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.