National Guard Soldiers set sites on weapons training at Fort Campbell

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
More than 200 Soldiers from several Southeast Missouri National Guard units attempted to qualify with M-16s last weekend at Fort Campbell.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Sgt. Brandon Massey realizes how important it is for a Soldier to stay proficient with the weapons because someday it could be the difference between life and death.

But for Massey, and other Missouri National Guard Soldiers who made the trek to Fort Campbell, Ky., last weekend, the added bonus from the annual weapons qualification was that it's always a lot of fun.

"It's close to the top of the list of events that we do that are really enjoyable," said Massey, who lives in Oran and is a vehicle re-fueler with the 1140th Engineer Battalion's Forward Support Company.

Massey and others said that the Soldiers know that -- first and foremost -- weapons proficiency is a vital military skill.

"But, come on, everybody likes to come out and shoot," Massey said. "It's a big morale booster. We have a good time, but we always keep in mind that this is really important. The Guard is not just a state-deployed deal anymore. We know we can be sent over there at any time.

"What good are we if we're not ready to put rounds on a target?"

More than 200 Citizen-Soldiers descended on Fort Campbell from units across the western edge of the state, including the 1140th's Headquarters and Forward Support Company in Cape Girardeau, the 220th Engineer Company from Festus, the 880th Engineer Haul Team from Perryville and the 1138th Engineer Company from Farmington.

"It's very important," said Maj. Scot Ratcliff, the 1140th's administrative officer. "Weapons proficiency is a common warrior task. It's required on a myriad of Army tasks and qualification is something we take seriously."

Soldiers qualified on several different types of weapons with varying degrees of firepower: 167 took qualifications tests on the M-16 military rifle, 32 on the M-2 .50-caliber Browning machine gun, 34 on the M-249 squad automatic weapon, 20 on the M-9 9 mm pistol and 18 on the M-203 grenade launcher.

Safety was always a priority, said Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Allred, the readiness noncommissioned officer with the 1140th's Forward Support Company. Each range was assigned a safety officer and every soldier went through a safety briefing. Non-commissioned officers watched from towers, relaying instructions to the Soldiers through speakers.

"We give them the basics: Don't shoot at anything outside the lane, keep your weapons pointed down range, watch out for wildlife, things like that," Allred said. "When you have weapons involved, you have to make safety a priority and we do that."

On the M-16, Soldiers shot 20 rounds from the prone supported position and the prone unsupported firing position, and 10 from the kneeling unsupported firing position. To earn a badge of expert, at least 36 of the targets had to be hit, Allred said. For sharpshooter, the requirement is 30-35 hits and for marksman, the requirement is 23-29 hits. The pop-up targets are between distances of 50 meters to 300 meters.

Soldiers were also required to wear Kevlar helmets and flak vests at all times while they are on the firing range, Allred said.

Allred also said that Soldiers enjoy getting to fire the weapons.

"It's one of the best things we get to do out of the year," he said. "The guys really seem to enjoy it."

Spc. Chris Valentine of the 1140th's Forward Support Company agreed. Valentine qualified on a grenade launcher.

"It was pretty awesome," he said. "In my Guard job, I'm a mechanic. But I'm a Soldier first. I have to do basic Soldier skills. I was in Iraq in '04 and at any time, if I needed to call on this particular skill -- knowing how to shoot my weapon and shoot it well -- it could have been life or death. And I never know if I'm going to be activated again. So I'm grateful that we do this every year. If we don't, I may not be able to hit a barn 3 feet away."

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