News: Maine soldiers learn advanced skills at marksmanship school
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
JERICHO, Vt. - Select Maine Army National Guard soldiers from the 251st Combat Engineer Company (SAPPER) are enhancing their combat readiness and gaining useful skills in Vermont this July.
Taking part in the Designated Marksmanship School at Camp Ethan Allen, the soldiers took turns measuring distances, calculating elevation and wind factors as they learned valuable lessons in marksmanship.
The name Sapper traces back to the seventh century B.C. with the Assyrian army, and is synonymous with the engineers who help soldiers advance and use their knowledge to offset enemy advances.
The Sappers are soldiers who perform a wide range of military engineering, from bridge-building, to laying and clearing minefields, demolitions, field defense and general construction. They are also trained to serve as infantry during combat operations, and conduct joint trainings regularly.
Ultimately, a Sapper is both an engineer, and an infantryman.
The two week course trains soldiers to shoot accurately at targets between 300 and 600 meters.
The soldier must be able to fire, maneuver and provide support for all members of their squad while engaging targets with the standard weapon system. They must also be proficient in detecting and determining enemy targets, weak-side shooting and calculating both ballistics and bullet trajectory.
Instructors start in the classroom, and move the soldiers out in the field for extensive practice before beginning the qualification process.
“We start by giving them the basic knowledge in the classroom,” said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Palmer, a senior instructor with the 2nd Modular Training Battalion. “We coach them on position, teaching them the tricks of the trade, such as wind factors and estimating range. We get them to zero and group. Then we start taking them out to distances well outside their comfort zone.”
Palmer, a Colchester, Vt., native, said the role of the squad designated marksman was designed to help improve firing squad capability. In the current operations, such as Afghanistan, many targets are at distances much further than the average soldier is taught to shoot, which is between the 100 and 300 meter range.
“That’s where everyone qualifies,” he said. “This takes them out to 600 meters and beyond, to fill that gap between what a regular soldier, rifleman is capable of and what a sniper is capable of. It is an additional tool on the battlefield.”
Spc. Zachary Surette, a combat engineer with the 251st SAPPER Company was selected to attend the course because of his proficiency with weapons qualifications during the years. He found the training very beneficial.
“Any school that teaches you how to shoot better is worth having, especially in our line of work,” said the Harrison, Maine, native. “This course really forces you to focus on the fundamentals. If you don’t have those completely down, you won’t be successful."
Company commanders selected the soldiers for the course based on their past performances, and their maturity, as well as being eligible for that position within their squad. These soldiers will be expected to come back and pass on what they have learned to the others.
“A squad designated marksman is a regular rifleman within a squad,” said Surette. “But when called upon to engage targets past 300 meters, that’s where they make their money. So really, anywhere from 300 to 600 meters we are expected to be able to successfully identify, range and engage those targets. That’s the main mission, aside from being a rifleman in the squad.”
Palmer enjoys working with the younger soldiers which keeps his own skill set sharp and relevant.
He says the training these soldiers are receiving is valuable both to the individual, and the units. Those who successfully complete the course will be subject matter experts and can go back to their units and share what they have learned to help make everyone a little bit better.
“What we give them, is a better skill set,” said Palmer. “They have a much deeper knowledge than your basic training in marksmanship. In today’s operating environment, it’s more tools for more precise engagements. With more precision shooting, we can improve accuracy decreasing fratricide and civilian casualties.”