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    Reserve Soldiers Qualify with M9



    Story by Riley Anfinson 

    364th Theater Public Affairs Support Element

    CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. – A bead of sweat rolled slowly down the side of Westergard’s face, just after getting caught on the end of his eyebrow. With each second, another bead formed, attracting more and more bugs. The sound of the gnats swarming above nearly masked the loud pop of gunfire at a nearby range. The moisture still lingered in the air from the early morning rain. The thick clouds blocked every opportunity for sunlight to poke through, keeping the air thicker.

    Beside the sound of gunfire and the relentless mosquitos, the only other noise to be heard on this still morning was the consistent clicking of 9mm ammunition being loaded into magazines one by one.

    Master Sgt. Kyle Westergard, assigned to the 364th Theater Public Affairs Support Element, was preparing to qualify with the M9 weapon system at a range on Camp Ripley, Minn., July 11, 2022, as part of his unit’s annual training.

    The 364th TPASE is a Reserve unit stationed at Fort Snelling, Minn. During their two-week annual training, they will focus on maintaining readiness and staying proficient in all aspects of being a Soldier, such as weapon qualifications, land navigation, MOS proficiency, and physical fitness.

    Shortly after arriving at the range, the unit gathered together after unloading their gear. Maj. Scott Ludwig, the Officer in Charge of the 364th TPASE, briefed the Soldiers that safety was his top priority, and familiarized them with the M9 weapon system and range setup.

    The M9, a lightweight, semi-automatic pistol, is the designated sidearm for the United States Army. While the M9 doesn’t compare to the power of most other Army weapon systems, it still holds its place due to its accessibility, mobility, and precision. Soldiers are trained to be proficient in all weapon systems.

    Each soldier who qualified had their own lane accompanied by a range safety who would help the qualifier and ensure safety. Sgt. Andrew McNeil, assigned to the 364th TPASE, was appointed as one of the range safeties.

    “Today, my specific role was to be a [range] safety while people were firing, assist them, make sure the range was maintaining a proper safety procedure, and our shooters were successful,” he said.

    The range extended across an open, flat ground where the lanes were marked with white and yellow paint. Past the firing line were green, human-like targets that mechanically pop up over a small, grassy barrier. The targets would slam back down when they were hit or the time ran out. Each target would only stay up for a few seconds to help emulate a real-life situation. The shooter would be standing calm, yet firm with the barrel pointed down range. As soon as a target popped up, the Soldier would align their sights, aim center mass, and squeeze the trigger. A small cloud of smoke would exit the barrel as the empty cartridge flew to the side, clanking on the pavement.

    Ludwig expressed his excitement when he talked about the pop-up range. He said he was happy with the way the range was run, and that it was a very smooth day at the range.

    After the Soldiers who needed to qualify with the M9 pistol had done so, the lower-enlisted Soldiers had a chance to qualify, too. The young Soldiers were trained on the weapon system, and were ready to fire. The excitement was obvious as they walked to their lane with giant grins on their faces.

    After the last few rounds were spent, the ground glistened as the sun had come out and reflected all the light off of the brass-covered ground. The unit collectively cleaned up the range until there was not an empty shell in sight.

    “Everybody qualified, everybody did well, and we all had fun,” said McNeil.

    Ludwig explained we are all soldiers first; and it’s important to be proficient with our weapon systems, and the more we train, the more prepared we are.



    Date Taken: 07.11.2022
    Date Posted: 07.17.2022 17:09
    Story ID: 425036
    Location: LITTLE FALLS, MN, US 

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