Tuesday we got up early and headed out to the range to qualify on our weapons. We started out in the morning by doing a mounted convoy patrol out to the first range in our training M1151 up-armored Hummers. I was the driver of vehicle, and I've determined that it will be a love hate relationship while driving the M1151. It is a fun vehicle to drive, however when wearing body armor, helmet, and radio headphones it is almost like wearing a whiplash collar as it can be difficult to turn my head for a full field a view. Driving the M1151 truly requires a person in the passenger seat, as it is almost impossible to see to the right with all the blind spots created by the additional armor and attachments inside of the vehicle. After a 20 minute drive we arrived at our first range of the day, the M4 zero range.
For those who have never shot a rifle, one of the requirements to make a rifle 'your rifle' is to zero it, which will make it shoot straight and true for you. For the M16/M4 this involves setting up a target 25 meters away, which to the eye of the shooter will look like target that is actually 300 meters away. The technique used is to shoot a series of three shots at a time working to get as tight of a grouping of possible of the three shots. A tight grouping will show that weapon is shooting is straight, and more importantly the shooter is practicing good shooting fundamentals (steady position, aiming, breath control, and trigger squeeze). Once a tight shot group is established, adjustments can be made to the aiming sight posts to bring future shot groups into center mass of the target. Once five out of six shots are within the black of the 300 meter scaled target the rifle and shooter is zeroed and can later go to the qualification range. I had to zero in two serperate sight systems for my rifle; a traditional old set of iron sights and the M68 Close Combat Optic (CCO). I will be honest it took me a bit longer to sight in my rifle than I can ever remember in the past. I'm not sure what caused this, however I'm guessing that part of the cause may have been this was the first time that I've had to shot a rifle with the M203 grenade launcher mounted underneath the main barrel. I think that the grenade launcher created a different hand hold than I'm used to, and as a result I probably didn't have as tight into my shoulder as I should have at time. Plus getting used to the additional body armor, may have led to me being one of the last few of our group to finish sitting in our rifle. In the end though this does not matter, as it is just a chance to do some additional practice shooting as it does not count as qualification.
Following the zero range, along with four of my buddies rushed to the M203 qualification range. The M203 is a 40mm single shot grenade launcher that is attached underneath the barrel of the M16/M4. It is about 12 inches long, and has a barrel about 3 inches wide (or so). After a couple rounds of fammilarization we began the qualification. Shooting the grenade launcher I found takes almost equal parts of accurate aiming, kentucky windage, and bit of general guessing as to where the round will actually land. For me I found that I pretty accurate shooting between 100 and 200 meters, with a few rounds that landed pretty close at 300 meters. While I still hit within the standard of the 15 meter blast (kill) radius, all the body armor and additional optics on my weapon made shooting under 100 meters much more difficult. The final poriton of the M203 qual course was to shoot and move with grenade launcher on a course they had set up for us. I put several rounds in each of my cargo pants, unfortunately my Army pants are not made of the strongest material and half way through the course my pants developed a giant rip down the inseam of my pants down to my knee. I finished the shoot and move, however when I walked back to the start it made for a good laugh at the giant hole in my pants. At the end of the day, after I took off my shirt, I was surprised to find that I had a giant welt on my bicep. Due to all the body armor that we are required to wear, I found it impossible to properly seat the rifle in my shoulder, as a result I had to use my right bicep as my base of fire.
Upon completing the M203 qualification range we went out to the M16/M4 qualification range. The rest of our team of 15 had already qualified and completed their day qualification table, so the five of us had the rang to ourselves. After a few minutes of a safety briefing and orientation of the range we set out to qualify with our rifles. As far as layout goes, the Ft Polk M16 qualification range was probably one of the better ranges that I've ever shot on. One of the problems that I and several of the other guys had was that we were all exhausted from all the running we did on the previous range. In an ideal situation it is nice to be well rested when attempting to do accurate shooting. In our first attempt at the range I was the only one out of our five to qualify as a first time go. I know that several of the guys were really frustrated at their performance on the M16/M4, even though after a couple more tries everyone eventually qualified. To qualify on the M16/M4 range there are a series of pop-up targets spaced from 50 to 300 meters apart. We are given a total of 40 rounds in which we must hit at least 23 of the 40 targets to be considered qualified. The first 20 rounds are shot in what is called the prone supported, followed by 10 rounds of prone unsupported, and the last 10 rounds are shot from the nealing position.
A few short hours we had to come back to the same day M16/M4 qualification range and do night qualification. It is actually really cool to witness how the process works. On our weapons we have lasers that are only visible at night while wearing night vision goggles. Just like using a laser pointer at work, by putting the laser on the target and shooting the target should go down.
Tuesday was a long fun, and Wednesday was almost as fun. For Wednesday we went through an introduction on shooting some of the foreign weapons we might see. The morning was spent in a classroom environment learning about such rifles as the grand-daddy of foriegn weapons the AK-47, and it's many variants; as well as the Dragunov, RPK, and PKM machine gun. As can be imagines they have just about as many advantages as disadvantages over our comperable us rifles. For just about all of them they were lighter, and probably easier to dissassemble and clean than our weapons. For a ground infantry soldier the weight of the weapon that they carry around can really be an important factor. However for what our weapons lack in weight, we almost certainly make up for in accuracy, and effective range. In the afternoon we all got a chance to shoot several rounds through the AK-47, the Dragunov marksmen (sniper) rifle, and PKM. The AK did not seem that it would be effective much past 200 yards, if at all; where-as the M4/M16 is in it's prime at ranges of 150 to 300 yards or more. I also found that it would be a requirement to wear a good set of gloves when firing the AK-47. It felt like I almost burnt my support hand after firing a weapon that had shot less than 100 rounds in the previous 5 minutes. The PKM machine gun I don't think would be able to match the accuracy of our M240B machine gun, however I think it could more than effectively be able to put a lot of bullets down range in a short amount of time. All in all if was fun shooting the Russian weapons, in the end though it reinforced that our soldiers and Marines have some of the best weapons available.
Thursday we spent the morning in the classroom learning and discussing Mounted Convoy Patrols. The one thing that was reinforced for me in that class, is that no matter how big the Army, it actually still is a pretty small community. Before I arrived to Fort Sill, I wondered how long it would be before I ran into someone I knew. The instructor of the class was a Staff Sergeant that I worked with when I was in Iraq. It took basically a month for the old "It's a Small Army" theory to be proven again.