Saturday, December 12, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
It was an early wakeup for Soldiers of the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command on Saturday, who gathered up their gear and hit the road to Camp Dawson, W.Va., at 5:30 a.m. to go qualify at the firing range.
Roughly 200 Soldiers loaded up three charter buses from Coraopolis, Pa., to make the two-hour trip to the range.
“It’s an important part for Soldiers survival and promotion,” said Master Sgt. Paul Wersing, who was one of the safety noncommissioned officers at the range, who lives in Penn Township, Pa. “During qualification, we make sure Soldiers understand their firearm, which is their best friend.”
The 316th ESC came well prepared for their Soldiers to fire with roughly 3,000 rounds for the 9mm pistol range and 12,000 rounds for the M-16 rifles.
Organizing the range also required an officer and a noncommissioned officer in charge who supervised the range, along with range safety officers, safety guides, marksmanship instructors, weapon guards, medics and designated vehicles for transportation and medical emergencies.
The 316th ESC also provided roughly 850 meals, plus linen and barracks for the Soldiers to stay at Camp Dawson overnight.
“This is excellent,” said Command Sgt. Maj Stacey Davis, who is the 316th ESC command sergeant major, about the range setup. “We’re taking care of Soldiers out here. It’s not just a dreary day at the range.”
Most of the preparations were established ahead of time with an advance party setting up the targets, loading magazines with ammunitions and stationing a tent with protective combat vests, so Soldiers could begin shooting as early as possible. Soon the air filled with the smell of gunpowder and the sound of shots popping at a rapid pace.
To ensure success, several NCOs provided marksmanship classes to remind Soldiers of their shooting fundamentals.
“Because shooting my weapon is a perishable skill, I always go through the class,” said Lt. Col. Ron Bonomo, an intelligence officer from the Penn Hills of Pittsburgh who qualified expert with a perfect score of 30 hits at the M-9 pistol range.
“I really enjoy shooting,” he added. “Honestly, here, (I enjoy) working with people, with the camaraderie of the event, and (with Soldiers) encouraging one another at the range.”
Soldiers are required to qualify at the range twice a year. The last time the 316th ESC qualified as a unit was in March. It’s important to do it often because of the job Soldiers are asked to fulfill.
“Inevitably, we could be in a position when we have to use these weapons,” said Capt. Geoff Heiple, an operations officer. “We have to practice it. It’s one more skill that’s important for our Soldier makeup.”
Heiple said he qualified with the M-16 this time, which was helpful since he hadn’t fired an M-16 in more than five years. Typically, officers are required to qualify with the M-9 pistol at the range. The last time he fired an Army rifle, it was the smaller and more compact M-4.
Not only is weapon marksmanship vital for Soldiers who face combat, but it’s also an incentive for those looking for a promotion. The better a Soldier shoots at the range, the more points that Soldier will earn toward their promotion packet.
“I need all the points I could get,” said Spc. Elizabeth Schroth, a human resources specialist from Pittsburgh. She said she’s putting together her packet to become a sergeant.
“All I need is the weapon qualification and a (physical fitness) test, and I’m ready to put in the packet,” she said.
Of course, it’s always good knowing that one’s fellow battle buddy knows how to use his or her weapon.
“It’s part of your job,” said Schroth. “I know I’d want somebody behind me (in combat) who can at least hit the broad side of a barn.”
Chief Warrant Officer Bryan Beard, an armament repair technician, 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, inserts a rod down the M-16 barrel of 2nd Lt. Gina Rhodes, executive officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 316th ESC, to ensure it is clear of rounds as she exits the firing range at Camp Dawson Nov. 21. Rhodes, of Pittsburgh, was one of many soldiers participating in marksmanship qualification training. “This training prepares them for going into theatre,” said Beard, of Draper, Va.
Yesterday, we drove out to Camp Dawson to take photos of Soldiers from the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command who qualified with their M16 rifles and M9 pistols at the range.
Stories and photos from this event will be uploaded shortly.