Howdy, BMT readers! A post about weapons training and CATM is long overdue from me. These are the sorts of big events at BMT that I know everyone wants to read about. So, let’s do this! I’ll tell you about the highs and lows (across the board and personally) of weapons training!
The M-16 A2 Training Weapon – “Smurf Gun” [Source]
Your first exposure to training weapons will come on your memory work, where there will be a picture of your M-16 A2 training weapon in its disassembled state. There will be a smaller inset diagram of the bolt carrier group. You’ll expected to have a general idea of what each part is called, as it will help you out when you’re issued your weapon and given instruction/direction by MTIs who are using the proper names of each part. The memory work also has “knowledge questions” about your weapon that you’re expected to memorize.
1. What is the maximum range? 3938 yards or 3600 meters. 2. What is the maximum effective range of a point target? 602 yards or 550 meters. 3. What are the three settings the selector lever can be set at? Safe, semi-automatic, and automatic (3-round bursts). 4. What is the first step in weapon disassembly when field stripping? Clear the rifle. 5. What are the four cleaning groups? Barrel, Upper Receiver, Bolt Carrier Group, and Lower Receiver. 6. What houses the rear sight and any optical devices? Carrying handle. 7. If your weapon fails to fire, what ACRONYM is used for immediate action procedures? SPORTS (slap, pull, observe, release, tap, squeeze/shoot). 8. Identify 3 of 7 weapon safety rules.
Do not point your muzzle at anything you are not willing to shoot, injure, or damage. [Quickest way to get yelled at by an MTI.]
Treat all weapons as if they are loaded.
Horseplay is not tolerated.
Handle the weapon only when told to do so.
Keep your finger off the trigger until your weapon is on target. [This is HUGE at BEAST – your finger will be up, almost at a diagonal, overemphasizing that it’s nowhere near the trigger.]
Never get ahead of the instructor. [Never mind how much experience you have – wait.]
Always ask questions if you do not understand.
During 1WOT, you’ll be issued your weapon, the M-16 A2 training weapon. It is a fully-functioning weapon that has had a few parts removed to ensure that it does not fire. The majority of the parts are there. You’ll receive a hard case for storage, which contains an empty magazine, a red cap for the tip of your weapon, and a fabric mat with outlines of each of the parts. Parts of the weapon are colored blue, as pictured above, hence the nickname the “Smurf gun.” The MTI that issued weapons at our armory was not a very patient person. Ensure that when you handle the weapon that it’s not pointing at anyone, or you’ll go to the back of the line while everyone else receives theirs in front of you. Don’t stress, your MTI will show you how. Receiving your weapon seems exciting at first, but by the end of 6WOT after you’ve returned from BEAST, you’ll be eager to ditch that thing.
Learning how to handle and clear the weapon are priorities in your training. Your MTI team will instruct you on how to hold the weapon in the low ready position. On occasion, you’ll sling the weapon over your shoulder, holding the strap with your bent arm making a 90° angle. I highly recommend handling the weapon with two hands at all times so you have more control and so you can be more conscientious of where it’s pointing. MTIs have very specific procedures for clearing the weapons that you must follow. Wait for their commands, as they’ll direct you to approach the clearing barrels (located in red-outlined boxes outside the dorms). You’ll repeat their commands, show them that the weapon is on safe, and go through the rest of the procedures (ensuring an empty magazine, pulling the handle back, pushing it forward, releasing the bolt catch, closing the hatch, and ensuring that it’s back on safe). [Don’t quote me on that order, it’s been a while.] They are very strict during these procedures, so make sure you’re paying attention and waiting for their instructions.
Weapons are stored under your bunk, with the case centered and flush with the end of the bed, closest to the wall locker. As long as you have it in the dorm, you’ll have to dust it, detail the inside of the case, etc. The weapon case becomes another part of your personal area, and therefore it is an area/item that will be inspected. See why I say you’ll want to ditch the thing after a while? The inside of the case can’t be dirty, and must contain all parts. On Sunday deep details, we used to clean out the cases and lint roll the foam liners.
