With nickname “Hamchuck” sewn onto his very practical boonie hat, National Guard sniper SSG Mike Hambric takes aim with the highly accurate M24 system at a public affairs photographer. Each leg on the folding bipod is adjustable, providing a very stable shooting platform on uneven ground.
by Robert Bruce
“In the onslaught of Sept 11th and its follow-on effects, the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center continues its mission of stressing the development of combat skills to improve proficiency above basic marksmanship requirements, increasing battlefield survivability of National Guard soldiers and airmen.” Colonel Lance M. Tharel, Commander NGMTC
As America’s War on Terror intensifies, large numbers of Army and Air National Guard units from all over America are being “mobilized” — called to active duty — to support both homeland security and overseas operations. Among top priority tasks in preparing these citizen-soldiers for real world missions is expert training in safe and effective handling of various small arms from pistols to grenade launchers. This formidable job is one of several specialties of the NGMTC — National Guard Marksmanship Training Center — headquartered at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, near Little Rock, Arkansas.
NGMTC is a one-stop shopping center for the full spectrum of shooting disciplines from junior air rifle to 40mm grenade machine guns and everything in between. It occupies an impressive chunk of real estate not far from main post at Camp Robinson, including many well-maintained ranges with competition level target controls. Several modern buildings along Maryland and New York avenues are home for the center’s administrators, trainers, logistics specialists, weapons maintenance technicians and others whose skill and dedication contribute to an exemplary team effort.
Despite an unfortunate reduction in funding over previous years, the center has managed to maintain standards for its two-pronged mission. The first is to research, develop and teach marksmanship and weapon familiarization courses through the Schools section. Then, they take some of the best marksmen in the National Guard and give them advanced training in order to compete with marksmen from around the nation and around the world.
NGMTC’s focus is on the conduct of regularly scheduled schools each year including:
- Mobilization Training Course
- Small Arms Firing Schools
- Small Arms Instructor/Range Operations Course
- Master Marksman Trainer Course
- Small Arms Simulation Course
- National Guard Sniper Course
These are designed to address specialized requirements that have been identified by State Marksmanship Coordinators in all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia that make up America’s National Guard. Let’s take a quick look at each.
During Basic Training, side by side with fellow soldiers of the regular Army and Army Reserve, all Guardsmen qualify with M16A2 rifles and fire most of the usual small arms for familiarization. But, once back at their hometown units, these perishable marksmanship skills get little reinforcement due to a variety of factors including chronic shortages of training ammunition. Most Guard units will go to the range only once a year to fire for qualification and many others have to wait even longer.
Thus, when a unit is mobilized, rusty firearms handling and shooting skills need to be cleaned and sharpened quickly and efficiently. This is often done under the supervision of a State Marksmanship Coordinator (SMC) from headquarters, using an experienced cadre of instructors. Unfortunately, the SMC’s assets are limited and the number and size of recently mobilized units make it increasingly necessary to call on the experts from NGMTC for help.
When this happens, Mobile Training Teams of highly skilled marksmanship instructors are dispatched from Camp Robinson to work with newly mobilized units. Within a relatively short period of time a battalion sized unit can be “up to speed” on all of its assigned weapons from pistols and rifles through machine guns and grenade launchers.
Small Arms Firing Schools
SAFS offer the unit commander intensive train-up and qualification firing during the usual 2 or 3-day weekend drill. This covers all basic US military weapons including M9 pistol, M16 rifle, M249 Squad Auto Weapon, and machine guns from the 7.62x51mm M60 or M240 to the .50 caliber M2HB. In addition, the same level of instruction is available for more specialized weapons like the M24 Sniper rifle, M203 grenade launcher and Mark 19 grenade machine gun.
Small Arms Instructor/Range Operations Course
SAIROC is a two week school to “train the trainers,” intended to prepare junior leaders to effectively run unit level marksmanship programs. Graduates will have mastered weapons operation and capabilities, methods of instruction, range operations and live fire qualification. This allows them to return to their home states and conduct essentially the same high quality SAFS training that is available at NGMTC.
Master Marksmanship Trainer Course
Senior NCOs and selected officers who are graduates of SAIROC can take this two-week expert level course that delves even deeper into all aspects of precision shooting. Fine points of weather, correcting individual problems, effective body positions and even contributions to soldier confidence are taught so that graduates can help develop competition-level shooters in their states.
Small Arms Simulations Course
Highly realistic simulators are proving extremely effective in developing and refining marksmanship skills. This is particularly appreciated in reserve component units that have limited time for training and minimizes the need for expensive ammunition consumption.
Devices like FATS (Fire Arms Training Simulator) and Beam-Hit “kick” the shooter with the same recoil experienced on firing a live weapon and record the impact point of each electronic shot with high precision. In addition, these computerized systems have sophisticated diagnostic capabilities that help shooters overcome common errors in shooting fundamentals like flinching and inadequate “lead” of moving targets.
The two-week SASC teaches students to set up, test, troubleshoot and configure sophisticated simulators for a variety of weapons and scenarios.
Designated marksmen can be found in many National Guard units, armed with the excellent M24 Sniper Weapon System. This 7.62x51mm bolt-action rifle with a powerful telescopic sight is capable of astonishing accuracy well in excess of normal engagement range for ordinary rifles. Attaining the necessary skill to effectively employ the M24 takes a special kind of individual and lots of intensive training.
While the curriculum includes some classroom work, most of the time students are out in the bushes learning and perfecting camouflage and field craft, stalking, land navigation, observation and reporting intelligence, target detection, and range estimation. The two-week Sniper Course at NGMTC is fully accredited through the Army Training System and graduates earn the coveted “B4” sniper additional skill identifier to their Military Occupational Specialty.
Responding to some of the unique challenges of airfield security, the center’s newest service is the Close Precision Engagement Course for Air National Guardsmen charged with the critical task of protecting bases at home and abroad. Although in many ways similar to the Sniper Course, CPEC is geared toward counter sniper contingency operations in hostile environments.
NGMTC’s activities also include support of Guard shooters in domestic and international level “Marksmanship Training Events.” Formerly called competitions, such well-regarded annual gatherings at Camp Robinson like the Winston P. Wilson Matches and the Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting are used to identify particularly talented and dedicated individuals. These men and women are given expert coaching, finely tuned competition weapons and plenty of ammunition to hone their skills to a fine edge.
As a result, Guard shooters routinely place at or near the top in many domestic events including the annual National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio and various international competitions hosted by America’s allies. Current plans call for Guard teams to participate in the Australian Army Skill At Arms Meeting, as well as similar meets held in Canada and England.
Even if you are not a member of the National Guard, there is much to be gained at absolutely no charge by visiting NGMTC on the Internet at http://pub.ngpec.org. Click Training Centers then Marksmanship for all sorts of handy info including event photos and lots of tips for better shooting from ON TARGET magazine. However, formal instruction and other services of NGMTC are available only to qualified members and units of the Army and Air National Guard. Contact your State Marksmanship Coordinator for specifics.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V7N3 (December 2003)|