All fired up: Academy's combat arms instructors aim to train

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
The six combat arms instructors at the Academy's shooting range have their weapons knowledge down to a science - lock stock and barrel.

Running a range seven days a week and training approximately 10,000 people a year, these 10th Security Forces Squadron experts do more than just teach Airmen and cadets how to shoot a firearm -- they equip them with the knowledge, confidence and skill to defend the nation.

Situated in Jacks Valley, the range is used to train cadets to effectively use a Colt M16A2 rifle through the Combat Arms Training and Maintenance course and each active-duty members how to fire the M4, Beretta 9mm pistol, M203 grenade launcher, M249 automatic rifle and the M240 Bravo machine gun when they deploy.

"It's a really personable job," said Combat Arms instructor Staff Sgt. Ryan Hinze. "If we mess up on the range and teach them something wrong, it's a matter of life and death. We have these people's lives in our hands so we have to be very passionate, professional and knowledgeable"

Rain or shine, service members -- and on some occasions, even civilians -- from the Academy, Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson AFB, and Buckley AFB train regularly at the range. Reservists and cadets from the combat shooting team, Global Engagement training and Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training also utilize the range.

"We're a unique CATM shop because all the bases in the area train here," Hinze said. "We're also the only combat arms shop in the Front Range that carries weapon parts, so we maintain weapons from other bases too."

Cadets spend eight days at the range during Basic Cadet Training. Approximately 1,100 attended training this year.

"A lot of them are only 17, 18 years old and have never touched a weapon," Hinze said. "I like teaching people who have never handled a weapon, because for someone who has, they've already created bad habits. If you've never shot a rifle, I can just show you the right way to use it instead of having to help you break those habits."

Students at the range include basic cadets, generals and the enlisted force. Hinze said they've tried to shrink their class sizes to allow more time for students and instructors to interact.

"Our top priority is safety," Hinze said. "It's a live weapon with live ammunition, so we have be firm and make sure everyone stays safe no matter the rank of the person."
Combat Arms instructor Staff Sgt. Nasun Rocker said weapons qualifications have changed during the past three years.

"The course of fire is different," he said. "You only have a certain amount of ammunition and fewer targets to be able to qualify on the weapon. There is more close-quarters shooting. It's a lot more realistic because statistically in Iraq and Afghanistan your fire fights are anywhere between seven to 50 meters."

Rocker said the instructors also teach service members to be self-reliant with their weapons.

"We'll set up the weapon so that it jams or malfunctions," Rocker said. "Then shooters can be more interactive with the weapons, and they're forced to figure out what they need to do to get themselves back in the fight."

Rocker said a lot of times Airmen who are about to deploy for the first time haven't used a firearm since basic training.

"We'll see people who haven't touched a firearm in a while and are able to get in good practice, qualify, and you see how happy and confident they are with the weapon," Rocker said. "It's a very satisfying part of the job."

A new building will be added between the range's armory and classroom, Rocker said.
"Instead of us having to bring our weapons from the armory to them, service members can learn how to arm up in a proper way, opposed to having the weapons just handed to them in the classroom. When they head downrange they'll go to an armory to get their weapon."

The range trains approximately 1,000 service members each month. The instructors run the range, maintain the firearms and manage the armory.

"It's a very professional group for the amount of work we have," Rocker said. "We like what we do and make sure the job is done well and right."