One of the next things you’ll learn how to do is disassemble your weapon. Your weekly schedule will even include time to work on this task, as you’ll be evaluated on disassembly and assembly in 4WOT, and you will be timed. Fear not, most every trainee mastered this task. I think we only had a couple not pass on the first attempt, largely due to nerves. We’d been practicing for so long that most of us were disassembling in a little over a minute. I think my best time was 1 minute, 18 seconds, or something in that area.
You’ll clean your weapon twice during BMT, when you initially receive it, and after you return from BEAST. Many of my trainees looked forward to that first time we cleaned our weapons, as they felt like they were really doing “military” training at that point. You won’t enjoy it as much after BEAST, since there will be sand everywhere and you won’t be able to turn it back in unless it’s clean. You’ll finally get to use your weapons (in a simulated sense) when you learn tactical movements and defensive fighting positions. All of these exercises are in preparation for BEAST, so listen up and pay attention. You’ll do a tactical march in a staggered formation out behind your squadron, generally near the PT area, where the sandpits are. You’ll get to practice manning DFPs (defense fighting positions), which in layman’s terms is a sandbagged, u-shaped structure used to guard an entrance. You’ll learn non-lethal ways in which to use your weapon, including slashing, butt-stroking, thrusting, and so forth. These skills will also be used when you do pugil sticks.
Around the same time in training, you’ll learn how to high crawl, low crawl, and work in pairs to advance between places of concealment, in a leap-frogging motion (forgive me, I forget the term). This is one of the dirtiest days you’ll have (until you get to the obstacle course or beast, of course). Low crawling with your weapon is not fun. You’re in a Captain Morgan pose with a cheek in the sand, and they expect you to get down and dirty, only moving that one bent leg. You’ll feel like a sea turtle, trying to make it’s way to the water. You’ll move slow and you won’t be able to see where you’re going. Sand will accumulate in every pocket on your person.
One of my favorite activities during DFP training was the apprehension procedures. You’ll learn how to safely/correctly pass through by giving a sign/counter-sign. If you’re manning the DFP, you’ll learn how to prompt those advancing, and what to do if they don’t give the correct countersign or advance to attack. As the Dorm Chief, I was the lucky person who got to play the advancing party. I had my face in the dirt a lot that day. The apprehension part goes a little something like this (try to imagine me doing this over and over):
Put your weapon on the ground in front of you!
Turn 180° from the sound of my voice!
Take 6 paces forward! Stop!
Slowly get down on your knees!
Slowly get down on your stomach!
Put your arms out in a T!
Spread your fingers!
Spread your feet apart!
If you want to stand out and take a leadership role at BEAST, now is the time to show your interest and motivation! Your MTI and student leaders will be discussing who stands out after doing this training. If you’d like to be the BEAST Monitor, a TDL, or the weapons monitor, now is the time to shine. If you’re too timid or nervous, you most likely won’t be considered. Practice that war cry and take this seriously.
I haven’t described Entry Control (EC) on the blog yet, which is a fancy term for guarding the door at the dorm. It’s a skill that is utilized in combat and every Airman is expected to know EC procedures, as there’s always the chance that you’ll be assigned to an atypical job when deployed. Your dorm will have two trainees on EC at all times, 24 hours a day, for two hour shifts. As long as you have weapons, the trainees on EC will be required to carry them.
CATM finally comes around in 5WOT, a day that many trainees await with great anticipation. CATM stands for Combat Arms Training and Maintenance – when you go to the shooting range! You’ll board the bus to drive over to the other side of base. Again, take a five to ten minute nap along the way, if you can manage to calm your excitement for a bit. We got lucky on one of those bus rides to have an incident come up at the gate that delayed our trip – extended nap time! Sleep is an essential commodity at BMT – take advantage when you can!
When you arrive at the range, you’ll exit the bus and line up in flight formation. There will be MREs in large bins – you’ll be instructed to walk by them in a single file line, grabbing one without looking at the label. The MTIs love to tell you that this is not a restaurant – grab and go, and trade with other trainees. Once you’ve got your MRE, you’ll file into the classroom. You’ll be grouped with another flight or two of trainees, for a total of four. We didn’t end up going to BEAST with these folks, although we speculated that they might be our partners there. We were broken up into two different classrooms, so your flight may be split up for this portion.
