The Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU), based out of Ft. Benning, Georgia, produces some of the world’s best marksmen. It does not matter if the discipline is rifle, 3-Gun, shotgun, pistol, or air rifle, the AMU continuously remains among the top of elite shooters, both military- and civilian-wide.
The AMU has a very unique relationship with 3rd Ranger Battalion snipers. In the late 1990s, the 3rd Ranger Battalion Snipers began to work closely with the AMU. The snipers were able use AMU’s ranges, getting hands on instruction on alternate shooting positions, and calling wind adjustments. The Platoon Sergeant at the time, SFC Lindsay Bunch, believed that if his snipers could master these alternate positions, they would be more effective on the battlefield, where a perfectly stabilized bipod-supported firing position is rarely available.
Previously, the primary targets that were engaged were standard E-type steel or cardboard targets. Using the AMU’s range afforded the men the opportunity to train on a range with rapidly changing winds and shoot NRA-style targets. The NRA-style target in much more difficult to engage and the shooter must be much more precise than when engaging the Army’s standard E-type.
Through 1998, the relationship continued to grow and in 1999 the AMU brought a 3/75 Sniper squad leader over to the unit for a “summer trip” with the AMU Service Rifle team. The trip began with the team traveling to Quantico, VA to compete in the Rifle Inter-Service Championships. From there, they traveled to Camp Perry, OH to compete in the National Matches. With that, the pick-up shooter program was born, and enabled future Rangers to spend their summers competing against some of the best marksmen in the world.
The next summer, the plan had expanded to include two snipers from each Ranger Battalion. Among these were two Rangers from 3/75, Pete Carreaga and Jared Van Aalst. The advantage of that summer’s worth of shooting was immense. The Rangers used AMU-issued equipment (spotting scopes, shooting jackets, stools, gloves, etc.) and shot the match-grade M16s in Service Rifle competitions. At 1,000 yards, they used their M-24s and AMU long-range bolt-rifles. Emil Praslick, the Head Coach of the AMU Service Rifle Section, believes that each and every shooter who has participated in the program has left a better marksman than when they arrived.
One month prior to September 11th, Jared Van Aalst accepted a two-year commitment to transfer over to the AMU. Van Aaslst was very successful during his time with the AMU and used the knowledge gained as a sniper and a marksmanship subject matter expert to completely redesign the AMU’s marksmanship training classes and materials. Additionally, he created the formal period of instruction (POI), and training materials for a Squad Designated Marksmanship training program.
The SDM course grew under Jared’s guidance into a wide-ranging program that included numerous mobile training teams (MTTs) and weapon support for the 3rd Infantry Division. The SDM program is now the standard for training squad marksman throughout the entire Army.
After his two-year stint with the AMU, Van Aalst returned to 3/75 and took over duties as the Sniper Platoon Sergeant. The experience he gained during his time with the AMU, along with his training as a Ranger and the hard work from the leaders before him, created a deadly combination. All of this influenced how the snipers of 3/75 began to train and execute. I arrived to the sniper section in early 2005 and was immediately taken aback with the efficiency of training and discipline.
During my time in the section, we sent out teams to schools, shooting competitions, and sniper competitions throughout the military. We had teams and individuals who won the International Sniper Competition, the Canadian International Sniper Competition, the JSOC Sniper Competition (I think that one was a hard pill to swallow for the CAG and SEAL snipers, to realize they had just been beaten by a couple of “lowly” Rangers), and the US Army Small Arms Championship. We even had two men who attended the US Marine Scout Sniper course; one earned Top Gun, while the other earned himself the title of Honor Graduate (let’s just say that the rest of the graduates weren’t too happy about this).
Training in the section no longer just consisted of range time and other common sniper tasks as outlined by FM 23-10, but became a constant competition, whether real or in training, that helped mold the modern sniper.
All of these competitions and schools were stacked somewhere within an intense six-month training cycle that was then sandwiched between a deployment rotation to either Iraq or Afghanistan. During these periods the body is highly stressed. Although different in nature, the physiological effect of competition and the physiological effect of war are quite similar. During both cases you body releases identical chemicals, therefore causing the cardiac and central nervous systems to respond in a similar manner. These similarities prepare your mind and body for the mental and physical rigors of combat.
The relationship between the AMU and 3/75 is one that has appreciated throughout the years and has led to the success of sniper teams throughout the 75th Ranger Regiment. Without the help and guidance of the AMU, I am sure that the Regiment’s sniper sections would have been very successful, but with their help the 75th Regiment’s snipers, specifically 3/75, were able to hone themselves into what I believe is one of the most effective sniper sections in today’s military.
This article originally published on SOFREP 11.04.2014
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