CAMP JOSEPH T. ROBINSON, Ark. – January 28, 2016 – The average daily temperatures at Fort Greely, Alaska, in December span between 10 degrees for the high and dip down to 10 degrees below zero for the low.
For the 49th Missile Defense Battalion (MDB) Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, these conditions are just another workday.
The 49th MDB has been conducting its go-to-war mission continuously, 24 hours a day, for over 10 years. As a result, it can be a challenge to send Soldiers away to complete training or attend schools.
When someone attends a school, has temporary duty elsewhere, or even takes leave, it can impact their mission, says Maj. Michael Odgers, the 49th MDB operations officer.
Fortunately, the Army’s newest marksmanship course was prepared to meet the challenges.
In early December, a mobile training team from the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center (NGMTC) traveled to the remote post and conducted the new Small Arms Weapons Expert (SAWE) course for the soldiers of the 49th MDB.
Small Arms Weapons Expert Course
The Small Arms Weapons Expert course is designed to strengthen marksmanship competency within units from the ground up. Every student is instructed on the fundamental tasks of every small arms system. The course isn’t solely focused on shooting the weapons, but gaining a true mastery of each system.
According to Maj. Donnie Crain, the officer in charge of the Marksmanship Training Battalion at the NGMTC, the true value of the course lies not in having a highly trained weapons expert, but in the skill level being brought back to the whole unit.
“Through the knowledge and hands-on experience gained in this course, these graduates will be tremendous assets for their units as they improve their unit marksmanship programs,” said Crain.
Students learn how to train other soldiers in marksmanship, how to maintain the small arms weapons systems and how to plan and operate qualification ranges.
The new SAWE course also adds another aspect not previously taught in advanced marksmanship courses: night fire and optics.
The old Army adage of “we own the night” is put to the test. Students learn how to use both thermal and night-vision optics to maximize their efficiency and intelligence gathering at night.
The night fire portion of the course is specifically designed to increase lethality, survivability and situational awareness.
Mobile training teams
In addition to the scheduled courses that the NGMTC offers, an increasingly popular option for units requesting training is to schedule a mobile training team (MTT) to come to their location.
MTTs offer the benefit of being able to train a larger population within a unit at less expense and less disruption to the unit’s mission.
“The mobile training team provided a fantastic opportunity for soldiers to get this valuable training while inflicting minimal impact on our operations mission,” said Odgers. “Without the MTT, many of those soldiers would not have been afforded the opportunity to attend.”
The NGMTC has worked hard to be able to offer such flexibility.
“It is exciting to see unit’s taking advantage of our MTT capabilities to improve their marksmanship programs,” said Crain.
The benefits of training a large section within a single unit are readily visible as well.
Sgt. Shiloh Bethke, assigned to Alpha Company, 49th MDB, Alaska Army National Guard, says the training she received during the course was invaluable to her mission defending the Missile Defense Complex.
“As a military police Soldier, we use these weapons on a daily basis,” said Bethke. “It really helped that so many of our platoon received the same information.”
“Marksmanship is a fundamental Soldier skill and core competency of the force,” said Crain. “It helps us to meet (U.S. Army) Forces Command’s guidance by improving the collective competency when faced with a near-peer threat.”
For now, there are at least 15 more experts guarding the far reaches of our nation’s border. Once they train the rest of their unit, an elite force of soldiers will stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemy if needed.