Ordnance School small arms course on schedule to offer gunsmith certification

Soldiers training as small arms/artillery repairers will soon get the opportunity to earn a certification upon graduation from advanced individual training.

The free-of-charge certification program could be implemented by the end of the year, said Damon Dean, chief of the Ordnance School’s Conventional Weapons Division, Armament Electronics- Maintenance Training Department.

“I’m hoping for the first quarter of fiscal [year] 2015 — the end of this year to the early part of the following year,” he said. The program also will offered to Marines who attend the course, said Dean.

The accredited Penn Foster Career School of Scranton, Pa., will administer the certifications.

To earn the Gunsmith Certificate in Military Conventional Weapons credential, students must complete an online course of study in addition to the 13 weeks required to complete the resident 91F military occupational specialty training.

“There are 20 modules to complete, and they will range from basic weapon functions to metal finishing,” said Dean. “It is a self-paced course that can take three months or longer. They can complete the certification prior to graduation if they apply themselves. It’s all up to the student.”

The schoolhouse certification only will be offered to students who are in training at the time of implementation, said Sunday Wright, the 91F course manager.

“We are currently only offering this opportunity to current students because we are in the initial phase of this credentialing program,” she said. “Also, the agreement (with Penn Foster) was to look at credentialing the current students. We will continue to monitor the program and hopefully expand it in the future, to include past graduates of the 91F course.”

The certification program will be available at a cost to those already holding the military occupational specialty.

If the program is to be successful among current students, the availability of computers will be key, said Dean.

“One of my main concerns is that the students have access to the computers,” he said. “We can have a highly motivated student who is ready to work on the credentials, but if he or she doesn’t have access to a computer — either here at the schoolhouse or the barracks — that could undermine the effectiveness of the program.”

Dean said he and his team are wrapping up plans to make sure enrollees have the computer resources to support their efforts.

“We’re on track,” he said. “The only thing we need to do is set up our hardware. We’re setting up a computer lab that will allow the students to take advantage of free time to work on their modules.”

First-year enrollment expectations are lofty. With 1,200 Soldiers and Marines graduating from the course on a yearly basis, the pool of applicants can be large, said Dean.

“I’m hoping for 1,200 students,” he said. “We’ve budgeted for 1,200 students, but just like anything else, there will be an untold percentage of students who will not undertake the program for whatever reasons. I’m optimistic that a high percentage of students will participate in the certification.”

The Penn Foster program, made possible through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, joins several other Ordnance School military occupational specialties that currently offer certifications in various concentrations. Dean said the offering to 91Fs will be a boon to the career field.

“Our students spend a lot of time here learning their craft of maintaining the world’s finest equipment, for the world’s finest Soldiers,” he said. “I think the certification is a validation of the skill level involved in their craft, and will certainly facilitate their transition to careers in the civilian sector.”

During training that primarily takes place at Hatcher Hall on the Ordnance Campus, small arms/artillery repairers learn about electronic, hydraulic and mechanical principles; schematics, and wiring diagrams; electronic and mechanical testing equipment; and the operation, testing and maintenance of conventional weapons and towed artillery guns.

Upon graduation, they are assigned to maintenance companies and armament maintenance shops.

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