Fort McCoy News September 27, 2013

Wisconsin Guard unit training master gunners

STORY & PHOTOS BY ROB SCHUETTE
Public Affairs Staff

Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers conducted special training sessions at Fort McCoy to develop weapons subject-matter experts who will help support unit firing prowess.

Photo 1 for master gunner article
Members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team conduct sight-in training with M2 machine guns.

Lt. Col. Brad Anderson, 32nd Infantry Combat Brigade Team (IBCT) brigade executive officer, said the 32nd is conducting two training courses: an 11-day basic light infantry master gunner course, and a seven-day advanced light infantry master gunner (heavy weapons) course.

Anderson said in the 1990s the training was for active-duty troops. The 32nd first conducted the training when it was deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. The unit has been conducting master gunner courses on an annual basis at Fort McCoy since 2007, except in 2009 when it again was deployed. The 32nd held its first advanced course at Fort McCoy in mid-September.

"The purpose of the training is to develop a cadre of subject- matter experts in small arms and own-the-night (night-vision) equipment organic to the 32nd IBCT," Anderson said. "These trained personnel will return to their units to serve as master trainers, increasing unit proficiency in marksmanship and the execution of weapons-related tasks."

As a result of the training, each platoon will have a platoon master gunner and each company will have a company master gunner to provide expert instruction and support to help improve overall unit marksmanship, he said.

The master gunners can help unit members increase their proficiency in day and night firing and improve their knowledge of how to use the various day and night optics to improve their weapons skills.

Sgt. 1st Class Ken Moninski, the 32nd IBCT infantry platoon sergeant for A Company of the 2nd, 127th Infantry Battalion, said the basic marksmanship training already has paid dividends. Approximately 40 percent of unit members who previously qualified as marksman (the lowest qualification standard) now qualify as expert (the highest qualification standard) after the master gunners' knowledge was incorporated into the process.

Photo 2 for master gunner article
Soldiers with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team train on mounted M2 machine-gun fire.

"This training goes way beyond what Soldiers do over the year to qualify with the weapons," Moninski said. "They fire many more rounds than they would fire otherwise. This hands-on training gives them a better feel for the weapons and more confidence."

During the instruction, master gunner trainees also have had the opportunity to train with any new weapons systems the unit has received, he said.

"We also keep track of the scores when they're training at Fort McCoy to create a competitive atmosphere where everyone strives to do their best," Anderson said. The participants must pass a number of written tests to demonstrate their knowledge of the systems.

In a recent course, 30 of the 32 Soldiers training achieved the expert distinction in night firing, which is an awesome percentage, he said.

The goal is to make the Soldiers so proficient in weapons firing that the enemy knows they are overmatched, he said.

Sgt. Seth Ratajczyk, a member of the 32nd IBCT's C Company of the 1st, 128th Infantry Battalion, said the advanced training provided a lot of hands-on opportunities with the weapons, which included the M2 machine guns and the MK19 grenade launchers.

The basic course includes the M9 pistol, the M4 rifle and the M203, M249, and M24B machine guns and associated night-vision equipment.

"We learned everything about the firing techniques," Ratajczyk said. "We learn about the sights, the movement and carrying of the weapons, and the optics of the weapons."

Sgt. Matt Semke, also a member of C Company of the 1st, 128th, said the increased hands-on training made him more confident he could handle firing and learning the optics of the system.

"I'm a squad/team leader so I don't get (a lot of) shooting opportunities," he said. "This course will let us take the same information back to all of the Soldiers so they know how to do it right."

"I like to say this training will create a big ripple effect. It's like a drop in water that will spread out from there and influence the entire body of water."