MTA expands Soldiers’ confidence, skills set

By Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin/19th Public Affairs Detachment on October 5, 2012

As smoke rises from the firing line like an angry fog and the crack of gunfire interrupts the morning quiet, Sgt. 1st Class Howard Lovin, a career Soldier and the NCOIC of the Marksmanship Training Academy at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, compares weapon marksmanship to playing a musical instrument.

It would be unrealistic to expect a musician to play a masterpiece without a baseline understanding of proper technique and disciplined, repetitious training. The same, he said, is true of Soldiers learning to become proficient in their individually assigned weapon systems.

The three distinct courses offered at the MTA - Combat Pistol Application Course, Practical Extended Range Rifle Course and the Combat Marksmanship Training Course - are intended to "train-the-trainer," specifically junior NCOs and officers, on the proper marksmanship skills that will enhance their Soldiers' success in garrison and combat. Classes are small, as is the ratio of students to instructors, which promotes an atmosphere of mentorship and outcome-based training.

"We never give them directives. We offer them alternative solutions to get them going in the right direction. For example, ‘Sergeant, your rounds are hitting off to the left. What do you think you need to do to correct that?' I never say, ‘Hey, move your right foot back.' We let the Soldier figure it out," Lovin said. "They answer their own questions, but we lead them."

Using the "crawl, walk, run" method each course begins at a basic level of instruction, including an emphasis on dry firing, where the students perform the mechanics of firing and identify bad habits prior to the introduction of live ammunition, before quickly progressing into advanced techniques the students might not ordinarily have the opportunity to train on.

A few of the advanced skills integrated into the courses are moving while shooting, shooting from a variety of stances, shooting at multiple and varied styles of targets, shooting at distance targets, scenario-based time trials that require Soldiers to indentify friendly and enemy targets and decide whether to engage them, and also shooting with and the maintenance of weapon attachments, like optics.

Those who graduate from all three courses are eligible to receive an additional skill-identifier, but more importantly, will have more than 160 hours of weapons training.

"This is an opportunity for company-level first sergeants and commanders, as well as the Soldier, because he or she will walk away as a subject matter expert in the use of company-level weapon systems, able to go back with a new methodology of instruction and more resources under their belt to help out their unit," said Lovin. Lovin encourages Soldiers from all military occupational specialties and skill-levels to attend the courses. Some of the best shooters during his tenure at the MTA were students who told him they were "just a cook" or "just a mechanic." He said the growth during the course is quantifiable not just in the positive feedback he and his cadre receive during the course review but in the improvements shown during the many competitive events incorporated into the courses. A student who did poorly on day one often might come out on top by day five.

"There is no doubt in my mind that I am better after attending these courses," said Sgt. Michael Stone, an infantryman with 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, who recently returned from Afghanistan. "You get used to shooting your own way, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are shooting the right way. Coming to these courses instills the right way to do things."

Stone said he had improved on his form, accuracy and confidence. He felt the course owed a lot to the strength of the instructors, who are borrowed from different JBLM units and reflect a variety of marksmanship skills.

"They are very knowledgeable and down to earth, they speak to you like a human being so you can learn in the environment - instead of being worried or scared," said Stone. "And they love what they do."

For more information about the courses or availability of seating, call the MTA at 966-9015.