Air Force

May 18, 2012

Security Forces sergeant becomes 9th female sniper

By 1st Lt. Ken Lustig
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alyssa Gomez, 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron, peers down the scope of her M24 Sniper Weapon System May 11, 2012, at the Nevada Test and Training Range. Gomez graduated a 19-day sniper course at Fort Bliss, TX.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — A security forces sergeant from the 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron completed Air Force sniper school April 27, becoming the U.S. military’s ninth officially-qualified female sniper.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Alyssa Gomez, 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron instructor, graduated from the Close Precision Engagement Course, a challenging 19-day course at Fort Bliss, Texas.

The course teaches advanced marksmanship and military scouting skills to Air Force security forces members, whose career field specializes in the protection of Air Force personnel and resources. CPEC is the only U.S. military sniper school open to females, though its stringent graduation requirements are the same regardless of gender.

Approximately 800 students have attended the course since its inception at Camp Robinson, Ark. in 2002 and after the course’s relocation to Fort Bliss in 2008. Only 500 students finished; about 20 percent wash out from every class. Just 18 females have attended.

Gomez said her unit was highly supportive and helped her prepare for the class. She singled out Tech. Sgt. Ely, another CPEC graduate and fellow 99 GCTS member, who served as a mentor in preparing her.

The CPEC curriculum is densely scheduled. Twelve or more hours of academics and practical exercises are built into most class days, while additional drills, hours on watch, or individual preparations after the duty day consume students’ time.

Gomez said the instructors expressed their expectations soon after she arrived.

“They were like, ‘grab your weapon and get outside,” she said.

On the first day, the instructors began what students know as a “smoke session,” putting the class through almost two hours of continuous muscle-failure-inducing workout that included push-ups, weapon raises, lunges and other exercises. Dirt got into shirts, mouths and eyes, and dehydration set in.

A training cadre favorite was the “side-straddle hop,” also known as jumping jacks. Gomez said the class did many, many of these.

“I lost count after 200,” she said. “By that point, everyone was a noodle. And that was day one.”

Gomez said an instructor addressed the class, asking them how badly they wanted to be there. He promised that several of those standing to each student’s left and right would not be there at graduation. Gomez took it as a personal challenge.

“I decided I wasn’t going to quit,” she said. “I told myself, ‘they can’t put me through anything I can’t handle, and failure is not an option.’”

During this and many of the course’s numerous smoke sessions or other exercises, instructors conducted a drill known as Kim’s Game to test students’ ability to focus under pressure and while fatigued. In Kim’s Game, students would be shown ten random objects in a variety of settings, for a short period of time. Not every Kim’s Game was explicitly announced, and each one was different.

“We not only had to memorize the objects and be able to identify what they were, we had to identify their sizes, draw a 3D picture of each object in a sketch, and determine whether the objects were serviceable or unserviceable,” Gomez said. “It taught you to really focus and pay attention all the time.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alyssa Gomez, 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron, poses with her M24 Sniper Weapon System May 11, 2012, at the Nevada Test and Training Range. Gomez is the ninth female in Air Force history to become a sniper.

At 3 a.m. one morning, Gomez and her classmates were rousted out of bed by yelling, whistle blasts and ambulance sirens. They were run into a fog machine-filled tent lit by strobe lighting, and had to do push-ups and flutter kicks, followed by more running. Another Kim’s game was in progress while they exercised.

“I’m in my Grinch Pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, and I’m thinking, ‘someone just stole my Christmas,’” Gomez laughed.

Over the course, instructors taught the class the skills required of a sniper. This included an immersive course on the M24, the military’s primary sniper rifle. Other skills included target detection, range estimation, and camouflage and concealment.

Part of this was the construction of ghille suits – camouflage suits built on a standard uniform but enhanced with burlap, jute and natural vegetation – that help the sniper blend in to surroundings. The sniper personally builds the suit to match the environment, which Gomez described as a “labor of love.”

