While I was out

caleb barret 50 bmg

I did manage to get some trigger time in, just on platforms a little bit bigger than my usual 1911s. I also missed a perfect score on the USAF handgun qualification by three shots, which was a little frustrating. But somehow, I’ll survive. Re-qualified on my very favorite gun in the world, the M240, and of course spent some trigger time with an M4 carbine.

All in all it was a pretty fun little hiatus.

I’m really back now

Caleb Giddings Air Force

So, this happened. You have all probably noticed that I’ve been pretty scarce around these parts for the last six months. I’ve put out a couple of quick posts here and there, but my focus has been on training and my military work. I can’t really come back to blogging and not acknowledge that or talk about it, because regardless of whatever else I am, I am a teller of stories. And this is a pretty good one, at least I think.

What I think I’ll do first is answer some of the obvious questions that people tend to ask me now that I’m back. The first is “why?” I’m 33 years old, have a successful career, a marriage and a dog, why put that on pause to go back into the military? First and foremost, I had some deep personal reasons I wanted to go back. Those are mine, and maybe someday you can read about them if I get this book published. But suffice to say, they were and still are important. There are also pragmatic reasons as well: benefits. Even as a reservist, I have access to healthcare (at a hugely reduced cost compared to what I’d pay on open market) and if I do 20+ years I’ll bring in retirement pay. My career path has never been what you’d call “stable” – the life of a blogger/salesman/pro shooter doesn’t have built in retirement planning. So at the time it made a lot of pragmatic sense to go back and give myself and my family a safety net for the future. That pretty much covers the “why.”

Next questions are all job related: I’m in the Air Force Reserve, my AFSC (that’s Air Force for MOS) is 3P031, Security Forces. I get a cool hat. Why did I pick Security Forces? I wanted to do something physically challenging that would also have ties back into my civilian career. So, SF it is. I actually really enjoyed the training side of my tech school, which focused heavily on active shooter response. SF’s mission in the Air Force is a combination of law enforcement and ground defense/security. What you’ll end up doing depends on your unit/base/assignment. People also ask why did I join the AF instead of the other branches, and why reserve instead of Guard. To the first question: I actually shopped around. I knew I didn’t want to go into the Army, I’m too old for the Marines, so that left the Coast Guard, Navy, and AF. The Coast Guard recruiter basically said “lol sorry nope, no spots forever”, so then I started talking to a Navy Reserve recruiter and the AF Reserve recruiter. The Navy guy fell off the face of the earth, the Air Force offered me the job I wanted, a reasonable ship date, and a signing bonus. Woo. Interestingly, right up until I sewed on my stripes, I wasn’t really committed to staying in the AF, and had thoughts of transferring to the Navy after my first enlistment. But then I put those two silly little stripes on, and for some reason that affected me. I should sew on SrA soon. I joined the Reserve instead of the Guard because honestly, I just kind of forgot about the Guard. Sorry Guard friends.

What was basic training like? Honestly? Basic was pretty easy all things considered. Basic is hard for 19 year olds because they’re frequently not mature enough to shut the hell up and color when you’re told. At my age, I’m smart enough to do that, just barely, so I had a relatively easy time in BMT. The only thing that really made it challenging was I was made Dorm Chief. Dorm Chief is basically the focal point for the attention of the Military Training Instructors, and so I got yelled at a lot, usually when the flight was being crazy. Stuff happens, it’s no big deal. I earned the honor graduate ribbon from BMT and moved on to tech school.

What was tech school like? Honestly, tech school was pretty rad. There was a lot of stuff that went on at tech school that’s not really related to training, basically barracks life stuff; that was annoying, but the actual training? Pretty rad. My team, 036 was the first team to come through the new, totally revamped Apprentice Course. Being the validation team, we had a bit of a bumpy ride in places, but in general the training was solid, and a lot of times quite fun. I enjoyed the gun stuff the most (duh) and ground combat skills, but I also enjoyed getting my ass kicked in combatives and learning about LE procedures.

That covers about all the general questions I usually get asked, if you have another question leave it in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply!

The changing face of basic training

  
I have had the (mis)fortune of attending some form of basic military training twice now in my life. The first time was the Coast Guard Academy’s Swab Summer + 4/c year at the Academy in New London, and the second time was just recently, attending Air Force BMT at scenic Lackland Air Force base. Swab Summer was 15 years ago, and in the intervening decade and a half, kind of a lot has changed. Now, it’s not fair to compare the trainings on a 1:1 basis, because the Coast Guard and the Air Force have different missions and cultures, but there are some interesting differences that are worth talking about. 

The first, and most important difference is the level of physical intensity. Swab Summer was FAR more physical than AF BMT. At that time, our cadre could put us on our faces pretty much whenever they wanted, with very limited restrictions on when and how they could PT us. I remember two incidents with tremendous clarity: runnin library hill at the Academy until swabs were puking, and doing push-ups to absolute exhaustion on my 18th birthday. There was also mandatory PT 6 days a week. Air Force basic takes a more restrained approach, with mandatory PT six days a week as well, but with strict limits on when and how Military Training Instructors can use physical training as a “motivational tool” on flights. 

