Master Sgt. Satterlee says he has learned a lot about firearms in the world of competitive shooting. It’s influenced how he shoots—and why he came to recognize flaws in how the military prepares soldiers for war.
He’s the operations sergeant at JBLM’s Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course. After years of combat deployments around the world, training soldiers and shooting at civilian weapon ranges around the United States, he thinks it’s time we radically revamp the way we think about firearms training.
He says new approaches could save a lot of lives—soldiers and civilians alike.
Satterlee’s first assignment was the 2nd Ranger Battalion at what was then Fort Lewis. While there, he befriended Lance Dement, a competitive shooter from Texas who later joined the U.S. shooting team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The two regularly spent time at civilian shooting ranges.
Then Satterlee joined the 1st Special Forces Group. While many units focus on making soldiers proficient in whatever weapons they’re assigned, Satterlee’s team pushed expertise for all the weapons in the operators’ arsenal. The range became a central part of life.
He spent several years stationed in Okinawa. There, his training emphasized counter-terrorism and direct action—fast, violent, surgical raiding operations. He practiced under some of the military’s most experienced special operations warriors—including legendary Delta Force operator Kyle Lamb.
“They had a huge impact on my style of shooting,” Satterlee says.
In short order, Satterlee became involved in the world of competitive shooting. Luckily, he found a large network of gun enthusiasts along the East Coast.
Many of the civilian hobbyists were much better shots than he expected. In fact, they were more than good—some of them gave the special ops warrior a run for his money.
“There were guys in their eighties—barely held together at the seams—who were out-shooting me,” he recalls.
It was a humbling experience—and an awakening for Satterlee.
He explains that competitive shooting used to be modeled around military and law enforcement practices. But over time, philosophies—and methods—evolved. Competitive shooters began introducing new variables.
These variables include different targets. The shooter would have to determine which ones constitute threats, and which ones do not. There’s shooting on the move, while trying to hit a target that’s also moving. All done under time constraints and considerable pressure.
“There’s no other sport or training that focuses on the draw, reloading, target acquisition, instantly being able to place accurate fire on a target while moving—and all this is done faster than any other sport with live ammunition,” former U.S. Practical Shooting Association president Mike Voight said in an interview with American Handgunner.
Satterlee said that while civilian hobbyists and enthusiasts pioneered new training techniques, the military remained “stagnant.”
The Army’s marksmanship training hasn’t changed very much, while the wars we send soldiers to fight have.
“It can’t be ignored anymore,” he says. “At some point, we need to decide how good we want to be.”
“You can’t expect a soldier to adapt to chaos unless he’s already been exposed to it,” Satterlee says.
He says they need to train in an environment that simulates the uncertainty of a modern war zone, without its lethality. They need training that allows them to fail safely, and to reflect and learn from mistakes.
He’s taken his lessons from the world of competitive shooting and brought them to how he trains soldiers at JBLM. He’s a seasoned special operations veteran with years of experience—and one of the top shooters in the nation—so his commanders give him exceptional leeway to experiment in his training.
As a member of 1st Group, he’s in an environment that welcomes innovation and creative problem solving. His commanders trust his judgment. It’s an elite unit—everyone who comes through his doors for the urban combat course is handpicked.
But Satterlee says he doesn’t think this sort of training should be reserved for only the most elite troops.
He asserts that soldiers—especially new recruits—need to learn about the complexities of modern conflict much earlier. He says they need to learn how to assess threats and to know the consequences of both indecision and rashness.
He admits that it’s significantly harder to give large, conventional units that sort of training, compared to smaller and adaptable elite units. However, he proposes that the Army can impart these lessons with audiovisual aids and gaming-style training.
But the challenge of introducing new training techniques and philosophies isn’t just logistical—it’s cultural.
Master Sgt. Satterlee’s revelation may be surprising to lower skilled firearm users, such as military and police-trained personnel and the majority of gun owners, but this is long-established common knowledge within the competitive shooting community. In fact, it is a primary reason organized competitive shooting was created.
For example, the Excellence In Competition program has been recognized by all branches of service in the United States since the 1880s with the awards recognized in official regulations. Google “In Distinguished Company by Dick Culver” for a great history and a link to the roster maintained by the Civilian Marksmanship Program dating back to 1884.
All military, police, tactical, concealed carry, hunter safety, and similar instruction serves as introductory training for novices only. Almost none of these programs, certainly not those in public sector military and police circles, demand progression beyond the initial qualification skill level presented. Competition shooting is one of the very few venues were skill is encouraged and measured beyond this, and it is the reason why Master Sgt. Satterlee and every other active participant finds value and skill improvement.
For Drill Sergeant Michael Farnum and others commenting on this article, you have “trained” rifle marksmanship, CQB and the like in that you received an initial, novice-level introduction to concepts. Consider what your Marine, Army, and/or police qualification standards consider as “expert” or “perfect” results, then realize decent (not great) competition shooters can exceed that by at least 300%, possibly more. Note I said decent. The true greats and champions are better still.
There is at least a full order of magnitude of marksmanship skill development capable beyond that offered in military and police training. Master Sgt. Satterlee found out about it by attending organized competitive shooting. You will too if you bother to attend and participate seriously.