Staff Sgt. David Lee loves to shoot guns. As a combat arms instructor with the 87th Security Forces Squadron on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, he gets to share this love with other Airmen.
This is good, because the Air Force recently changed its rifle qualification and is relying on instructors like Lee to teach Airmen the ins and outs of the new course.
The changes took effect in December 2011, and since then Air Force bases have been training their instructors and finding ways to implement the new course.
“It’s not like the entire Air Force changed from one day to the next,” said Master Sgt. Raymond Barnard, the NCO in charge of the 87th SFS’s Combat Arms Training and Maintenance section. “Some bases started teaching the course later than others due to manning issues, operations tempos and time constraints.”
The changes make the new course more tactical and representative of real-life situations Airmen may find themselves in downrange.
“Previously, Airmen fired from stationary positions,” Lee said. “Now, though, the course incorporates more movements and is meant to simulate learning how to fire from and use cover.”
The new course is designed to better prepare Airmen to meet the challenges of today’s deployed environments, something combatant commanders and Air Force senior leaders see as a top priority.
“Deployment training is one of the most talked-about items,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy. “We want the right mix of skills so Airmen can operate in a deployed environment. Our current deployments are a lot different from the ones 25 years ago.”“There may be situations where you have to do this in real life, and this is just a way of simulating that.” — Staff Sgt. David Lee
What this means for Airmen is simple: Going to the range now includes new information and new firing procedures. The course still includes the basics, such as weapon handling, cycling procedures and how to aim and shoot, but added is a new course of fire that incorporates target acquisition, multiple threat engagement and surviving weapon malfunctions and stoppages. The new course also teaches Airmen how to differentiate between targets.
“Basically, we give them two targets and tell them to shoot at one and not the other,” Lee said. “There may be situations where you have to do this in real life, and this is just a way of simulating that.”
If an Airman does shoot the wrong target, it’s an automatic disqualification, and the person will have to re-fire another day.
In the final portion, Airmen shoot three-round bursts from the standing position and then shoot both standing and kneeling from behind simulated barricades, moving and firing from several positions.
Since the new course was implemented, qualification rates have dropped.
“We’ve seen a decline in the percentage of people who pass,” Barnard said. “They’ve dipped from around 98 percent pass rate to somewhere in the low 80s.”
This is to be expected, he added, as the course is new to Airmen and teaches techniques and procedures that are unfamiliar to most.
“As Airmen keep coming through and this new course becomes the norm, you’ll see the numbers go back up,” Barnard said.
Since Airmen now only qualify on the range before deploying instead of conducting the training annually, it can sometimes be years before Airmen fire at the range. Then, hearing the course is changing, many get intimidated.
Lee’s reply: Don’t sweat it.
“Sure, the course is new, and you might be firing the weapon in ways you never have before, but you’re learning things that are very useful,” he said. “And, on top of that, it’s really a lot more fun now.”
Airmen who go through the new course are starting to agree, too.
“Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Tech. Sgt. Richard Dixon, from the 305th Aerial Port Squadron. “But now I feel like the course better prepares Airmen for what they might see or have to do while deployed. Plus, you get to fire the weapon on burst, and it doesn’t get better than that.”