Ash Hess: Army Marksmanship and MMTC


SFC Ash Hess (ret.) was one of the primary authors of the Army’s new Training Circulars. He was asked to speak before a recent graduating class at Marksmanship Master Trainer Course. Here’s a link to his original post and the transcript. Bold highlights were added to emphasize important points.

Speech for the Marksmanship Master Trainer Course

I want to start off by saying that I am honored and humbled to be here. When SFC Chain asked me to speak I checked to make sure he was messaging the right guy because honestly I never expected to receive that message. I immediately, upon that confirmation, jumped at the chance to speak to the graduates of the Master Marksmanship Trainer Course 03-18.

You see, the people in this room, guests, cadre and most importantly the graduates are the future of Army Marksmanship. One would be pretty naïve to assume that anyone could stand here and say that we don’t have issues in that realm. Five weeks ago, you may or may not have agreed that we are a couple of minutes of angle off across the Army.

During the course, you have learned better ways to shoot and train, things you never heard of, and things you learned in basic training and lost over the years. You slaughtered some sacred cows and destroyed perpetual myths centered on our service rifle. You are now part of a relatively small group of people in the Army that have attended an Army level class on marksmanship.

Until MMTC unveiled, the last formal, Army level marksmanship training was basic training. Think about the thousands of leaders and soldiers that have done nothing more than execute what their Drill Sergeants taught them over their careers with no chance of learning more.

If you were lucky, you had the privilege of attending one of the many Division Schools like I ran when I attended MMTC in 2015. While these schools were awesome training, they lacked one important element that MMTC does not. Army-wide recognition. We trained people and when they left the Division, that knowledge was often met with “that’s great, but here is how we do it. ”

When you walk out those doors you are not facing that challenge of trying to sell your skills. You have the backing of the Infantry School. You also have something else that is near and dear to my heart. That would be TC 3-22.9. By now you have been in that book and if you wondered who the good idea fairy was, well, that’s me.

That book was written under this simple guidance “write the book you needed while you were instructing” The course I ran for 10th Mountain graduated 1600 students under my watch. 1600 people learned and executed great things and went back to their units only to be hamstrung by an old book. My team and stakeholders from across the Army, active and reserve, set out to make a book that supported not only everything we have learned in the war but something that would support good marksmanship techniques and most importantly, teaching techniques.

We not only vetted the book within the Army, but we brought in several professional instructors from across the industry. Many of them have been teaching every weekend for 10+ years as their primary income. These pros helped us streamline the message and cleared up wording to make it teach more effectively. Believe that these guys are on your side and want nothing more than effective American Soldiers. Many times, business comes second and they gave the Army things that people would pay a lot of money to learn.

In our research, we found some things. Our weapons aren’t bad for what we are asking them to do. All of you fired issued weapons from five meters out to 600 meters. The ammunition is good enough for what we are asking it to do. You guys know this as you got hits. If the weapons and ammo aren’t the problem, what is?

Is it the caliber of Solider? If that were it, it wouldn’t cover 40 years of marginal performance

Is it the number of rounds we fire? Could be in some cases but if SFC Chain and the cadre had simply said, “here is 100,000 rounds; blast away” without any teaching would you guys have seen the improvement you made the past few weeks?

We decided that is was WHAT we were saying and how we were saying it. We relooked what we were providing to leaders and instructors to teach. Here at Fort Benning, you can’t present anything that isn’t in a book. No matter what we wanted to teach, the book was the book. I think we made big strides on fixing that.

So that leads to what you guys learned here in MMTC. For those in the room, you were successful. Some were not. The difference is the message that the cadre challenged and graded you on delivering. You had to group to higher standards than normal, get more precise zeros and get hits beyond what many of you were used to. You also had to teach back things that improved your own performance. You not only learned how to shoot better but learned how to make others shoot better, which is the big picture.

