JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
The line of students listened attentively to their instructions and waited to hear the command allowing them to begin.
Shots rang out into the crisp air as each Airman took aim and fired at their targets. The final shell casing clinked to the ground and instructors ensured the range was safe before inspected each target to see how their students had fared in their qualification training.
The 627th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) holds the combat arms training and maintenance course to train Airmen on the characteristics, nomenclature, assembly, disassembly, maintenance and firing of small-arms weapons such as the M-4 carbine and M-9 pistol at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
“The main purpose of combat arms is typically for people to get qualified to not only defend themselves, but defend the people next to them,” said Tech. Sgt. Casey Blickenstaff, 627th SFS noncommissioned officer in charge of combat arms. “We try to stay away from marksman-type shooting, which is easy to get into when you’re shooting at a paper target. We teach anyone from the basic skill level who comes in for the first time since basic training to people who have been doing this for ten years.”
Until recently, Airmen in certain career fields were only required to qualify on small firearms before they deployed. If multiple years passed and they were not tasked to deploy, it could be some time before they were back on a range. Now everyone is required to maintain currency every 36 months, with some career fields requiring it once a year.
“It’s much better because people are getting a lot more trigger time,” Blickenstaff said. “They’re not coming in and it’s [foreign or unfamiliar] to them because they weren’t getting much time with those weapons.”
With the recent readiness initiative pushing for all Team McChord Airmen to be able to deploy in a more compressed timeline, the 627th SFS combat arms course has seen an increase of personnel needing training in a year by 50 percent.
"I am very proud of how the unit has come together to get our mission partners ready. We have taken non-combat arms individuals from the unit to help augment the busy schedule, everyone is stepping up, to include our ABG comrades, said Maj. Michael Holt, 627th SFS commander. “Combat arms is one of the three pillars of the unit's mission and I constantly receive praise from our mission partners on how awesome TSgt Blickenstaff and his section carry out that mission."
Airmen who are going through combat arms training recognize and value the opportunity for hands-on training.
“This is one of those things where if you don’t use it you’re going to lose it,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Groessler, combat arms student and 62nd Maintenance Squadron (MXS) munitions technician. “So if you do it repeatedly and often enough you’ll know how to do it and getting through the class and these firings become a lot easier.”
The ramping up to meet readiness requirements presented challenges with logistics, supplies and scheduling, but Team McChord and joint partners stepped up to satisfy the mission requirement.
Despite the spike in training, combat arms Airmen have developed a schedule to fit the extra bodies in, to include teaching three classes a day as well as increasing class sizes. For Airmen who are tasked to deploy and need to gain their qualification as soon as possible, the instructors are able to fit them in, which may mean bumping a student without an immediate need to a later class.
“We have plenty of range days and the Army is very good with our range times,” Blickenstaff said. “We even have Saturdays and Sundays to fire, so if we need to come in on the weekend to get someone taken care of we can do that as well.”
The 627th SFS has had help to fulfill the new regulation. The 62nd Logistics Readiness Squadron has supplied Airmen to be bus drivers for the new larger classes to take them to and from the range, while the 62nd MXS has provided the extra munitions and equipment needed for the increase in students.
“Because we distribute their ammunition we know what’s going on, and as much as I have seen from our end I think they handle that quite well,” Groessler said. “I haven’t seen any tripping up or shortfalls when it comes to that kind of stuff. I think they do a good job.”
The majority of Team McChord will probably find themselves in a combat arms classroom at some point in their time at JBLM.
“Essentially whenever someone deploys they have to come see us, so we touch everyone on this base,” Blickenstaff said. “Anytime someone needs small arms weapon training, whether it be the M-9 pistol or M-4 carbine, we’re here for them.”
The Air Force has shifted its focus to readiness and the 62nd SFS CATM course is one piece of the puzzle that ensures every Airman is indeed ready.