Qualified “Expert” and the Expertise Fallacy

So, you shot an Expert Qualification. Good for you! Congratulations. Wear the badge proudly, it isn’t an easy achievement under most circumstances.

But it isn’t hard either. In fact, as you get further down the discipline of shooting it isn’t hard at all. It asserts that you applied the basics of marksmanship successfully under a moderate time restraint. It does not mean you understand the rifle, carbine, submachine gun, machine gun, or handgun and how it operates. It doesn’t even mean that you understand the marksmanship principles. It just means you were able to use them successfully to achieve a basic performance standard.

As Henry points out in the video, the title “Expert” is more of a morale and psychologically enhancing item. It provides motivation to young and fresh training troops who have never worked this discipline before, it grants an achievable milestone. It gives a written objective standard to hold a large force to. It in no way confers system expertise.

But commanders will use these individuals as experts for lack of anyone better, or for being lazy and a lack of emphasis on marksmanship and competency in general. Most troops, even in the ground combat branches, even in the ground combat MOS’s aren’t that great of a shot. But all they have ever been compared against was the ‘Expert’ standard, an objectively low standard that tests a few basic components of marksmanship. In addition to that if the training is not executed properly, if time isn’t spent properly zeroing and practicing, and if the clear emphasis of the commander is just to get bodies through the qualification then the troops will learn nothing, they will retain nothing, and they will benefit nothing.

This systemic problem is something that elements within the military are trying to address. The new Army Qualification TC 3-20.40 is a step in the right direction. An important step.

But another symptom is something Henry addresses in the video. False Expertise is a fallacy that can spawn easily in an environment with a limited dataset. The military qualification is a perfect environment. Hell, the title ‘Expert’ is a perfect catalyst. We set young troops up to be confident and then when they knock that whack-a-mole down enough times we call them rifle experts. The dataset is limited and so their observation of their own skillset is no objective comparison to the wider discipline of shooting. Tactical, precision, or otherwise.

They don’t know anything else. They can’t tell you ballistics or what MOA is. They don’t know the MOA rating of the rifle and ammunition. They don’t know the effect of zero distances or the different adjustments on their sights. They have no background or training in giving an instructional period. But an ‘Expert’ will be tossed a booklet full of nearly alien TM knowledge and told to teach marksmanship… because they are an ‘Expert’ so they clearly know, right?

And this leads to… well

And things along those lines. Troops are never given a scale for their understanding and this hinders them. We treat them like idiots and instead of teaching marksmanship like the simple discipline it is we shove them into a powerpoint grinder with people who do not know the topic, they just passed with an ‘Expert’ score. In some cases incompletely knowing the topic and teaching bad habits they picked up from hearsay, but they had an ‘Expert’ score.

In simple terms, the DoD has played itself. By using an antiquated system in, largely, an information vacuum they have created a group of drastically under informed marksman and titled them ‘Expert’. This is 100 percent something I suffered from too. I was digging into all this ancillary knowledge and I was a qualified ‘Expert‘ in our annual qualification. I could even do it with the M203/M16A4, look at me go.

But none of this translated into tactical shooting proficiency, handling, body position, or what any of those things meant. We were still doing “groucho” stance because… reasons… NCO said so… and all that other garbage. It didn’t matter that far better shooters with far deeper backgrounds in tactical shooting were saying ‘do otherwise’… nope, NCO qualified ‘Expert’ said so, so do it. A perfect storm for false confidence in skill and expertise without the grounding knowledge base.

So again, congrats on your Expert badge. It is an admirable achievement. It is something to take pride in and to use as a stepping off point for further knowledge. It is the beginning of expertise, not the end. It is time we knew that.

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Keith Finch
Keith is the former Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. He got told there was a mountain of other things that needed doing, so he does those now and writes here when he can. editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. Teaching since 2009, he covers local concealed carry courses, intermediate and advanced rifle courses, handgun, red dot handgun, bullpups, AKs, and home defense courses for civilians, military client requests, and law enforcement client requests.