106th Rescue Wing CATM Instructors Ensure Deployers are Ready for Combat

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Muncy
  • 106th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

The massive Barrett sniper rifle, easily as long as the shooter is tall, barks out a single shot. The blast kicks up a cloud of dust that quickly engulfs him.  His spotter calls out "little high and to the right" following the shot and the airman readjusts before firing again. The amount of propellant in each round is roughly equal to a quarter stick of dynamite, and the massive muzzle blast is quickly gouging a meter-long pattern into the sand and dirt beneath it. An untrained airman can easily be injured if they're not trained on how to properly use the weapon.

But then, that's the entire point of having a Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (CATM) Instructor on base.  Staff Sgt. Joseph Pico and Senior Airman Christopher Reiter, along with Staff Sgt. Carlos Butriago all train with several weapon systems at a local police range. Pico and Reiter are both CATM instructors with the 106th Rescue Wing, while Butriago is a Defender with the 106th Security Forces Squadron.

CATM Instructors are personnel who train the base population in the use of various weapon systems; while also overseeing the maintenance and repair of those weapons.

"It's important to make sure that our airmen are ready to deploy," Pico said during a discussion on the career field. "I do this to make sure I'm sending capable, confident airmen downrange."

Several incidents during the Korean War brought to light the serious need for small arms training for Air Force personnel. The most significant was the attack at Kimpo Air Base, which was overrun by Chinese communist forces. The Air Police (precursors to Security Forces) were quickly overwhelmed and the remaining personnel were executed following their capture.

Following this and similar incidents, the Air Force Vice-Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay ordered a new course to be taught at Lackland AFB. In 1958, a collection of twenty five experienced competitive shooters were selected to become the first instructor cadre for the USAF Marksmanship Center. This training became the basis for the current CATM course taught today.

"I've qualified hundreds of airmen this year," Pico continued. "some on the M4, others on the M9 pistol. Many were also qualified on special weapons - the M249, M240, the M203, as well as sniper rifles like the M107 and M24."

Reiter, a CATM Instructor assigned to the 103rd Rescue Squadron, described the work as difficult, but rewarding. "The hardest part of the job - well, a week of shooting equals a week of paperwork. The extra hours though, at the end of the day it all pays off."
While students often enjoy their time on the range, it's up to the instructors to make sure that the students take their training seriously. "In every class I emphasize how serious this is," Pico said.  "You have to get into that combat mindset. The big difference between us and other sections is that our training makes us work at a higher level. If you miss a CBT (computer based training) you can always retake it. But if you aren't trained on how to use your rifle, you can't learn it on the spot. We train you for that 1% of your life where you might encounter a situation where you need to use your weapon - you absolutely cannot mess that up."
"Being able to pull the trigger on a paper target is one thing," Reiter added, "but being able to pull it on another human who wants to do you harm is another. You have to be ready for that."
Despite the deadly serious nature of the work, it can still provide a high level of job satisfaction. "The great thing about the job," Pico said, "is that you get to train people with little to no experience firing a weapon progress and become more confident. To see somebody go from almost never touching a rifle to shooting expert because of what you taught them is pretty cool."

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