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Shop celebrates 50 years of arming Airmen

  • Published
  • By Patrick Desmond
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs
The only gunsmith shop in the Air Force, tucked away in a bunker-like building on Lackland's Training Annex, has been quietly arming Airmen with refurbished small arms for little more than half a century.

Celebrating 50 years of service in 2008, the shop focuses on the transfer of Marine and Army M16a2 assault rifles into the hands of Airmen.

A variant of the first Colt rifle used during the Vietnam War, the design of the M16a2 is identical to the M16a4 currently used by Army and Marine Corp infantry with the exception of a removable carrying handle and a mounting rail.

Currently averaging 546 rifles monthly, 15 gunsmiths, five civilians and 10 Airmen operate the disassembly stations and metalworking machines that fill the concrete hive's pristine and well-lit interior.

"We rebuild, refit or repair what the local gun shops can't," said Master Sgt. Brian Seveyka, 342nd Training Squadron shop superintendent. "If the numbers are too large, they are sent here. Specialized weapons are also sent here. We are currently in the middle of the M16 kit rebuild project."

The gunsmiths take apart the rifles to locate and make repairs, then reassemble them to refinish the exterior and test fire the arms. Returning the guns to a standard condition, irregular modifications such as identification tags riveted to rifle stocks are removed in the process.

"We take them apart, rebuild them and ship the rifles out to (units) still in need of (M16a2s). There are units that still have the original M16s," Sergeant Sevekya said. "We are the only place the Air Force has to send small arms weapons."

The shop is filled with the sounds of efficient, precise and speedy equipment. Along with standard machines, such as a bench top drill press, machining lave and mill, workers use an automated computer numerical control machine to shape metal parts to fit modifications and to fabricate custom tools needed for rebuilding projects.

The steel gun parts are taken to a bluing tank to undergo a chemical process, creating a protective finish from rust and corrosion, resulting in a dark appearance.

"Bluing is rusting the gun," Sergeant Seveyka said. "It's actually making rust, but its made in such a small, thin coat that it hardens the surface of the metal to protect it from further corrosion."

Special projects like general officers' 9mm handguns undergo an extensive bluing process and are polished to a mirror finish, sometimes taking two weeks to complete one pistol.

Besides M16s and the general officer handguns, the shop produces a variety of weapons including combat arms instructors' teaching tools, refurbished World War II issue M1 Garand rifles, squad automatic weapons and 40 mm grenade launchers.

"We work with all the small weapon systems the Air Force has," Sergeant Seveyka said.

In 2009, while expecting production to reach 7,000 M16s, work also begins on rebuilding M107 .50-caliber long-range sniper rifles.

"Combat arms instructors already know how to do what the gun shop does, but the gun shop does it on a larger scale," the superintendent said. "I have worked with these people over the years so I know the history and I know what to do."

Employment at the shop is a regular assignment in the combat arms career field, and Airmen are cross-trained upon arrival at the shop.

"It's interesting working here," said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Kuretza, 575th Combat Sustainment Squadron. "I am not classically trained on the machines so I am learning a lot about a career field I have never been a part of before."

The shop opened in 1958 and supported Lackland's competitive shooting team, working on weapons for sharpshooters that would not only represent the Air Force but the United States at Olympic shooting events.

Now in its 51st year, the gunsmith shop is currently under the command of the 787th Combat Sustainment Group at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., while the 37th Mission Support Squadron handles the shop's administrative work.