FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- With changes to Basic Combat Training marksmanship qualifiers upcoming, Fort Jackson has taken drill sergeants and a few other Soldiers out to the ranges for the last four-and-a-half weeks to improve their coaching skills.

For the second year, the installation is hosting Fort Benning instructors to teach a five-week Marksmanship Master Trainer Course.

The course addresses changes to the BCT weapon qualifier, planned for implementation in 2020, which will add more targets, shooting positions and a heightened time crunch to the testing, while reducing direction from leadership.

"I think it just makes it more realistic, because there's no timeouts in real life," said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Thornton, an infantryman and course chief instructor from Fort Benning. The enemy never gives an opposing force the chance to reload or helps with cues, so Soldiers "need to be prepared to operate their weapon systems like their life depended on it."

The 29 participating Soldiers on-post paired up and took turns practicing their instructional skills on one another in the field.

"The purpose of the course is to develop master trainers … not necessarily better shooters, but better trainers," said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Ruopp, with the U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson's G3 Future Operations office.

Still, instructor Staff Sgt. Zach Bunch says he has seen enormous progress in the class's shooting abilities.

"Four weeks ago, we probably had four or five students that … had never even shot a pistol before, or even held one in the Army," Bunch said. "Now they're out here doing higher level stuff than most people in the Army do with their pistol."

Students have worked on basic marksmanship skills and short and medium range shooting techniques, training with both rifles and pistols.

The hope is that students leave with "the growth mindset," understanding that there are "newer, better ways to do things," Thornton said. They can take that knowledge back to their units "so that the Army as a whole becomes more proficient at marksmanship."

That is important, because "the Army's doctrine is changing, and marksmanship as a whole is changing," he explained.

To become Soldiers, trainees currently must qualify with an assigned weapon, hitting at least 23 of 40 presented targets from three positions. Leadership tells them when to change their magazines and provides other logistical details.

"It's not very realistic. It's very canned … we're basically telling the trainees what to do," Ruopp said.
That will no longer be the case after the changes take effect. Soldiers-to-be will have to navigate the challenges on their own.

After receiving a briefing, they will flow through the tasks of the test without guidance or pause.

It's all about "being more hands off," Ruopp said.

To add to the challenge, as many as four targets, rather than the current maximum of two, will appear simultaneously, for a limited time only, with the addition of a barrier, and there will be four positions to shoot from compared to the current three.