Combat arms instructors train in peace to prepare for war

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Natasha E. Stannard
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
An echo resounds as the magazine is slammed into the weapon. Ear drums ring as the charging handle ricochets back into place. Eyes focus down the barrel through the front sight post, aligning it with the intended target. A breath is held; index finger pulls the trigger. Bam! A jolt to the body. Bull's eye.

In the Air Force, there exists a special cadre of security forces Airmen: combat arms training and maintenance instructors. These defenders teach weapons maintenance and inspection, ensuring officers and enlisted Airmen understand how their weapons work, the importance of maintaining them and how to use them.

"Knowing how to use your weapon is the only way it will save your life," said Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Clark, a CATM instructor. "Our base sends a lot of people to deploy and in order to make sure they're ready, we have to make sure they are proficient."

Airmen attend an annual weapons qualification course on their career field's duty weapons, typically an M9 pistol, or M4 or M16 rifle.

First, students spend about four hours in the classroom to learn the ins and outs of their weapon. They learn how to properly operate, engage appropriate targets, assemble, how to check that their weapons function correctly and use of force parameters.

"Weapon inspection and maintenance techniques are vital lifesaving skills, because they ensure reliability and proper functioning of the weapon," Sergeant Clark said.

Once the weapons are taken apart, students inspect them to make sure components aren't cracked or in disrepair. Then, students reassemble them and perform function checks to make sure the weapons work correctly.

Weapons safety is one of the most important aspects of weapons training and qualification, both inside and outside of the military, Sergeant Clark said.

"By practicing safety, no one on our side gets hurt," Sergeant Clark said.

Safety teaches students how to handle their weapons both on and off the range. In part of the course, students learn how to do safety checks so their weapons don't go off unexpectedly, as well as how to safely clear a round in case of a jam.

Students also learn about proper use of force techniques. Instructors teach guidelines and appropriate measures for a given situation, like how to identify when it's justifiable to fire and degrees of force to use based on a target's intent, capability and opportunity.

"Make sure whenever you're engaging your target, to properly identify it, because any action you take has to be reasonable," Sergeant Clark tells his students.

After ensuring their weapons are in good repair and will function correctly, Airmen learn the fundamentals of shooting.

Weapons fundamentals are also important because they provide basics on handling and operating weapons for defense, said Staff Sgt. Alan McNew, a CATM instructor.

Instructors then teach students how to properly sight a target, as well as how to hold a weapon properly, enabling them to aim better.

Once they're on the range, students use the skills while instructors observe to make sure they apply them properly and safely.

Students go through a practice round, giving instructors the chance to make sure they have their sights adjusted properly. After each round of fire, students go onto the range with the instructors to view their paper targets and see how well they shot. If they're having problems hitting the targets, the instructors help them adjust their breathing, line of sight and offer other bits of advice.

Once the proper adjustments are made and issues are identified, students fire for qualification. Instructors keep a watchful eye on the students and their targets.

"It's our goal to make sure students are competent, confident and capable shooters," said Tech. Sgt. Gregory Stewart, the CATM NCO in charge.

It's very satisfying to teach them new skills and to see them apply these skills, Sergeant Stewart said.

"Seeing a student have that light bulb moment -- turning someone who has never shot a weapon into a warfighter -- brings a great amount of job satisfaction," Sergeant Stewart said.

Finally, students take apart and clean their weapons. Then perform a function check, ensuring everything still works.

"It's important to maintain and clean your weapon because it will operate smoother," Sergeant Clark said.

CATM instructors take pride in everything they do, from teaching fundamentals and safety, to inspecting more than 3,000 weapons on base. Their training is done in peace to prepare for war.