Classroom instruction consists of reviewing safety, being issued your (working) weapon, learning how to load a magazine, and so forth. You’ll also learn how to charge and fire your weapon, as well as troubleshooting procedures for if it doesn’t fire. You’ll take a lunch break before you head out to the actual range. You’ll have a certain amount of time to go outside, pound your MRE, and get back inside for the second half of training.
You’ll walk across a small street to the actual range, where there is approximately one CATM instructor to every six to eight trainees. You’ll don hearing protection and wait on instructions. Follow everything to the letter. Your safety and the safety of those around you depends on it. You will be kicked off the range if you can’t comply with directions, at the bare minimum. When live fire is involved, they’re not going to be very understanding. The CATM instructors will show you a number of firing positions that you’ll shoot from, with and without your gas mask donned. Oh, did I forget to mention that? 😉 That’s what makes weapons qualification challenging – half of your shooting is done with the mask, and both sessions are timed.
About.com has agreat articleon how the session at the firing range is broken down. I’ve reviewed the article and it seems fairly accurate to my experience, so check it out if you’re interested in reading specifics with the appropriate terminology. There are a few errors though – you will not use the M-9 pistol and the article doesn’t specify how much of your shooting is done with the M-16 while in and out of the gas mask. In a nutshell, you’ll do some initial firing so the instructor can help you align your sights and increase your accuracy. Then, you’ll do practice sessions in each position, with and without the mask. Lastly, you’ll do the full qualification where you’ll have to make 25 out of 50 shots in a timed session to qualify on your weapon. If you want to earn the ribbon for Marksman, you need to make 45 out of those 50 shots. Qualification in the area of shooting is not a BMT graduation requirement. Let me write that again. Qualification in the area of shooting is not a BMT graduation requirement. Similarly, if you do not qualify for the marksmanship ribbon, you’ll have other opportunities in your AF career to do so. I say this for a reason. CATM was not a fun experience for me. I am somewhat of a perfectionist and set high expectations for myself. I came to BMT hoping to walk away with all four ribbons. I’d done some shooting before, and thought I’d done fairly well in the past. During the course of my range training, it became apparent that I really wasn’t that good of a shot. Tired and stressed, the pressure of performing started to get to me and a had to take a few moments to compose myself. Yeah, I cried at the range, I’ll admit it. I had the full emotional breakdown. It may seem silly to you, but mentally I was having to deal with the fact that not only was I not going to be a Marksman, but there was a chance I might not even qualify with the minimum standard. I didn’t want to crack, especially in so public of a place, but it happened. Luckily my CATM instructor was sympathetic, rather than tearing me down during an already discouraging moment, and tried to help me pull it together. [It didn’t hurt that he looked like Jon Hamm from Mad Men either.] I ended up barely passing, but I qualified nonetheless. I wasn’t the only one who had a negative experience. There were a couple other trainees in my same boat, even one whose AFSC was Security Forces. Not an encouraging experience for her either, knowing that this was going to be her job. Most trainees loved CATM and were enthusiastic after completing the qualification, leading them to ask others about their score, which was difficult to stomach if you weren’t particularly proud of your score. Ok, enough whining and complaining from me.
After you finish up at the range, you’ll head back over to an outside cleaning area where you’ll clean your weapon. You’ll turn your weapon back into the armory (locked wheeled boxes) and board the bus to head back to the squadron.
There you go folks, CATM and weapons! Not my finest moment at BMT but it happens to the best of us. It didn’t stop me from being successful in the long run and one of these days I’ll earn my marksman ribbon. 🙂
I’m a 31 year old Navy sister, Army wife - Air Force wife to a prior service Marine/Soldier, and an Air Force Reservist. I am a happy wife and mother. My husband switched branches and joined me in the Air Force Reserve. We look forward to a future of dual military service!