COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - When it comes to individual Soldier readiness, marksmanship is essential for all Soldiers to survive on the battlefield.
Marksmanship is a skill that requires practice to remain proficient and the LaserShot Mobile Marksmanship Training Simulator (MMTS) system is one way that the South Carolina National Guard intends to improve marksmanship and maintain weapons proficiency among their ranks.
Soldiers from the 108th Public Affairs Detachment from the South Carolina Army National Guard trained on the LaserShot system at the Bluff Road Armory in Columbia, South Carolina, May 6, 2018. The mobile simulator ran the Soldiers through several scenarios directly in-line with primary marksmanship instruction (PMI) in preparation for their unit small arms and crew-served weapons qualifications at live ranges this summer. The scenarios included a zero-range where Soldiers concentrated on shot groups and technique, before leading them through a pop-up M4 qualification range.
"The realism you experience on this system is incredibly beneficial to building Soldier confidence and skills with weapons," said Staff Sgt. William Cox, a member of the SC Marksmanship Training Unit and PMI instructor. "The visual feedback provided through this system relates directly to what the Soldier will experience. From the dirt that flies up from the ground if the Soldier is shooting too low, to the dirt smudges on the edge of the zeroing target card, it looks and feels like you are on the ranges we use."
"The system provided realistic training scenarios, using real weapons," said Sgt. 1st Class Joe Cashion, readiness NCO for the 108th PAD. "It's always good to get marksmanship training with our individual weapons and the simulator is about as close to the real thing as you can get. The marksmanship training team was very knowledgeable and what we all learned will undoubtedly help us on the actual qualification range."
Traditionally, with all annual training requirements considered, National Guard Soldiers have little time to dedicate to weapons handling and marksmanship training beyond annual range qualifications.
"Our success depends on the readiness of each individual fighting Soldier," said Command Sgt. Maj. Russ Vickery, the State Command Sgt. Maj. "Although relatively successful over the years, the need for enhanced marksmanship capabilities on the individual level has increased, requiring leaders to think of innovative ways to get weapons into the hands of Soldiers throughout the year to increase confidence, accuracy and ultimately readiness for battle."
The South Carolina Army National Guard is the only National Guard state that has a LaserShot system in use for Soldiers and units to train to improve marksmanship skills. What makes this system so unique for weapons training is its mobility. It can easily be packed up and brought to different training locations and armories across the state, allowing commanders to get realistic, hands-on weapons training to their Soldiers in a short amount of time, while reducing logistical constraints of moving Soldiers to a specific, centralized location.
"The old systems are tethered to one location and make it difficult for commanders to get their Soldiers to it, along with competing for time on the systems," said Vickery. "With enough of these portable systems, we could potentially be able to get every Soldier in the South Carolina Army National Guard hands-on weapons training for at least 30 minutes each quarter without impeding other training requirements."
The National Guard's move towards a more operational force prioritizes the increase of combat readiness throughout the organization with well-equipped, well-maintained and well-trained personnel and units. The concept launched by National Guard Bureau, ARNG 4.0, strengthens the role of the Army National Guard within the Army's Total Force and includes initiatives such as developing dynamic and innovative leaders and improving individual soldier readiness to increase availability for mobilization.
"With ARNG 4.0, we are talking about lethality and individual fitness. The National Defense Strategy applies to all of us and drives what we are doing. We need to change, be innovative, move forward, and embrace new technology," Vickery said. "Our strength is in training ourselves."