BY CHERYL PHILLIPS88th Readiness Division Public AffairsNearly 30 Army Reserve gunnery crew members immersed themselves in two weeks of mounted gunnery training during Operation Cactus Gunnery at Fort McCoy.The training took place Nov. 4-18 and was hosted by the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command — headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa — to hone crew member convoy protection skills, and more.The gunnery training progressed over three phases: live-fire individual weapon proficiency on the M240B machine gun; live-fire, mounted-crew gunnery with one vehicle qualifying at a time (also known as Gate 4); and live-fire, mounted-section gunnery with two to five vehicles qualifying together (Gate 3). In the last stage, vehicles form a convoy, giving crews the ability to learn to work together as a team, said Sgt. 1st Class Shane Hicks, noncommissioned officer (NCO) in charge of the training. Each vehicle was comprised of a three-man crew.The Soldiers endured “long days, long nights.”“They’ve done very well,” Hicks said. “They should be happy with what they’ve done.”One of the Reserve Soldiers who served as a mounted gunner during the last stage was Spc. Desman Collins with the 540th Movement Control Team of Baton Rouge, La. He said his rural upbringing, where he learned a lot about shooting, lends to his skills and enjoyment of being a mounted gunner.“I like shooting,” Collins said. “Being a gunner is fun and invigorating.”Collins explained that he enjoyed the training and engaging and attacking multiple targets. He learned that it’s necessary to “stay focused on the fundamentals because not everything will go as planned.“It’s important to adapt, like when a weapon jams,” he said.Operation Cactus Gunnery is one part of the 103rd’s mission to increase weapons proficiency among the NCO corps.“Potential future Army Reserve unit deployments to hostile operational environments require Soldiers to be proficient with their assigned and crew-served weapons to survive on the battlefield,” said Lt. Col. Craig Lanigan, officer in charge of Operation Cactus Gunnery.Lanigan said Operation Cactus Gunnery is built on five columns. The first column supports the new Senior Gunner Course that was unveiled in 2019. It trains and certifies senior gunners for the Army Reserve through institutional and rigorous resident training. Senior gunner graduates return to their units to help build mounted-gunnery scenarios to execute Gates 3 and 4. They can also certify vehicle crew evaluators, an essential component to qualifying Convoy Protection Platforms, such as during Operation Cactus Gunnery.The second column is the Small Arms Training Course (SAT-C), which was held at Fort McCoy from Oct. 16-29. The SAT-C helps NCOs improve their proficiency on six weapon systems. These trained NCOs also return to their units and build the weapon skills of their fellow Soldiers.According to Lanigan, “Cactus Gunnery supports the senior gunner program by vetting candidates through the SAT-C. A trained weapons subject-matter expert is the optimal candidate for Senior Gunner Course.”The third column is the 103rd ESC Gunnery Team which comprises a cadre of NCOs who provide vigorous weapons training during SAT-C. This has built more than 60 weapons subject-matter experts in the 103rd,The fourth and fifth columns are crew and section gunnery respectively, where nine crews were trained or qualified on Gates 3 and 4 in November. Coupled with the July gunnery that launched Cactus Gunnery, the operation has trained or qualified 21 gunnery crews.Ultimately, Army Reserve Soldiers who complete the SAT-C or mounted gunnery training walk away knowing they are better equipped to survive in a hostile environment and successfully complete a mission, such as convoy operations, Lanigan said.