• Members of the 579th Engineer Detachment inspect a vehicle filled with shots from a Beretta 92F, AK-47, M4 carbine, and a shotgun, during firearms training.

    Team inspects bullet-filled vehicle

    Members of the 579th Engineer Detachment inspect a vehicle filled with shots from a Beretta 92F, AK-47, M4 carbine, and a shotgun, during firearms training.

  • Ocie Williams, left, and Alfonso Santa shoot it out in a friendly competition.

    New-fashioned shootout

    Ocie Williams, left, and Alfonso Santa shoot it out in a friendly competition.

  • Alfonso Santa takes aim with a practice handgun before going out to the range to shoot real weapons.

    Practice aiming

    Alfonso Santa takes aim with a practice handgun before going out to the range to shoot real weapons.

<b>WINCHESTER, Va.</b> - As an architect, Alfonso Santa is used to sketching plans on paper, so his teammates might forgive him if drawing a weapon from his holster looked a bit awkward.

Little did they know, including perhaps even Santa himself, that he was a natural born gunslinger. He and his colleagues from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 579th Engineer Detachment (Forward Engineer Support Team - Main) from Vicksburg, Miss., took firearms training as part of their weeklong Army Individual Training Awareness Class.

On the cold, wet, January day, the training began with weapons familiarization and shooting techniques in the classroom. The team learned on the Beretta 92F handgun most of the day, and also shooting the AK-47, M4 carbine, and a shotgun.

"About three months ago, I took classes for a concealed weapons permit and shot a .22-long rifle," Santa said. "But this is the first time where the instructors went step-by-step with you with a weapon very clearly: explained the situations, posture and everything. The concealed weapons class basically explained to you the law and what you can do with the weapon."

Santa got the hang of things quickly.

"I was very comfortable because the instructor was very thorough," he said.

After the instructors provided the formal training, Santa was outfitted with protective eyewear and headphones to protect him on the firing range.

He then went through exercises on how to shoot his weapon as he pivoted to the left, spun to the right, and hid behind a wall as one would see in the movies.

"The guy actually explained to me how to stand, balance your weight, how to shoot with the weapon, and he even explained the sights," Santa said. "He made it easy. Once you have that little focus in your mind, it just triggered real smooth with no problems."

Despite the intense training, Command Sgt. Major Harry Collins, the FEST-M command sergeant major, points out that the FEST-M members may never need to pick up a weapon overseas.

"It's up to the theater commander whether you can carry it or not once we deploy," he said.

But everything depends on the situation, Collins continued.

"We went to the training yesterday because you have to be familiar with the weapons in case of an emergency situation where you have to be able to use the weapon," he said. "If a situation ever does arise, I'm very confident in the civilians' skill level after seeing the training. Everybody will be able to pick up a weapon if they need to and be able to defend themselves or defend their battle buddy."

After hours of formal instruction and shooting at paper targets, the FEST-M had some fun with a few shooting competitions. They competed one-on-one to see who could knock down plates metal plates the fastest.

With seven plates to shoot, Santa needed only 10 rounds of ammunition to knock them all down.

"After you started doing the first one, you heard the clang," he said. "In your mind it was one after another that went in my favor."

Santa knows that he still needs more training to consider himself an expert marksman, but now feels comfortable if he ever needs to use a weapon.

"This is a unique opportunity," he said. "The weapons training is just in case something happens. I hope in my mind and my heart that I don't have to squeeze a trigger because if you do then you have to shoot it. You need to have the confidence to shoot somebody.

"We're there (overseas) to provide a service, help build a country, but in my mind, I got to be sure to use that weapon. The moment you pull it, you can't stop. Cause if you don't, something's going to happen to you or to someone on your team. Another part of my mind I have is the thought that I hope we don't come to that situation."

When asked how many other architects he knows that may be placed in the same situation as him, he said, "Probably none."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16