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Arming the fight

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Staff Sgt. Tracy Howard, NCO in charge of the 55th Security Forces armory, displays a 30-round magazine and explains how the magazine is utilized to eight students from St. Mary's High School (Kansas) in the armory here March 24. The students visited the armory as part of a base tour. U.S. Air Force Photo by Jeff W. Gates

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Staff Sgt. Tracy Howard, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 55th Security Forces armory, displays a 30-round magazine and explains how the magazine is utilized to eight students from St. Mary's High School (Kansas) in Offutt Air Force Base armory March 24. The students visited the armory as part of a base tour. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jeff W. Gates)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Staff Sgt. Tracy Howard, NCO in charge of the 55th Security Forces Squadron armory, shows eight students from St. Mary?s High School (Kansas) an M-870 shotgun and explains how security forces Airmen use it inside the armory here March 24. The students visited the armory as part of a base tour. U.S. Air Force Photo by Jeff W. Gates

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Staff Sgt. Tracy Howard, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 55th Security Forces Squadron armory at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., shows eight students from St. Mary?s High School (Kansas) an M-870 shotgun and explains how security forces Airmen use it inside the armory here March 24. The students visited the armory as part of a base tour. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jeff W. Gates)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Staff Sgt. Tracy Howard, NCO in charge of the 55th Security Forces Squadron armory, takes a question from a St. Mary's High School student inside the armory here March 24. Eight students from St. Mary's High School in Kansas visited the armory as part of a base tour. U.S. Air Force Photo by Jeff W. Gates

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Staff Sgt. Tracy Howard, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 55th Security Forces Squadron armory, takes a question from a St. Mary's High School student inside the armory at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., March 24. Eight students from St. Mary's High School in Kansas visited the armory as part of a base tour. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jeff W. Gates)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Behind a steel door is an Airman, who is armed with a nine-millimeter Beretta pistol and is responsible for more than 1,000 weapons from batons to machine guns.

He is one of eight Airmen assigned to work in the 55th Security Forces Squadron's armory here, a facility that houses nearly $1 million in weapons and associated equipment.

The armory also houses privately owned weapons for Airmen who live in the dormitories, billeting or temporary lodging facilities. The facility can accommodate more than 70 privately owned firearms.

Airmen who work in the 55th SFS armory have a great deal of responsibility, said Staff Sgt. Tracy Howard, NCO in charge of the armory.

The armorers are responsible for securing the armory's assets, accounting for all weapons, ammunition and equipment, as well as arming both security forces Airmen and contract security guards, Sergeant Howard said.

The job requires detail orientated Airmen, because Sergeant Howard stressed, "one small mistake is huge."

On any given day, security forces armorers can arm more than 120 people with a myriad of weapons from pistols to grenade launchers.

All of this weaponry is issued to ensure the safety of Team Offutt, Sergeant Howard said.

Senior Airman Kyle M. Denniston, a 55th SFS armorer, said he enjoys his job.

"I love being an armorer," he said.

As an armorer, he gets hands-on experience with numerous weapons and learns more about the nomenclature, or characteristics, of each weapon than most Airmen.

His 12-hour day starts early in the morning when he arrives at the SFS armory for his shift. After conducting a joint inventory with the off-going armorer, he prepares to issue dozens of weapons and pieces of equipment to the Airmen charged with securing Offutt.

"The job is very important," Airman Denniston said.

"Each duty day we receive an authority to bear firearms roster that's signed by our commander, which changes daily and averages about 20 pages (in length)," he said.

Utilizing this roster, Airman Denniston verifies each person's weapons certifications prior to issuing any firearms or non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray or asp batons.

Along with maintaining accountability of all weapons and equipment, Airman Denniston and his fellow armorers are also responsible for ensuring all flight assigned weapons are cleaned twice a month.

"We inspect all weapons for cleanliness prior to turn in," said Airman 1st Class Justin Sanders, a 55th SFS armorer. "We don't accept any weapon that isn't properly cleaned."

Airman Sanders arrived at Offutt in February and almost immediately applied to become an armorer, a position he held at his last assignment at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

He said he's thrilled to once again have the opportunity to work inside a security forces armory.

Sergeant Howard said she appreciates all the hard work her armorers put in every day.

They account for every weapon, every round of ammunition and associated equipment like radios and night vision goggles, she said. "They do an awesome job."

Because her Airmen do such great work, Sergeant Howard can focus on several additional duties that come with the NCOIC position.

"As the NCOIC," Sergeant Howard said, "I'm in charge of the explosive safety and weapons safety programs, radio accounts and the Elite Guard armory."

When it comes to explosive safety, Sergeant Howard is responsible for creating tests and lesson plans so her Airmen are properly trained to handle and arm up with the M203 grenade launcher, a weapon that fires a 40-millimeter high explosive round.

As the weapons safety manager, she ensures armory doors are properly marked with the appropriate classification of explosive hazard so first responders will know what type of hazards they may face in case of a fire. She also ensures ammunition is marked in a similar manner and that signs are posted above each clearing barrel displaying the proper clearing procedures for each weapon.

Serving as the 55th SFS armory NCOIC has been a great experience, Sergeant Howard said.

"I like being the NCOIC; it opens me up to many things I didn't know about," she said. "There are certain things I have to do monthly, semiannually and annually, I have a lot of paperwork (to do) but it all goes hand in hand."

Airmen interested in becoming certified armorers must complete a minimum of 30 days of on-the-job training. Once training is complete, each Airman must pass a five part job knowledge test including verbal and written examinations, as well as a practical portion and a weapons test.

All applicants must also be knowledgeable of how to clear every weapon and qualified on the M4 rifle and M9 pistol.

The hard work and dedication of the 55th SFS armorers, is just one example why the unit was named Air Combat Command's best large security forces unit for 2010.