Not surprisingly, the experiences of returning soldiers has had an impact on the training new soldiers receive when they first report to the Army and undergo Basic Combat Training. Also not surprisingly, the Army is a large beauracracy, and any change takes time. Sometimes, too much time.
Here’s an interesting article on some of the changes in Basic Combat Training, now that experienced leaders from Iraq and Afghanistan are rotating back to run the training installations:
We were very much trained in the old way, and given our previous long familiarity with firearms, found it grating and somewhat insulting. We understand the peacetime Army’s concerns about safety, but the effect was so oppressive as to undermine any real competence with weapons.
Our Basic Rifle Marksmanship training was actually slightly different from most people’s of the era. The Army was on the cusp of adopting the M-16A2 to replace the M-16A1 and considered revamping the marksmanship course at that time. Most troops, when firing for qualification, would fire 20 rounds from the prone supported position, resting the rifle on a sandbag, at targets ranging from 50 meters to 300 meters. They would then fire 20 rounds from a foxhole supported position, at the same targets. The targets would pop-up for a period of time, falling either when hit, or when their exposure time expired.
- Pop up target
Our own training was somewhat different. We actuall fired on a “Known Distance” range for familiarization, firing at 200, 300, 500, and 700 yards. This was far in excess of ranges normally required by the M-16 series rifles, but did serve to inspire quite a bit of confidence in our abilities.
- Pits of a “Known Distance” rifle range.
After that, we fired as well on the regular qualification range, with pop-up targets at the usual 50m-300m distances. But we fired a somewhat different course of fire. We fired 10 rounds from the kneeling position, 10 rounds from the prone unsupported position, 10 from the prone supported position, and 10 from the foxhole supported position. We didn’t consider it the best course of fire possible, but it was certainly more realistic than the regular course of fire. In combat, especially in the offense, there are few opportunities to find a good supported position to fire from. And while firing from the prone is condusive to good marksmanship, and lowers your profile, making you a smaller target, very often, lying in the prone will prevent you from seeing anything. Think of a field of knee high grass. What will you see while you are on your belly?
Sadly, this was the only time we fired this course of fire. The Army didn’t adopt it, and we spent the rest of our Army career qualifying every six months with 20 rounds on our belly, and 20 rounds from the foxhole.
Mind you, this was the Basic Rifle Marksmanship course. As implied, there is an Advanced Rifle Marksmanship course of fire as well. People outside the infantry have to be content with BRM. But infantrymen, in the later part of their training, move on to ARM. My memory is a little fuzzy on the details of the various courses of fire in ARM. There was an opportunity to fire on full-auto, which was fun. We also fired “instinctive” courses, engaging pop-up targets while walking at short ranges, say 25m to 75m. Still, given that this firing was done on a nice open field, it wasn’t terribly realistic.
The article doesn’t mention it, but one aspect of the new firearms training is that not only will recruits be issued their weapons earlier, they will carry them loaded at all times. Not with live ammo, to be sure, but they will have a magazine in the weapon, with a few rounds of blank ammo. This is an excellent way of reminding troops to always pay attention and consider the weapon loaded at all times. It will breed familiarity for the weapon without breeding complacency or contempt. And removing the infantile requirement for rodding the weapon on and off the range shows a bit of respect to the native intelligence of our soldiers.
What say you? What changes should be made to weapons training in Basic Combat training, and to the Army as a whole? What other training evolutions in Basic should we adopt or delete?