FORT MCCOY, Wis.- Army Reserve soldiers assigned to the 85th Support Command, headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois – 25 miles northwest of Chicago- conducted individual weapons qualification on the M-9 pistol and M-16 rifle ranges during a four-day field training exercise at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Aug. 14-17.
“This will be our new commander’s first time to assess unit training,” explained Sgt. Maj. Kevin Greene, command sergeant major, 85th Support Command. “The two basic things are to improve the soldier’s skills and the ability to qualify with weapons and develop additional team cohesion.”
Weapons training began early Friday morning on the zero range.
“I was a first time go,” explained Spc. Kiefer Johnson, human resources specialist, after exiting the zero range. “I’m hoping to do the same today [on the qualification range].”
Alongside the junior soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Harris, a veteran soldier with 31 years of service and two tours in Iraq was back on the firing range.
“I wish we qualified every year instead of every two years,” explained Harris. “I think soldiers keep their skills proficient by participating in training like this.”
A fact agreed to by Capt. Serban David, finance officer, who controlled the zero range from his position in the range tower. “It’s very important for soldiers to maintain their skills and fire their weapons accurately,” he said.
After the soldiers qualified at the zero range, they walked down a dirt road to the M-16 qualification range, nearby, to fire at pop-up targets ranging in distances from 50 to 300 meters. Sgt. 1st Class David Windsor, M-16 range NCO, and qualified with expert badge, explained that, for some soldiers, the long distance targets presented a challenge.
“It’s always the long range targets that soldiers have the most difficulty with,” explained Windsor. “It’s a psychological block. They fail to do the fundamentals when they [fire at] the longer [range] targets.”
Windsor offered a number of suggestions to help soldiers improve their skills so that they could hit the long-range targets.
“Visualization. Mentally preparing yourself to do something,” said Windsor. “Observe the firearm fundamentals of breathing, relaxing and aiming and then decrease your arc of movement,” said Windsor.
Some soldiers, like battle buddies: Staff Sgt. Latasha Taylor and Sgt. Antania Anderson, put their marksmanship skills to work and scored hitting 32 out of 40 for Taylor, and Anderson with a score of 33 out of 40.
Taylor credits motivation and excellent instruction while on the zero range with helping her do well on the pop up targets.
Spc. Yvette Leon, Human Resources Specialist, also joined them scoring a 32 out of 40.
Her tip was to “Breathe in, breathe out, then shoot.”
The second day, Army Reserve soldiers assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 335th Combat Sustainment Support Regiment, 181st Infantry Brigade, First Army, Division-West, based out of Fort Sheridan, Illinois, joined the 85th Support Command in the individual weapons qualification.
“Weapons qualification is a great training tool,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Ivan Smith, team leader. “We are a training brigade. We need to understand the weapons so that when we train down trace [units], we can give them the best training possible.”
To strengthen the soldier’s marksmanship performance, Sgt. Angel Olivo gave an informational class on firing from the kneeling position — a relatively new firing position during the qualification.
“During the kneeling position you want to be as comfortable as possible,” he said. “You want to have the bottom of your tricep ahead of the knee. Secure the butt of the rifle firmly against your shoulder and place your non-firing hand at the far end of the barrel for more stability.”
In addition to conducting weapons qualification there, the 85th Support Command also welcomed its’ new commander, Brig. Gen. Frederick R. Maiocco, Jr. during an assumption of command ceremony and then promoted Capt. Curtis Sampson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company Commander, to the rank of major.
Following the weapons qualification, Maj. Sampson hosted a barbecue at the Fort McCoy Community Center on Saturday evening.
“On behalf of myself and my wife, I want to extend my gratitude to all of you,” he said.
Then the soldiers enjoyed hamburgers, bratwursts, potato salad, chips and cookies. With the individual weapons qualification complete for this year, perhaps Sgt. 1st Class Paul O’Connell, observer-controller/trainer platoon sergeant, summed up weapons qualification the best.
“I enjoy qualifying. I like honing my skills,” he said. “It’s like visiting an old friend.”