Basic Rifle Marksmanship
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Basic Rifle Marksmanship

Basic Rifle Marksmanship is the way that all soldiers learn the basics of rifle marksmanship in the U.S. Army.

In Army Basic Combat Training, about three weeks are devoted to Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM). The purpose of BRM is to familiarize Basic Training soldiers with the standard weapons systems employed by the U.S. Army, teach safe weapons operation, and teach effective weapons operation. In order to receive a "GO" or qualifying score, you must hit at least 23 of 40 targets. Hitting 30 targets earns you the Sharpshooter qualification, while hitting 36 is good enough to be considered an Expert. Achieving these different scores earns you different badges which can be affixed formerly to the Class A and currently to the Dress Blue or ASU uniform.

The first phase of BRM is the weapons familiarization phase. In this phase, soldiers handle the weapons they are issued and are taught about the weapon's functions and maintenance by Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs). There are no weapons fired during this phase; safe conduct is taught first in order to ingrain safety protocol into the minds of Basic trainees. Above are four rifle weapons systems of the U.S. Army. You will notice that the upper and lower receivers of each of these weapons is nearly identical.


The top weapon is the M16A1. This is the new weapon utilized in Vietnam that was not very reliable. One complaint soldiers had was that the weapon frequently shot brass down the sleeves of their arms when they shot it. On the three models pictured below it, a "brass deflector" stud was added to prevent this. Look just to the left of the dust cover (it has a bright silver-colored spring on it) and you will see that the three models on bottom have a small triangular stud while the M16A1 does not. The M16A1 was manufactured with semi-automatic (one trigger squeeze, one shot) and full-automatic capabilities (one squeeze, continuous fire). These weapons are rarely utilized anymore. In my training in 2006, only one soldier out of 240 was issued an M16A1, and the weapon was quickly removed and turned into the armory when the Drill Sergeants pulled up his targets and found that his rounds were actually rolling in the air and striking the target sideways! This meant that the weapon had been fired so much that the barrel's rifling had nearly worn off, and was not producing enough spin to keep the round flying straight. One other small difference is that the A1 pictured has a 20-round straight magazine while the other three weapons have a 30-round banana-style magazine.


The second weapon from the top is the M16A2. This weapon is still widely in use by the military, although it is rapidly being replaced by the M4A1. This is the weapon that the majority of us utilized in Basic Training in 2006 (although I did utilize the M4A1 in Advanced Individual Training or AIT). Many Basic Training battalions have now changed to the M4 system, however. The M16A2 is functionally identical to the A1 with the exception that it has a three-shot burst firing option (one trigger pull, three shots) instead of an automatic option. Also, the handguards consist of round ribbed plastic instead of the smooth triangular design of the previous model.

M4A1 and M16A4

 The third weapon from the bottom is the M4A1, and the fourth is the M16A4. The A4 fires in a semi-automatic or three-shot burst mode while the M4A1 returns to an automatic capability. Both weapons have new rail systems for posting advanced new electronic systems (laser sights) to the weapons. All of these weapons except the M16 have modular capabilities (including the attachment of an M203 grenade launcher), but the bottom two have extended this modular capability to accept any system that can be mounted on rails like night vision and infrared vision sights. The M4A1 is defined as a carbine, and features an extendable stock which makes it extremely handy for close quarters combat. The M4 is the weapon which is currently utilized by most soldiers.

Other than learning about the basic characteristics of the weapon including how to load it, fire it, and clear it properly, Basic Training soldiers do a number of drills to enhance their ability to fire their weapons systems. Soldiers are taught the fundamentals of firing with acronyms like STAB, which stands for Steady position, Trigger squeeze, Aiming, and Breathing. I remember two drills from Basic that were used to explain these concepts. One was dime drills, in which a dime was placed on the front sight post of the weapon. We would then attempt to squeeze the trigger without knocking the dime off. Because the front sight post had a round surface, it was extremely difficult to do, but it taught proper trigger squeeze well. A more painful drill was the canteen drill, in which a full canteen was hung on the end of the barrel of the weapon. We then had to hold a steady firing position for five minutes. At the end of weapons familiarization, we did a practice firing table in a video game simulator. This system was identical to the real thing except that it was done with weapons designed to simulate the firing of an M16.

Weapons qualification was done in a typical Army crawl, walk, run fashion. We started by grouping our weapons, then zeroing them. What this did was to enable us to adjust our sights so that where we were aiming was where we were shooting. To do this, we were required to shoot with the same sight picture of center mass (direct center of the target) and get our rounds within a small circle. Then, the sights could be adjusted the proper direction by the drill sergeant. Each of these processes took one day.

The final event of Basic Rifle Marksmanship was Range Day, in which we qualified for the M16 weapons system. Basic Training soldiers are presented 40 targets and 40 rounds to qualify with. Targets come in the T-Type and E-Type silhouettes. Both are human-shaped targets, but the E-Type is a squatter one usually used for the 50 and 100 yard targets. Targets are set up at ranges of 50, 100, 150, 200, 250, and 300 yards and pop up in sequences.

There are three firing positions for BRM. The first is the Prone Supported, in which soldiers fire 20 rounds. In this position, soldiers lay on their belly in a prone position, then support their weapon with sandbags. They then fire ten rounds in the Prone Unsupported position, which is a similar position without a resting surface. The final position fires 10 rounds in the Kneeling, which is an apparent position. Although the Foxhole position is no longer utilized, many ranges still have the foxholes on the firing line. The first target is almost always a "Fast Eddie," which is the famous colloquialism for the 50-left or the 50 yard target on the left, which moves up and down very rapidly. The 300-yard target stays up much longer, but it is quite a bit more difficult to hit.

Soldiers are instructed when to fire and exactly what to do by a range safety officer (RSO). The movements on and off of the weapons qualification range are highly coordinated and practiced movements, because these are the times when safety is the most paramount. Special attention is placed to where a soldier's barrel is pointed, and Drill Sergeants are quick to correct a soldier when they fail to follow safe procedures. Standards continue to change as far as range procedures go. When I went through training, we went on the ranges in "full battle-rattle," that is, wearing all of our equipment and body armor. Thus we had to fire under hot and uncomfortable positions. This rule does change from time to time, however. BRM is an enjoyable experience designed to hone the basics of military marksmanship, and it is something that each soldier of the U.S. Army is very familiar with.


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