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NEWS | March 1, 2024

First Airman graduates Marine Corps Designated Marksman Course

By Staff Sgt. Michael Bowman 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Safety, Magazine, Chamber, Safety. Those are the words that can be heard echoing across the range at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Virginia, as one Airman prepares to take aim at learning a different weapon system.  

For Tech. Sgt. Erik Johannes, 1st Fighter Wing (FW) weapons safety representative, handling the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) was a unique challenge as he transitioned from loading aircraft weapons systems to becoming the first Airman in history to tackle the United States Marine Corps’ Designated Marksman Course. 

Johannes graduated from the five-week course on Feb. 14, 2024, and joined the ranks of the elite handpicked Marines whose marksman skills are valuable assets in both garrison and deployed environments.  

“This incredible opportunity gave me a glimpse of the power of joint warfighting.” Johannes said “Immersing myself in the Marine Corps’ weapons and tactics widened my aperture to rethink competition, deterrence, and strategic approach to future conflict. To sharpen our competitive edge and assess readiness, we must learn and grow from each other’s best practices.”  

The designated marksman course is traditionally used as a method to add a specific skill set to combat Marines, who fill a specialized role as the top shot of their unit when engaging hostile forces at increased standoff distances.  

“It’s really a testament to the idea of a multi-capable Airman,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Swiechowicz, 1st FW Chief of Safety. “Johannes’s graduation from this course really opens the door for the kind of joint-force collaboration required to maintain our edge in today’s defense landscape.” 

Over the course of five weeks, students of the Designated Marksman Course spent more than 75 hours firing the M110 SASS acting in turns as riflemen and spotters to enhance their abilities to collect critical information at a distance, and effectively eliminate threats from a greater standoff range. The cutting-edge training curriculum included classroom academics, weapon familiarization, and countless observation and marksmanship exercises.  

Although Marines utilize the course to augment their infantrymen, Johannes believes the course can also enhance daily flying operations across the 1st FW.  

“We have needs in the safety center focused on base security and Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) that can both be met with the M110 SASS,” said Johannes. “Currently, the Air Force has few qualification courses for the M110. Fortunately, the Marine Corps Security Forces Regiment at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown offered the 1 FW Safety office a spot in the course.  Lt Col Swiechowicz selected me to fill it to get qualified to improve the effectiveness of BASH efforts at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.”  

Despite the Air Force also having its own version of marksmanship training and qualifications, the Marines’ DMC is widely praised as a world-class sniper course.  

Not many other trainings have the expert instruction of the course’s cadre or the capacity to cumulatively fire more than 10,600 rounds.  

“The course was truly fantastic,” said Johannes. “Being able to learn from such talented instructors and alongside other motivated students created a perfect storm to excel and gain confidence in this weapon system.”  

Johannes had a unique impact on the junior Marines in his class.  

“He was an incredible student and a crack shot,” said Alex Wright, Designated Marksmanship Course instructor. “We were a bit nervous when we learned we were going to be training an Airman. We didn’t know what to expect, but he took to the course well, mentored the junior Marines he worked with and impressed us all as a rifleman.”  

Johannes spoke on how he connected with the Marines and muscled through the rigorous physical demands of the course.  

“It was a bit of a culture shock, but not in a bad way,” said Johannes. “They rallied with me to help me transition into the culture of the Marine Corps’ infantry, and their security forces. I got to show them what an Air Force non-commissioned officer is capable of, and the way we operate.”  

For Johannes, the mentorship doesn’t end with graduation.  

As an expert-level marksman, Johannes is qualified to train other personnel on the M110 SASS, which is currently not a weapons system commonly utilized by the U.S. Air Force.  

Johannes's emphasized that his graduation lays the foundation for integrating these new tools and techniques into the portfolio of the BASH office, and with defenders, and combat arms instructors from the security forces units across JBLE.  

“The skills learned at this course are not only beneficial to BASH risk mitigation but are also extremely valuable when it comes to Agile Combat Employment,” said Johannes. “If more Airmen can complete this course, it would greatly improve MCA, base defense capabilities at forward deployed locations and also foster relationships with our joint partners.”  

With a new skill in his toolbox, Johannes sets his sights on increasing joint-force collaboration and continuing to grow the partnership between the Marines of the Designated Marksmanship Course, and the Soldiers and Airmen across JBLE.