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Revitalized indoor range strengthens military missions

Jul 17, 2009

By Brittany Carlson (USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs)

Looking down the barrels of their rifles, Special Forces Soldiers take aim at the targets and begin a small weapons qualification.

The duty day is over, and the noise is deafening, but training continues, thanks to Range 7, Stuttgart's newly improved indoor range on Panzer Kaserne.

Since the range received $650,000 in upgrades between October 2007 and April 2009, not to mention that it is available 24 hours a day, the facility has become one of the most-used ranges in Stuttgart (booked 15 out of 21 training days per month).

"We're getting a lot more people using it because it's brand new," said Dave Shaffer, local training area coordinator for Stuttgart's Training Support Center. The range supports the entire Stuttgart military community, including Navy SEALS, Marines, AFRICOM and its most frequent customers, 1/10th Special Forces Soldiers.

Although the eight-lane, 25-meter range was built in 1983, it was rarely utilized until recently because it used sand, a difficult substance to maintain and clean. "It was dark and nasty in here," Shaffer recalled. "We had to hose down the floor. It was such a pain to run, and restricted the amount of time [service members] got to shoot."

Now, with its new wooden walls, rubberized flooring and environmentally-friendly bullet catch, Range 7 is one of Germany's most modern shooting ranges, Shaffer said. It also helps Special Forces Soldiers with their missions by containing live fire noise, since they often need to shoot during the evening or pre-dawn hours.

"This is very pertinent to the community," Shaffer said. "Given the nature of our agreements [with the German community] we can't fire outside of specific hours. It supports our Special Operations guys and helps with keeping the neighbors happy."

The new changes, funded by the 7th Joint Multi National Training Command, also make the range environmentally friendly. The sand bullet catch was replaced with shredded tires, called 'Gran-Tex.' This not only cuts down on hazardous materials, but keeps sand and lead particles from becoming airborne - a danger to training service members if inhaled, Shaffer said.

"We're one of the first indoor ranges in Germany that has Gran-Tex," he added. In addition, using shredded tires also saves the range more than $28,000 a year, compared to the sand, which was more expensive to maintain.

The new bullet catch is the best improvement for Special Operations Command Europe 1st Sgt. Ted Munter, who used Range 7 both before and after its renovations.

"It allows you to focus more on your skills and less time on clean up," Munter said. "You're not as limited on the amount of rounds that you can fire in rapid succession, because [Gran-Tex] doesn't create as much dust.

"You can actually fire until about 15 minutes prior to your range inspection," he added.

The indoor range also helps units qualify for nighttime shooting with its 24-hour availability.

"If a unit wants to shoot until midnight, our outdoor ranges can't support that, but our indoor range can," Shaffer said. Service members do not even have to come at night to practice night fire. "With night fire [training], instead of having to be on an outdoor range and wait until dark, they can go in [Range 7] and turn the lights off."

All of the lights in Range 7 were upgraded during the renovations, as well as the ventilation system, bathrooms and offices.

Besides the indoor range, the entire Stuttgart local training area includes six outdoor ranges (across from Panzer Kaserne), including a sniper hide and demolition area; an 18-room shoot house, and a Military Operations on Urban Terrain site with seven Middle Eastern-styled buildings.

Shaffer, who has managed the LTA since October 2006, considers the new indoor range his crowning achievement in Stuttgart.

He recalls thinking "We have to take this 1985 technology and bring it up to the 21st century, because we can't put people in it." Since its new makeover, more than 50 percent of all possible training days in Range 7 are booked.

"It's a very tangible, concrete benefit that I am leaving behind from my tenure here," Shaffer said. "I know that I made a positive impact on this community."

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