Fort Drum, New York
I once spent 18 months supervising small-arms ranges with about 20 other Army retirees. Our experience indicated that range safety is directly related to the quality of unit firing-line safeties.
We observed active-duty, Reserve and National Guard units. One commonality among them was that they often paid little attention to the qualifications of their firing-line safeties. Instead, the primary consideration was, “Who is available right now?” Most unit leadership understood firing-line safeties must be a specialist or higher rank; however, few leaders took time to brief them on their specific firing-line responsibilities. Seldom was anyone designated to supervise firing-line safeties, although range safety officers and officers in charge are designated by Army Regulation 385-63.
This problem was illustrated on an M16 range. During a 10-day span, three Soldiers left the firing line with a chambered round in their rifles. These Soldiers walked across the range complex to a classroom, totally unaware of the chambered rounds. Fortunately, an alert unit leader or range safety officer spotted the problem and immediately cleared the weapon in each instance. Three serious accidents with tragic consequences could have occurred had the chambered rounds not been discovered.
All unit leaders, range officers in charge and range safety officers must be aware of this systemic problem. It is their responsibility to brief firing-line safeties before they assume their duties and supervise them during the range exercise. Also, range standing operating procedures should include a specific briefing for firing-line safeties. The unit officers in charge or noncommissioned officers in charge should give this brief and include the following topics:
• Firing-line safeties must know the exact firing positions for which they are responsible. A good ratio, or span of control, is one safety per two or three shooters.
• Firing-line safeties must be aware of any inexperienced shooters on the line. Inexperienced shooters raise the probability of an accident and must be supervised accordingly.
• All means of communication — paddles, arm signals and verbal commands — must be understood clearly. Handheld radios also may be necessary for communication.
• All firing-line safeties must loudly and clearly repeat the tower’s firing commands. This process helps each shooter keep their focus downrange. Firing-line safeties must ensure each shooter stays within the firing commands and that their weapon is pointed up and downrange.
• Firing-line safeties must keep their focus on the firing line and intervene immediately when a shooter has a problem. During M16 qualification, Soldiers must keep their weapons operational; however, an inexperienced shooter attempting to clear a weapon represents an immediate hazard.
• Firing-line safeties must rod each weapon as the shooter enters and exits the firing line. According to AR 385-63, the range safety officer is responsible for ensuring all weapons are clear before and after the range exercise.
• Firing-line safeties should be qualified on the weapon(s) they are supervising.
Being a firing-line safety is one of the most important jobs in the Army today. The loss of a Soldier on the range at home is just as devastating as a combat loss in theater. Show these Soldiers what right looks like and give them the skills to make it home from the fight.