JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
Airmen taking the new Air Force Rifle Qualification Course are finding themselves learning more than just basic marksmanship skills.
Long-awaited changes requiring more intensive weapons training officially took effect Thursday.
Published in September by the Air Force Security Center, changes to the course were not mandatory until this month, but the 37th TRSS Combat Weapons Section opted to teach the new course of fire for all personnel sooner, rather than wait for the Dec. 1 implementation date.
"As with any change for both instructors and students, we are learning more with each new class," said Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Thieken, the 37th TRSS superintendent.
Although there are numerous differences between the new and the old courses, the most significant change is the emphasis on combat engagement and developing shooter survivability skills.
"This is a major departure from the previous course most of us are familiar with. The 'just-in-time' training prior to a deployment or permanent change of station ensured everyone had the general skills of weapons familiarization," said Thieken. "Our Airmen had an understanding of what parts went where, how the weapon functions, or cycle of operation, and the basic shooter fundamentals - sight picture, breath control and trigger squeeze.
"Those skills are still the building block of any weapons qualification course," he said. "However, as we continue to support contingency operations with more and more Air Force personnel performing missions outside the wire, it was imperative that our training evolve to meet the changing environment."
The new course incorporates target acquisition, threat discrimination, multiple threat engagement and surviving weapon malfunction and stoppages.
As a result, the number of rounds fired and the additional qualification stages increase the length of classroom training, as well as time on the range. Currently, the new course of fire is consuming the better part of a 12-hour day.
Thieken said that with the exception of the length of time required to complete the course, the feedback is generally very positive. He recommended the following helpful tips to make the firing day more comfortable.
Since it is a long day in the classroom and on the range, some snacks, a sandwich, and something to drink will help improve the experience.
Since the firing range is located on the remote side of the Lackland Training (Medina) Annex, commuting for a meal is not possible.
Vending machines are available at the facility but selections are limited and they run out frequently.
"It's a lengthy day, so bring enough for two meals. You have a 30-minute break between the classroom training and the firing range to eat," said Thieken. "You will not have time to leave the complex, so plan accordingly."
Although the first part of the day is indoors, the second part is outside on the firing range.
Water fountains are available at the facility and coolers of ice water are located on the range.
"With the unpredictable weather here in San Antonio, it's best to stay hydrated throughout the day to avoid any heat-related injuries. Camelback and other hydration containers are highly encouraged," he said.
"Keep an eye on the weather forecast for the day of your training. As we move into winter, the weather can change rapidly and having the appropriate clothing will ensure you are comfortable and focused on training," he added.
Preparation for the course is essential and Thieken recommends Airmen brush up on weapons training by reading their Airman's Manual.
"Instructors will teach you everything you need to know about the weapon system, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared," said Thieken.
"Preparation makes for a smoother day on the firing range," he continued. "The men and women of the Combat Weapons Section are here to make every Airman the best shooter possible, as we support each other while in harm's way."