Combat Arms Training and Maintenance maintains mission despite pandemic

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Staff Sgt. Earnest, Combat Arms Training and Maintenance instructor with the 432nd Security Forces Squadron, teaches a class on the M4 carbine at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. The CATM team has been able to sustain the mission and keep Airmen arms qualified throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
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The Combat Arms Training and Maintenance 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 at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., 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.”

A Combat Arms Training and Maintenance student disassembles and cleans an M4 carbine prior to qualifying on the weapon at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. Students are required to wear masks and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while attending training. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)

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.

Staff Sgt. Earnest, Combat Arms Training and Maintenance instructor with the 432nd Security Forces Squadron, teaches a class at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. The CATM instructor team has been able to sustain the mission and keep Airmen arms qualified throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
A Combat Arms Training and Maintenance student qualifies on the M4 carbine at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. Students have been required to adhere to protective measures such as mask wearing and social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
(Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
A Combat Arms Training and Maintenance instructor from the 432nd Security Forces Squadron watches as a student qualifies on the M4 carbine at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. This small CATM team, consisting of only three members, has been able to sustain the mission and keep Airmen qualified throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
Combat Arms Training and Maintenance students set up their targets to qualify on the M4 carbine at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. Students are required to adhere to protective measures such as mask wearing and social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
(Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
A Combat Arms Training and Maintenance student loads ammunition into an M4 carbine magazine prior to qualifying on the weapon at the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nev., July 21, 2020. Students are required to adhere to protective measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and proper hand-washing hygiene to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
Tech. Sgt. David, noncommissioned officer in charge of combat arms with the 432nd Security Forces Squadron, prepares ammunition for the Combat Arms Training and Maintenance students to qualify on the M4 carbine at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. The CATM team has adapted and enforced new procedures to maintain the mission despite the pandemic. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
A Combat Arms Training and Maintenance student inspects an M4 carbine prior to qualifying on the weapon at the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 21, 2020. Students are required to wear masks and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while attending training. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Lauren Silverthorne)
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