As gun ownership drops among young Americans and the Army trains a generation more accustomed to blasting out emojis than taking aim at targets, drill sergeants are confronting a new challenge: More than half of raw recruits have never held, let alone fired, a weapon, reports the AP. An independent research group finds that young people, who form the bulk of the Army's rookie soldiers, went from a 1977 peak of 45% gun ownership to just 13% in 2014. Drill sergeants tasked with transforming them into competent marksmen are adjusting their approach, dropping the tendency to bark out orders and are adopting a more mentor-like coaching attitude. "You don't hear any drill sergeants yelling, unless it's a huge safety issue," said Staff Sgt. Randy Fisher, one of 600 drill sergeants working with recruits at South Carolina's Fort Jackson. "We don't want the soldiers to get all freaked out."
Amid blasts of semi-automatic rifle fire at one of Fort Jackson's 30 ranges, Army drill sergeants pace behind four dozen soldiers aiming M-4s at distant targets. The hard-nosed, barked commands from basic training are absent. During a lull in shooting, drill sergeants lean over to offer guidance in measured tones. The Army is blending decades-old training fundamentals for recruits with a "back-to-school" refresher for some of its most battle-hardened drill sergeants. Staff Sgt. Harry Lichtenberger said those new to guns often become the Army's best shooters. "We find that those who have fired weapons have quirks, bad habits." Several recruits said the training approach worked. Pvt. Lorraina Casas, 18, a first-time shooter, says, "I'm confident shooting." Good marksmanship is a requirement to graduate from combat training for all soldiers, no matter if bound for a combat or support unit. "All soldiers are soldiers first," says Lichtenberger. "No matter what their job, they have to be able to defend themselves and their comrades."