RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
After being closed for two years, the Randolph firing range reopens with improvements for safety and function.
The 902nd Security Forces Squadron does all the live fire training, including pre-deployment qualifications, in the facility tucked in an unassuming pale building in the south west corner of the base. A flagpole in front of the building flies a red flag when the range is "hot," or in use.
"Anybody who deploys comes through here," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Collins, 902nd Security Forces Squadron in reference to weapons training and qualification, which includes classroom instruction in a building closer to the northern end of the base, addition to live fire training. "They get to load and do all the different positions."
The firing range itself was useable, but the building around it was not. Although the roof did not completely cover the entire range, the facility had a ventilation problem. After a few classes of shooting, a cloud of smoke would accumulate and stay there.
We had "high exposure to copper fumes from gun smoke," Sergeant Collins said. "It got to be a health concern."
One solution was to divide the classes down into smaller groups. The students weren't affected by the smoke since they weren't in the building long. However, the instructors were in there much longer.
"We had to break the classes into two days," Sergeant Collins said.
The smaller classes didn't help much since the facility didn't always ventilate well.
Sergeant Collins said depending on which way the wind was blowing; the smoke would either clear out quickly or be blown into their faces. Sometimes it would stagnate and float there all day.
Two years ago, a decision was made to close the facility temporarily to fix the problem.
During the renovations when the firing range was closed, the 902nd SFS had to bus trainees to Lackland to use the firing ranges there, while holding the classroom portion of the training at Randolph.
Sergeant Collins said they started firing in the range Nov. 1 and can use the range with none of the prior limitations.
"It cuts down on the headaches," he said of keeping the training on Randolph.
The main elements of the renovation were extending the roof to cover the formerly exposed areas and the robust air circulation system to keep the facility ventilated.
The facility also has new lighting, targets and sound deadening. The lighting and targets are operated by various panels and controls in a slightly elevated booth to the left of the firing line.
"They added a roof, a brand new lighting system and a computer-aided target system," Sergeant Collins said.
"The air quality is good," he said. "We can fire with as many students as we want."
He said when they fired that first round, the smoke seemed to vanish and "the air was moving instead of just staying still."
A combination of exhaust fans and vents above the firing line and fans and vents above the targets keep the air clean and well within safe levels.
Attached to the new roof over the concrete-floored firing range are wood and steel baffles, hanging at about a 30 degree angle and suspended by a forest of chains. The baffles are steel plates with plywood attached to them. Dark charcoal gray sound-insulating foam is attached to the plywood. If one were to stand on the firing line, one only sees the dark gray foam on the ceiling and also the walls.
It's the same material common in music recording studios and concert halls to deaden echo and certain acoustic properties of a room. Standing in the center of the shooting range when it's not in use is very quiet. The room is dead in an audio sense.
The areas above the wood and steel are series of red and white incandescent spotlights, aimed toward the targets. They can brightly illuminate the range or be dimmed for certain effects, or totally dark. The red lights are used to train with night vision goggles.
Sergeant Collins said the red lights allow the instructors to see what the students are doing without affecting the NVG.
The targets can rotate in different ways for certain exercises and training, in addition to other targets which move side to side.
"The cops can shoot at something moving," he said of the targeting system."They can engage."
"Everything we're doing isn't necessarily for the base populous," he said of the more advanced features of the facility, which will mainly be used to train security forces and the Office of Special Investigations.
Sergeant Collins said for the Randolph Airmen who are qualifying or learning "our job is to teach the basics," but for security forces, "the sky's the limit."