Subscribe

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Army Spc. Daniel Creekmore stood ready.

“Prepare for NBC fire. Gas, gas, gas!”

On went the fully-encapsulated face mask and rubber gloves. Up went Creekmore’s M-16 rifle.

Steady, aim, fire.

In seconds, the cardboard body cut-out crowned with a photocopy of Osama bin Laden’s face was riddled with bullet holes.

Creekmore told his instructor the mask “was getting in the way” but he ripped enough bullets in the chest cavity area to qualify as a “sharpshooter” — not perfect but close.

As war looms, Yokota’s Combat Arms Firing Range echoes with gunfire almost constantly five days a week.

The Kanto Plain’s only indoor shooting range is used by about 3,500 military members annually, said Staff Sgt. Scott A. Binnie, noncommissioned officer in charge of combat arms, 374th Security Forces Squadron.

This includes Yokota airmen, Camp Zama soldiers, sailors from Atsugi Naval Air Facility and Yokosuka Naval Base and the Marines who stand guard at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

With more people deploying as part of Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotations since Sept. 11, 2001, training at the range has increased by about 40 percent, Binnie said.

“After Sept. 11, I think they trained between 500 and 700 people in about four months,” he said. “It was on a scale we hadn’t anticipated.”

In the Air Force, personnel who train at the range twice a year include Security Forces, the Office of Special Investigations and anyone armed on a daily basis.

Arms training is less frequent for others: every 15 months for those required to carry a weapon on an occasional basis; every 30 months for personnel who arm only in time of war.

The primary weapon for enlisted Air Force members is the M-16; for officers, it’s the M-9 handgun.

Usually, “the enlisted are out on the line, and the officers are running the show,” Binnie said. “The M-16 is a longer firing weapon. If you have to use your M-9 in battle, then you’re too close.”

During a recent M-9 training class for Air Force personnel, 19 students spent about two hours in the classroom and an hour on the range. The group included several C-130 pilots, several medics and a public affairs officer.

Under the current operations tempo, combat arms instructors say they feel more pressure to ensure their students can use their weapons confidently.

“You get people going to the desert where things happen,” Binnie said. “What they learn here, yes, it’s a short class, but that’s what’s going to save their life if it comes down to where they have to use that weapon.”

Students also feel the pressure.

“You wouldn’t want to have that on your hands, messing up … and being the cause of someone else losing their life,” said Airman 1st Class Andrea Harris, 23.

Current events “definitely keep us on our toes,” said Capt. Michael Yates, a C-130 pilot. “There’s more of a sense of, ‘Hey, we could be doing this tomorrow for real.’ ”

Staff Sgt. Matthew Young, combat arms instructor, said arms training for Air Force personnel needs to be more frequent.

“In basic training, the Army sleeps with their weapons,” he said.

Young was instructing the M-9 class, which included some majors from the medical group.

“Being in medical, they probably haven’t fired for four or five years,” Young said. “They were not very accurate, they were not very confident with their weapon. I feel we need to train a lot more often than we do.”

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up