FORT IRWIN, Calif. – In the modern Army, there are many ways to be a Soldier, but on the battlefield a Soldier without a weapon is ineffective. Weapon familiarity and maintenance can be the deciding factor in a Soldier's survival.
All Soldiers are responsible for their personally issued weapon, but certain Soldiers are chosen to be the unit armorer. The armorer has additional training on the assembly/disassembly and maintenance of a variety of weapons systems. The armorer is also in charge of the unit arms room where weapons and sensitive items, such as night vision goggles, are stored when not in use.
The armorer is held to a higher level of accountability because of the importance of their duties, and it is unusual for a Soldier lower than the rank of sergeant to be the head armorer for a unit – unusual but not impossible.
Pfc. Andrea Witmer, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, is an example of a young Soldier filling the shoes of the head armorer as the unit prepares for an upcoming deployment to Iraq with a mission readiness exercise at the U.S. Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
"The first time I touched a weapon was in basic training," said Witmer, a New Port Richey, Fla., native. "I never grew up with them. I had never seen them except for on television until I hit basic training."
Witmer said that she loved learning basic rifle marksmanship but it wasn't until she arrived at Fort Hood, Texas, where the 3rd ACR is based, that she was picked to attend the armorer course. After graduating the course, Witmer worked to get the unit's arms room ready for an annual inspection by III Corps and earned the first mark of excellence for the troop.
"It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it," said Witmer, who is trained as an automated logistics specialist.
At NTC, Witmer must keep accountability for more than 425 individual and crew served weapons. Witmer said that Soldiers look to the armorer as a weapons expert and often come to her when their weapon is malfunctioning.
"I've read regulations and technical manuals on my own time to make myself better at what I do," said Witmer. "But the best way to learn is from experience. If I don't know something, I'll be the first to admit it and then I'll do some research and try to figure it out. I always try to sit down and go through it with that person so that we are both learning."
Witmer said the biggest issue at NTC has been with Soldiers either not cleaning their weapon or taking their weapon apart for cleaning beyond their level of expertise.
In addition to being a junior enlisted armorer, Witmer admitted that some Soldiers are surprised that a female Soldier is so interested in and capable with weapons.
"I think it's more of an individual stereotype than a mass one," said Witmer. "I've gained a lot of respect for being in the arms room."
Sgt. Thomas Warden, a supply sergeant with HHT, 3rd ACR, said Witmer is the type of Soldier to get things done. Warden was the assistant armorer that helped Witmer stand up the unit's arms room at Fort Hood.
"She's squared away. She knows what she's doing," said Warden, a Jefferson, Texas, native. Warden has 10 years of combined service in the Army. "She enjoys the job, and she strives to excel."
Warden said that his advice to Witmer on the upcoming deployment to Iraq, her first, is to keep a level head and take the deployment 'one day at a time.'
For Witmer, being the unit armorer is an extra source of pride and has added to her experience in the Army so far.
"Being the armorer makes me feel accomplished," said Witmer. "It's kind of an honor."
Witmer will continue her armorer duties while the regiment is deployed to Iraq.