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Instructors straight shooters when training Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Desiree Kiliz
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"Safety, mag, chamber, safety." Those are the words that emanate through the thick beige door into the barren hallway.

These four words are scrolled in red on the recently cleaned white-board, and repeated by an instructor with the stock of the M-16 rifle held against his shoulder, magazine at the ready. Drilling the cardinal rule of safe M-16 operation into every Airmen's head is part of the job for a combat arms instructor.

Combat arms instructors, often referred to as CATM, are highly-trained weapons specialists. They teach other Airmen weapons safety and the fundamentals of shooting as they supervise weapons qualifications for Airmen in a variety of Air Force specialties.

"We learn all weapons from M-9 and M-16, to M-60 and M-240, which we in turn teach to anyone else who needs to know how to care for and handle those weapons," said Tech. Sgt. Carl Herbst, a 446th Security Forces Squadron CATM instructor.

Firing and caring for weapons isn't all these instructors have to know how to teach. During their technical training they also learn how to write lesson plans and practice public speaking so they will be able to teach the classes once they get to their duty stations.

A typical day for these instructors involves not only setting up the classroom and firing range, but giving the lectures, assigning weapons, accounting for all ammunitions in the armory, maintaining the inherent paperwork, and teaching all students how to get an "expert" shot.

"When people come to combat arms they should expect a long day. It's not a jiffy class because it takes time to ensure everyone knows not just how to shoot, but how to shoot properly," said Senior Master Sgt. Kirk Almquist, 446th SFS. "All the fundamentals that go into shooting -sight alignment, sight picture trigger control and breathing - are new to some and review for others."

Students aren't the only ones who have a long day when they have to qualify. The CATM instructors begin their days at 7:15 a.m. and continue sometimes until 6 p.m., regardless of rain or shine.

"We're out there on the range just short of lightning and ice. If there isn't a weather hazard we're going to the range," said Sergeant Almquist.

Weather hazards are the least of a CATM instructors worries. Safety is the combat arms staff's number one concern, from the classroom to the range. Paying attention during the instructional portion of the class teaches Airmen how to be safe when handling weapons and applying it to the range is essential for everyone's safety.

"It is scary when people are inattentive. I know I personally have had someone on the range turn around, not paying attention and their weapon was pointed directly at me," said Sergeant Herbst.

Though there is only the occasional inattentive student, most Airmen come to the class ready to learn and participate. Since Reservists only go out to the range about every two to three years. CATM instructors often have to teach someone new or re-teach someone who has forgotten how to shoot. But this is what many CATM instructors look forward to when they come in for drill.

"I get a kick out of just teaching, whether it is at McChord or through my civilian job for the Washington State Department of Corrections," said Master Sgt. Marion Sanders, 446th SFS. "When I get the chance to stand up and teach something to someone who doesn't normally get to handle a weapon and you see them get it that is rewarding for me."

"It's almost instant gratification, when a student's light comes on and they start putting together what they learned at class and applying it to the range," said Sergeant Almquist.
Regardless of the long, sometimes extreme weather days and the potential for safety mishaps, most CATM instructors really enjoy their job and the opportunity they get to work with others.