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Instructors aim to qualify Airmen

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Ward, 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, oversees students at the firing range at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Ward, 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, oversees students at the firing range at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 22, 2018. Security forces Airmen can apply to become a combat arms instructor, responsible for qualifying Airmen on various weapons and maintaining non-aircraft weapons systems across base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Flores, 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, walks around a classroom while teaching at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Flores, 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, walks around a classroom while teaching at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 22, 2018. To qualify on a weapon, Airmen must complete classroom and hands-on training with a combat arms instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. service members take aim at the firing range on Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

U.S. service members take aim at the firing range on Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 22, 2018. Individuals at the range receive classroom instruction prior to shooting and are required to hit their targets multiple times from various positions to qualify. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

A U.S. Airman grabs a round to load into an M9 pistol magazine at the firing range on Shaw Air Force Base (AFB), S.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

A U.S. Airman grabs a round to load into an M9 pistol magazine at the firing range on Shaw Air Force Base (AFB), S.C., Aug. 22, 2018. Airmen and Soldiers assigned to Shaw AFB qualify on various weapons systems at the range to maintain their skills and knowledge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Beads of sweat run down an Airman’s face as they drop an M9 pistol magazine and insert in another, working as quickly as possible in a dimly lit arena. While the sound of gunshots echo off concrete walls, the air hangs heavy around a line of strangers who move in near synchronization — exhale, confirm sights are on target, pull the trigger.

An individual watches from above in a dark room. Their eyes scan the floor from underneath the brim of their bright red baseball cap. A voice sounds through the loudspeakers and the floor is silenced.

“It’s crucial for individuals to receive this training,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Riley, 20th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor. “The time in which we live, you never know regardless of where you’re deploying to, when you’ll end up facing a threat that was known or maybe even unknown.”

Instructors assigned to the 20th SFS combat arms facility provide classroom and hands-on teaching for the Airmen of Shaw Air Force Base, as well as those assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing’s geographically separated units.

To become instructors, security forces Airmen must undergo rigorous training, learning how to shoot, dismantle, rebuild and maintain multiple weapons systems. Once they receive an assignment, they are responsible for teaching the entire base, as well as maintaining all non-aircraft weapons systems on base.

“Once you become an instructor and the first class you teach you see the students build a skill and get that confidence, it brings you to another level where it’s not just about shooting guns all the time it’s about helping people build a skill,” said Riley.

Prior to qualification, students receive hours of instruction on weapon-handling safety, system components and shooting guidelines in a classroom environment.

Trainers ensure each individual gets the practice they need, providing extra attention to Airmen who are less experienced with weapons and only going as fast as the slowest person in the class.

“Our goal for the students is for them to understand how to comfortably and safely handle the weapon,” said Riley. “We want them to leave here feeling comfortable going to an armory, taking a weapon out and carrying it, knowing that if they have to use it they know exactly what to do. Obviously, we want everyone to shoot well and score high but more importantly, we want to see individuals have confidence, that’s probably our number one goal.”

Airmen are responsible for qualifying on various weapons throughout their careers. Depending on their job, some Airmen qualify annually while others qualify for deployments, permanent changes of station or to become a security forces augmentee.

“It doesn’t matter what career field you’re in, you’re in the armed forces,” said Staff Sgt. Cody Withrow, 20th SFS combat arms instructor. “If you’re downrange and there’s a possibility you may have to use a weapon in a life or death situation, everyone needs to know and be prepared on how to use it safely and effectively.”