This is how we are improving Army Marksmanship. No more will you leave a school and not be able to use the information provided there because a leader asks one simple question, “What does the book say?” The knowledge passed on to you from the cadre cannot be undermined nor argued with by those who have always done it one way. When you go back to your units and later your next unit, that knowledge will still be relevant.

I close with a challenge. I challenge you, the MMTC graduates to transfer all the knowledge gained here to four people. You may get more than that but if you can get four people to the same level you are the result will be astounding. You and your subordinates need to get the message out to 1 million people as they fire 400 million rounds next year. You now know how to get all the rounds you and your Soldiers are allocated and the best ways to use them. Those rounds will be fired, we hope, but the question remains are they good rounds or are they fired the same way we always have done it.

I thank you for all you are doing and you have my support in your continued efforts.


I’m a Responsible Gun Owner? Seriously?


The description given in the article below is not uncommon and it often applies to military, law enforcement, and hunters as well.

While living in San Antonio, I was a TCOLE (formerly TCLEOSE) certified instructor and worked part-time at the Alamo Area Regional Law Enforcement Academy. As a Texas resident, I took the TxDPS – License to Carry course described below. While living in Wisconsin, I was certified by the state Department of Natural Resources as a Wisconsin Hunter Education instructor and taught classes. I’ve been in the U.S. Army in various capacities for a quarter century and with the US Army Reserve Marksmanship Training and Competitive Program since 2004.

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with many skilled people in all of these experiences but that was largely due to my seeking them out and knowing what to look for. I already had higher-level shooting experience via organized competition and held Classifications from national-level organizations before doing any of this. The then-director of the DNR Hunter’s Ed program attended HunterShooter events I held. I applied for that Academy after having a fellow Shooting Team member speak well of the training director and his program. My Texas LTC course was taught by a fellow instructor and USAR Shooting Team member. I specifically took the class from him to avoid the clown show described below.

Gun owners are often their own worst enemy. The level of incompetence described here is not uncommon. Military, law enforcement, hunters, and concealed carry people are often at novice levels. Mandatory qualification levels are only useful if they’re difficult enough to assess useful skill. That means people incapable of displaying minimal useful skill must be failed. The other approach is for the program to intend to pass everyone. This means standards are adjusted down until everyone can. This article describes the results of that.

Yale Police Protest Over Firearms Test


Yale Police Protest Over Firearms Test
More than 70 police officers at Yale University are protesting a new policy that allows them to be fired if they don’t pass a firearms test in 30 working days after having failed it twice.

How difficult is this test, really? The article doesn’t mention, but it’s almost certainly the rudimentary levels found throughout law enforcement. In one formal study, it was found there is a tiny 13% difference in skill between complete novices that had never fired a handgun and academy-trained police officers. Academy-trained police officers are still novices, and these police officers at Yale University are protesting being held accountable for this 13% improvement because they can’t do it, or the academy that graduated them couldn’t teach them to do so, or both.

“Training” at this level is just an introduction to concepts. Passing such a qualification is merely routine hygiene that introductory concepts have been retained at a level 13% above complete novices, not training.

Note for all instructors: This is why maintaining reasonable but challenging standards coupled with semi-regular competition is important. It prevents underskilled “instructors” from working with recruits by revealing with numbers how unskilled they actually are. It puts a performance goal that indicates when low performance is happening and identifies those that are doing better and best. Encouraging and hosting competitive events creates a culture that reinforces skill development for recognizing and rewarding those that do well, which identifies potential candidates to help teach the others.

These police officers at Yale University are protesting for the “right” to remain underskilled and to never find better qualified firearms instruction at their academy.

USMC Rifle Qualification History


History of USMC Rifle Qualification, 1903-2013
by Marine Gunner C.P. WADE, WTBN, Quantico

Source: History of USMC Rifle Qualification, 1903-2013

More comments here:

Teaching Military Marksmanship


Having drill sergeants and unit NCOs instruct marksmanship with no additional formal training or proven, higher-level experience is like having second graders teach first grade, simply because they graduated first grade.

