Who Are Those Airmen with the Red Hats?
By Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 10, 2014
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
It is just a typical day for Staff Sgt. Christopher Hoffman, 627th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor. His office for the day is Range 108 next to North Fort Lewis at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where he prepares for the students heading his way.
Hoffman walks around his "office" as the gravel crunches under his feet. He notices a discarded M-4 casing on the ground and picks it up. It's charred and hollowed. There will be thousands more of these before the day is done.
Commonly referred to as Combat Arms Maintenance and Training, Hoffman is one of seven of CA instructors assigned to the 627th SFS at JBLM.
Once selected as a CA instructor, the enlisted security forces journeymen have to complete the Combat Arms Apprentice Course at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. When they return to their home base, they fill an invaluable role as CA instructors.
"Combat arms is the core to all small arms weapons training and maintenance in the Air Force," said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Schrader, 627th Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of the combat arms section.
"There is no other function in the military like the combat arms specialty," Schrader said. "Our Airmen are far better qualified with weapons to handle combat situations and the Air Forces' weapons are better maintained now than any time in the past."
The primary weapons instructors train Airmen with are the Colt M-4 carbine assault rifle and the Beretta M-9 pistol. Combat arms instructors are also trained with a sizable inventory of weapons to include different types of assault rifles, machine guns, shot guns, grenade launchers and sniper rifles.
While it may seem that CA instructors simply teach and shoot, their daily routine is much more complex than that.
"Combat Arms sections have many moving parts," said Richard Jette, 627th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor.
"The bulk of the work is firing but plenty of time is spent repairing and inspecting weapons, scheduling classes, as well as managing munition accounts, spare parts programs, hazardous material issues and performing annual certifications."
Instructors agree that the best part of the day involves donning their red hat and making their way to the firing range. Today, after the students complete the four hour M-4 carbine classroom portion, they will take a bus to the firing range where Hoffman is waiting to give them a safety brief.
Safety is paramount at the firing range. It is the most important part of a combat arms instructor's job.
"Safety at the firing line is our biggest concern when conducting live fire training," Schrader said. "Instructors have received training in properly controlling the firing line from both a tower operator and firing line official's point of view."
Instructors wear a red hat in order to easily identify themselves at the range for both students and fellow instructors. As a result, CA personnel have received the nickname, "Red Hats".
"A Red Hat cannot relax when firing is being conducted," Jette said. "Our instructor ratio is 1-to-7. The majority of students are excellent, follow our instructions and perform safe weapons handling 100 percent of the time."
The most common safety issue they face is when a student may accidently point the barrel of his or her weapon down the line or at an instructor when trying to ask a question. Corrective actions occur immediately and if there is a chance it may happen again that student is removed from the firing line.
By day's end, the 17 students fired 196 rounds through their weapons, which must be thoroughly cleaned before leaving. The instructors do, however, present them with an enticing offer. If a student shoots a perfect score then they can hand over their weapon to an instructor for cleaning.
"So far this year, there have only been two," Hoffman says with a smile.