JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- America’s I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington is integrating the Army’s new weapons qualification, a marksmanship test that will enable Soldiers to be more prepared for combat than they were with the old marksmanship qualification.
Although the official implementation of the marksmanship test isn’t until the fiscal year 2020, JBLM has already begun encouraging units to start practicing with the new changes.
“We knew what was coming,” said Sgt. 1st Class Marc Turner, I Corps’ master gunner with Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. “We initiated plans to improve our ranges. We initiated computer upgrades. We initiated the building of the barricades. As of October 1, 2019, we were ready as an installation to start executing the new qualification. Most Army installations are still working to get to where we were five or six months ago.”
This new test simulates combat situations more effectively than the previous weapons qualification by limiting recovery time while targets are moving.
“These are the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan: thirty rounds go quick, you have to be able to change your magazine quickly and while you’re doing that you’re going to need to be moving positions quickly,” Turner said. “Maneuverability is survivability.”
Soldiers must develop even greater familiarity with their weapons. In case of a misfeed, the most common malfunction of a weapon, Soldiers must be able to perform S-P-O-R-T-S (Slap, Pull, Observe, Release, Tap, Shoot) rapidly. The observation tower will no longer wait for a Soldier to be ready. In fact, Soldiers will only have nine seconds to switch positions during the four-phase qualification round.
“From old standard to new standard, a lot of time was wasted,” Turner said. “‘Ready on the left, ready on the right,’ baby-stepping every Soldier through loading their weapon, rotating from safe to fire and scanning. By being more combat-focused, we give an actual, doctrinal directive that you would hear from a leader in the field: ‘Scouts report, enemy in sector, weapons free, weapons free.'”
This gives the Soldiers who have never been in battle a chance to experience combat skills and conditions in the event they do end up in a firefight. It can save lives when they train hard using the actual commands that would be called.
Command Sgt. Maj. Osvaldo Martinez, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion command sergeant major, said they are putting more emphasis on preliminary marksmanship instruction (PMI) and the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) to better prepare Soldiers for a range day. This way, before stepping onto a range, all Soldiers are ready to fire.
Turner said Soldiers can expect lower scores because the new weapons qualification does not allow Soldiers to reshoot once they have qualified. Those who wish to receive more practice can schedule time at the EST for various types of simulated weapons training and attempt to better their score after 45 days have passed.
The new weapons qualification also includes packaging all small arms weapons systems into one training circular, TC 3-20.40. Before this integration, a lot of the same information could be found in different books, according to Turner. The new training manual and the changes to weapons qualifications will streamline information and processes between all Army occupations.
“Instead of having a separate military police gunnery manual and armor gunnery manual and Bradley gunnery manual, we started combining everything,” Turner said. “This means terms are the same, training methodologies and strategies are the same.”
Any Soldier, no matter their occupation or their weapon of choice, will be performing the same weapons qualification. This shift in direction signifies integration and cohesion not only for Army occupations but also across branches.
“The old way wasn’t wrong, but the new way is better,” Turner said. “Everyone thinks of the Army as a very large and cumbersome object that does not change, but we’re getting there and adapting to change.”