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Learning shot by shot with 20th SFS

U.S. Airmen shoot targets during an M4 carbine qualification course while a 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor observes at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018.

U.S. Airmen shoot targets during an M4 carbine qualification course while a 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor observes at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018. The instructors observe and review targets to provide shooters with pointers for improvement, such as changing breathing patterns. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Airmen load magazines with ammunition during an M4 carbine qualification course at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018.

U.S. Airmen load magazines with ammunition during an M4 carbine qualification course at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018. The 20th Security Forces Squadron provides Team Shaw members with information about the weapon’s capabilities and directions for proper weapons handling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

A U.S. Airmen puts on a gas mask during an M4 carbine qualification course at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018.

A U.S. Airmen puts on a gas mask during an M4 carbine qualification course at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018. Students attending the 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms course are required to shoot with and without gas masks to prepare them for a variety of situations they may face while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Ward, 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, evaluates a student’s target during an M4 carbine qualification course at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Ward, 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, evaluates a student’s target during an M4 carbine qualification course at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 25, 2018. Instructors review the targets after every round of shots to evaluate shooting proficiency and make necessary sight adjustments or provide pointers to students. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Airmen and Soldiers assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., must attend 20th Security Forces combat arms firearms qualifications courses prior to carrying firearms during permanent changes of station, deployments, or becoming a security forces augmentee.

U.S. Airmen and Soldiers assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., must attend 20th Security Forces combat arms firearms qualifications courses prior to carrying firearms during permanent changes of station, deployments, or becoming a security forces augmentee. With approximately 18 classes per month and 20 students per class, the instructors train more than 4,000 Airmen and Soldiers each year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- As Airmen steady their breathing, the smell of gunpowder filling their nostrils, they gently squeeze the trigger and brace themselves for a jolt from the stock.

Moments after emptying their magazines, they place cleared rifles on the ground, step back toward a yellow line and watch the paper targets approach for critique.

Instructors assigned to the 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms section review M4 carbine qualification course students’ targets to evaluate shooting proficiency after every round of shots. By assessing where shots are hitting, the instructors can make necessary sight adjustments or provide pointers for improvement, such as slowing breathing.

With approximately 18 classes per month and 20 students per class, the instructors train more than 4,000 Airmen and Soldiers each year who are tasked to carry firearms on duty. The students have a range of experience from only briefly using a rifle in basic military training to having decades of knowledge due to work or sport.

Reasons for qualification requirements can include deployments, permanent changes of station and security forces augmentee status.

“It’s necessary to the way of the Air Force because people can’t go downrange without being qualified on a weapon,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Mufford, 20th SFS noncommissioned officer in charge of combat arms. “If you go two or three years without firing your gun and they expect to send you downrange without knowing what to do, it’s going to be a bad situation.”

Each student receives classroom instruction before entering the range area to learn more than just how to hit a target.

“I teach people on base how to shoot, how to handle a rifle properly and what to do in case of an emergency downrange if you ever have to use your weapon,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Flores, 20th SFS combat arms instructor. “Weapons handling skills are very important for service members to know because when they’re downrange or in the area of responsibility, anything can happen. They need to know the weapon; they need to know its capabilities and its limitations because that could one day save their life or save other people.”

For the safety of themselves and their wingmen, students are also taught how to manage malfunctions or stoppages.

This additional information may help Airmen and Soldiers become confident in handling their rifle.

In some cases, students begin the course feeling scared or unsure, but they may end the class with all hits on target or having shot expert marksman, said Mufford. He feels great about their success, because it means he showed them what they needed to do to keep them safe and take care of business.

While preparing Team Shaw service members to tackle upcoming tasks, whether at a home station or deployed, 20th SFS combat arms Airmen do their part to help their wingmen get their missions done and come home safely.