Following the Army’s Lead

Following the Army’s Lead

In August 2019, the Army Times announced that the United States Army would be introducing a new firearms qualification program. Todd South wrote in the article that the new program would be replacing one that has been in place since 1956. According to the author, soldiers have until October 2020 to learn the new program and to practice their skills. This is another area where we sometimes struggle in law enforcement – testing before teaching and practice (but that’s a topic for another time).

Command Sergeant Major Robert Fortenberry, head of the Infantry School’s marksmanship revamp project, stated that the driving force behind the change was to get beyond qualification and, instead, ensure that our soldiers “are proficient. They’re capable.” The components of the course were designed to replicate what is actually done in a combat environment and to build a better shooter from that.

The Army and its resistance to change are often (deserved?) the target of criticism. But, it appears that America’s largest military branch has been making some meaningful changes in the way that soldiers train. Has the way that you personally train and/or has the way in which your agency trains changed?

Too many firearms programs in law enforcement focus on qualification – a course of fire mandated by the state or agency that in no way mirrors what officers face on the street. The qual course, in most cases, tests the officer’s ability to shoot accurately from a stationary position, with no cover, and no need for decision-making. This certainly is not the environment in which officers must use their firearms in the course of their duties. And this “training” occurs in most agencies on an annual or bi-annual basis (which is another topic for another time).

It is imperative that agencies and agency trainers constantly evaluate and improve the training that is provided to its members. One of the best ways of doing this is to move from just teaching the technical skills (how to) to teaching the tactical skills (when to). Forcing students to demonstrate adaptive decision-making in a high-stress environment while displaying marksmanship skills should be a primary goal of any firearms training program.

From an individual standpoint, what does your personal training look like? Does it mirror the scenarios that you are likely to face? Or, does it focus on putting round 2 through the same hole created by round 1? Are there any “no shoot” targets that require you to acquire and identify threats rather than just shooting every time a target turns?

Just to be clear, we are not saying that marksmanship should be eliminated from personal or agency training regimes. There certainly is a need to know how to draw the weapon from your holster, bring it up on target, and then hit the target that you are aiming for. Our belief, though, is that knowing when to draw your weapon, aim it, and hit the target is equally important and must be part of the training process.

The brave folks in law enforcement are forced to make some really tough decisions under unbelievably difficult circumstances – a fact recognized by the United States Supreme Court in the Graham v. Connor decision. Better decisions are possible if training is improved. Improving training is both an individual and agency responsibility – follow the Army’s lead.

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