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Q&A With Guy Who Re-wrote Army Marksmanship Manual

An interview from a few months ago with the man who re-wrote the US Army’s marksmanship manual is making the rounds again on various forums. One thing that caused discussion is the role that Appleseed played in writing this new training manual. I have my own thoughts on project appleseed that I will save for another time other time.. I’m going to quote it at length below for your reading pleasure and link you to the entire thing if you want to read the entire thing.


“I was on a range with Kyle Defoor around 2009, and I was doing Appleseed at the time. We started talking about what shooters needed to be able to do. He started talking about 4 MOA…which happens to be the Appleseed standard of what they are trying to get you to do.

The Rifleman’s Quarter-Mile

So, if you are able to do that, you can engage a man size target, in theory…without ballistics…you can shoot well enough to engage a man sized target out to 500 yards. That’s what Appleseed talks about…the “rifleman’s quarter-mile.”

So, at Appleseed, they’re getting you to shoot in different positions with the goal of getting you to that 4 MOA standard…They have a very streamlined way to teach it and will teach anyone who shows up with a rifle and any type of sights, whatever they happen to have. They get them from shooting all over the place to shooting at 4 MOA. So, you go and get taught all the things that you need to do to shoot well…

Before Appleseed…
So, I went to Korea and then Iraq…where we did the invasion of Iraq. That was the first time I ever started pointing guns at people and actually shooting people.

There, we found out quickly that we couldn’t shoot very well. And that realization started me on a path. I started paying a lot more attention to shooting. At first that just meant applying Army stuff and trying to shoot better. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know at that time was that it was woefully inadequate.

Fast forward to about 2005, I was able to go to one of our division schools for shooting…it was a month-long course called the Mountain Leaders Advanced Rifle Marksmanship Course. (MLARM). I went to that and it was good. It was better that what I had been getting, but it still wasn’t amazing.

From there, I went on to do a deployment as a Squad Designated Marksman. I carried around a M16A4 with an ACOG on it. While I was doing that, there was no training for Squad Designated Marksman. It was just a name that popped up in the Army. There were no books on it or any real information to speak of.

So, during that deployment, trying to do the shooting that I was doing in this made-up role, I ended up talking a lot to the sniper section. That’s where I found a little bit of a problem with Army marksmanship, as well as the entire Squad Designated Marksman concept.

After that deployment and another deployment, I started shooting a lot more in between those deployments. I started to get a lot better.
And yes, I got into Project Appleseed. I was actually pretty big into that for a while…just trying to shoot better.

What I really didn’t know I was chasing, until much later, was I was chasing better techniques to teach. And it was at Appleseed that I started getting some ideas.

Well, as time went on, I actually ended up running the Mountain Leaders Advanced Rifle Marksmanship Course. We changed the name from MLARM to “Rifle Marksmanship Instructor Course”. There, we fired 2 million rounds in a three year period teaching about 2,000 students.

It was after that I went to Fort Benning and rewrote the entire Army Marksmanship Manual.

Ash’s background

I am a competitive shooter and Gov Sales Specialist at Knight’s Armament Company. I am also a Retired US Army Senior NCO. My last assignments included serving as the Senior Writer for Small Arms in the Weapons and Gunnery Branch and the US Army Infantry School Marksmanship Program developer at the Maneuver Center of Excellence Fort Benning, Georgia. 

Army Schools include US Army Master Marksmanship Trainer Course, Rifle Marksmanship Instructor Course, Urban Combat Leaders Course, Air Assault, Rappelmaster, Senior Leaders Course, Army Basic Instructor course, High Angle Marksmanship Course, and Unit Armorer course…Four combat tours totaling fifty-two months overseas.

Ash Hess

So, a lot of what Ash says is something we have been saying here since 2012. No surprise there. It doesn’t take a COMMANDO OPERATOR to know that most of the piss poor performance of the Army’s marksmanship is from. None of us have been to Senior Leaders Assault Urban Rappel Course though, so we might not be able to be trusted about rifle marksmanship fundamentals.

The rest of the Q&A can be found at the link below.

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12 thoughts on “Q&A With Guy Who Re-wrote Army Marksmanship Manual”

  1. I have greatly disliked the Army Marksmanship training program for the 32 years that I have been in. They teach you to qualify, they no longer teach soldiers to be rifleman. We get soldiers out of basic training and AIT that have no understanding of basic ballistic concepts that affect the shot.

    Although I am out the door in May and will not get to experience the new training program, I am glad that they are doing something different finally. It has been long overdue.

    The thing I like about Appleseed is that it helps people learn about some very basic skills and concepts in a somewhat formal environment that they otherwise probably wouldnt get exposed to. The goal is to take someone with none, or little, rifle marksmanship understanding and give them basic rifleman skill familiarization. Additionally, it shares a little bit of Revolutionary War history. Lastly, it is affordable for most people as opposed to a 2-day carbine course that costs $300 -$500 that is intended for someone at a higher skill level.

