The need for exemplary master gunners is so integral to an Armored Brigade Combat Team’s (ABCT) success that discovering talent and assessing aptitude does not ‘cease fire’ or ‘enter a cold status’ even while an ABCT is deployed.
Near the end of 1st ABCT, 1st Cavalry Division’s 2020-2021 Atlantic Resolve rotation in Europe, ABCT master gunners took the opportunity to conduct focused training June 28 to July 2 at the DPTA alongside preparations for redeployment home to Fort Hood, Texas.
“Whether we're in a deployed environment or not, the need for trained master gunners still exists,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Boyle, a master gunner for 1-ABCT. “I think the deployed environment is just as good if not better than when we're in the garrison because there are less distractions. It's not like these guys are going home to their families at night.”
Boyle, who instructed the Abrams Master Gunner Pre Assessment Course, and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Ellis, also a 1-ABCT master gunner, who instructed the Bradley Master Gunner Pre Assessment Course, said that having less distractors near the end of a deployment such as Atlantic Resolve can help Soldiers in their classes devote more focused time to memorization and study.
“Assessing the candidates and their aptitude to retain and understand knowledge, and then also to prepare them for the master gunner course, that’s the goal,” Boyle said. “But, for me, I would say the course objectives have changed a little because it's also to give them a better understanding of how the tank functions and how they can become more lethal crews.”
Some of the candidates who attended the one-week pre assessment master gunner courses will go to master gunner school at Fort Benning, Ga. So, a lot of the focus was on building a technical gunnery vocabulary, developing study systems and test-taking strategies.
“It's trying to find the right candidate who is going to do the job, though, not necessarily the candidate who's just going to pass school,” Boyle said.
Ellis said there are a lot of master gunners who go to school because they want the promotion and to use it as a stepping stone, a ticket puncher.
“Not trying to say we're infested with those, but it is a thing,” Boyle said. “I think what we're looking for are people who are going to take the knowledge and share it, to train these guys how to be better crew members and better crews.”
The master gunner, then, is a teacher, but he/she also works as the principal advisor to commanders and assists with the planning, development, execution, and evaluation of all combat and gunnery-related training (individual, crew, and collective).
Master gunners are key players in major armor exercises conducted as part of Atlantic Resolve.
“Behind every joint exercise, part of that planning staff is a master gunner,” Ellis said. “There's an American master gunner making sure the targets are safe, making sure the range is built to fit a scenario and achieve everybody's goals, and then also to help coordinate those joint objectives. We've got to make it to where the American forces can seamlessly go in, spend taxpayer dollars wisely by meeting training objectives, and then at the same time let people actually go out and have fun and learn.”
Ellis stressed that there is a lot of control and design that goes into doing all of this safely.
“Deploying an armored brigade combat team is a very expensive and dangerous task,” Ellis said. “By us being here and doing this shows the United States has committed both treasury and blood, not just words. We have lost people here doing training, and we continue to come back.”
The preparation, then, of personnel who will one day advise commanders and key armor leaders from partner countries on how best to conduct full range armor training and armor operations is vital to the readiness of combat-credible forces and the increased interoperability of ally and partner militaries.