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Task Force SARG: how an effective and influential cadre of Army Reserve marksmanship instructors saved the day.

THE U.S. ARMY CAN'T SHOOT. Any Marine will tell you that. The only people who don't know this are some of the Army's leadership. Marksmanship has never been an important skill in the peacetime Army. I was once told by an Army colonel that "any drill sergeant with a field manual can teach soldiers how to shoot." This mindset is deeply embedded in many high-ranking Army officers, but thankfully, not all of them.

Right after the start of the Afghan War in 2001, the Army Reserve looked at its marksmanship training for mobilized reservists and wasn't happy. Actually, there wasn't any training. Soldiers were just supposed to shoot a qualification course before deploying. When activated personnel started showing up at mobilization sites with no weapons training or qualification scores, the call went out for trained soldier marksmen to teach and qualify deploying reservists. The United States Army Reserve Shooting Team initially answered the call and provided the nucleus of the instructor cadre that eventually became the Task Force Small Arms Readiness Group (SARG).

Some of the best shooters in the USAR volunteered to teach deploying troops. Their teaching and shooting skills were honed by years of national and international competition in conventional and combat marksmanship. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued, most instructors saw combat, adding additional experience to their teaching credentials. Many chose to stay on active duty--some for several years beyond their initial mobilization--training thousands of deploying soldiers.

Initially, there was no Task Force SARG, just shooting team members and other qualified reservists at various mobilization sites. As the wars progressed and training coalesced around several locations, the need for additional instructors--and the capability for training them--became obvious. When SARG was created, a school for new instructors started and doctrine (based on lessons learned in combat) was written. Volunteers contacted the new unit, were trained and sent to several platforms at bases across the country to teach the ever-increasing numbers of activated and deploying soldiers.

Task Force SARG, consisting of almost 190 soldiers, was based in Georgia's Ft. Gillam. The new academy was located in Camp Bullis in Texas. The remainder of the Task Force was scattered all over the U.S., at various bases that doubled as mobilization sites. These platforms usually had eight to 10 Task Force instructors who taught basic marksmanship for rifle, pistol and machine gun.



The jewel of SARG was its Small Arms Instructor Academy (SAIA). The best instructors were brought to Camp Bullis, Texas, from the various platforms to teach new instructor candidates in advanced marksmanship. In addition to running courses for instructor candidates, the SAIA also trained San Antonio-area soldiers--active, reserve and National Guard--prior to deployment. The Academy had 18 soldiers assigned to instruct, and the schoolhouse was usually on a non-stop six-day, 16-hour schedule. Cadre were assigned to Rifle, Pistol or Crew-Served (machine guns), depending on their specialty. SAIA also had the capability to teach foreign weapons, sniper and CQB (what the Army calls "short-range marksmanship").

What made the SAIA so special was its personnel. More than half the instructors wore the President's Hundred tab or the gold Distinguished badge in rifle or pistol or both. All competed regularly with the USAR teams in rifle, pistol or combat matches when not working. Most were recently returned combat veterans.

This little band of professionals at Camp Bullis taught several thousand soldiers to shoot and shoot well. The core course was Advanced Pistol and Rifle Marksmanship. Over the course of six days, students fired nearly 1,200 rounds of pistol and rifle ammo. Rifle shooting was on a known-distance range out to 500 yards, which is unheard of in regular Army field fire and qualification. Shooters were taught to read the wind and shoot from improvised, sometimes unsupported positions, like they would in combat. In pistol, students learned slow fire and rapid fire on the standard M9, all at 25 meters on bullseye targets. Soldiers learned how to "shoot for group" and analyze their targets. Unlike most all Army instruction, there were no "hurry up and wait" problems here. A normal day was a busy 12 hours, not counting daily maintenance.


Something else Task Force SARG became good at teaching was Squad Designated Marksman. Not only was this taught at Camp Bullis, it was also taught on the platforms by the SARG platform instructors. The SDM concept, very popular with combat units, gives the commander another tool to engage the enemy. Unlike snipers, SDMs remain with their units after training and give the commander another option in combat. Most every division in the Army has an SDM course. The difference in the SARG course is that it's taught by champion riflemen with years of experience behind a trigger. No match equipment is used, and field-expedient positions are emphasized. Students engage targets out to 500 yards using stock M16A4s equipped with ACOG scopes and ball ammo. All SARG instructors have completed the SARG SDM course, and all qualified to teach it.



Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. First the Army, tired of being responsible for what it perceived as an unnecessary drain on its resources, transferred the SARG mission back to the Army Reserve, disbanding the Task Force. The Army Reserve, nervous about the unprecedented expenditure of training ammunition, shut down the SAIA at Camp Bullis and its mission of training marksmanship instructors. More than 1 million rounds of ammunition, slated to be used in future SARG classes, was turned back in to Army depots. The platform instructors were transferred to the MOB sites, to be used as the MOB commanders saw fit. SAIA instructors found other units or returned to civilian life. What was left of SARG became part of a Reserve Training Division. However, like a cat with nine lives, the SARG training spirit lives on with new missions. Many of the Task Force instructors are in Afghanistan now, teaching Afghan police and Army personnel how to shoot, continuing the mission of marksmanship training.



The Army Reserve uses the same weapons as the active Army-mostly. The regular Army-issues the M4 5.56mm carbine almost exclusively now. The Reserve still issues the M16A2. Task Force SARG used the M16A4 flattop with various optics on top, usually M68 Aimpoint CCOs or Trijicon ACOGs. Ammo is M855 62-grain ball, both for training and combat. M203s are also seen, mounted underneath M16A2s.

Like its active-duty counterpart, the USAR has M9s (Beretta 92s) in its inventory, and soldiers with overseas duty will be issued one if that's what their job requires. M1911A1.45s are long gone from Reserve and National Guard arms rooms. The one advantage to the USAR M9s is that, unlike the regulars, reserve weapons don't get shot much, so your chances are good that you'll get a new or little-used M9 for deployment. The M9 is loaded with standard M882 jacketed ball for practice and duty. The SIG M11 (SIG 228) 9mm is usually only seen in CID (Criminal Investigation Division) units.


When I was in Iraq, all turret gunners in my unit had SAWs (M249) as their crew-served weapon. Although it's a great infantry squad automatic weapon, it was a poor turret gun. It didn't have the range or power a turret weapon needs. Most gun turrets are now armed with M2 .50 Brownings or MK19s (40mm). The M240B 7.62mm also works well in the turret role.

Robert Kolesar, a retired LAPD Detective, is a First Sergeant in the Army Reserves. He served on active duty as the NCOIC of the SAIA at Camp Bullis, Texas, and the TF SARG platform at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for almost three years. Prior to that he was mobilized for a one-year combat tour in Iraq.
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Author:Kolesar, Robert
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Sep 17, 2010
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