Combat Arms instructors provide critical training to deploying personnel

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- A slow release of air drains from the lungs of another group of students as they squeeze the brass trigger of their weapons, ejecting another bullet on a one-way trip to its target.

On this day, another group of Airmen and civilians from across Wright-Patterson participated in an M-9 qualification course in preparation for either a deployment, permanent change of station move, or part of yearly training.

For the seven Combat Arms Training and Maintenance instructors assigned to the 88th Security Forces Squadron, this is an everyday routine in which they must be able to train Airmen properly to ensure mission success as they move on to future endeavors.

"I take great pride in knowing when our students go down range-that we have sent them out the door with the needed skills and comfort level to operate their weapon, to save themselves and somebody else," said Tech. Sgt. Layne Herrington, NCOIC of Combat Arms Training. "It's a very rewarding feeling."

Even though all Airmen in the Air Force must go through CATM training to graduate from Air Force Basic Military Training, Herrington said the 88th SFS CATM training curriculum is designed in a way so that even someone who has never handled a weapon before in their life can become qualified after attending their course.

"For someone who has never been able to handle a weapon before, we are able to teach them in a classroom setting to break down their weapon and put it back together, and apply all the fundamentals to go out to the range and be able to fire effectively and qualify. But it's much more than qualifying. It's being able to go down range where if they have been in the class and they come into a situation where they need to utilize that weapon, there's no hesitation."

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 CATM instructors simply teach and shoot, their daily routine is much more complex than that. 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. Instructors wear a red hat in order to easily identify themselves at the range for both students and fellow instructors. As a result, CATM personnel have received the nickname, "Red Hats."

Senior Airman Cameron Mansfield, an 88th Security Forces Squadron CATM instructor, joined the Air Force in April 2010 as a Security Forces member. After getting acclimated to military life, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 for six months providing base security operations at Kandahar Air Field. He then attended CATM School in 2014 where he learned how to be an instructor and interact with people in a classroom setting.

"It's challenging, but that's the whole reason why I wanted to be a CATM instructor. I enjoy the challenge of transferring this knowledge and capability to others. When we go through training, we have to know the ins and outs of the entire weapon. If you give us a bare-bone weapon, we can put it together with all of the parts no problem," he said.

"They're so well-trained, they can hear different sounds weapons make and automatically know what the mechanical problem is," said Herrington. "We don't have the luxury to not be on our A-game in the classroom or on the firing line. Every day we have people coming through here who may not have touched a weapon for years and they're preparing to deploy. In today's Air Force many more career fields are arming up and deploying to locations around the world."

At the end of every year, 88th SFS Combat Arms instructors usually have provided training to more than 3,000 individuals. While most of their classes are taught for deploying and PCSing Airmen, CATM also provides training to their fellow squadron members as well as other squadrons around the base and nearby military units.

At the end of the day, Airmen and civilians deploying downrange should feel confident when they go to qualify for their assignment or deployment because the 88th SFS CATM personnel know every inch of every weapons system they will need to use.