36th Wing bolsters warfighting lethality with proficiency shoot initiative

Staff Sgt. Marquis Nelson, a Combat Readiness School instructor with the 644th Communications Squadron, briefs members on shooting principles during the proficiency shoot at Naval Base Guam range Jan. 26, 2019. The purpose of the training was to ensure Airmen are not only qualified, but proficient in their primary and secondary weapon systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. JT May III)
April 18, 2019

“Imagine an NFL quarterback only throwing passes in practice once a year, the quarterback would be qualified, but not proficient,” said Brig. Gen. Gentry Boswell, 36th Wing commander. “The quarterback knows the basic mechanics of handling and throwing a football, but would not be expected to perform well during a game or high-tempo environment,”

“To succeed in that environment, quarterbacks train vigorously, practice under stress and execute thousands of reps to hone their skills,” said Boswell. “The fundamental skills to shoot, move and communicate involve the same basic cognitive, physical and coordination skills as professional sports, but the stakes are much higher.”

“Our Airmen must be able to make quick decisions, put rounds on target with speed and precision in combat or in a volatile environment,” said Boswell.

This analogy draws parallelism between skills the warfighter and professional athlete must possess to be successful, but most importantly gives insight to why the 36th Wing Proficiency Shoot Initiative was enacted in 2018.

Boswell wanted to ensure all Airmen stationed at Andersen Air Force Base are not only qualified, but proficient and prepared to operate in this stressful environment. The major focus is centered-on combat skills, however, the training is tailorable to each squadron’s respective skillset.

Building a more lethal force, did not fall on deaf ears, as members across base worked expeditiously to ensure this program came to fruition. The Combat Readiness School from the 644th Combat Communications Squadron answered that charge.

The 644th CBCS incorporates more than 17 Air Force Specialty Codes and 134 personnel into a close-knit deployable communications team. It is a rapid-deployment unit designed to deploy all or part of a 32-person team “within a moment’s notice” to establish and provide “initial” network capability.

“Our training is modeled after 89 tasks used by Tactical Air Control Party operators because we could either deploy with an Air Support Operations Group or Air Support Operations Squadron,” said Master Sgt. Mike Whitman, 644th CBCS/CRS section chief. “We must be ready at all times for our end customers.”

In Jan. 2019 alone, they conducted various training to complement the proficiency shoot courses. More than 60 members were trained in vehicle and foot navigation, tactical map symbols, military grid reference system, Defense Advanced GPS Receiver operations, Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight familiarity, bullseye drills and immediate and remedial actions.

The proficiency shoots are monthly training iterations with four courses of fire. The foundation is first established by basic marksmanship concepts that advance to tactical firing techniques with movement. Every Airmen fires over 800 rounds on their primary weapon system, the M4 Carbine and 200 rounds on their secondary weapon system, the M9 pistol.

This is more than a 450 percent increase in the number of rounds and repetitions required for Combat Communicators annual weapons qualification, but the program’s importance and impact are invaluable. Airman Marc Stiller, a Cyber Transport apprentice assigned to the 644th CBCS has been in the Air Force less than two years and has limited shooting experience. By the end of training, he was able to shoot bullseyes in targets up to 100-meters.

“I never thought that as Cyber Transport I would be navigating through the jungle with a plate carrier or accurately firing at distances of 100-meters,” said Stiller. “The training has taught me better weapon and breathing control.”

Using a holistic and overarching training approach has ensured members are well-equipped to shoot, move and communicate.

“This program is designed to make our Airmen sharper, more capable and lethal – truly experts in their craft in line with our core values,” said Boswell. “Our Airmen will have the skills to perform at their best under the stress of combat and be better than any adversary they may face.”