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Practice makes precision

PEORIA, Ill. --

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark J. Pickerill, a combat arms instructor with the 182nd Security Forces Squadron, demonstrates a proper sight alignment on an M9 pistol in Peoria, Ill., Feb. 7, 2015. Combat arms instructors are subject matter experts who lead Air Force personnel weapons training and qualification. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released)

There are many skillsets that could prevent a casualty, but one taught to every Airman in basic military training is the ability to fire a weapon and to fire it accurately.

Whether it be the M9 pistol or the M16 rifle, any Airman could be put into a situation in which their precision could make the difference between life and death.

There are many fundamentals to shooting, but three specific ones are aligning the front and rear sights, control of breathing, and control of the trigger pull. Tech. Sgt. Mark Pickerill, a combat arms instructor with the 182nd Security Forces Squadron, teaches these fundamentals in his weapons qualification courses.

Perhaps the most basic concept is the use of the front and rear sights. Lining up the weapon's sights can keep a bullet from traveling too far left, right, up or down. But how do you do it?

"You align the front and rear sights of the weapon by holding it steady in a good position where you're comfortable," said Pickerill. "You basically want your front sight post in the middle of the rear sight."

While breathing may be a normal bodily function you do not think twice about, a small inconsistency can also make a difference in the overall accuracy of the shot.

"You make sure you take your normal respiratory pause," Pickerill said. "If you're going to hold (your breath), hold it every time you fire it. If you're going to let it out, let it out every time you fire it. Just follow the same respiratory pause you have every time."

Perhaps even more minuscule, even the way you squeeze the trigger can change the direction of the bullet leaving the gun barrel.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark J. Pickerill, a combat arms instructor with the 182nd Security Forces Squadron, demonstrates the proper shooting fundamentals of the M9 pistol in Peoria, Ill., Feb. 7, 2015. Combat arms instructors are subject matter experts who lead Air Force personnel weapons training and qualification. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released) An M9 pistol rests in a holder at the 182nd Security Forces Squadron combat arms classroom in Peoria, Ill., Feb. 7, 2015. Combat arms instructors are subject matter experts who lead Air Force personnel weapons training and qualification. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released) U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark J. Pickerill, a combat arms instructor with the 182nd Security Forces Squadron, demonstrates the proper technique for pulling an M9 pistol trigger in Peoria, Ill., Feb. 7, 2015. Combat arms instructors are subject matter experts who lead Air Force personnel weapons training and qualification. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released)


Staff Sgt. William Patrick, also a combat arms instructor with the 182nd Security Forces Squadron, teaches the delicacy of trigger pull in his qualification classes before sending Airmen to the range.

"This is very important. You're going to want to use the fingerprint portion of your trigger finger here - your index finger," Patrick said. "When you do that, you're going to pull slow and steady - slow and continuously - until the weapon fires. The weapon should surprise you when it goes off."

Most Airmen may not specialize in battlefield combat. However, when Patrick believes it is vital for every Airman to understand how to shoot correctly.

"A good reason to come to this class ready to listen and prepared and learn how to fire this weapon is the person sitting next to you - left and right - one day may rely on you," he said. "You may be able to save their life by using this weapon. If you don't pay attention and you don't get the fundamentals of firing, you could miss your target and you could've prevented a casualty. So, anything's possible. You need to pay attention."