Six units participated in the qualifications: the 1140th Forward Support Company and the 1140th Headquarters Company in Cape Girardeau, the 880th Engineer Team in Perryville, the 220th Engineer Company in Festus, the 1138th Engineer Sapper Company in Farmington and Fredericktown, and the 1438th Multi-Role Bridge Company in Macon and Kirksville.
It's been several months since the Soldiers conducted training as an entire battalion together. A majority of the years' training weekends are dedicated to the individual units in their designated towns.
"It's nice to see our strength and numbers," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Dilley, of the 1140th Forward Support Company. "It's a good feeling to look around and know this is my battalion, these are my people, and we can work together and get things done."
The battalion traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky. to qualify on the M-16 rifle and several other weapons.
The M-16, a lightweight, magazine-fed rifle, is the most produced firearm of its caliber and has been around in one version or another since the Vietnam War. Every Soldier in the battalion was required to qualify on the M-16 rifle. To qualify, Soldiers shot from three position and had to hit at least 24 out of 40 pop-up targets.
Over half of the Soldiers are also assigned a weapon other than the M-16 rifle and are required to qualify on these weapons systems as well, including the M-2 .50 caliber machine gun, 9 mm pistols, MK-19 automatic grenade launchers, and the M249 semi-automatic weapon, or SAW.
Spc. Dillon Rickman, of the 1140th Headquarters Company, relishes the opportunity he gets once a year to hone his skills with his assigned M249 SAW.
"I like it because it's a specialty weapon and I have a specific job I have to do when I carry that weapon," said Rickman, who's been training on the SAW for five years. "I'm completely focused in on my weapon when I go to the ranges. I don't think about anything else except to look for targets, keep my breathing level steady and my head down."
The M-249 is a belt-fed light machine gun that is widely used by all branches of the United States Armed Forces and has seen action in every major conflict involving the U.S. since the 1989 invasion of Panama. The gun provides the heavy volume of fire of a machine gun with accuracy and portability similar to a rifle. To qualify, Soldiers had to hit at least seven out of 11 targets.
Spc. Patrick Phillips, of the 1138th Engineer Sapper Company, got the chance to qualify and coach Soldiers on the SAW.
"There's so much you can learn on your own about a particular weapon, but when you start working with other Soldiers they can show you something you didn't know about that weapon and I in turn can teach them something," said Phillips.
The most powerful weapons the Soldiers qualified on were the M-2 machine gun and the MK-19 grenade launcher.
The M-2, also known as a .50-caliber machine gun, is a belt-fed heavy machine gun used primarily as a vehicle weapon and for aircraft armament. It can shoot 485-635 rounds per minute at targets up to 4.55 miles away.
The MK-19 is a 40 mm belt-fed automatic grenade machine gun that can fire 60 rounds per minute at targets between 1,500 to 2,212 meters away.
"Our grenade launchers shoot really well," said Spc. Bobby Blades, of the 1138th Engineer Sapper Company. "I like it because it's really good for suppressing enemy combatants spread out in a large area."
Missouri National Guardsmen are required to qualify on the M-16 and their individually assigned weapons once a year.
"Going to the ranges reminds me about all aspects of my job, it's not just about the civilian part of the Guard I have to know," said Spc. Reba Colony, of the 1140th Forward Support Company. "It helps me remember what I need to do to shoot well and helps me feel comfortable with what I need to do if I were to be deployed."
Along with responding to state emergency duties and protecting their communities at home, Guardsmen focus on the skills they'll need overseas.
"Training at weapons qualifications gives me the opportunity to teach Soldiers how to properly maintain their weapons in different environments," said Sgt. Christopher Burr, of the 1140th Forward Support Company. "Even on the ranges a weapon can malfunction, and every one of us should know how use each weapon and quickly fix a problem in a timely manner because our or our battle buddies' lives could be in danger."
Training opportunities at weapons qualifications also expanded the Soldiers' leadership and personal skills.
"This is why I want to be a noncommissioned officer," said Phillips, who coached Soldiers at the SAW range. "I want to take on that responsibility to help other Soldiers. It's a good feeling to know I can train a Soldier on a weapon and know that I'm doing it right."
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit www.moguard.com.