Sunday, August 27, 2017

Combat Arms Training and Maintenance may be best-kept secret at Vance Air Force Base

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Like the training planes they guide through the skies of Northwest Oklahoma, the majority of airmen at Vance Air Force Base are unarmed.

But for certain Vance personnel, the Combat Arms Training and Maintenance flight is an important destination.

The CATM trains airmen “To defend themselves, others and assets vital to national security,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Mitchell, combat arms noncommissioned officer in charge.

Those going through CATM training are schooled in the use and care of everything from semiautomatic pistols and rifles, to fully automatic machine guns and grenade launchers.

“We have a vast variety of weapons systems here that just skims the surface of military weapon inventory,” Mitchell said.

The CATM, Mitchell said, may just be the most popular shop on base.

“It’s crazy, we hear it all the time, it doesn’t matter what career field, everybody loves to come down here,” he said. “This is the place to be. A lot of people will say this is almost the best-kept secret. Loud noises and big bangs, for some reason it attracts people. It gives an adrenalin rush a lot of people don’t get to experience.”

Training with handguns and rifles takes place on the CATM range on the south end of the base, while training with grenade launchers and other heavy weapons is conducted at either Fort Sill near Lawton or Camp Gruber in Muskogee County.

As far as weapons maintenance, Mitchell refers to his job as “Legos for adults.”

“As kids we like to imagine things, putting things together and taking things apart. That’s what we do when it comes to the maintenance side of it,” he said. “When a gun breaks, I’ve got to figure out why it broke. It’s fun. Not a lot of people can say they do their hobby for a job every day.”

Vance Security Forces airmen take firearms training at the CATM twice a year. They must qualify once a year, then do sustainment training roughly six months later, “To make sure that they are still qualified, and that they still understand the weapon system, can still effectively use it,” Mitchell said.

Others who train at the CATM are airmen deploying overseas and those moving permanently or temporarily to another base that requires combat arms certification.

“We pretty much teach any career field that needs to come and train,” Mitchell said.

Vance’s three CATM trainers teach airmen basic field maintenance, how to take their weapon apart and put it back together again, and to correct any minor issues. Students learn the acronym BMWCLS — broken, missing, worn, cleanliness, lubrication, spring tension — to help them diagnose problems.

“Basically just familiarizing yourself with the weapons system,” Hamilton said. “The ins and outs, knowing how it works, how to safely handle it. Safety is our No. 1 thing.”

The familiarization process involves “Reminding them what their skills are, reminding them what the fundamentals are to make them effective,” Mitchell said.

On the range, airmen are trained to shoot from a variety of positions, prone and standing, with the weapon supported and unsupported.

“We remind them how to breathe, how to handle the weapon, the most comfortable way, the best way to accurately engage the target that we’re firing at,” Mitchell said.

The CATM firing range only extends to 25 meters, but trainers can simulate firing up to 300 meters through the use of targets of different sizes.

“We have 300-meter, 75-meter and 175-meter targets,” Mitchell said. “That’s what they look like if we were actually looking at them at their actual distance.”

Vance’s security forces airmen carry M4 carbine rifles and Beretta M9 pistols, so they must train with and be certified on both weapons systems. The Vance military and Department of the Air Force civilian Defenders train both during the day and at night.

“That way, no matter what situation we’re in, we can effectively complete our mission,” Mitchell said. “We do the rifle portion and then we also incorporate the pistol into it, so that way if one weapons system goes down we can effectively transition to our next weapons system to then still be able to engage in the fight and take care of the situation that’s in front of us. We try to get them to act in the situation rather than the react to the situation.”

The range will eventually be enclosed so simulated night training can take place during the day, rather than after dark, when it disturbs the slumber of those in nearby base housing.

The CATM maintains the armory for 71st Security Forces members, and conducts inspections on every weapon on base.

“Even if it may not be assigned to security forces, we still do the inspections to make sure they’re functioning properly,” Mitchell said.

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