The Bayonet

Wednesday, Dec. 05, 2012

Drill sergeants rely on fundamentals for teaching, competing

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It all comes down to the fundamentals, said Staff Sgt. Kirby Odom, one half of the drill sergeant team that took second place in last month’s International Sniper Competition. Staff Sgt. Marty Holland, also with 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade, was his partner during the four-day competition that brought the world’s best snipers to Fort Benning.

“He and I have done nothing for (years) but train the fundamentals of marksmanship,” Odom said, “and that’s what we went out there and applied. I focus and harp on fundamentals so much every day that when I lay on a weapon, it’s just second nature for me to watch my body position, my breathing, sight alignment. And it’s the same thing I teach to a private on Sand Hill.”

While many of the 36 teams prepared months in advance for the competition, Odom and Holland were busy fulfilling their mission in the brigade. Odom, a drill sergeant since May 2011, was instructing trainees on everything from basic rifle marksmanship to urban operations. Holland, who recently transitioned from drill sergeant duty, was helping rewrite the battalion’s marksmanship program. With two days of practice and borrowed equipment, the team still was able to place second in the service class, the category for those using standard issue weapons.

“We are sniper-qualified drill sergeants not currently in sniper positions, and we proved we can still stand toe-to-toe with the best in the world,” said Holland, who also placed first for Fort Benning in the 2012 MCoE Combat Rifles Championships. “When we go to shooting competitions, it is always our fellow drill sergeants from our battalion who give us the greatest competition. We have also proven that our battalion has some of the best shooters in the world training our future Soldiers.”

Both Soldiers said the sniper competition was a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance for them. It was the first year they could have competed: Holland graduated from Sniper School a year ago while Odom made it through the course in February.

As recent graduates, Holland said their success in the competition reflects their instructors’ skill in teaching.

“Some of the teams had been sniping 30 years, and then you get a guy you trained for five weeks (who is) able to compete at that same level — it really shows what they’re teaching,” he said.

To prepare for the competition, the NCOs practiced sniping at the American International Marksmanship Academy two hours south of Columbus in Blakely, Ga. They used the facility free of charge for two days. Shortly before the competition, they borrowed rifles, a spotting scope and ammunition from post units. When it came to tripods, night optics, thermal vision and other equipment, they did without.

“We actually found out we were in the competition before we found weapons,” Holland said. “You’ve got the best teams from all over the world and we had a team we threw together. To go and beat teams that literally represented an entire country ... is something to be proud of.”

The pair led the service class at the end of the third day, but the final event, a one-shot challenge with a 10-second time limit to hit a 500-meter or 800-meter target, made the difference.

“My rifle didn’t pick up a round when I charged it,” Holland said.

Nevertheless, both are proud of their achievement. In particular, doing well in the competition added validity to the battalion’s marksmanship program for trainees, which has recently been revamped to focus on both speed and accuracy under pressure, Holland said.

“Our battalion commander trusts us and allows for our input into our battalion’s marksmanship strategy,” he said. “We no longer ask trainees to turn left and shoot a torso. We now use shot timers to create realistic shooting scenarios that reflect real-world experiences. We tell them they have 1.5 seconds to place two shots in the spinal column or we will work with them all day to train them and get them to this standard — 1.51 seconds or a quarter inch miss is unacceptable. We’re emphasizing the skills the trainees will need in combat to stop the enemy in his tracks.” Odom said he told his trainees about the competition to highlight how what he was teaching them mattered — that “I wasn’t just making it up.”

“It seems like every private that qualifies with an M4 wants to be a sniper,” he said. “That’s one of the first questions they’ll ask you ... ‘Sergeant, how can I get to Sniper School?’ They get excited when something like this happens. (They think), ‘If drill sergeant can do it, then I can do it.’”

Besides benefiting their Soldiers, participating in the competition gave the sniper duo insight into ways to improve their shooting along with broader lessons learned.

“Anyone that’s training for anything can take something away from what we figured out,” he said. “Get out of your comfort zone — which is what they made us do. If you can think your way through what’s going on, you have a better chance.”

It’s advice both Odom and Holland can take with them as they head to U.S. Army Small Arms Championship in January. They will be competing on a four-man team, including two more cadre from their battalion.

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