By: Emily Mulcahey
Yawning, groggy teenage faces traipsed up the steadily inclining hill toward a long row of tents on Saturday morning. For the members of Cadet Leader Course (CLC) Regiment 5, this was the first day of the exercises many of them had been anticipating for weeks: rifle training.
Cadet rifle training is made up of a three-day course including five different training exercises: Fundamentals; Group, Zero, and Qualify; Barrier Shoot; Machine Gun Range; and finally Squad Live Fire. They are set in this specific order so that the cadets can use the skills they have learned and build upon them. While the first day of fundamentals may not be action-packed like the rest, the cadets must be sure they are proficient on the basics before beginning to use live rounds.
“In the sense of cadet rifle training, this is probably the most important station there is,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Iozzo. “This is where they learn the fundamentals. For a lot of cadets, this is the first time they’ve ever touched a weapon. They’re learning all the safety, assembly and disassembly, and all the other building blocks.”
The following day, the cadets began to put their fundamentals to legitimate use. Day two of rifle training is the Group, Zero, Qualify Exercise. In layman’s terms, “grouping” is to shoot at a target a certain number of times, and be able to get each shot within a close area of one another. “Zeroing” is adjusting the sights on one’s rifle, and “qualifying” is being able to hit 23 out of 40 targets at different distances. Without having learned fundamentals the day before, cadets would have been dead in the water during Group, Zero, Qualify.
“The challenges they face here will be similar to what they’ll be doing in real life, because a lot of this is cadet-run,” said 2nd Lt. Alex Giovanni, “so as cadre, we really won’t interject until they’re about to walk off a cliff. They’re going to learn to think about things they’ve never thought of before.”
It is important for new cadets to capitalize on what they’re learning during rifle training now, because the Army is in the midst of an entire rifle doctrine revision. Many of the basics that soldiers have been taught for their entire careers are changing; things such as how to hold and position the weapon and how to position one’s body are in the process of being altered. It is now a learning process for both the experienced cadre, and the brand new cadets.
“I actually learned that they changed a lot of regulations on rifle handling since I last qualified,” said Cadet Gulee Kwon of New Mexico State University, “so I learned a lot of new stuff. Overall, it comes down to being disciplined. You have to maintain your fundamentals the entire time. Focus and concentration are key.”
The third and final day of training was packed with arguably some of the most fun and important training the cadets have received thus far. It began with the Barrier Shoot, where cadets stand behind an L shaped barrier and shoot at different targets in both sitting and standing positions. While they do not have to “qualify” during this activity, they are competing with the other companies in their regiment, so the pressure is on. Still, to do well they must stick to the fundamentals they have been learning all along.
“Soldiers mainly shoot, so as a leader you need to also be proficient,” said Cadet George Jowl of Colorado Springs University. Jowl has been in the Army for six years, and has deployed twice, so he has plenty of experience with an M-16 rifle. “You may not be an expert, but you do have an understanding of the training. It helps you as a leader to see the big picture. It helps you rate the capabilities of those you are working with.”
Once they have completed the Barrier Shoot, the cadets have had ample practice with a regular M-16 semi-automatic rifle. It is when they move to the Machine Gun Range that things really become interesting for them.
“I was kind of falling asleep before this, because we didn’t sleep too much last night,” Cadet Victoria Blandon of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland yelled over the surrounding gunfire, “but once I got on the machine gun, it was really exciting!”
Aside from the entertainment of being able to fire a machine gun for the first time, the cadre were there to make sure it wasn’t all fun and games. These are fully automated weapons, after all.
“They’re getting a bird’s eye view of a leadership standpoint: how the squad works, what the squad does, and what it’s capable of” said Staff Sgt. Purnel Jeanpierre. “When you have an individual weapon, you’re just learning your part. When you get an area weapon, it’s not just you, it’s a weapon that is owned by a squad.”
At the machine gun range, cadets had a cadre member and a battle buddy with them while they completed their shooting. There was a large emphasis on teamwork and trust, just as there is in a combat zone. This is where the cadets began to transition into shooting with a team around them, and instructions being given to them simultaneously.
The Squad Live Fire Exercise is where it all came together.
Squad Live Fire is the culminating event for rifle training. There, cadets take every piece they have learned, and put it to use in a mock combat zone; they are moving, listening to instructions from their team leader, and firing live rounds at “enemies.”
“It was a new experience,” said a smiling Cadet George Geiger of Texas Christian University upon completing the Live Fire exercise, ”it was the first time I’ve ever done anything like it. I thought I was a pretty good shot lying down, but it’s a completely different animal when you’re moving and you’re in awkward positions. It was a little bit of an eye opener.”
As three days of training finally came to a close, the newfound confidence in the faces of the cadets was unmistakable. For many of them, the first day had been the first time they had touched a rifle. By the last day, they had shot a fully automatic weapon and learned the safety and fundamentals to boot. ROTC Cadets at Fort Knox are learning things that most college students only see on the big screen. Major Clint Burleson perfectly describes the rifle training process, and the feelings of accomplishment that coincide with it.
“This is an opportunity for them to build confidence,” he says, “it’s something a lot of them have never done before. They’re holding a real weapon and maneuvering, and it’s kind of scary, it gets your heart going. Upon completion, they realize, ‘Hey, I can do this.’”