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Combat Arms ensure mission readiness through partnership with JB MDL

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aaron J. Jenne
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Camouflaged figures move rapidly carefully keeping in shadows, their identities cloaked by darkness as they carry heavy weapons, equipment and enough ammunition to confront a small army.

This may sound like a movie’s opening scene as actors prepare for a bank heist or some other nefarious act, but it’s actually an all too familiar occurrence in the military – weapons qualification training.

Combat Arms instructors assigned to the 436th Security Forces Squadron and their students traveled to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, to conduct heavy weapons qualifications March 9, 2017.

The Combat Arms team is responsible for inspecting, repairing and maintaining the weapons used by all the units on the installation. They also ensure members are weapons qualified to meet duty, PCS or deployment requirements. They teach members how to properly and safely use weapons, and what actions to take if anything out of the ordinary occurs while firing.

“Our goal for every class is to get our students to an expert level,” said Tech. Sgt. William Kirkland, 436th SFS NCO in charge of Combat Arms. “As long as they qualify and know what they’re doing, that’s what we’re mostly concerned about, but we want our students to feel comfortable with the weapons they may rely on someday. We aren’t only concerned with people passing the shooting portion. We want them to know and retain the knowledge we’re teaching them.”

The majority of weapons qualifications are done at the Combat Arms training facility here, however, units like 436th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal and 436th SFS require proficiency with weapons platforms aside from the commonly used M-16A2 and M-4 rifles, M-9 and M-11 pistols and the M-870 modular shotgun.

Specialized weapons such as the M-107 sniper rifle, M-203 grenade launcher, M-249 Light Machine Gun and the M-240B medium machine gun require a larger range complex than the 20 meter indoor range housed on Dover AFB. To qualify on these weapons, Combat Arms instructors and students travel to JB MDL.

“It absolutely is a benefit over firing on a short range,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Duerr, 436th SFS Combat Arms instructor. “It gives the students a better idea of what they may face in a deployed environment and how they’ll actually deploy the weapon system in a realistic way.”

Preparations start well in advance to range time as JB MDL requires three months’ notice to secure a range, Duerr said. However, the process is quite simple and provides a lot of options to range users.

“It’s pretty easy to schedule use of the range facilities at JB MDL,” Duerr said. “They have an automated range reservation system that allows us to select whatever we need for our mission needs. They can accommodate overnight training, provide meals and water, vehicle support and lodging. They can even provide chaplain services if necessary. I think that’s outstanding on their part and it allows them to cater to anyone’s particular training needs.”

As the scheduled range day approaches, Combat Arms instructors conduct the in-class training for the weapons platforms that will be fired at the range. Here students learn about the proper shooting positions, how the weapons operate, how to clean and inspect their weapons and what to do if they encounter any issue while shooting. Learning how to safely operate their weapons is tantamount.

On range day, instructors and students meet at the Combat Arms facility at about 4:30 a.m. and start loading government vehicles with weapons, ammunition, protective gear and other range gear. The convoy is on the road by 5 and ready to fire on the range by 8. Depending on the class size, they’re usually back around 5 p.m.

In addition to meeting training requirements, the range facilities at JB MDL offer a more realistic training environment than simply shooting at fixed paper targets, Duerr said.

“They have an open range with tanks and other objects you can shoot at,” Duerr said. “You get a real sense of distance and scale. You get a sense of what it’s like to shoot a 7.62 [mm bullet] at 800 meters, for example. It provides instant feedback for our students. If they do what they’re taught, they hit the target. If they don’t, they’re all over the place. They can see what works and what doesn’t, which builds their confidence in their ability to deploy that weapon system.”

In addition to more realistic training, the range’s close proximity to Dover AFB reduces the cost and time requirements of the training, Kirkland said. The Air Force doesn’t have to fund TDYs, travel costs are minimal and lodging isn’t necessary.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without well trained and dedicated instructors,” Kirkland said. “The hard working members of Combat Arms ensures that everything runs smoothly and efficiently. If we weren’t proficient at our jobs, it would affect pretty much the entire mission. We have airplanes that can drop bombs, but if we don’t have competent members on the ground, proficient with their weapons systems, then we can’t protect our assets.”