Gomez said breaks and free time were sparse during the course. Rest was in short supply, so she focused on the positive. She recalls the simple act of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich one evening as being a welcome relief.

Snipers do not generally work alone. They work in pairs with one person as the primary and the second assisting as spotter, helping to find threats and assisting with adjustments to compensate for weather, elevation, and other factors that affect the flight path of a bullet at extended ranges.

However, Gomez was originally slated to attend CPEC with another squadron member, but he could not go due to an injury. As a result, Gomez became the self-described “red-headed stepchild” of the class, paired off in three successive sniper teams as other students dropped out.

She found herself paired with a brand new spotter the day before her first unknown distance firing event.

“We had never fired together and we had to fire the next day. I was worried,” she admitted. “But it turned out that it worked great.”

The hardest part of the class for Gomez was the stalk, the most comprehensive test of the sniper’s skills.

Each stalk involves moving through 500-700 meters of harsh desert terrain within a defined lane, at the end of which is a target dummy, nicknamed “Bob.” Instructors stand at double-arm distance from Bob’s sides, searching for the sniper’s approach with spotting scopes and binoculars. The sniper has to positively identify Bob and hit him with a precise shot before a time limit expires.

If snipers are spotted, or if they miss, they fail. Each student must pass 2 of 4 stalks to graduate. Though one remedial “do over” is allowed, it means the student has to do an extra stalk.

Gomez said she was overly cautious at first, low-crawling the entire way. With heavy mesquite scrub in her path, thorns cut her arms up to her elbows. She ran out of water, then time. Once, she was nearly spotted. She blew three stalks in a row before she discovered that she could walk part of the way, and had to do a remedial stalk with no room for error.

On her remedial, the instructors set the time limit to expire at sunset. With barely enough light to see, and nearly out of time, she climbed inside a mesquite bush and took aim. Although she felt like she was “inside a pin cushion,” she focused, hitting Bob with less than five minutes left. The mesquite kept her from being spotted.

Fortunately, her final two stalks went better for her, and the end of the class came soon after.

She credited her support system – her friends and family – for helping her keep the determination to get through. She singled out Tech. Sgt. Ely as a huge inspiration, for helping give her the opportunity and training to get ready, and for believing in her.

Gomez said that making it through was an exercise in mental discipline.

“It’s really mind over matter. It sounds cliché, but I found out going through that it does come down to making a commitment not to quit. You feel like you know what your physical limit is, but when you put mind over matter, you can go far beyond what you thought you were capable of.

“The result is worth the sweat and the blood and the pain. I feel pretty good right now.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Air Force revamps air expeditionary force construct

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Air Force will deploy Agile Combat Support Airmen under its redesigned air expeditionary force construct October 1. The primary purpose of the redesign was to look at ways to deploy more ACS Airmen with their units and standardize dwell times across the Air Force as much as possible to present a...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Victoria Sneed

FCC provides home away from home

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Victoria Sneed Brittany Morrill, a Family Child Care provider, shows memory cards to Sam and Ayden in her home on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 9. FCC providers are given free access to c...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen

Frag out! Airmen attend last Air Force-only grenade training class

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen Tech. Sgt. Preston Meier, 99th Ground Combat Training Squadron NCO in charge of combat arms, throws a live M-67 fragmentation grenade during the last iteration of the M...
 

 
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler

Securing Nellis AFB flightline

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler With redundancy in the number of entry control points on the Nellis Air Force Base flightline, the 99th Air Base Wing and the 57th Wing collaborated to close numerous ECP...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika

CAAs help shed light on career options

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika Senior Master Sgt. Tonya Joyce (left) and Master Sgt. Marcy Holland, both 99th Force Support Squadron career assistance advisors, are available to help Airmen stationed in Souther...
 
 

JAG Corps announces 2015 law school programs

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Officers interested in continuing to serve the Air Force as a Judge Advocate are invited to apply to the Funded Legal Education Program and Excess Leave Program. Officers selected for FLEP have the opportunity to attend law school at the Air Force’s expense while also continuing to receive full...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin