FORT BRAGG, N.C. - There is an old saying that goes, "A Green Beret can kill you twice before you even know you're dead." As funny as it sounds, that statement isn't too far from the truth.
To ensure Special Forces Soldiers are trained in the art of war, Range 37 provides a challenging training course aimed at improving marksmanship skills and urban warfare training techniques.
Range 37 consists of a 130 acre, 360-degree, live-fire shoothouse, which tests the capabilities of even the most seasoned Special Forces Soldiers. The training area is maintained and operated by Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group.
"Our mission is to give the operators that come here a world-class range to train on," said Maj. Pete Kranenburg, Range 37 commander. "And that's what they get - the Olympics for gunfighters."
Kranenburg and his cadre run training courses throughout the year. The two main classes are the Special Forces Close Quarters Combat Course and the Special Forces Sniper Course. Each class runs for about seven weeks and mirror one another.
During the CQB course, operators are immersed in rifle and pistol marksmanship and urban assault techniques. The sniper course focuses on improving shooters' ability to fire accurately at known and unknown distances and in any type of environment. Students attending the two courses train together during the last few days of the classes in order to better understand how assaulters and snipers work together on the battlefield.
"Almost all of the guys who come to these courses are seasoned in combat. These aren't green Soldiers," explained Kranenburg. "We are just taking the skills they already have and making them that much better."
The range consists of several buildings and flat firing ranges designed to enhance Soldiers' abilities. However, Kranenburg said that Special Forces Soldiers are good shooters and good thinkers. Range 37 closes the gap between technical skill and decision-making.
To close this gap, Kranenburg commands a handpicked staff of Special Forces Soldiers who each have between five and seven combat rotations in support of Operations Iraqi or Enduring Freedom.
"We are looking for guys who are aggressive and have the ability to learn," said Doug McDowell, Range 37 instructor. "These guys aren't just learning how to use their weapons. We are teaching them the things they need to know for combat. It's the (tactics, techniques and procedures) that are being learned from the battlefield and then brought here."
Kranenburg said that is key to the success of Range 37, which is completely self-sustaining. The major explained that he is in constant contact with commanders downrange, who share lessons learned that can be incorporated into training.
"Just as an example, we had an operator who died on a certain type of stairwell during combat," Kranenburg said. "I told them to send me a picture of the staircase and in two weeks, my engineers had built an exact replica that Soldiers could train on. This range is constantly being enhanced and improved."
In addition to being able to support training involving many kinds of weapons, the range is equipped to allow students to use various explosive and ramming devices if called for by a training assault.
Although preparing for fighting in any environment is important, there is another skill Soldiers improve at Range 37.
"Our main focus here is target discrimination," said Master Sgt. Ted Lanier, instructor. "If a guy goes out and shoots someone who isn't the enemy, game over. The mission is a failure, that's the bottom line. These guys have to learn to make split-second decisions about who to take out with lethal force and who not to."
The key to this, according to Lanier and Kranenburg, is repetition.
"These guys come out here and do these drills over and over and over again - until it comes naturally to them. It's muscle memory," explained Kranenburg. "An operator has to rapidly assess the situation and apply the appropriate level of lethal or nonlethal force."
For the seven weeks the Soldiers train during the courses, they receive plenty of opportunity to fire at a number of different targets, some up to 1,200 yards away. Their goal is to decide which targets should be fired upon and which should not. This, said Kranenburg, will save lives in combat.
"That's really our mission out here," he said. "We give these guys the best place to train so that they can go out there and get the mission done in the most effective and safest manner possible."