By UBONG UKPONG
Being at the range with the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Azubuike Onyeabo Ihejirika, alongside some other generals, officers and soldiers on March 14, was not only fun but also revealing to know that even generals could still miss their shooting targets.
This justifies the COAS’ decision that all officers and soldiers, irrespective of ranks, should embark on mandatory yearly range exercise to test their prowess in shooting in order to remain fit at all times to executive their mandates.
It was at the range of the 177 Guards Battalion Headquarters situated at Keffi, Nasarawa State, near Abuja.
It had commenced about two weeks back and the battalion had received several Army personnel on the range and the COAS visit was said to mark the end.
Soldiers are generally known to love entertainment. Right inside the bush, very far away from residential and office areas of the barracks, where the range is located, assorted wines and other approvable drinks, fresh fish, soya milk, food and other entertaining items were on ground to grace the occasion, perhaps to calm the tension, hunger, thirst and other situations that arose from the range stress.
Assorted arms and ammunition were available for handling. Turn by turn, soldiers took up the arms, aligned themselves with their targets, aimed carefully at them and pulled the trigger, after necessary commands, bearing in mind that no target must be missed if they would be selected as the best.
Senior officers also took their turns and afterwards, it was the turn of the Generals. Of course you could rightly guess who the man in front of target one was, General Ihejirika himself.
Generals of course, are Generals because of their good experience in strategy and the fact that they are old in the game. The outer world believe that generals mostly move in to take over in battles when it is fiery, given their aiming abilities, not missing targets.
However, live situations may prove otherwise if you discovered that the foregoing scenario was a mere illusion, as Generals were often in their offices perfecting strategies and may not have fired a shot for a very long time.
This explains why the Generals were closely guided by their assigned coaches at the range, who ensured they did exactly what ought to be done at every command.
However, this did in no way indicate incompetence or incapability. It may just pass for loyalty too, as you would get the shocker of your life if you think you could visit any of the Generals with a surprise shot, without being properly dislodged and disarmed.
Notwithstanding his status as the overall Army boss and age, you needed to see General Ihejirika jump gallantly into and out of the firing trench, take diverse shooting positions, including sleeping on the bare ground, and masterly fired several shots killing all his targets, even though all shots may not have hit the targets. The same applied to other General Ihejirika said this was the essence of the yearly range exercise to keep them in tune with their arms, to be ready at all times to discharge the mandates.
“The exercise you have just witnessed is what we call weapon or range classification. It is a mandatory exercise for officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army and it is being conducted by all formations and units. Those of us from Army headquarters come under the umbrella of Army headquarters Garrison for the purpose of classification. In range classification we want to know and confirm the functionality of the equipment; the marksmanship of the troops and their discipline which means ability to adhere to range order. It is annual and distinct from other exercises that come up from time to time. It is part of an officer’s assessment. The reports from the units would reach army headquarters. Those who fail to make the average acceptable mark would be made to repeat this same exercise while those who have excelled would be selected to represent their units and formations of the army in future competition of range shooting.
“This particular year, we intend to hold the Nigerian Army Small Arms Competition (NASAC). We are yet to choose the formation to host it but it is coming up this year. So individual formations and units are still free to now carry out further classifications to confirm those that would represent them during the forthcoming competition.
“A soldier that is a marksman is an asset to the Nigerian army; he is an asset to the nation in peace keeping; in internal security or in external operations. As you are aware, it is our goal to reduce as much as possible cases of accidental discharge or what you may call collateral damage. A soldier should be able to aim and accurately pick up a target or disable a target as the case may be. So it is a very important aspect of our training.
Simple-looking and easy-going, the COAS, being very loved by his men, took time to watch all of the as they shot, and he also shared with them at the table as the wined and dined.