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SFS teaches Airmen to 'defend the force' with weapons training

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

Staff Sgt. Sam Spurlock, 375th Security Forces combat arms instructor, fires an M4 carbine at a target during a simulated night fire scenario after a weapons qualification session, Feb. 27, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. The simulated scenario is a part of the security forces training at combat arms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

Airmen 1st Class Ikiem Williams and Jacob Marler, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, clean their M4 carbines upon completion of firing during a weapons qualification session, Feb. 27, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Airmen learn basic firing procedures, safety processes and cleaning of the weapon during the one-day course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

Staff Sgt. Sam Spurlock, 375th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, marks the “hits” on a target sheet during a weapons qualification session, Feb. 27, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Additional classes are offered for those may need more practice in order to qualify. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

Staff Sgt. Sam Spurlock, 375th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, explains proper firing technique to Airman 1st Class Jacob Marler, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, during a weapons qualification session, Feb. 27, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Airmen may have to qualify each year based on their job – such as security forces, civil engineering or pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

Staff Sgt. Sam Spurlock, 375th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, clears a M4 carbine in the combat arms vault before heading to the firing range during a weapons qualification session, Feb. 27, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. The class is set up to help Airmen qualify on the M4 carbine and M9 pistol for job-related requirements, or as a part of their pre-deployment checklist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg Erwin)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --

“Defensor Fortis,” or “Defend the Force,” is the motto of Air Force Security Forces Airmen, but it’s not just for them—it applies to all military members tasked to deploy in service to the nation.

When sent to defend the country abroad, all Airmen must be capable and willing to use their weapon to “defend the force.” So how are those skills acquired? Through the Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Qualification Course, or CATM.

CATM is a course set aside for yearly qualification on the M4 carbine and M9 pistol for all Security Forces Airmen, as well as a host of other Air Force specialties including civil engineers and pilots. For other Airmen, the qualification may not happen until preparing for a deployment.

“We have students come in daily who are either firing for pre-deployment or job-related requirements,” said Staff Sgt. Sam Spurlock, 375th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor. “By the time they leave, they are knowledgeable and capable on the weapon they came to qualify on that day.”

The instructors at the firing range teach the basic fundamentals to Airmen needing to qualify and to do so must maintain a safe and proper classroom environment.

“We have ammo accountability, scheduling, and we also take care of weapons maintenance,” said Staff Sgt. James Chisolm, 375th SFS combat arms instructor. “There’s a lot that goes into it in the background that people do not see.”

When attempting to qualify, nerves or inexperience may play a factor for some Airmen, and that could lead to failure of the course. However, qualification is not a one-and-done endeavor, as there are remedial course days available to those who need additional practice.

“A lot of people feel bad when they fail,” Spurlock stated. “But, it’ not a bad thing. It just means that person needs more time on the weapon or maybe more detailed instructions from a different instructor.”

Between needing extra time on the range or providing different techniques to make sure an Airman is successful, Airmen must also learn about mental power to come out of the CATM course with a smile – and more importantly, a passing score.

“The biggest obstacle we see for Airmen passing is not absorbing what the instructor tells them because they think they already know it,” Spurlock explained. “A lot of people try to go in with preconceived notions on what they’re going to do with the weapon, so then they don’t listen as much as they should in the class or on the range.”

Instructors help Airmen build confidence, which is a major component in passing the course, according to Spurlock.

“We know we’ve done our job when we see the students more confident—knowing that they could use their weapon if they had to,” he said.