Combat Arms Training and Maintenance maintains mission despite pandemic

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (CATM) staff of the 432nd Security Forces Squadron are Airmen whose focus on precision and readiness have had to double in a world impacted by COVID-19. 

A team of three, the CATM instructors understand their responsibility to the Hunter family, and Air Force. They ensure the safety and maintenance of all weapons assigned to Creech as well as train Airmen on different weapons, making sure they have the skills needed to complete the mission successfully and securely. Being weapons qualified is an integral part of the warrior ethos and “fit to fight” mindset. 

Most Hunter Airmen are qualified on the Beretta M9, which is the primary weapon for officers, and/or the M4 carbine, the primary weapon for enlisted, before going downrange or an overseas permanent change of station. 

However, the responsibility of the CATM team doesn’t stop there. The Office of Special Investigations are required to train on concealed carry with the M11 pistol, Wing Safety staff qualify with the Remington Model 870, 12 gauge shotgun for Bird and Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) to protect aircraft from birds and wildlife, and Security Forces is also qualified on the Remington Model 870 Shotgun, M203 Grenade Launcher, M240 and M249 Machine Guns for base defense.

“It is important to keep this training going because without anyone being qualified the Wing would not be able to fulfill their deployment and permanent change of station requirements,” said Staff Sgt. Earnest, CATM instructor, 432nd Security Forces Squadron. “Worst case scenario, the personnel who are already downrange would get extended on their deployment and not be able to come back on time and be with their families.”

Before COVID, it was typical of the CATM team to train and qualify about 14 Airmen per session. However, health and safety is always top-priority while at the range, and distancing measures were no exception.

“When the COVID restrictions first started, leadership passed on guidance not to have any meetings larger than six people. Based on that, we had our class size down to five with the sixth person being the instructor in the classroom,” said Tech. Sgt. David, noncommissioned officer in charge of combat arms. 

While the standard precautions of face masks, distancing and disinfecting are enforced to help prevent the spread of germs within the classroom, the range is also measured and monitored in its daily use. 

“On the firing range, we used to have people at every point - only about three feet apart, but now we spread them out with one point between each student, which keeps them about six to seven feet apart,” David explained. 

While training and qualifying Airmen is a crucial part of the CATM team’s mission, it is only a piece of what they do.

“As combat arms, we’re the only ones authorized to qualify people on weapons,” David said. “And we’re the only ones authorized to maintain and inspect the weapons. That’s our three-fold mission: Qualify, maintain and inspect.”

All small arm weapons in use on base must be inspected by Combat Arms at least annually, or biannually if: it’s been reissued within 90 days or less, prior to issue for new weapons, prior to deployment, and once returned from a deployment. 

Inspections include running gauges on the weapons, function checks, visual inspections for damage and cleanliness. If any damages are assessed, Combat Arms personnel are the only ones authorized to repair the weapons, and between three Airmen, more than 700 weapons and four-thousand Airmen to support, the job is never done. 

This small, but effective team continues to adapt and enforce safety precautions to keep Creech Airmen safe from both the invisible threat that is COVID-19 here at home, as well as the very visible enemy threat downrange.