A Profession of Arms

February 7, 2018 By Gene Norton, Tactical Instructor

There is a common misconception amongst the general public that all Soldiers are steely eyed killers that can drop a man from 500 meters with one shot. People assume this because we are in a profession of arms. I spent over 15 years in the Army. What would surprise the majority of the blissfully ignorant masses is that there is probably about two thirds of any given unit that score a passing percentage on range day. Of those troops there may be a handful that scored a percentage earning them an Expert marksmanship badge (the highest badge preceded by Sharpshooter and then Marksman). That other third? Don't worry about that other third. They're going to be there for a while. See, these shooters are a grab bag of mediocrity. Some of them will assuredly step up to the firing line and knock down 23-29 out of 40 targets. They'll do this on the first try thus earning them the Marksman badge and the right to go about their business which generally includes trying to duck any additional work details and playing Candy Crush. But as sure as the sun rises you're in for a long day with the rest of unit. Those 4-6 dudes are what we lovingly refer to as "hardcores" and despite the perceived connotation that is not a compliment. These guys and gals will appear to be on a revolving conveyor belt that brings them from the ammo shed to the line and back again... over and over and over. In most cases this problem is systemic and the leadership that should be the subject matter experts is just as bad as or worse than the troops they should be coaching. On more than one occasion I cringed, mouth agape as I heard a Sergeant tell a Private something along the lines of proper sight alignment for the M68 Close Combat Optic (Aimpoint Red Dot) was to peer through the rear iron sight aperture and line the dot up with the tip of the front sight post. What the actual...? On top of the inconsistent coaching and training most units are only going to the range twice a year. But do you want to know what my real beef is??? The fact there is no accountability at the operator level. When a Soldier is content with knocking down 23 out of 40 targets and returning to the wind screen to Snap Chat about how badass they are while their Sergeant is smoking cigarettes and telling lies at the designated smoking area. In these cases there is some wisdom that can and should be imparted on that Joe and his E-5 (see what I did there?).

A Profession of Arms

I began my career as an Artilleryman and then spent over nine years as a Military Policeman. As a civilian prior to enlisting I always had a love affair with guns. After being assigned to my first unit I was tapped for deployment within the first year on station. Our mission in Iraq was evolving and more and more non-Infantry, combat arms troops, were being utilized in MOUT operations in a very similar capacity to our grunt brethren. What that meant for my unit was a huge focus on shooting. Not just your average suck fest on the 300 meter pop-up rifle range but stress shoots, mentorship and coaching from Rangers on our post, even contracting former elite badasses to hone our warrior craft and teach us the way of the gun. I was in heaven! If we weren't shooting 16,000 lb cannons we were sending guys to Squad Designated Marksman courses, hitting the back forty with a former Special Forces officer that taught us how to gunfight, mobile machine gun ranges and constant rotations to various MOUT cities. Close Quarters Battle rapidly became every bit as important as our primary job of putting 100 lb projectiles on the foreheads of Americas enemies. This is the only unit I served with that placed this much emphasis on marksmanship. Not only did we spend time on the range but we spent QUALITY time on the range with true experts. We sent guys to school and training to learn the ins and outs of the new Gucci gear we were receiving like ACOGs and M68s. We didn't just issue the stuff out and hope that the NCO's were reading and understanding the manuals. After my second rotation to Iraq I became enamored with the idea of becoming a SWAT operator in the MP Corps. One of my favorite shows as a kid was SWAT and I was certain that with all the training I had leaving the Artillery Regiment that I'd be a shoe in to head to Special Reaction Team school and just snap necks and cash checks for the rest of my career. Suffice to say it didn't work out exactly like that but I did attend SRT Phase I which certifies entry team members. I was beyond proud and still think it was one of two of the best schools I have ever attended. Contrary to most Army schools where a 60% is passing and your spoon fed the answers to the entire test, SRT was a zero nonsense, zero excuses course that gave you three opportunities over two weeks to head to the house empty handed and broken hearted. I bring up these points about my career to illustrate the undying passion I have for guns and tactics. I imagine that the average citizen would read about my experiences and passion and assume that all Soldiers are just like me. Not only is that not the case, sometimes it's the polar opposite. It has always boggled my mind when I meet a Soldier that has zero knowledge about or interest in guns. That's like wanting to be a NASCAR driver never having owned a car. Now I'm not saying these guys/gals are bad Soldiers but when you're a COP, in the ARMY and you don't have an interest in firearms or the inclination to become as proficient as possible with your duty weapon that's a problem!

Traditionally the MP Corps was made up of the best Soldiers, standard bearers. They even had height and weight standards respective to their MOS. After all, how can you police the force if you, yourself are not absolutely above reproach?? A good topic for another article would be why that isn't the case any longer but I digress. Military Police don't just roll around post in patrol vehicles cutting citations to spouses for going three miles an hour over the posted speed limit or pulling over Command Sergeants Major and telling said CSM to not confuse his rank with the authority of that Private First Class that stopped him. I mean, yeah, we do that too but we also spend the majority of our time in training or deployed on an "outside the wire" type of mission. Regardless of the environment these MP troopers should find themselves they must realize that they have an inherent responsibility to their buddies and the people they are protecting to be safe and effective when they have to use lethal force options. I'm no Travis Haley or Instructor Zero and I don't expect any 18 year old kid straight off the street to be anywhere close to them either. What I do expect is that these Warrior Police take the fact they carry the means to preserve life while simultaneously ending another on their hip every day while they are on Law and Order duty. That's some heavy stuff to put on a kid who didn't ever handle a weapon prior to joining. Once that young MP dons that duty vest and gun belt he/she is entrusted with the lives of everyone in their AOR which is, generally speaking, an entire installation of service members, families and civilians. In this regard these 18 year old kids with that Berretta hanging off their belt are no different than a Sherriff Deputy for the county that post resides in. By this logic I expect that every junior enlisted Soldier wearing that MP brassard on their shoulder and their NCO's take that very seriously and put the utmost emphasis on weapons proficiency. Far too often I see those troops on the range content to suck or I see them looking to their oblivious leadership to help them not suck. In either case seeing this spikes my blood pressure and sends my mind reeling trying to grasp why anyone would accept substandard performance with lethal weapons.

Improvise, adapt and overcome. That's a phrase that I've heard my entire career and one that, if taken to heart, would easily fix the deficiency of our Army's shooters. Let's start with the leadership. NCOs are the lynch pin in this debacle. NCOs should be hounding their commanding officers for more range time, more shooting centric schools for them and their troops, more ammo, more land to train on and above all they should be utilizing the means they already have at their disposal to IMPROVISE. NCOs and Joes alike can ADAPT by spending their money on range time off post instead of the new Call of Duty. If everyone at least cared about marksmanship we could OVERCOME this nonsense. I have a solution for those that don't care about truly being better shooters with this; get out. Seriously, if you don't think that marksmanship and weapons proficiency is important and you don't care to invest any of yourself into making you or your troops better shooters, get out. At the very least find another job where carrying and firing a weapon is highly unlikely like a Chaplain's Assistant. Remember this though, if you raised your right hand and swore to support and defend the constitution of the United States, you chose to make yours a profession of arms. If you aren't comfortable with weapons and violence then do the rest of your comrades a favor and find a new profession.