safety, and the red side indicating the firing line was "hot." Those who had completed firing did not touch their weapons nor move from their current position until told to do so by the NCO in charge of the range.
The Soldiers performing as RSOs ensured Soldiers at the firing line remained there with their weapons pointed down range. They also ensured all weapons' chambers were clear and on safe mode before they could move to the safe zone.
At a weapons range, everyone is a safety officer. Any Soldier who's been in the Army long enough would agree, or they would have heard this phrase at least once in their Army career.
Accountability of the Soldier is also a safety concern, and that concern was mitigated far in advance. The training coordinator ensured the accountability of all Soldiers on the qualifying roster was verified before Soldiers stepped on the bus for their long ride to the range.
"We had a by-name roster confirmed prior to departure to the range. The range officer in charge kept communication from the camp to let me know how many Soldiers to expect at the range," said Sgt. 1st Class Terrence Reeves, training NCO from the 451st ESC.
Weapons qualification is a mandatory training event. The training NCO ensured its coordination to ensure the safety of the Soldiers, their accountability before departing the range, and their successful return to camp.
"Cease fire, cease fire. Lock and clear all weapons," said Couch over the loud speaker to clear the line.
The weapons qualification concluded with all Soldiers in attendance joining in to leave the range as found. Rank became irrelevant for this task, as junior and senior Soldiers picked up brass, raked the sand, removed targets, emptied magazines, adjusted sand bags, accounted for remaining rounds, and packed up all equipment brought for this training.
"The collective effort from everyone on the staff, and the Soldiers cooperating and letting us do the job to run the range, made this training safe and successful," said Reeves, adding that 98 percent of the unit is now fully qualified with their assigned weapon. The two percent remaining are expected to head to the range prior to the 451st ESC's departure from its 9-month deployment in Kuwait.