Combat arms training keeps Airmen on target

  • Published
  • By Ashley M. Wright
  • 1st Special Operatios Wing Public Affairs
Legal- check. Medical-check. Ability to defend yourself and possibly save the lives of fellow Airmen in battle- check.

More than 12,000 personnel from Hurlburt Field, Eglin Air Force Base and Duke Field prepare for deployments by receiving small arms training at Combat Arms Training and Maintenance at Hurlburt Field.

"We teach them how to use the weapon, how to sight the weapon and to use the fundamentals to fire effectively," said Staff Sgt. Dominique Moore, 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron Combat Arms instructor. "You have to establish a baseline. When you are in a combat situation and your stress levels are up, if you have a baseline to go through, you can keep yourself in the game."

Combat Arms instructors train Airmen on a variety of weapons including the M4 carbine, M16 rifle, M9 pistol and others, said Master Sgt. Brian Gilliland, NCO in charge of Combat Arms. The type of weapon a person trains on depends on several factors like their unit type code, and if they fall into arming group A, which is typically security forces or people who go down range without security escorts, or group B, which is most other career fields.

"The Air Force Qualification Course is not there to make them Rambo over night," Sergeant Gilliland said. "It is there to take the person with no weapons experience and give them a basic weapons safety, handling, clearing and shooting fundamental course."

Arming group A should qualify on their weapon no more than 180 days prior to deployment and group B, 120 days. The unit deployment manager will place Airmen in a class after working with the CATM designated scheduler who works off a 90-day advanced calendar and priority listings.

"What takes priority is the person going down range right now and the weapon that is down range with that person," Sergeant Gilliland said.

In addition to qualifying individuals from as far away as Tyndall Air Force Base and Pensacola Naval Air Station, the number one base for CATM qualifications inspects an average of 220 weapons per week.

Airmen can expedite the process in a few ways.

Showing up with proper individual protective gear is step one, Sergeant Gilliland said. This includes gas mask, helmet, individual body armor and the weapon issued to go down range so it can be simultaneously inspected. In addition, individuals must possess a signed Lautenberg agreement. Airmen can obtain the form from their unit deployment manager.

"Basically, the Air Force requires servicemembers to sign the agreement saying they have not been charged with so many misdemeanors, class-three felonies and things like that," Sergeant Gilliland said.

Once Airmen arrive for the course, they receive a safety briefing from the instructor and hands-on instruction. Typically, the pistol class will run two hours, and the rifle runs three hours, Sergeant Moore said. When people have never dealt with weapons before, you don't want to overload them.

"A lot of people have the impression that this course is going to mentally confuse them or make them jittery and nervous," Sergeant Moore said. "If you are being safe with [the weapon], there is nothing to be afraid of."

Another obstacle instructors must overcome in the classroom is dispelling popular media images about weapons.

"There are a lot of obstacles," Sergeant Moore said. "People come here with their own baggage about the weapons including Hollywood perceptions like holding the gun sideways or making the bullet curve."

After the classroom portion, the students and instructors move to the firing range and attempt to meet minimum qualifications. For the pistol course, students need a minimum of 35 hits on the green silhouette target. To earn "Expert" in the course requires 41 hits on target with 25 in the chest and six in the head. For the rifle, each arming group has different qualifications. For arming group B, 25 rounds must hit their targets to qualify, while arming group A requires 32 hits. Expert would be 43 and above. All qualifications last for one year.

"It will at least make me feel a lot better when I deploy," said CATM veteran Staff Sgt. Dana Taylor, 39th Information Operations Squadron. "I shot a lot better [this time]."
After spending nearly two hours on the firing line, students head back inside to clean their weapons and review.

"Myself, growing up, I never handled a weapon, never fired a weapon. I got into security forces, [and] I learned how weapons worked and what they are capable of," Sergeant Moore said. "If we have a lot of people deploying in potentially hostile areas, I would want them to have the skills and knowledge to defend their lives and protect the lives of their co-workers."

For more information about the CATM, contact Sergeant Gilliland at 850-884-7520.