    I will definitely check out the rest of the article. Thanks for the link.

  2. The flaw in the whole “marksmanship” thing is that they’re teaching and emphasizing a narrow skill; one that relates to putting a bullet where you think you want to.

    The thing is, though…? There’s more to it than just that. The Air Force and artillery bubbas talk about the “kill chain” where you look at the whole picture, talking about all the enablers going into it all. You have to acquire the targets, get positive ID, select the appropriate weapon/round, do the necessary to make that weapon work, and then assess what the hell you just did–Was it effective? If not, wash, rinse, repeat. If so, then move on to the next target.

    We’ve mostly focused on the whole “make the weapon work” thing, and not paid enough attention to the rest. I think a lot of the problem that guys like Marshall identified as “reluctance to kill” actually stemmed from the soldiers of that era being trained to be looking for great, big circular targets at set distances, and not the fuzzy, fleeting glimpse they got of Feldgrau or whatever color you call Japanese uniforms. They were looking for clearly defined targets, and not attuned to shoot at mere movement or suspicion of a German or Japanese soldier.

    It’s not just the shooting that we need to work on. It’s the rest of the “kill chain”, and the overall coordination and cross-communication in the squads. I honestly think that the place where we’re going to see the most effective improvements in years to come will be from the whole arena of sighting and fire control across the unit. When the guy who can see but who doesn’t have a clear shot with his weapon can pass the target over to the guy who does have the weapon, but no sight picture? That’s the point where we start to see serious effects delivered in combat.

    Thinking there mostly of cases where a rifleman has sight on the enemy, the MG doesn’t, and the rifleman can just tap his target ID tab in his scope, and the MG gets an automatic cue to fire on that site. Or, remote automatic fire support from “mortars in a box”…

    • Did you read the article, Kirk? The author touches on a few items that you often hit on, including the Designated Marksman not really having a doctrinal role.

      As for sighting, I’m curious to see tech like Tracking Point applied to the battlefield. I could see that being applied across squads, where one guy tags it and the other guy’s gun shoots it, like artillery spotting, but doing stuff like that does require some communication between weapons systems that may be vulnerable to countermeasures available to near-peer enemies.

    • Kirk,
      You are correct.
      The TC 3-22.9 is very narrow in scope. That is because the Army has a TC for everything else. The problem becomes when people spend all their time and focus in the one book and not the others.
      This is, despite having the books at unprecedented level of availability, a more recent problem. not so long ago, a quality NCO had a footlocker full of reference material that he had been forced to read by his NCO’s.

      That is where we need to get back to

      • The culture has definitely shifted, and not for the better.

        Root of it all is the old adage about “What the commander checks for, gets done…”.

        Once upon a time, the Army at least paid lip service to the idea of technical and tactical competence. You had the SQT and the SDT regimes going, which played big-time into promotions. So, everyone with any ambition…? They were studying, and not just the MOS manuals.

        Likewise, the old-school proficiency pay for marksmanship. You got paid for it? You worried about it.

        Today, the soldier has nothing telling him that the Army or his leaders value technical proficiency, or really, even marksmanship. That badge ain’t enough–You tell PFC Billy that he’s gonna get an extra $150.00 a month because he shot Expert…? Yeah, that’s a motivator. You tell him his SQT test score earns him another $150.00 a month? He’ll crack that book.

        Personally, I’d cut pay until we could afford to put incentives like that in place, and I’d be draconian as hell about enforcing the standards: Get caught cheating, or helping someone cheat? Fine; less-than-honorable discharge, and I’m so sorry you were a day or two away from qualifying for retirement…

        Troops do what the commander checks. Commander’s ain’t been looking in the right places, for a long damn time.

  3. Oh, I read it… And, I’m not disagreeing with it, particularly. The thing I’ve mostly taken away from a lot of the reading I’ve been doing in the new manual is that the focus is just a little off, to my mind–It’s marksmanship and weaponcraft centered. Which is not a bad thing, but… I also don’t think it’s necessarily where most of our problems are.

    It’s like a guy who I used to go deer hunting with; he spent weeks before season zeroing his rifle, getting his shot groups tight, and he was a great shooter–Could have probably taken the eye out of a gnat at 400 yards, if he wanted to.

    Key thing, though? This guy never got a deer the entire time I went with him. Ever. He did not know how to hunt, in terms of spotting game, stalking it, or how to close the deal. He was an accomplished marksman, but a complete zero as a hunter. He literally could not see the deer, couldn’t spot them against the hills or in the trees. His hunting technique basically boiled down to walking around with a gun, pausing to look around for the deer, and hoping. Hopes were never fulfilled, because… He wasn’t a hunter.

