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Advanced Weapons and Tactics Training - Not for the faint of heart

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Torri Savarese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
There are many requirements we all face when tasked with a deployment. These can range anywhere from medical screenings to weapons qualifications. Each deployment has its own set of special instructions for Airmen to follow.

A few months ago, I was tasked with a deployment to Southwest Asia. I was kind of disappointed because I thought it would be a support deployment, and I wouldn't get the opportunity to be involved in the actual operations downrange. However, about a month ago, I was notified that I will be part of a Combat Camera crew, traveling all around the area of responsibility, highlighting the amazing things Airmen are doing to support contingency operations.

With this new information, I was also given new training requirements to prepare me to be a member of a ComCam team. One of the most significant requirements was an Advanced Weapons and Tactics Training, run by Threat Management Group, in Charleston, S.C.

I didn't know what to expect from the training, and I didn't know how intense it would be. I was nervous but excited at the same time. I thought this would be like many Air Force trainings I have attended in my career. The usual: some classroom, then practical application, then classroom again. I was wrong.

The first day of training began like most I have attended. The 10 of us were all sitting in a briefing room and we knew it was going to be "death-by-PowerPoint." To my happy surprise, it was different. The instructors introduced themselves to us and I was pleased to note that they were former Marines, infantry. We also had instructors who were previously Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Air Force Combat Controller. This already gave me an idea that this training would be different than anything I'd experienced before. The stories each instructor shared both scared me and made me realize how much I had to pay attention to each area of instruction.

The first day was easy, and I figured this training would be a piece of cake. Again, I was wrong.

The second day, and each subsequent day following, was anything but what I was used to. We met at the shooting range, with our weapons, body armor and helmets, along with several magazines. I remember thinking, "there's no way we're going to use all these magazines; this is ridiculous."

We were instructed to load three M-4 magazines and head out to the firing line - it was time to zero our rifles. While practicing all the marksmanship fundamentals and becoming comfortable and familiar with my rifle, I realized this was the first time in my career I was able to fire so well. Maybe it was the knowledge that this training could essentially save my life, maybe it was the motivation of my instructors and fellow teammates. I don't know, but I was able to have a clear head and focus on what I needed to do.

Each day we fired both the M-4 and the M-9, putting thousands of rounds on target. This was exceptional to me, since I don't have a job which requires me to fire regularly.

My favorite part of the training was barricade day. Several barricades were positioned around the shooting area, and we had to bound, in pairs, forward and back, while laying down suppressive fire. This was done with dry weapons for several iterations. Once our instructors felt we were competent in the task, we ran the exercise with live weapons.

It was sobering knowing we would be firing at targets, while our teammates were running pretty close to our sectors of fire. It was imperative to be aware of my surroundings, as well as the task at hand. I don't know that I've been more afraid to fire a weapon than I was at that moment. I couldn't imagine losing focus - it's not something I really wanted to even think of.

Most of the time, public affairs personnel don't get the opportunity to practice true combat and tactics training. Even though I was anxious about the training, I'm glad to have it. Knowing I will be embedding with combat units downrange resonates how important it is to have training like this. I am more comfortable with my weapons, and feel like I will be more of an asset than a liability.

I understand the importance of communication and working as a team, no matter what the personality dynamics may be on that team. During training, we encouraged each other, pushed each other and motivated each other. I know I still have a lot to learn with regard to combat operations, patrolling, and other actions I may be required to do. However, I feel like this training showed me what I'm capable of, both mentally and physically, and it surprised me what I can accomplish if I am willing to push myself.

I also learned a combat mindset is the most important thing you can have when facing the challenges downrange. This is something I am constantly working toward and have made leaps and bounds from where I was before this training.

All-in-all, I'm grateful for the opportunity to train with such competent and experienced instructors, and such a highly-motivated team. I feel more prepared for this upcoming deployment.