Another huge contrast is the way cadre/MTIs speak to swabs/trainees. At BMT, MTIs are expressly forbidden from cursing at or insulting trainees. At Swab Summer 15 years ago, cadre weren’t supposed to curse at us…but that certainly didn’t stop them. They also made us perform tasks that would currently be viewed as hazing. A great example is being forced to stand in your room turning the lights on and off over and over while repeating “I’m Tom Bodet from Motel 6 and I leave the lights on” as punishment for leaving the lights on. That wouldn’t fly today. 

Interestingly to likely only me is that Air Force training placed a much higher emphasis on the learning environment than Swab Summer. Obviously the actual Academy places a huge emphasis on class work, but in general I found that the Air Force seems guinely interesting in using BMT as a tool to enable airmen to think. 

It would be easier for me to look at the surface differences between the two experiences and say that the military has gone soft. But I also think that’s exactly the kind of lazy thinking that gets us into trouble and ignores both the incredible changing culture and the constantly evolving way we fight our wars. Yes, 18 year olds entering the military today are different than they were 15 years ago. But I don’t know if they’re any softer than they were when I was there. They’re just different. The Air Force has to create a training environment for a generation that has grown up with access to the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. Having access to that kind of info has created a generation that needs to know why they’re doing something, and for whole the simple answer of “because it’s your f***ing job” simply won’t suffice. While I can imagine that the aforementioned attitude is maddening to MTIs, it also means that the resulting AF is smarter and more capable of adapting to evolving threats at a small unit level. As these young airmen become senior enlisted and officers, they can hopefully bring that change and adaptability to the Air Force at higher levels. 

So sure, 15 years ago things were physically harder. But I honestly think the training is better today. You can’t take a 19 year old that’s had instant access to answers their entire life and simply expect them to shut up and color, and the military has had to adapt to that. That’s honestly not a bad thing. I think a lot of the criticism that people drop on the changing nature of BMT is simply “everything was better in the past” syndrome and not the result of honest examination. Because I can tell you in explicit detail how classroom work benefits new Airmen, but I have a hard time coming up with how suckfest PT smoke sessions at the Academy made me better at anything other than push-ups. 

Thoughts on USAF handgun training

 

Courtesy Air Force Times
 
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been out of pocket for a while attending Air Force Basic Military Training. I’m now at the Security Forces Academy training for my AFSC to get my three level. Security Forces was my first choice in the AF Reserves, for quite a few reasons. Unlike other service’s military police, Security Forces (often referred to as Defenders) have a large role outside of the law enforcement side of the house. In fact, it was during my lifetime that Security Police and Security Forces were combined into a single AFSC that accomplished both missions. Obviously, most people are familiar with the LE mission, however the “security” side of the house covers everything from gate guard at home station to outside the wire SAM footprint patrols. Outside of the AF’s special operators and battlefield airmen, it is the AFSC most oriented towards small unit ground combat. That alone attracted me to the job, along with the opportunity to learn skills that are directly applicable to my civilian work in the firearms industry. Plus, you get a cool hat. 

The point of all this backstory is to get us here – Security Force Airmen are required to qualify on multiple weapons platforms at the Academy: the M9, M4 Carbine, M240, M249, and M203 grenade launcher. Additional weapons such as M2s are covered at later dates if an Airman’s duty station requires it. Today I want to make some quick observations about the handgun program itself. In brief, the handgun qualification is 90 rounds, 45 for practice and 45 for score. It’s fired at 7, 15, and 25 meters. To qualify, an airman had to get 35/45 hits on what is about a B27-sized target. To qualify as an Expert Marksman, you have to get at least 41 on the paper, with 6 in the six inch head box and 25 in the 10 inch body-circle. All strings are timed, and with the exception of the 25 yard string, all strings are two body shots and one head shot. And before you can ask, yes I qualified as expert. A perfect score would be 45 on paper, 13 heads, and 32 body hits. I got 45/12/32. I’m a little bitter about missing that head shot to be honest. 

Some observations from the text itself: the AF on paper teachers the Weaver stance, however all the CATM instructors taught a variant of modern isoceles instead. What was most interesting is that the Air Force teaches slide lock reloads instead of pulling the slide. This was refreshing, and to be honest a little bit surprising as I’d expected to hear some nonsense about “gross motor skills” during our handgun class. Instead it was simply presented as “bad magazine out, happy magazine in, press slide lock and resume slaying bodies.”

Equally refreshing and surprising is how Defenders are instructed to carry our pistols. 

 

We’re issued Safariland SLS holsters, which are pretty much the best retention holster on the market. At the SF Academy, we’re taught that the correct carry condition for the M9 is chamber loaded, decocked and (wait for it) safety off. The gun is in DA mode and ready to fire in the holster, exactly as I or any competent self-defense instructor would recommend carrying a DA/SA auto like the M9. I was quite pleased to see these common sense TTPs included in the base-level training that every SF apprentice gets. 

The only real complaint I had about the course was that my M9 was in desperate need of a new recoil spring, as it had a tendency to lock the slide open every shot with certain magazines. Luckily, the time limits were generous enough that I could still fire the string accurately with time to spare, even if I had to smack the magazine every shot. 

We finish up our M4 training next week, so I’ll have some thoughts on that as well once we wrap up. So far we’ve hardly begun training, but I can already tell I’m going to enjoy this course. What’s not to like about guns, PT, combatives, and arresting people?