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NEWS | Dec. 8, 2022

Air Force Combat Arms Training and Maintenance

By Airman 1st Class Olivia Bithell

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Shooters: at this time; close, bolt, load! Instructors: is the line ready? Ready on one, ready on two, ready on three, line is ready! Shooters: stand by … FIRE!

     Whether for the first time or the 100th time, Airmen for decades across many installations have heard those words before firing their weapons.       

     The U.S. Air Force began training with combat arms in 1958 to improve the overall weapons and defense capabilities of Airmen. Since that time, the training has evolved into what is now known as Combat Arms Training and Maintenance.

     CATM is integral for all Airmen to maintain their small arms qualifications in order to deploy or have a permanent change of station. To enhance mission capabilities, career fields such as Security Forces, Explosive Ordnance Disposal and others demand yearly testing to maintain the weapon qualifications their specific fields require.

     “On average, we host classes about 205 out of the 365 days per year,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Allan Carroll, 633d Security Forces Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of combat arms. “We’re training about 3,500 personnel a year and it’s solely CATM’s responsibility to ensure the entire Air Force is a profession of arms.”

     Instructors go through rigorous training and must be proficient on every weapon they teach. Their training consists of detailed disassembly and reassembly, a written test, and a field test where they fire every weapons system they employ. Their knowledge of these skills is essential for the success of the classes they lead.

     “When I teach this class, I use the crawl, walk, run method to ensure everybody understands what is going on and don’t leave with any questions,” said U.S. Staff Sgt. Cameron Saylor, 633d SFS instructor of combat arms. “I don’t let the students touch the weapons at all until I have fully explained and demonstrated the process before we go through everything, step by step, together.”

     Carroll emphasized the importance of instructors being meticulous in their lessons and establishing with Airmen of every rank, the mindset of treating every weapon like it is loaded. By making safety the number one priority, Airmen are able to effectively learn how to handle a weapon confidently with no distractions during the class.

     “The more time you’ve handled a weapon, the more proficient and comfortable you will be,” said Carroll. “Confidence is the most challenging part when handling a weapon. If the students are in a safe area and pay attention to the instructions they received, everything will fall into place and fear or self-doubt won’t creep in.”

     CATM teaches all Airmen, from those with no weapons experience to those with years of experience, how to correctly and safely use many different types of firearms. CATM’s motto is to train Airmen in peace to prepare for war and is vital to the success of the Air Force by ensuring that any Airmen can operate a weapon at any time and help defend the base.

     “Everybody should have the basic knowledge of how to pick up a weapon, load it and, if needed, engage a target, because you never know if something dangerous is going to happen,” said Saylor. “There is always going to be that chance, so having the basic knowledge of how to use a weapon is critical for all Airmen.”