Airmen receive countersniper training before deployment
By Maj. Deanna Bague, Fort Bliss Public Affairs
/ Published February 03, 2009
MCGREGOR RANGE, N.M -- Airmen from several security forces squadrons throughout the country who are currently mobilized at Fort Bliss underwent training Thursday to learn how to mitigate sniper threats.
The training is conducted by members of the 204th Security Forces Squadron, which is based at Biggs Army Airfield, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Waldemara Suarez, a training noncommissioned officer with the unit. Suarez said Airmen made the proactive move to implement the instruction as a result of an incident that occurred in 2006 where an Airman was killed by a sniper during a combat patrol in Baghdad.
Suarez is a close-precision engagement sharpshooter, which is the Air Force's version of a sniper. During the timeframe when the Airman was attacked, Suarez said the Air Force security forces members did not have the tactics they now have in place to diminish sniper threats.
"Our unit, the 204th Security Forces Squadron, took it upon ourselves to create something during combat readiness training to provide Air Force assets and members who are going downrange something to mitigate the [sniper] threat," said Suarez.
The unconventional warfare in theater has led to the Air Force performing more Army-type missions, said Suarez. As time progresses, the Air Force is able to have more capabilities like the Army joint-force missions, training grounds and tactics to show deploying forces how to counteract enemy threats.
During the training, Airmen learned what snipers actually do and how easy it is for them to set up using just the basic elements of their surrounding environment. Advancing in squad formations, members are accompanied by a 204th cadre instructor who is also an Air Force sharpshooter.
The squads made their own decisions on how to move and advance to the next building to clear and search it. While on the mock patrol-and-search mission, they had to avoid getting hit by a sniper. The cadre member accompanying the squad was only there to ensure that when the sniper called out a shot, he identified the squad member he "took out," said Suarez.
Senior Airman Chris Lentz, from 88th Security Forces Squadron assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said the realism of the countersniper training set in when his squad experienced their first mock casualty.
"Our heavy gunner got hit in the head," said Lentz. "He was killed in action. It was kind of like, 'Oh, crap!' It was an eye-opener."
The mock sniper in the exercise used blank ammunition so the squad members could hear the shot or see the muzzle flash and attempt to locate the enemy using the tactics they were taught. Once the squad found the sniper, the exercise ended and an after-action report took place.