In the past few months, the Army overhauled its marksmanship training, qualifications and expectations for everything from pistols to mortars.

The first round of that, covering individual weapons, released in July, with crew served and special weapons down the pike.

The changes also combined an array of disparate manuals into a single, 800-page document that is expected to be the go-to guide for shooters and trainers of shooters for individual weapons.

The “TC 3-20.40 Training and Qualification-Individual Weapons,” or “Dot-40,” unfolds a shooting training system that hasn’t seen this many simultaneous changes since it was launched in 1956.

Soldiers have a year from now to learn and practice these new drills for a new qualification, which will begin in October 2020.

There are two noticeable shifts — qualifying at night and under simulated chemical attack. And while shooters have long used barricades and shot from standing positions, now they’ll be graded on those portions as well to qualify.

Brig. Gen. David Hodne and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert K. Fortenberry both spoke with Army Times shortly after the release of the document about how these changes will affect soldiers and shooting.

While much of the scoring and targeting won’t change, how soldiers transition will be up to them, as it would in combat, Fortenberry said.

Along the way, coaches will assess the soldier on their transitions, such as pulling from their kit and using magazines.

“Before, commanders, leaders, didn’t have to necessarily focus on that," said Fortenberry. "It now forces everybody to practice on it.”

An estimated 200 marksmanship experts contributed to the two-year project, led by the Maneuver Center of Excellence’s Directorate of Training and Doctrine.

“It’s exactly what we would do in a combat environment, and I think it’s just going to build a much better shooter,” he said.

These changes come as the Army recently fielded its first new service-wide sidearm in 2017, the Modular Handgun System and it continues upgrades to its light and medium machine guns while also developing the Next Generation Squad Weapon program that is expected to deliver an advanced carbine and light machine gun to replace the Squad Automatic Weapon.

Marksmanship teams from the Infantry School have been traveling across the Army to better explain the changes to training and qualification with senior leaders of divisions and brigades during Leadership Professional Development sessions.

A new way of looking at it includes the change that hitting the target, while crucial, is only one part of the skill set. Shooters must also be well-trained on other tasks they face while using their weapon in combat.

Soldiers will need to show how they work the bolt of their weapon, switch firing positions quickly — standing, kneeling, lying prone, firing from behind a barrier, all while using critical thinking to make battlefield snap judgments on which targets to shoot and when.

“You’re employing your weapon system in a more tactical environment or scenario, versus the more traditional way of doing it,” said Fortenberry. “And by doing so, it creates additional rigor, using all of the elements of critical thinking, sound judgment, adapting to change, all of those non-tangible attributes.”

Testing shows that emphasizing these methods makes a more proficient shooter.

No more stacking magazines. Soldiers will have to do as they would in combat, pull from their gear as they shoot and move.

“You now have to shoot from a barrier, from a concealed position. You transition from the prone to the kneeling and the kneeling to the prone,” Fortenberry said. “The clock doesn’t stop. So, you have to know — Boom! Got that exposure. Okay. I should be transitioning to the kneeling position now. Transition. There it is! — Boom! And then you’re engaging as you go.”

No more alibis

Before, soldiers could call for a kind of time out for a malfunctioning weapon — no more.

“Alibis are gone," said Fortenberry. “ ’Hey, Sarge! Got an alibi on lane three! Weapons malfunction!' There’s no alibis anymore. You have to fix the malfunction,” just as a soldier would have to in combat, he said.

Leaders can still authorize an alibi on a case-by-case basis.

Another add-on includes the mandated use of indoor, electronic ranges as soldiers prep for their qualification.

The simulator stations will be required shooting for every soldier as they move through the firing progression.

Before, it was available and up to the unit leaders to use. No more, now it’s mandatory, officials say.

The new manual also consolidates a lot of spread-out marksmanship training and doctrine, officials said.

The “Dot-40” puts that in one package.

“The Dot-40 was designed simply because we had multiple manuals and multiple best practices," said Fortenberry. "And we were just grabbing whatever was on the shelf. We had nothing that spoke to individual marksmanship other than a very broad series of best practices, manuals. It hadn’t been evolved over time.”

The senior enlisted leader noted that the new manual provides a “common ground” for marksmanship and effectively employing the range of small arms.

“Every commander and leader out there wants a Soldier to be trained and proficient in warrior tasks and drills, marksmanship being one of those — be able to place effective fires on the enemy,” Fortenberry said. “So the intent has never changed. This just grabs all the tools and gives them a blueprint to achieve that end state.”

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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