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Editor’s note: As a special service for our readers, WND is running a series of dispatches from Allan Wall chronicling his transition from civilian life as he prepares to fight with his National Guard unit in Iraq. Allan will write for us as often as he is able in order to let our readers vicariously experience what people in his position are going through. We hope you will check regularly for Allan’s dispatches and encourage your friends and family to do likewise.

My National Guard unit is training at Fort XYZ to go to Iraq. An important part of that training is shooting our rifles.

Army shooting practice involves a little more than simply loading up a rifle and squeezing off a few rounds. It is a carefully regulated activity.

To begin with, we don’t keep our rifles with us in our barracks. They are kept in a special arms-storage vault, with carefully controlled access. When it’s time to use the rifles, soldiers go to the arms room and check out the rifles assigned to them.

The construction and even the placement of an Army firing range is also the result of careful planning. Care must be taken as to which direction the rifles are shooting. You can’t have soldiers at a firing range shooting at other soldiers doing maneuvers on the other side of the range. So the locations selected for firing ranges are oriented toward an open area not used for other purposes. That’s why an Army base has to be carefully planned, with different areas reserved for different functions.

When the soldiers go to the firing range, they follow strict safety rules. The ammunition is carefully controlled, and only doled our to firers when needed. Rifles are checked both entering and exiting the firing line. Once the soldier is up on the line, he needs to hold his rifle “up and downrange.”

The personnel in charge of the firing range operate it from a tower behind the firing line, where they can carefully observe all firearms activity. Instructions are given to the shooters from the tower. Besides the people in the tower, there are safety observers on the firing line, who look to see that the rules are followed. When it’s time to shoot, everybody shoots at the same time, in the same direction, but at different targets. (From time to time, a soldier has hit the target of the shooter next to him, which helps the score of the one whose target it is, not the one who fired the bullet!)

When the firing is completed, the tower instructs the soldiers to “drop your magazine and place your weapon on safe” and the safety observers verify this is done.

The standard marksmanship test applied to U.S. Army soldiers is known as “qualification.” The rules and standards of this test are uniform throughout the Army. When a soldier passes “qualification,” he is qualified to fire a rifle in the Army.

Before firing at the range to pass the qualification test, the soldier must “zero” his rifle, adjusting the vertical and horizontal rifle sights to his own eyesight. This is done at a range with fixed targets. After firing, and upon orders from the tower, all the shooters walk together to the targets and check them, then they return to the firing line. After they return, the tower instructs them to make adjustments to the rifles. They bring the sights up or down, right or left, as need be. After doing this several times, when the rifle is zeroed, the soldier passes to the qualification range.

The safety rules at the qualification range are the same as those at the zero range, except that it’s not necessary to walk downrange and check the targets. That’s because the targets (which are pop-up targets) are connected to a computer in the tower. That way the soldier’s qualification score can be tabulated immediately. The pop-up targets range in distance from 50 to 300 meters.

Besides the regular qualification, there is also a qualification fired at night, and another day qualification fired while wearing a gas mask (or as it’s called in the Army, a protective mask).

The use of pop-up targets in conjunction with a computer is quite efficient. But, as you likely know, any computer system can from time to time go down. One day here at Fort XYZ, a group of guardsmen were firing their rifle qualification while wearing gas masks. Suddenly the computer went down, before they had completed the firing. So they had to do it over again. Well, at least they were able to get some more target practice!

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