This weekend at my drill I was signed up to qualify on the M-4. The M-4 rifle is the replacement for the M-16. I took this course a few months ago but I failed. I have never failed qualifying shooting any weapon in the Air Force. However, the Air Force changed the qualification standards and it is much more difficult now. In addition to shooting more rounds in more positions, the new rule is instead of an average, you must pass each section. They also added a long class room section before the shooting part where you take the weapon all the way down to the smallest part and re-assemble it. You have 4 minutes for each and it is a timed test. I did fine on that.
The next day was the qualifying day. Several of the people there had already failed multiple times. Before you start judging the quality of marksmanship in the Air Force, remember that this is a difficult course, and there is no money for practice ammunition. You just show up and hope you have enough natural talent to qualify. Or you fail enough times that the failures become your practice.
There was another female there who gave me some tips on using the red dot sight. I don't remember the official name of this thingy, but in the past it gave me trouble. I also asked the instructors more questions about the best way to hold the weapon when your flak vest is getting in the way. One mistake I was making was thinking the M-4 was like some of the big guns I shoot with my dad and if I don't hold on really tight it is going to knock me over. Or dislocate my shoulder. I ended up holding the M-4 looser and keeping my face farther away from the red dot sight thingy and it went better.
My grouping during the zeroing phase was very good. Then we went to the qualification phase. There are 6 targets on the same target and you shoot 3, reload, then shoot the other 3. You are wearing your helmet, webgear and flack vest. You are timed, and I think my problem is the timing part messes with my head. During the zeroing phase you can take as long as you want to, and I did well. But once there is a time limit (including a reload) I start to panic, even though I am aware I need to not panic. Before the timing starts the targets are facing away from you and the weapon is not charged. They say "contact front" flip the target, and you have to charge the weapon, find the target, shoot 3 times, reload, shoot 3 more times, all before the 40 seconds is up. Not very easy! You do this in the prone supported position, prone unsupported, kneeling, and sitting positions. I failed the first time, missing by 2 hits. However, instead of sending me away (as they did the last time) they gave us another chance. I failed again, having again just 2 less hits than needed. We (about 4 other people also failed) were giving one more chance, and this time I passed. Phew! The other four failures did not improve, and spent the rest of the day waiting for us to finish.
Next was shooting in the gas mask, which I passed. Then shooting the man sized target (with a head circle and 2 body circles) standing up from behind a barricade. They would tell us to step out from the left or right, shoot, then step back. I found this easy because the target was so big. I think I only missed (outside the circle) twice.
The final step was shooting on bust. As warned the weapon on burst rocked me back and the muzzle went up. They had us stand square on the target because that was supposed to keep us from rocking back. However, I think it would have been better if I could have kept one foot back. But I followed the directions. To qualify on this portion the shots had to just land anywhere on the target. Not very accurate! I passed this section as well.
I'm very happy I passed because now I am officially qualified. Also, I don't have to do it for at least another year! It was very hot in the sun at the range in our flack vest and webgear and Kevlar helmet. Apparently a helmet is not very good protection from the sun because I ended up with a raccoon sunburn on my face. The shooting glasses protected around my eyes but my nose and cheeks got burnt.
The days were long and on Sunday afternoon we also had to clean the weapons. Lots of carbon caked on that thing! I was using a certain brush on a barrel cleaning rod on the bolt carrier and just as the instructor said, "Don't force it," it got stuck. Oops. He was able to pull it out but as it came free it hit his face and scratched his glasses and left a mark on his face. I felt really bad. He said his glasses were still under warranty, but still. Sigh. I wanted to do a good job cleaning so I was one of the last to finish.
When I went back to the squadron I had some work to catch up on since I was at the range all weekend and was going to be gone all next week on vacation in Big Bear! My email was acting up and wouldn't let me leave an out of office auto reply and as I became more and more frustrated, I reflected that sometimes going on vacation causes more frustration than it relives. However, I knew once I got to Big Bear I'd forget all about the stupid out of office reply.
It was a busy weekend!