When it comes to readiness, one of the most basic and important skills a Soldier masters is marksmanship. The ability of a Soldier to defend himself and defeat the enemy is crucial to mission success, and those skills are taught and honed throughout their Army career.

However, some Soldiers struggle with the basic skills of marksmanship. While there are many factors that can contribute to this struggle, one of the most common is when an individual is crossed dominant. Crossed dominance occurs when your dominant hand and dominant eye are not the same; for example, you are left-handed but right-eye dominant.

Capt. Michelle Luken, Chief, Fort Drum Occupational Therapy Clinic, has spent several years studying marksmanship and the effect of crossed dominance on a Soldier's ability to engage targets. Noticing some of her peers struggling at the M4 range during the Basic Officer Leadership Course, Luken chose to focus on crossed dominance for her doctoral research. She devised a basic program to screen for crossed dominance - train to shoot with the non-dominant hand using the dominant eye to aim.

"Once we get a Solider enrolled, we typically see them twice a week for about an hour at a time," said Luken. "And we train them exclusively at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 (an indoor weapons simulation). During the first meeting we do a basic evaluation to get a baseline shooting score (qualification test out of 40 points); first on the non-dominant eye, then we have them switch over to the dominant eye."

Luken explained that during the subsequent sessions, the goal is to teach Soldiers to position the weapon over to the non-dominant hand, and work on making adjustment to feel more natural and comfortable for the body.

"To do that, we have them handle the weapon during a simulated patrol; picking it up from various positions, assuming the ready positions, and so forth. We progressively make things more difficult by having them stand; then call out a firing position to get into as quickly as possible."

"During this process, we also emphasize on the basic core principles of marksmanship, which Soldiers typically don't get enough of during basic training. We take the time to customize our approach for each Soldier by providing the latest research and training methods and the skills learned at the Rifle Marksmanship Instructor Course (RMIC) held at the Fort Drum Light Fighter School."

Luken explained that many Soldiers don't realize they are cross dominant, but once they find out and undergo the crossed dominance training their qualification scores improve, and they feel more confident and prepared with their weapons.

"When Soldiers feel comfortable holding their weapon and maneuvering on their non-dominant side, we have them actually shooting using the computerized EST system. We basically build them up crawl-walk-run, starting with easy midrange targets and eventually moving to the qualification test and some rapid fire tests. It's fantastic being able to show them their scores from the initial consultation, and then seeing how far they have improved with their new skills," she said.

Luken's initial research centered on 20 Soldiers who were crossed dominant and taught to handle and fire an M16 rifle using the non-dominant hand. Luken said the testing phase of the research was crucial in developing an operational program, and the support of the MEDDAC command team and Staff Sgt. Osuna Castro, OT NCOIC, were vital in standing up the program at Fort Drum in January 2017.

Luken and Kathleen Yancosek's research paper titled 'Effects of an Occupational Therapy Hand Dominance Transfer Intervention for Soldiers With Crossed Hand-Eye Dominance' is published online March 2017.

The Fort Drum OT Crossed Dominance program is open to all Active Duty Soldiers. For additional information on crossed dominance program, contact Capt. Michelle Luken at 315-772-3087 or email michelle.l.luken.mil@mail.mil. Screenings typically take 10 seconds per Soldier and can be conducted at your unit or during PMI at the EST 2000.