Allied shooters challenged at CAFSAC 2017

Article / November 2, 2017 / Project number: 17-0323

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Ottawa, Ontario — The official aim (no pun intended) the Canadian Armed Forces Small Arms Concentration (CAFSAC) is to improve the marksmanship and small arms proficiency of the participating troops.

That said, CAFSAC involves much more than just hitting targets at varying distances from various shooting positions. The competition, which took place at the Connaught Ranges and Primary Training Centre in Ottawa from September 4 to 16, is designed to test marksmanship under simulated combat conditions and the additional physical and psychological pressures that come with them. This year’s participants included the United States, Britain, and The Netherlands.

In the following interview, Captain Neil Whitewick, who led this year’s British Army Reserve team, and Warrant Officer 1 Dennis Heerveld, a member of the Royal Dutch Army’s team (and top pistol shooter at CAFSAC 2011 and 2012), attest to the challenges of CAFSAC.

What are your overall impressions of CAFSAC 2017?

Capt Whitewick: I came here in 2009 as the Captain of the British Army Combat Shooting Team. The Canadian chain of command all descended on the competition that year and said, ‘This is not very good.’ It didn’t replicate operational combat at all. I was actually called into a Canadian committee meeting and asked for my opinion. So I had to turn around and say, ‘It’s not reflective.’ I only said that because, from 2006 to 2009 in the UK, we had gone through exactly the same kind of reflection.

I can clearly see, from 2009 through to now, that there’s been a massive change. It’s all movement, engage, movement, engage. And that’s from all the different fire positions, all the different ranges, with all of the weapon systems. The light machine gun matches here, they’re better than in the U.K. There’s more available here – they fire three, four different competitions. We only fire the one. And the pistol competition is better here than in the UK.

WO1 Heerveld: It’s a real challenge. It’s pretty intense when you have pistol shooting matches, the biathlon, you’ve got to go over to the night shoots. That’s long days. The shooting starts at 7:30 a.m. on the range and you end up at the end of the afternoon after a day of shooting, running. After two weeks, you are feeling tired. It’s absolutely different from what we do in The Netherlands because we cannot shoot these kinds of exercises due to limitations and restrictions on our shooting ranges.

The experiences we face in these kinds of matches, we take them home. And our shooting instruction and control team, which develops the overall shooting training program, we speak with them and, when there is a review, they see what they can use.

Who is on your respective teams this year?

Capt Whitewick: We have a team of 14 – one non-firing team captain, which is myself. One non-firing team coach, who’s a senior warrant officer, and 12 shooters plus two non-firing team managers. We come from six different Army Reserve units from all across the U.K.

WO1 Heerveld: We have a mixed team from soldiers to a captain – he’s in logistics. We’ve got some infantry guys, some training people. Myself, I’m chief of the reproduction and graphics section – a completely different story. But at the roots, we are all shooters. And we shoot privately also.

How did each of you discover your affinity for shooting?

Capt Whitewick: I started shooting in 1997. I was at my 12-year point in the Army. I was a weapons instructor. My sergeant major at the time came around and said, ‘You reckon you can teach a good lesson? Come and show me that you can fire a bullet straight.’ Well, I joined the shooting team and I was all right at it and thoroughly enjoyed it. The next year I went back and got to [the British Defence Operational Shooting Competition] and came in 107th.

Through the years I did more and then I was qualified on the ranges and I eventually became the regimental team captain. And then in 2004, I became captain of the Royal Logistical Corps combat shooting team. And in 2009, I came across here as captain of the British Army combat shoot team. I don’t fire anymore. My greatest pleasure is to see young shooters who have big smiles on their faces just as I did when I was firing as a youngster.

WO1 Heerveld: I started in 1995 with the military national championship. It was hard to get shooters together and the Air Force won all the matches. We said, ‘We don’t want the Air Force to win any more so we need another approach.’ We got our own stock of weapons, we were a real part of the organization, officially.

At first people were laughing at the national civilian championships – the military is coming, ha ha! – because we could not compete with civilians who shoot every week. But somewhere in 2006, 2007 there was a switch. We started winning championships, setting new national records. Our shooters are entitled to have their military weapons and ammunition at home because for us we’re not only shooting in training on Fridays but we also have to practice in civilian clubs and in shooting matches on the weekends. It’s not voluntary - just make a lot of brass on Friday and go home. We want winners.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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