161 ARW ADM Airmen - elite in the unit and elite in the ANG
By Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin, 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 11, 2015
PHOENIX SKY HARBOR AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE -- All jobs in the Air Force require discipline, concentration and attention to detail; however, when you are part of an Advanced Designated Marksman Team, discipline, concentration and attention to detail is taken to a whole new level.
Airmen assigned as part of an ADMT (commonly referred to as "snipers") deliver long-range direct fire out to 600 meters and provide enhanced situational awareness through observation and reporting in peacetime and contingency operations.
The 161st Air Refueling Wing Security Forces Squadron is one of only eight units of the more than 100 Air National Guard units which currently have trained/qualified advanced designated marksmen.
"Having ADMs in the squadron provided our airmen with a new level to strive towards," said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Burton, 161 SFS manager. "It's an elite and exciting position and it's tasking the Airmen are motivated to earn."
Staff Sgt. Robert Ehle, 161 SFS flight chief and newly-graduated ADM agreed, "This is always something I've wanted to do and have been interested in."
Senior Airman Kyle Drzewiecki said he had also always wanted to be a sniper.
"You see movies and think, 'Oh! That looks cool!', but then you learn about what the job actually is and realize there is a lot of hard work involved and a lot of long hours of doing nothing but staring down a glass," he said. "Like everything, it's more glorified in movies."
Ehle and Drzewiecki said they truly learned what being an advanced designated marksman is all about while completing the ADM course.
To become a certified Air Force advanced designated marksman, Airmen must attend the ADM course at Ft. Bliss, El Paso, Texas. The 11-day course familiarizes Airmen with the M24 weapon system and teaches target detection, along with distance and windage estimation.
"The hardest part of the school is the really long days," said Ehle. "It's out in the desert, there's no shade and it's about 110 degrees and you are out there for more than eight hours."
Students begin the day by "rucking" out to the range wearing all of their body armor and carrying all of their gear, which they remain wearing throughout their training day.
"It's physically draining, yet you are expected to hit precision shots," said Ehle.
Drzewiecki agreed; "You're lying on the ground for hours and then crawling through rocks, silt and thorns; however, it can mentally beat you up before it physically beats you up."
"The hardest part of being an ADM can be the mental aspect," said Drzewiecki. "You start planning the shot in your mind, which gets your heart rate up and then you've got to take the shot; you've got to be mentally strong and calm yourself down. You can't get flustered easily."
Not only are ADMs expected to hit precise targets under mental and physical stress, they are also required to function as a spotter under the same conditions - they are made to be interchangeable as both the shooter and the spotter.
Ehle said it is the spotter who is responsible for putting the round on the target.
The spotter identifies targets, estimates distance and windage adjustments, and then conveys this data to the sniper.
"If I missed, I need to know where I missed so I can make the adjustment," said Drzewiecki. "You need to build a rapport with your spotter and make sure you are on the same page."
Building a rapport between the shooter and the spotter requires them to train together and train often, said Ehle.
Chief Master Sgt. Emilio Rodriguez, 161 SFS superintendent and ADM trainer, said the fact that ADMs need to train so often is the reason more ANG units do not have qualified ADMTs. He said most units cannot commit to the training requirements that airmen must have to maintain their qualifications and skills.
"It's a very perishable skill," he said. "If they don't maintain it through their training, they lose it."
He said without the 161 SFS's command staff's support, allowing them to commit so much of the Airmen's time to training, they would not be able to keep Airmen as qualified ADMs.
Rodriguez said there are striking differences between the training time civilians receive and the amount of time Guardsmen are allowed to receive. As a civilian, Rodriguez, trains and works with the local Prescott Valley police department's SWAT team.
"We shoot every Wednesday in the police department," said Rodriguez. "I shoot more and do more training as a civilian than we do here [at the 161 ARW]."
He said the fact that the 161 ADM Airmen are able to maintain their skills with so little time to train speaks a lot to their commitment and drive.
"They are maintaining their qualifications and their skills with just two days a month of training and they are doing it really well," said Rodriguez. "Plus, being an ADM is a secondary job here at the [161 ARW]. It's not like they can spend all their time shooting. Guardsmen are expected to fulfill multiple roles. [The ADM Airmen] are motivated and they want to do the job."
The new ADM graduates said they are grateful for the invaluable time and knowledge of Rodriguez, who has nearly 35 years of both military and civilian experience, from being a Marine Corps scout sniper and an Army Special Forces sniper to running the Pittsburg SWAT team. "You can never know enough and you can never get enough training," said Ehle. "We will never know as much as [Rodriguez] has forgotten."
"You train and train and train for that one moment and some people are never ready", said Rodriguez. "Once you pull the trigger you can't bring that bullet back."
Tech. Sgt. Courtney Nicole Enos, 161 ARW Public Affairs, contributed to this story