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The Green Beret Experience

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Luke Kitterman
  • 27th SOW Public Affairs

I squeezed… I squeezed again… Nothing. I pulled on the trigger once more hoping for a different result but the ‘third time’s a charm’ method didn’t work for me. I ejected the magazine from my M4 knowing full well the 30-round clip couldn’t be empty as I had only popped off a few shots before my failure to fire happened. My eyes peered into the chamber of the weapon spotting the culprit responsible for the untimely jam: an unfired round wedged at an angle blocking access to the barrel. A quick shake of the weapon dislodged the aluminum-cased bullet, clanging around a bit before falling to the dirt. I put my magazine back in, slapped the bolt forward and squeezed the trigger. Success! Bullets started flying again, this time away from me, as I was able to return fire providing cover for my team.

This all happened in a span of 8-9 seconds.  And although the bullets weren’t lethal, I still felt a sense of realism from the high-stress situation. Well, high stress for me: an Airman whose entire familiarity with a rifle just a week prior to this experience included the single day shooting at basic training. That was it. No hunting expeditions growing up. No family veterans with a couple rifles in the shed.

So how does one with little to no experience go from asking how to correctly load a weapon to knowing the ins and outs of it in a short amount of time? Insert the Army Green Berets, three of them, to train not only me but 17 other Airmen during a 5-day crash course into their world. Strengthening our Air Force joint leaders begins with education and training and the Green Beret Experiences was my crash course into a career field I had not worked with before. 

Day 1: My personal record of 48 bullets fired in one day (the one day at basic training) was completely obliterated during the first day of the Green Beret Experience. The course leaders took us out to a shooting range just a short drive away from base where they issued us an M4, our personal one for the week. As each Airman figured out where on the weapon was the best place to put a piece of duct tape containing our names, the Berets opened up what seemed to be an endless supply of ammunition boxes.

They went over safety procedures on how to properly clear the weapon and for those who still had questions, like myself, one of the Berets personally helped us out to make sure we felt comfortable while the other two could keep the class going with the people more accustomed to rifles. The instructor to participant ratio was perfect to get one-on-one training.

Round after round, magazine after magazine, we kept shooting at a target 30 meters away until our sights were zeroed in. Based on where we were hitting the target, the Berets gave advice on which direction to adjust our sights in. The miniscule changes made a world of difference.

Once our weapons were sighted correctly, we went through a series of different shooting exercises including laying on the ground, standing, moving while shooting, close range, long-range and multiple targets. Everyone even got to shoot 200 rounds through the fully automatic M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. That was truly an experience I hope everyone gets to have in their life. I’ve never driven a really expensive sports car but I imagine the feeling I got when firing the SAW is similar to that.

Day 2: So far, all I have discussed is guns, guns, guns. So let’s continue with that theme. Except this time, I’m talking about guns in the air. All of us were are huddled on top on a tower at Melrose Air Force Range with an AC-130W circling overhead. In front of us, a vast field sprinkled with rusted tanks and destroyed vehicles. This was the C-130’s version of a target sheet. The Berets brought with them one of those huge radios, the one with the antenna as long as a baseball bat. We were going to call in airstrikes. Each person picked out a different target in the field. When it was their turn to get on the radio, they used compass degrees, distance estimations and description techniques learned from the Berets to tell the gunship’s crew which target to fire at.

The precision and force was incredible to watch. At 10,000 ft., the crew could distinguish between two targets that might only be a few feet apart. It’s no wonder the AC-130 is a best friend to Special Forces in a real situations where that kind of support is needed.

Day 3: Alright, a break from guns. But let’s keep the aircraft and add some parachutes. No, we didn’t get to jump out of a plane. I think there would be a few more pieces of paper to sign for that to happen. However, we did learn and participate in the process of how Special Forces receive needed supplies in austere locations down range. As a team, we built our own package to be air dropped. We learned the different types of parachutes and each ones capabilities depending on what needed to be dropped.

Once our package was rigged up, it loaded on an aircraft and we headed back out to MAFR. We set up a giant “H” in the middle of the field using bright neon pink and orange material. That would be the target drop zone for the aircraft. We gave ourselves some distance from the target and looked out for the incoming bird. With the back open, the MC-130J got closer and closer until we saw our package zoom out of the aircraft at high speed. The chute opened up and it floated down at a quick pace, hitting the ground only a few dozen feet from the target. A perfect drop.

Day 4: The big day everyone was waiting for. Our mission: rescue a captured pilot in the hands of Opposition Forces. We spent the entire morning planning it out; what direction we would want to come in from, the responsibilities of each team, back up plans and back up plans to the back up plans. And then we had back up plans for those.

Once everyone knew their assignment, we geared up in protection and loaded our magazine clips with Ultimate Training Munition rounds; a more accurate version of the paintball. Our attitude was that we would bring new meaning to the phrase “swapping paint” with the enemy.

We separated into three teams, one Beret driving each squad in a desert-sand colored Humvee. We rolled up to the simulated city at MAFR where the enemy was waiting for us. Two of the teams were responsible for kicking in doors and finding the hostage inside of buildings. My team was the “weapons squad” providing cover from outside. This is when my infamous weapon jam occurred. The one that I fixed and then threw a ‘proud-of-myself’ moment at the beginning of this commentary. Yeah that one.

Day 5: The last day. A Friday. A perfect day to clean the weapons we had used all week and have a barbecue. Each person was responsible for breaking down their weapon into every single part and giving it a good scrub. With good music playing and the smell of brats cooking on the grill outside, we scoured our weapons inside out while reliving some of the close calls we had during our rescue mission with each other.

The atmosphere was a happy one as I think every appreciated the entire week-long experience. All thanks to the Green Berets in charge. They put together an exciting schedule to get Airmen, most of us who normally spend our time at a desk, out and about and a small glimpse into support they provide our country. Now they are giving back and rewarding us with this experience as joint training instructors. Learning their skills and objectives was one thing, but getting to work alongside another branch, especially these guys, takes the cake.