ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam --
A red flag waves at the entrance of the Andersen Air Force Base, Guam firing range, warning bystanders that firing is in progress. On the range, military members and civilians train with combat arms instructors from the 36th Security Forces Squadron to ensure personnel are meeting training requirements and can effectively defend military assets and people in a hostile environment.
“To me, fulfilling this mission means ensuring that whoever goes out that door comes back,” said Tech. Sgt. Yerida Vazquez, 36th SFS NCO in charge of combat arms. “Knowing that we do our best to qualify and teach students how to utilize their weapons is essential to us. We want to see those individuals come back home, so we emphasize safety when it comes to the weapon, but we also focus on using the weapon if the need arises.”
On average, 50 to 70 students pass through the training facility each month. The outdoor firing range supports those who are required to qualify yearly in addition to service members preparing for deployment or those that are required to qualify for a permanent change of station. In addition to training service members, the range also supports many outside agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture, Guam Police Department and the United States Marshals Service.
“We’re one of the only ranges on island, so in turn, I would say we help keep the island safe because multiple government agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Federal Bureau of Investigation use this range to qualify,” said Staff Sgt. William Adkins, 36th SFS combat arms instructor. “They’re out there keeping the entire island safe, and we facilitate that by letting them use our range. I feel we have a big impact by operating this range.”
In addition to supporting many outside agencies, the versatile range allows combat arms instructors to provide training on several weapons systems such as the M4 carbine, M11 pistol, M9 pistol, the Remington M870 shotgun, and heavy weapons including the M240 machine gun, M249 light machine gun and M203 grenade launcher. Their skill with various weapons systems and teaching techniques enables them to provide training to many agencies.
The instructors are identifiable by their red hats that are a symbol of their skill in their field. To earn the red hat, most instructors go through the Air Force’s standard retraining process except they are required to be a security forces member before applying. Those that don the red hat after nine weeks of training are technical experts in the fields of training and maintenance for combat arms.
Part of the combat arms team’s responsibilities includes keeping track of all the weapons assigned to the 36th Wing and inspecting and performing required maintenance annually. Regular maintenance keeps weapons safe, reliably accurate and decreases the chance of jamming.
The instructors follow the Combat Arms Instructor’s Creed as they perform their duties in maintaining weapons and teaching combat skills. The creed states that their efforts are for the men and women they train. The Air Force’s profession of arms depends on the instructors’ abilities to maintain a force capable of defending itself in times of peace and war.
“I’m motivated by knowing that we keep the people who protect the base safe,” Adkins said. “If they have to use their weapon, it’s usually in a life or death situation and we train them to operate on muscle memory so they can react accordingly and use their weapon to save their own life and the lives of others.”
As firing ceases at the end of the day, the flag lowers, signaling that training has been completed for the day and the combat arms instructors return to their homes knowing they’ve helped build effective marksmen charged with protecting Air Force assets and people.