[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                    January 25, 2008

First Army SARG to deliver primary marksmanship training assistance

By Lacey Justinger, The Real McCoy Contributor

      They come from many types of units: engineer, postal, medical and infantry. Soldiers with real-life experience join together to form a team of weapons-systems trainers for mobilizing Soldiers -- the Fort McCoy First Army Small Arms Readiness Group (SARG).

Photo: Operation Warrior Trainer personnel and members of the First Army SARG qualify with .50-caliber machine guns at Fort McCoy ranges. (Photo by Spc. Jacob H. Probst)
Operation Warrior Trainer personnel and members of the First Army SARG qualify with .50-caliber machine guns at Fort McCoy ranges. (Photo by Spc. Jacob H. Probst)

      "The SARG team's purpose is to conduct primary marksmanship training on individual and crew-served weapons for all deploying Soldiers," said Master Sgt. Jack G. Pardy of the SARG. "Our mission is to instill confidence in all Soldiers leaving, so that they know, when they place their sights on a target, they can effectively engage and eliminate the threat."

      "If we enlighten individuals on how to handle, respect, properly clear and treat their weapons, maintenance, muzzle awareness and safety, then the negligent discharges and the potential of accidentally shooting a fellow Soldier should diminish to zero," said Sgt. Randall L. Tyler.  "SARG is here to help Soldiers become aware of exactly what they're doing with bullets and show them the damage that happens with these rounds. If we can teach Soldiers how to fire better and be able to eliminate the threat, then they'll be better Soldiers."

      "Soldiers shooting weapons is such an important aspect and viable part of the mission today," said Pardy. "Deployed Soldiers don't move anywhere without their weapons. Marksmanship is important in a gun battle when you're boots on ground walking down the street doing security."

      SARG was formed in 1995 as a mobile resource for Reserve units to use for weekend weapons training instruction. In 2003, SARG teams moved to mobilization sites for deploying Soldiers' marksmanship training. Unit members troubleshoot and coach Soldiers through individual problem areas in multiple weapons systems, including optics.

      From 2003 until 2005, the SARG team conducted weapons system mobilization training at Fort McCoy, during which time they received the Superior Unit Award for providing training in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Many of the SARG Soldiers qualify as an expert, sharp shooter or marksman on a variety of weapons.

      "If we're going to teach it, then we have to qualify as experts on it ourselves," said Staff Sgt. Tony C. Bunnell. "We're taking care of Soldiers going over there so they know everything they can. At the same time, the training has the trickle-down effect. When we go back to wherever we came from -- to the four corners of America -- we'll carry weapons training on there as well."

      "It doesn't matter how many push ups you can do or how fast you run -- weapons systems are faster if you can't shoot back. That's why we teach it," said Sgt. Jeremy T. Carlile. "So we cover it all, from machine-gun optics to night scopes. There are a lot of tricks and tips we've learned over time and in-country, and now we have the opportunity to get that information out to the individuals before they go over." 

      "Soldiers need a knowledge base from instructional capabilities, communication skills and experience," said Pardy. "The SARG training has built a reputation for expertise, knowledge of ranges, weapons systems and instructor capabilities. The best weapons trainers are the most passionate, and students feed off it."

Photo:First Army Small Arms Readiness Group Soldiers set up a series of M-240B machine guns on Fort McCoy ranges. (Photo by Spc. Jacob H. Probst) (The Real McCoy Online Extra)
First Army Small Arms Readiness Group Soldiers set up a series of M-240B machine guns on Fort McCoy ranges. 
(Photo by Spc. Jacob H. Probst) (The Real McCoy Online Extra)

      Starting in March, the SARG will take over weapons systems training from the 181st Infantry Brigade and will be stationed at Fort McCoy for the entire 2008 mobilization season. They will train Soldiers on a variety of weapons systems: .50-caliber machine gun, M-4 carbine, M-9 pistol, M-16 rifle, MK-19 machine-gun grenade launcher, M-203 grenade launcher, M-240B machine gun, and M-249 squad automatic weapon. Soldiers will train on skill-level-one tasks, including four-minute gunner skills crew-served weapons disassemble and assemble drills.

      "The reason we have success is our emotion, enthusiasm and passion is applied to the instruction tools and skills. These are contagious to deploying Soldiers who get excited about what they are learning," said Sgt. Maj. Neal G. Dickey, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Fort McCoy First Army SARG.  "Our competitive shooters train trainers and our trainers train Soldiers. We try to recruit the top shooters or instructors in-country to use as a base to develop the Operation Warrior Trainers in our environment. We marry technical and instructional skills with deployment skills to form very viable instructors. This impacts everyone down to the Soldier in the smallest unit in the country. Future deployments have a better basis for survival in combat."

      "It's very important to know the effects of a bullet when it hits a target and whatever is behind it," said Spc. Jorrell D. Buchanan. "Soldiers may be extensively familiar with a weapons system but a lot of Soldiers in the Army don't know the ballistic side of a bullet. As long as we can get that pertinent information out, the weapons are an extension of our bodies."

      In December, the Fort McCoy SARG unit trained for two weeks in the cold, ice and snow to learn how the weapons react differently in shooting temperatures and how the climate affects the ballistics of a bullet. They will draw on this experience to help Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan with problems they may encounter due to environment.

      "If you can hit a target when you're shivering, you can hit a target when you're sweating," said Spc. Jacob H. Probst. "This unit is unique because it has the best shooters in the world, as well as new guys who are working on marksmanship skills experience beyond in-theater."

      Instructors fire the identical weapons on the exact ranges in the same conditions as mobilizing Soldiers to have a complete and personal knowledge of what they are teaching.

      Pardy compared this to visiting a doctor who reads the information out of a book verses one with hands-on experience.

      "Weapons trainers are specialized like surgeons," he said. "They have to know everything there is to know so that when a Soldier is 'broke,' the instructor can fix them. The end result is a Soldier who can effectively employ a weapons system and keep it from going down."

      Pardy explained that the SARG philosophy demands that the ranges are an extension of the classroom. Trainers believe live fire gives Soldiers ownership and accountability of the weapon. Time on the qualification ranges is used to build enthusiasm and confidence.

      "No one wants to fail, and if we don't set them up for success they are bound to," said Pardy. "Whatever confidence Soldiers leave here with will stay with them in-county. If they don't leave here with a high confidence level, they are going to have doubts. When you go into something with doubts, you start having problems."

      Pardy added the SARG team has received outstanding support at Fort McCoy, where Soldiers and civilians recognize the importance of weapons system training. "This is far and above the best range facility in the country -- a little-known jewel," he said.

(Justinger is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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