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Ranges Help Soldiers Maintain Readiness on Afghan Deployment

By Spc. Cheryl Ransford, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2004 – Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan are maintaining some basic soldier skills on weapons- qualification ranges such as the one set up at Forward Operating Base Salerno.

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Army Pfc. Kenneth Golston, a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, Combined Task Force Thunder, looks downrange through the sites of his M-16A2 rifle during qualification at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Photo by Spc. Cheryl Ransford, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"Attending ranges is good for all soldiers, no matter how long they have been in the military. Ranges are important for staying familiar and current with your weapon," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Edmond Murrell, the top enlisted soldier with Combined Task Force Thunder.

While the training here is slightly different from that at home stations, soldiers are able to maintain their skills and confidence in firing a weapon, he said.

For most soldiers, going to the range is a chance to refamiliarize themselves with their weapon. For others, it is a chance to get used to a weapon they haven't used before, said Army Pfc. Kenneth Golston, a medic with task force's Headquarters and Headquarters Battery.

"Some people who have deployed to Afghanistan were assigned a new weapon during the deployment," he said. "By having the ranges available during the deployment, they are able to receive the training they weren't able to receive before."

While many people conduct their daily mission without leaving the safety of the guarded base, many others perform their missions "outside the wire," where many dangers lie, said Pvt. Jonathon Carter, another HHB medic. "You never know when something is going to happen, so you have to stay up on your skills," he said. "(This way) when something does happen, you know you can hit the intended target."

Some Salerno ranges are designed to familiarize soldiers with crew-served weapons, said Staff Sgt. John Wilgus, Base Operations range noncommissioned officer in charge. "There are ranges for everyone. Not everyone uses small arms during day-to-day missions. Some servicemembers here are assigned weapons of a larger caliber, so some ranges are designed for them to train as well."

Many soldiers have a tendency to feel nervous or pressured when they attend a qualification range in a garrison environment, but the ranges in Afghanistan are less nerve-racking, said Murrell. "In the rear, a lot of soldiers feel pushed to qualify and don't do as well as they could if they relaxed and took their time," he said. "When soldiers are relaxed and don't feel so pressured to do well the first time, they tend to do better."

While being trained and able to hit the intended target is the key to marksmanship, the pressure to qualify the first time is lower here than in the rear, said Murrell. "Knowing how to properly fire and maintain your weapon is very important in a combat zone," he said. "Knowing how to hit the intended target can be what saves your life or the life of your buddy next to you."

(Army Spc. Cheryl Ransford is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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