by MSG Joe Carlos, US Army Reserve (ret.)
I’ve been associated with military shooting teams since the mid-1980s. During this entire period these teams have been underutilized, underfunded, and misunderstood. Until our wars in the Middle East I was one of the few members of the Reserve Team that had a combat patch. Generals and bean counters tended to think that all the shooting teams did was punch holes in paper and win trophies. When 9/11 hit all that changed real fast, however. Reservists and National Guardsmen from their respective shooting teams stepped forward and volunteered. Some were sent into combat but, fortunately, enough people in charge had the sense to assign most of the shooters as instructors and range cadre at the various Mobilization Stations or Power Projection Platforms.
At these Mob Stations each soldier has to review and demonstrate proficiency in his particular job skills, be it Infantryman, Motor Transport Operator, or Human Resources Specialist. Everyone also has to qualify with his individually assigned weapon, usually an M16/M4. I have all the respect in the world for Drill Sergeants and was one for many years, but Drill Sergeants have to cover all the tasks taught in Initial Entry (basic) Training from Drill and Ceremonies to Combatives. If your son or daughter was mobilizing, would you want any random Drill Sergeant supervising their marksmanship training or would you rather have an instructor that wore a Distinguished Badge on their chest and a President’s Hundred Tab on their sleeve?
When experience in the Gulf demonstrated the need to reach out a little farther on the battlefield, the active component considered all those old Viet Nam-era M14s that had been stored away. However, few personnel knew squat about M14s or shooting at distance because many active duty soldiers put in 20 years to punch the retirement ticket and get out, leaving no institutional knowledge. Reserve component soldiers (Guard and Reserve) tend to stick around longer because the military is supposed to be part time, with some remaining 30 or 40 years. Many on the two reserve shooting teams not only knew the M14 but had earned their Distinguished Rifleman badges with them and were able to show the active component how to do things right. The level of commitment went even further than that. With only 20 or 30 people slotted a military rifle team there wasn’t enough to handle the entire workload. Retired shooting team members stepped forward to help out, not unlike civilian competition shooters teaching marksmanship during the two world wars.
As time went on Designated Marksman training grew. The concept has at least one person per squad trained in long range precision shooting, not as a sniper but as a superior marksman. This person could be equipped with an M14 or M16 with ACOG or similar optical sight. After the fact, a number of organizations tried to lay claim to the Designated Marksman program but it was mostly reserve component shooting team members having competed internationally doing the the lion’s share of the development using lessons learned in those military shooting competitions. When I hear bean counters, politicians, and even other soldiers claiming shooting teams don’t contribute it riles me up and should anger you as well. A military rifle team can be completely funded for the cost of one cruise missile!
Most of the knowledge and research I write in my articles was learned during my decade-plus tenure as a competitor and armorer with the Army Reserve Marksmanship Program.