    Another guy I know? Bastard never zeros his rifle, and I think he’d have trouble hitting a barn from the inside. Every year, though, fills his tags to the limit. Why? Because he’s a consummate hunter. Mediocre shot, but a consummate hunter. He knows where to be, he knows what the animals are going to do, and he works them tactically. Dude is spooky–You go out with him, and he’ll tell you before you get out of the vehicle where the deer are, where he wants you to go, and he’ll always be right. He’s also a wizard at spotting the furry little bastards, because you’ll be walking along, he’ll stop, stare off into the distance across a canyon, and you’ll be sitting there going “WTF?”, pulling out binos to look at what he’s looking at with the naked eye, trying to figure out what he’s seeing. Bastard will have spotted a small herd, with the naked eye, nearly a click away. He’s just got the eye for it–I’d never see the damn animals at that range, and he catches them out of peripheral vision.

    Second guy is the one I think shows the most potential for combat effectiveness. Doesn’t matter if you can hit everything you spot at 600m, if you never acquire the damn targets in the first fucking place. Too many of our guys out there are not closing the loop of the kill chain–Hell, they’re not even initiating it.

  4. I’ve been on known-distance ranges with several young men who have been in the USA, even with a DM MOS. I’ve rarely been impressed, sorry to say. Marines? OK, most of them seem to still know how to shoot. Army/Navy/USAF? No.

    In one situation, I was at a “Garand match” with a bunch of vets.

    After teaching them how to run a Garand[*], it became obvious that no one, especially not the Army, had taught them how to shoot. Most of them rattled through the course of fire in a few seconds, missing the target with most shots. Mind you, the Garand match course of fire gives huge amounts of time. What it doesn’t give you is huge amounts of leeway in the size of the target. The most disappointing example of veteran marksmanship I saw was on the prone part of the course of fire – 10 rounds in 70 seconds. Most of the young men burned through their 10 rounds almost as fast as they could do so – there was a mandatory reload (two rounds crossed in the en bloc clip, typically). The slowest guy there did it in 18 seconds.

    The guy who won was a civilian DCM competitor who regularly shot expert. I came in two points under him, with my last shot breaking on the 68th second. Both he and I could not get the young shooters, veterans or not, to slow the hell down and work on their fundamentals.

    When I taught marksmanship in 4H groups, I would get the 10/22’s out of the hands of the kids and hand them bolt action rifles. It resulted in a world of difference. Maybe the Army needs to do the same thing. I find with young shooters, when I take away the possibility of a fast follow-up shot, they finally settle down to work on this shot. Trouble is, the Army has surplused nearly all of their 1903’s and A3’s. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

    In the end, what I learned was this: all of the Army vets thought they could shoot. All of them. The Army told them they could shoot. Two civilians showed them they couldn’t shoot. Did they listen to the civilians who obviously could shoot? No. They knew better/more, because they had been in the Army. I heard explanations like “You’re a better shot on paper, but I can put a round on target fast.” Really? You miss when you have all the time in the world, but when you’re up against the clock, you can put the rounds on target? How does that work?

    [*] I heard lots of derision and supposedly ‘expert’ opinions from the Army vets about the Garand and what an inferior POS it was. Mind you, almost none of them actually knew how to load a Garand, especially with less than a full en bloc clip. None of them knew how to adjust the sights for a battle zero on a Garand. But they knew the Garand was a POS. I won’t bore you with the complaining I heard about “recoil.”

    • yes its been my experience over the years that everyone who was in the military *knows* that they can shoot, and wont take any advice, the military gave them a peice of paper and a little little medal saying they could shoot, and therefore they can shoot. My favorite is when they tell me they didnt do good with this here AR15 because they learned to shoot on “the real thing” that being the select fire version of the exact same gun. That’s the people that you a-often deal with. its why i stopped offering advice or trying to be helpful when around other shooters in person that I dont know

  5. As a service member who has no disillusions about my lack my lack of marksmanship skills, I was always entertained by fellow military members at 3-gun matches. They would show up thinking they were going to do great because ‘I’m in the military’. I would just sit back and watch as the experienced 3-gun shooters, a vast majority of them civilians, just beat the damn pants off these guys. It is always fun watching someone arrogant eat some humble pie.

  6. Did Appleseed, loved it. Found out about “Small Arms Firing School” (SAFS) at Camp Perry, Ohio (and other locations). Even better than AS!
    It is an epiphany. The US Army Infantry DID NOT teach me to shoot, SAFS did. Go to http://www.thecmp.org and find info.
    Do it now.

    I used SAFS as a springboard to becoming a Service Rifle competitor, and so can you. 🙂

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