“When the pedal hits the metal” and “the moment of truth” are phrases that accurately describe the demanding eighth week of the Ordnance School’s 91F Small Arms/Artillery Repairer Course.
“Where the rubber meets the road,” however, is the preferred expression of retired 1st. Sgt. Harold Poindexter Jr. – an instructor and former 91F career Soldier whose job is to breakdown the complexities of the M242 Bushmaster automatic cannon taught in the eighth week and second phase of training. His class is the point when many students come to realize how difficult their future military profession can be.
“It’s intense,” he said of the segments concentrating on light artillery weapons. “When they get to the second phase, that’s when they’re dealing with the larger weapons and you have things that can really hurt you if you’re not paying attention, especially when you are putting stuff back together.”
Poindexter elaborated on the second phase’s criticality.
“In artillery, you’re sending rounds downrange – maybe 10-15 miles – and our repairers have to know the working details of the weapons system and its constraints because, if they make errors, you may have a case of friendly fire. This part of the course is where the rubber meets the road.”
Prior to the proverbial convergence of tire and concrete, students in the first phase undertake instruction on such small arms as the new M17/18 pistol, M4 rifle, M249 machine gun, M26 shotgun and several others used throughout the Army. These weapons systems are generally less complicated and more familiar to students compared to the light artillery pieces, and many are not attuned to the difficulty awaiting them in that phase of the instruction.
“They don’t have a clue about the M242 or towed artillery because it’s not an everyday, pedestrian weapon,” said Jeffrey Grimes, Conventional Weapons Division chief, Armament and Electronics Maintenance Training Department. “By far, this is one of the most technical parts of the course.”
Fundamental to conquering the course’s complexity is teaching Soldiers how to troubleshoot. To do so, they must become familiar with using technical manuals associated with the equipment, said Poindexter.
“The thing that is systemic is that Soldiers need to learn how to read the TM, interpret it and then apply it,” he said. “It’s a challenge for them because they’re from the Google nation. They tend not to read reference manuals, preferring to look it up on the web or ask their friends. In the light artillery portion of this course, we focus on troubleshooting. You need to read the TM, understand what the weapons system is giving you as far as symptoms, diagnose it and then make the necessary corrections.”
During a Jan. 30 class, students with furrowed brows were flipping through technical manuals and removing the bolts and tracks from the M242’s feeder as a plethora of gears and other parts lay strewn on worktables. The feeder is a major component of the gun system that sits within the turret of the M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
“We have to teach the Soldiers – No. 1 – fire pin protrusion and how to disassemble and reassemble that bolt and track,” said Poindexter, noting the removal of parts are critical for maintenance and repair purposes.
Of course, removing or disassembly is often much easier than reassembly, Poindexter noted.
“One of the pitfalls they might have is … cocking the bolt and track back into place,” he said. “Normally, I’ll separate it while they watch, put it back together and then have their battle buddies show them again to give them confidence. In three or four tries, they rock steady with it.
It takes four hours to learn the bolt and track. They read, absorb it and apply what they learned.”
On top of the bolt and track lesson, there’s another 20-plus hours of instruction rivaling the feeder component in complexity. The M242 instruction is “the moment of truth” Poindexter alluded to earlier.
“If you can’t get this part right,” he said, “you need to find another MOS.”
For students having difficulty in the light artillery phase, there are measures of remediation to help catch them up, he added.
“We challenge them,” he said. “We don’t leave Soldiers by the wayside. We have to motivate them and provide additional training as necessary.”
Following M242 instruction, Soldiers move on to learn the M777 and M119 howitzers, both towed artillery pieces.
Upon graduation, small arms/artillery repairers are slotted in units around the Army, considering nearly all Soldiers use M4s or pistols at a minimum.
The 91F course graduates roughly 1,100 Soldiers, Marines and a small amount of Allied Forces personnel on an annual basis. The Marines undergo training alongside Soldiers until the second phase, the point in which they receive instruction unique to their branch.