December 20, 2011: The U.S. Air Force is changing the way it trains airmen to use assault rifles. Based on the combat experience of many airmen in Iraq and Afghanistan, air force rifle training now includes wearing combat equipment (protective vest and helmet) while firing. In addition, airmen are trained to fire from more positions (that are typical of actual combat) as well as at many different distances (especially short range). Air force security troops are also receiving more night firing training.
Airmen also fire twice as many rounds (196 versus 100) during the new rifle qualification course that is taken every two years. The ten hours of training and shooting includes material on tactics, target identification, marksmanship while under fire, how to clear jams, and other weapons failures. About 70 percent of airmen pass the new rifle training course on the first try.
All this increased emphasis on rifle training evolved over the last decade as more airmen found themselves involved in ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Initially, many were unprepared. For decades, air force basic training only involves a week of field training, including learning the basics of firing a rifle. After that most airmen fired those rifles, briefly, once every two years. This was shown to be inadequate for airmen being sent to wartime Iraq and Afghanistan. So the air force created a special four week combat course for airmen headed to a combat zone. The course is taught by many airmen who already have combat experience in Iraq.
The air force does have ground combat troops. They have 23,000 men and women assigned to this security force duty. The security forces are trained and equipped as light infantry, although their primary job is base protection and police work. These security troops regularly train with infantry weapons (mainly assault rifle, pistol, and light machine-gun.) Each major air base also has an Emergency Services Team (EST), which is basically a SWAT team formed from security forces volunteers. The EST personnel get more intensive training in weapons and tactics.
Starting three years ago, in addition to more training with assault rifles and pistols, all airmen going off to work with the army began taking a course in hand-to-hand combat. The Air Force Combatives program is a 20 hour version of the 40 hour U.S. Army Combatives Program. It basically teaches you the best moves to make if you are ever in a hand-to-hand combat situation. Airmen are encouraged to take additional training after they have completed the mandatory 20 hours of instruction. Those who have served in Iraq, and especially those who came back with a combat badge, don't need much encouragement.
During the last decade, for the first time since the Vietnam War, air force personnel were regularly assigned to ground combat duties. This has changed the air force culture and those airmen who have seen the unifying theme of a shared secondary job skill in the army, marines, and navy, would like to see something similar for their own service. Out of unity comes strength.