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New rifle course prepares Airmen for combat

VOGELWEH, Germany – Loaded magazines sit on a table before Airmen begin the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Loaded magazines sit on a table before Airmen begin the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Staff Sgt. Timothy Streets, 569th U.S. Force Protection Squadron, practices tactical movements with an M-4 carbine while taking the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Staff Sgt. Timothy Streets, 569th U.S. Force Protection Squadron, practices tactical movements with an M-4 carbine while taking the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – An Airman loads ammunition into a clip before firing in the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – An Airman loads ammunition into a clip before firing in the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Senior Airman Monique Young, 569th U.S. Force Protection Squadron, fires an M-4 Carbine while taking the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Senior Airman Monique Young, 569th U.S. Force Protection Squadron, fires an M-4 Carbine while taking the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Empty cartridges sit on the ground of the firing range as shooters check their targets while taking the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Empty cartridges sit on the ground of the firing range as shooters check their targets while taking the new Air Force rifle qualification course Oct. 7. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Senior Airman Jan Lanier, 569th U.S. Force Protection Squadron, helps 1st Lt. Jared Dorland, 569th USFPS, zero in his shots Oct. 7 during the new Air Force rifle qualification course. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

VOGELWEH, Germany – Senior Airman Jan Lanier, 569th U.S. Force Protection Squadron, helps 1st Lt. Jared Dorland, 569th USFPS, zero in his shots Oct. 7 during the new Air Force rifle qualification course. The new course of fire has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- The combat environment Airmen currently face during deployments has fueled the need for an updated, more intense rifle qualification course.

"Our combatant commanders identified over the last 10 years that we needed to move away from the cold-war-era style of qualification and give our Airmen quality training," said Master Sgt. Scott Brown, U.S. Air Forces in Europe combat arms program manager. "More and more Airmen are actively engaging the enemy down range. And they need to have a higher standard of weapons training."

However, higher standards don't come easy. The new course, which has a mandatory implementation date of Dec. 1, 2011, will be longer, more difficult and include requirements many Airmen have not seen before.

During the 9- to 11-hour course, Airmen will still learn the basics of rifle safety, operation, assembly and cleaning; however, now students will be required to demonstrate practical application of this knowledge before stepping up to the firing line.

"Progress checks are to make sure that you understand what you are doing with the weapon before you head up to the line," said Staff Sgt. Brian Carpenter, 569th U.S. Force Protection Squadron combat arms instructor. "In this new course of fire, if you do not pass your progress check, you do not go to the line, you do not fire that day."

Once an Airman completes the classroom portion of training and is familiarized with the weapon, it is time to step on the range and begin firing live rounds. However, the new course of fire has some very distinct differences from what Airmen used to experience.

Depending on specialty code, Airmen are designated as Group A or Group B. Group-A Airmen are those in combat-oriented career fields; Group B is the majority of the base populace.

During a 200-round qualification, Group-B Airmen will complete semiautomatic and three-round burst fire, threat discrimination and tactical engagement of the target. Threat discrimination requires students to engage targets based on instructor commands and tactical engagement of the target requires students to move forward, left and right before firing.

The new requirements for movement during fire give Airmen the tools needed to perform in combat, but there is also an added element of danger during training.

"It is dangerous if people don't pay attention to what they are supposed to be doing on the line," said Carpenter. "If you move the wrong way, bump into the guy next to you, there's a round in the chamber and, if your weapon's on fire, (the round) can accidentally discharge. If there is any type of safety infraction, you are going to be removed because we can't have that out on the line when there is going to be moving and shooting."

In addition to increased movement, the course includes a section with dummy rounds. These dummy rounds force students to perform remedial actions and correct a stoppage before they can continue to engage a target.

If a student has been identified by a commander as being dual armed, there will be a requirement to dry fire an unloaded M-4 Carbine, transition to a handgun and fire two rounds on target.

Group-A Airmen have additional requirements on the range. Night firing with laser aiming devices, night scopes and weapon-mounted lights are included in the 280-round course of fire for Group A.

For all students the standards for qualification have increased.

"In our old course of fire, to qualify you only had to score 50 percent and now you have to score 70 percent," said Brown. "It's going to be hard and people need to be ready."

Though the course is more difficult, it is not impossible.

"The instructors here are going to give you exactly what you need to qualify," said Carpenter. "Pay attention in the class, listen to your instructor and you will do fine. If you are willing to come and learn, you are going to pass."