Battle Sight Zero
By Gene E. Blanton, who is currently embedded with the Multi-National Forces West Training Center in Habbaniyah. Support for Gene's reporting was provided by Public Multimedia Inc.
I've had the privilege to hang around the men of the Multi-National Forces West Training Center in Al Anbar Province, Camp Habbaniyah, Iraq led by CWO-5 "Gunner" Terry L. Walker. Gunner Walker and his team are on a very focused mission - to stand up and train the Iraqi Security Forces so they can fight their own fight. His men are responsible for training Iraqi soldiers and police. They not only train the "end users" but are responsible for "training the trainers."
Below are excerpts from a video interview with CWO-5 "Gunner" Terry L. Walker who heads up the training center.
Gene: A significant development since I was here last was the standing up of the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police. They are now patrolling on their own and manning entry control points on their own. You guys here at the Multinational Forces West Training Center have had a big impact on that development. I've heard you many times stress the concept of 'battle sight zero' both on and off the firing range. Tell us about that and why that is so important to the success of your mission.
Gunner Walker: Battle sight zero is a term that is used and universally understood by most military members as the ability to take a weapons system and zero it so that you can hit the target. You must adjust the site so that the individual shooting the weapon can strike the target where he aims.
Our BZO (battle sight zero) with the M-16 series weapon, the M-16 A4 and the M-4 carbine simulates that the individual in the field is shooting at 300 yards. To BZO that weapon simply means that that individual can expect - minus the effect of wind - to shoot that weapon and hit his target at a given range.
Now that is an important analogy we like to use when we set the 'battle sight zero' of our students. What we try to do is set the conditions for success. Those conditions for success are set when first of all a soldier comes into our training facility and we meet him as a friend. We meet him with an open hand to say, 'We are here to provide instruction. What we ask for is that you will be a good student and listen.'
Gene: How is that approach - to the new Iraqi soldier coming in - different from the culture he is coming from or what he would expect coming in and dealing with the American military?
Gunner Walker: Many of the Iraqi soldiers we work with come into our facility expecting this will be something like recruit training. Or maybe they have had experience before working with American forces. Or maybe they went to follow on schools as soldiers in the Iraqi army. Some of our students have been in the new Iraqi army now for upwards of three years. Some have been in the old Saddam's army for upwards of twenty years. We've had soldiers - enlisted, NCO's, warrant officers and officers from across the spectrum.
What we find is that we offer a different perspective on training. We believe that we can get more out of the Iraqi soldier - as the saying goes that you will get a lot more bees with honey than you will vinegar. So we take - not necessarily a gentle approach - but we take a different approach. We believe we can get more out of the Iraqi student if we first agree that we will meet as friends and we will operate as a good teacher would in the elementary school process and the end result is that we will hold them to a standard and ask them to give us feedback during the period of instruction to make sure they are learning the topic matter.
In so doing, we interview every student prior to his graduation. And it's just amazing the response we get from this different approach to training. You see, I don't think you are going to get anything out of an Arab soldier if first you come off as arrogant and condescending and you have an approach to where maybe you don't believe they can learn. That certainly would be a lie. We find them to be an inquisitive and extremely intelligent people. This is the cradle of civilization. These people had an educational system in algebra and mathematics long before our founding fathers ever dreamed of sailing the Atlantic Ocean to launch colonies for the Crown.
So these people have a long history of culture, refinement, education and an advanced level of mathematics. They can learn. But, they learn differently than our recruits in recruit training. For instance what works for us at recruit depots where we train Marines at both Parris Island and San Diego is the very picture we've all come to know in "Jack Webb, the DI." That becomes the picture of which many movies were made that define the relationship between a DI, a Drill Instructor and the new recruit.
That just won't work with an Iraqi. His culture is different. Understanding that then gives us an idea of what may work. I believe we have found the proper mix of friendship, instruction, coaching, teaching, mentoring the Iraqi soldier. And the results have been astounding.
Gene: So in essence, that approach to training the Arab soldier, the Iraqi soldier is the first step to metaphorically setting 'battle sight zero?
Gunner Walker: That's absolutely right. Gene, I think that the term we would use of setting 'battle sight zero' - we zero the school or re-zero the school. You know as Marines if we take our weapons system to Okinawa, Japan from Camp Lejeune the first thing we will do as a battalion is to go set battle sight zero. If we leave there and come to the deserts of the Gulf the first thing we will do - and hurriedly - is set battle sight zero. We've tried to reset our battle site zero for each Iraqi Small Arms Weapons Instructors Course that goes through.
And by that, we get together, as a team in the morning as discuss what it is we need to do. But, I make sure I set that battle sight zero also when our students arrive with our presentation to them about what we will expect of them and what they can expect of us. See they have expectations. I want to meet their expectation, too.
Setting that battle sight zero is synonymous with each time you do preliminary maintenance on your auto prior to a trip. No one would expect - or only a foolish man - would get in his car without checking his oil and gas before going to California from North Carolina. If he did that very often he wouldn't get very far.
Gene: Tying that back into the mechanical battle sight zero, what happens when a shooter has not zeroed his weapon or an American instructor has not zeroed his training methods?
Gunner Walker: Even the best shooter, if he has not zeroed his weapon - he may be the best shooter that we have - but his shot group will not be in the middle of the target or as we way in the black. He may have a very small shot group but it's located in the upper of the target. If he doesn't know how to zero his weapon, often he will lose confidence. And his confidence - when it is lost - means that he will have rounds spread out all over the target.
So resetting the zero gives the instructor in this course the confidence that he has to continue on and teach the next course. It gives us the confidence that we have by reading the After Action Reports and the interview of the previous students; to ensure that if there are things that we need to change, that we do it between each course.
We have just a few rules. (See below.) Those rules are published on the wall in both Arabic and English and they are invaluable. If you violate the rules, you are not going to work in this training environment very long. Because, we understand and we've seen in the years that we have spent instructing Iraqi students that what works best is to follow the rules - to set the battle site zero. Make sure that you are on target. Make sure everyone understands the rules and we'll have a great product.
That means a product that can fight and win on the battlefield.
1. This is a professional school, where everyone, both the student and the instructor, will be treated as such.
2. All personnel will be treated equally, with no bias or favoritism towards any one group or individual.
3. Everyone's opinion will be valued. Everyone will be given the opportunity to present their thoughts.
4. All questions will be answered thoroughly and to the best of the instructors' abilities. The only stupid question was the one you were afraid to ask.
5. The instructors' number one priority is teaching. We will take all of the time necessary in order to make sure that the material is presented properly and then understood by the student.
6. Every topic presented to a student by an instructor will be evaluated. Every round that is shot will be accounted for and evaluated.
7. No student will ever be physically touched unless and unsafe act or condition has occurred and must be corrected immediately.
8. No student will ever be forced to perform physical training as a form of punishment. Physical training is used to build the body, not as a harassment technique.
9. No student will ever be verbally berated, insulted, degraded, or harassed.
10. It is every man's mission to conduct himself in a credible manner and to pass the knowledge that he possesses to those who don't in order to create a safe, effective, and efficient fighting force.
Gene Blanton is a Marine veteran and the author of the soon to be released book, "Semper Fidelis Leadership: From The Corps To The Corporation."