While it hasn’t received as much attention as the new Army physical fitness evaluation, the 40 targets on the rifle marksmanship range are also about to be engaged in a more combat-focused manner.
Soldiers from the Wyoming Army National Guard’s C Company, 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment (Forward) were the first to try out the new test at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center as part of pre-deployment training that will require them to conduct the proposed test two more times this year.
The new marksmanship test has been undergoing evaluations and changes for about two years, primarily by the active duty’s airborne infantry units, and is slated to become the Army-wide standard for rifle marksmanship qualification in fiscal year 2020.
“It’s a lot more functional and realistic, integrating more of a rifleman’s tasks,” said Staff Sgt. Zach Semmons, a squad leader with 1/297th. “You have to maintain situational awareness, keep a round count, and execute combat magazine changes, all while engaging the targets.”
According to an Army Times article from Jan. 17, 2018, Brig. Gen. Christopher Donahue, commandant of the U.S. Army Infantry School, said the proposed changes are all aimed at increasing soldier lethality and presenting a more realistic shooting environment based on what the Army has seen in 16 years of combat.
As it sits now, the new weapons qualification will feature four shooting positions—prone unsupported, prone supported, kneeling supported, and standing supported. Soldiers are issued four 10-round magazines, to engage 40 pop-up targets from the four shooting positions. Some iterations will show three or four targets at a time, forcing soldiers to be extremely focused.
Sgt. Sol Griffith, a fire team leader with the Afton-based infantry company, said the unit will conduct the qualification with its parent unit in Alaska soon, and again during mobilization training at Fort Bliss, prior to deploying overseas this year.
During the March 7 training day, Griffith demonstrated the test for his comrades before they conducted the current qualification for their individual annual records. When they concluded that test, the rest of the unit tried out the future test.
Spc. Lance Pierce, a target systems repairer assigned to Camp Guernsey’s Training Center Command, learned about the new standard last year while attending a course at Training Center University, and built a software program that would run the test and the targets at Camp Guernsey.
“This the first unit to try it out,” he said prior to the demonstration. “No one had any use for the program until now.”
“Now you have three or four targets up at the same time and you have to transition between them very thoughtfully,” said Griffith. “It’s not like it was with someone yelling what target is coming up. Plus, the tower doesn’t tell you when to do a (magazine) change. You have to know when to do it, and then, do it.”
The new standard is going to be difficult for a lot of shooters, even those who hold the rifleman occupational specialty. For instance, the range noncommissioned officer in charge announced from the tower’s public address system that Griffith hit 22 of the 40 targets during the demonstration. “Sgt. Griffith usually hits 40 out of 40,” the tower announcer added.
As for the rest of the unit, Semmons said about half the soldiers met the minimum qualifying standard of 23 hits, and a 32 was the high score of the practice round.
“It was the first time trying it for most of them,” he said. “But, I think it went extremely well and they were very receptive to it. They liked the mag change and engaging more targets.”