In the "old days" of Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT), recruits didn't even get to see a weapon until they went to the firing range. Then, they got to spend a couple of hours learning how to take the M-16 rifle apart, clean it, put it back together, and then a few more hours qualifying by actually firing the weapon. Sometime in 2003 or 2004, Air Force basic recruits were given "rubber duckies," (a rubber M-16) to use during certain portions of basic training.
Rubber Duckies are no more. Beginning in November 2005, recruits began receiving an M-16 replica on the first day of the first week of training (after "zero week"). The replica is exactly like the M-16 they will be expected to use in combat, except it won't fire. The replica is the same size, same weight, and has the exact same parts. The rifle-replica can be stripped and cleaned just like the real thing. It's an exact same replica, down to the small springs. To avoid confusing the replica with the real thing, the stocks on the replicas are painted blue.
After your "weapon" is issued you'll carry it with you throughout the remainder of basic training. You'll be required to treat this, just as if it were a loaded weapon, at all times. So, why doesn't the Air Force use real M-16s (other than on the firing range) in Air Force Basic? It's because real M-16s are a high-priority theft threat, and Air Force regulations require M-16s to be guarded by an armed guard, anytime they are outside of an alarmed armory.
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