Keep Qualification Scores


Do police agencies keep numerical range scores or is it just pass/fail? Some agencies are going away from the actual numerical scoring, supposedly because training records fall under the open records act and they are afraid that if an officer with a higher qualification score kills someone in an otherwise legitimate shooting that the prosecuting attorneys will ask the officer didn’t shoot to disarm, etc. How are police agencies handling this?


I believe many departments only keep pass/no pass records, but not because of the reasons stated.

It is very easy to establish in court that shooting a gun out of someones hand or shoot to disarm, etc., is not only impractical but also nearly impossible under the stress of a violent encounter. These feats are myths. What is more likely is that the departments do not want the scores of those who barely pass to be available.


For liability purposes, Pass/Fail scoring is becoming the norm. When the use of force is questioned, it is normal for the training records of the officer to come into play, and needless to say, this includes officer involved shootings.

The problem is, on paper, it makes all officers appear to have even ability. When I first started, % scores were common, and I was always PROUD to be able to consistently score 100%. However, there are always those officers who will struggle to meet the minimum (75% in our case). I’ve seen officers with poor firearm skills. Unfortunately, with a pass or fail system, the officer who struggles to pass the qualification with a minimum score (and needs several attempts to pass it), is EQUAL to the officer who passes it consistently with 100%.

When we picked our competition team, we would take the top shooters in the department and place them on the pistol team. Under a pass/fail system, there are no top shooters, everyone is equal! It used to be that exceptional ability on the range was recognized, but under the pass/fail system, you can’t do that. Pass/Fail works for liability reasons, but other than that, I think it sucks.


If you score a perfect weapons qual, and you are out on the street, a gun fight errupts, one of your bullets doesnt hit the intended target, huge law suit because of that perfect score on paper. Lawyers love that kind of case.

Some have advanced the notion that public sector firearms courses (for police and private citizens) should not keep scores, allowing pass/fail only, due to issues with liability problems. The problem, we’re told, is that assessing skill numerically could jeopardize the legal defense of an otherwise legit shooting. If the qualification records indicate the person was more skillful, the prosecution may claim the shooter should have tried other shot(s) or shoot to disarm because of their higher skill. If the qualification records indicate the person was less skillful or marginally qualified, it might be shown that the person was reckless due to a lack of skill. Thus, best not keep scores because high or low results could be used against you in court.

Wrong. As with many issues in the firearms world, much of what is taken as “truth” is merely garbage repeated endlessly. Keeping a numerical assessment of skill is necessary if skill is ever to be improved. There is no liability problem with doing this.

By definition, this sort of liability is something whose presence is likely to put one at a legal disadvantage. Such a liability needs to be based on a precedent established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive for a court when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.

Such a precedent requires a preceding incident to have actually occurred. In this instance, there must be a legal case where a person’s qualification scores were successfully used in court to secure a verdict against them.

If one still believes that keeping qualification scores creates a legal liability provide the docket number of the case where this happened. Case law is based on actual filed court actions from actual events. If such a thing never occurred there is no legal precedent and any “liability” is pure conjecture and unsubstantiated opinion. A nice way of saying, “it’s bullshit.”

The lack of qualification scores will have a negative impact on training success. Avoiding this due to imaginary liability is poor practice.

Qualification and Skill

1 Comment

People outside the competition world often fail to understand the sort of skill levels possible. Routine qualification is the most vestigial level of basic understanding. Police and military qualification is the equivalent of a simple arithmetic quiz considered easy by elementary school children. It’s a perfectly acceptable level for a student actually in elementary school and basic/recruit/Academy training because we’re working with a brand-new novice. It is no longer acceptable years later because the student should have progressed.

I discuss this at length in my book Beyond Expert: Tripling Military Shooting Skills using U.S. Army qualification standards as compared to NATO combat competition courses. In it I show that anyone interested in competition shooting needs to at least triple military qualification “expert” (or even “perfect”) standards as a starting point. For handgun events, this can be increased by a factor of five or more. Shooters consistently winning need to be better still.

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