By Marie berbereaApril 23, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- A battlefield is a competition. The stakes are life and death and the winner does not receive a trophy. Commander Col. Daniel Garcia, emphasized this mentality with his 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade Gunfighter Competition April 10-12.
"This brigade thrives on competition. If we deploy tomorrow there is no second place, we have to be first when we deploy and have to be first in everything we try to do," said Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Kogut, 31st ADA CSM.
Nineteen Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 3rd ADA; 3rd Battalion, 2nd ADA; and 5th Battalion, 5th ADA from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., picked up their weapons and with their training they took to the ranges.
They not only shot at pop up targets, but they had to fire under pressure, aiming from different positions and distances while moving from one target to the next.
"They're all expert shooters in their field, but when you put a young man or woman in a situation with live pop up targets coming up, noise, distractions just like it would be in Kabul, Afghanistan, that is very stressful on the shooter," said Kogut.
The competition lasted three days with the first day qualifying on the M16 rifle, M9 pistol and M249 machine gun. Safety was a priority as they followed all range procedures and had safety officers watching at all times. The second day consisted of a 5-mile road march which tested their endurance when tackling the following four lanes of events.
Before the Soldiers were allowed to fire live ammo they had to do a walk through, a dry run, and then fire blanks. The Soldiers said their pace was fast as they were supposed to complete these practices as if it were the real thing. By the time they fired live rounds physical fatigue was added onto the list of pressure to fire accurately and quickly.
The first lane was an ammo retrieve exercise. The Soldiers picked up a magazine and ran over to a 25 millimeter target and fired off two controlled shots with their M16s. After putting their weapon back on safe they were cleared by their safety NCO and allowed to run back to the ammo point and retrace their steps until they expended all 10 rounds.
Time was of the essence in each event and any missed target resulted in a 10-second penalty.
Like the show, "Top Shot," the second lane also involved strategy. The Soldiers were allotted 10 rounds they could put into three magazines as they saw fit. They were told to hit different sized targets from different positions, from standing to kneeling to prone.
"I was thinking I want a little bit extra ammunition in the least steady position so I have the best chance," said Spc. Chad Puterbaugh, D/3-2nd ADA.
Puterbaugh said before joining the Army he had a BB gun like a lot of young men but there was still a level of estrangement between himself and the weapons.
"Gaining the confidence you know this is what I'm here to do. And gaining the confidence with the things that I'm supposed to be doing is really motivating as a Soldier."
The third lane tested their skills with a 9mm and the fourth tested their skills in shooting different distances with an M16. Whoever was able to shoot every target up to the furthest point was the winner.
For Sgt. Geoffery Hatten, 4-3rd ADA that was not a problem. He said he let his past experience take him through the events.
"I was definitely confident from the past deployment I had and the training I had prior to this with the guys that I deployed with," said Hatten. "I just got used to the weapon system -- you're around it 24/7. Fifteen months of holding onto a 556 (5.56mm rifle) you learn how to move with it and shoot."
On the last day the Soldiers lined up once again to fire in Fort Sill's Live Shoothouse. The maze of rooms involved safety, clearing rooms and lots of adrenaline.
"It was good realistic training going through and clearing rooms. It's good preparation and keeps us ready in the event that we have to go downrange," said Sgt. Dwayne Jones, 5-5th ADA.
All the results were kept secret to keep every Soldier's mind in the game. After the Shoothouse, Hatten learned he won the competition.
"I hope that it pushes my Soldiers to strive to shoot better. Number one thing in the military you've got to be good at -- it'll save your life," said Hatten.
"We talk a lot in the brigade about weapon systems. It usually refers to a specific piece of equipment," said Garcia. "I'll tell you right now these Soldiers are the weapon systems. It is amazing what these Soldiers will be able to accomplish and they'll be tremendously effective on the battlefield when we give them a weapon and say 'man this post.'"