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Guard’s 35th Engineer Brigade hones shooting skills on weapon ranges
Guard’s 35th Engineer Brigade hones shooting skills on weapon ranges

Missouri National Guard Staff Sgt. Karmen Walling, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, waits her turn to qualify on the M-16 range.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 18, 2010) — The ability to fire a weapon accurately is an important requirement for almost all Missouri National Guardsmen, especially Staff Sgt. Karmen Walling.

“I’m shooting for two people, not just myself,” said Walling, the chaplain’s assistant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 35th Engineer Brigade.

Chaplains are classified as noncombatants and are forbidden from touching a weapon, let alone firing one. Their protection in a firefight, therefore, depends greatly on their assistant’s ability.

“It’s highly important that every non-chaplain soldier know how to shoot and shoot well, regardless of what their job is,” Walling said. “Whatever military occupational specialty you have, you’re a soldier first, and if you can’t shoot, you’re not mission-ready.”

Walling and the rest of the brigade recently honed their shooting skills with M-16 rifles, M-9 pistols and one M-2 .50 caliber machine gun.

For M-16 qualification, soldiers shot 20 rounds from a prone supported position, 10 rounds from a prone unsupported position and 10 rounds from a kneeling position. They needed to score 23 out of 40 on a timed, pop-up target range to qualify as marksman. Soldiers with a score of 30-35 are sharpshooters, while 36 or above are experts.

The unit had 35 soldiers qualify with the M-16, 10 with the M-9 and one with the M-2.

Walling, who lives in Holt Summit, shot what she called a “sub-par” 31.

“I usually get expert, but it’s been a while,” Walling said.

Walling and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Walling, of Detachment 1, 3175th Military Police Company, of Mexico, met through shooting and have competed together to win sniper contests.

“We competed in 2007 for the Missouri National Guard Sniper Competition and took first place,” Walling said. “I’m a much better shot with longer distances and a better scope.”

Walling, who has been in the Guard eight years and married for four, said she was working in public affairs and covering a regional sniper competition in Arkansas when she met her husband, who she credits with her shooting ability.

“I actually had never shot a weapon until I joined the Army,” Walling said. “I met Jason there. As we started to get to know each other, we started shooting together quite a bit. He taught me to shoot well, because I was a horrible shot.”

At that competition, there were 40 rounds of left-over ammunition and Walling volunteered to use it. With some coaching and instructor scope adjustments, she hit 40 of 40 targets from up to 1,000 yards.

“My future husband said, ‘Oh, I like that,’” Walling said. “I think that’s what piqued his interest.”

The key to shooting well, Walling said, is to practice fundamentals.

“You want to watch your breathing, pay attention to where your targets are and transition your targets well,” she said. “You also definitely want to have a good trigger squeeze and a good hold on the weapon to make sure it is secure.”

Spc. Chris Polston, a surveyor within the 35th, posted the company’s top M-16 score with a 37 as one of four from the unit who qualified expert. He said being a crack shot is important to every soldier.

“It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are with, you can still get attacked by anyone,” Polston said. “You have to be able to protect yourself and your buddies.”

Polston, who lives in High Ridge, said it was his best score since he hit 38 in basic training. He said the key to his success was the work he did zeroing in his weapon before qualification and his overall experience.

“I’ve been shooting rifles my entire life,” he said. “I learned from my father, Allen. Joining the military, they help you develop your shooting skills.”

Spc. Christopher Hall, a combat engineer with the unit, was just behind Polston with a 36.

“I got a little lucky,” Hall said. “One target would pop up and go back down real quick and that counted, so I was able to have a couple of extra rounds to fire at the others ones if I missed.”

Hall, who lives in Crocker, said he had no problem taking the “technical” 36.

“I shot expert, so that’s good enough for me,” he said. “I was shooting pretty well anyway. There was only a couple I missed and there was no way to tell if I was going to miss those or not.”

Getting out to the live range is one of Hall’s favorite things to do in the Guard.

“It’s always good to get out on the range,” he said. “Not everyone shoots as much as others, so it’s good to get out on the range for them. I like to fire any time I can.”

Polston and Hall both used the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 range simulator and a weapons familiarization class in pervious drills to prepare them for their trip to the live range.

“Participating in those gave me a lot of insight into the weapon and a lot of information that is extremely handy,” said Polston, who has been in the Guard three years.

“I’m pretty familiar with all that stuff anyway, but it was a good refresher,” Hall said of the instruction.

The unit has scheduled a make-up range qualification in August for those who did not get a chance to qualify due to schools or other annual training.

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