Category Archives: Safety

Small News Items on Army Small Arms

There’s a bunch of little news bits going around the Army about maintenance issues and problems. We’ll cover them from most to least serious:

Item: Somebody Blew It

Beretta_M9_FAIL

File photo of failed M9 slide. Not the mishap firearm.

In late 2015, a very high (but unknown) round count M9 pistol had a catastrophic failure of the slide. With the Army scrimping on O&M money, especially on the ripe-for-replacement Beretta handgun, failures are not unusual and usually turn out to be fatigue failures from parts that have been carelessly used long past their service life. So was this one. The pistol was older than the soldier shooting it, and, as it turned out, someone, somewhere had pencil-whipped the maintenance records.

Slides fail every week, somewhere in an Army with hundreds of thousands of pistols that were almost all bought 30 years ago. But what happened next wasn’t supposed to happen. When the pistol slide failed at the slide’s weakest point, the locking-block cuts, the rear half of the slide kept on motoring, striking the GI in the cheek and upper jaw area and causing non-life-threatening injuries.

The investigation determined that a mandatory maintenance work order, MWO 9-1005-317–30-10-1, issued twenty-seven years ago in March, 1989, had never been complied with. They couldn’t track where the pistol was at the time it was not repaired; Army units and activities with M9s had until June, 1993 to comply.

Somebody reported that his M9s were in compliance, when they weren’t. This is what you get when a zero-defects, up-or-out culture undermines integrity while at the same time penny-pinching undermines maintenance. The soldier who drew that defective M9, and every soldier that’s been drawing and shooting it since 1989, is damned lucky to be alive. (Fortunately, when a slide fails on most pistols (or a bolt on a Mauser C96, etc.), gravity usually  ensures that the part hits below the eye, on cheek, jaw, chest or shoulder).

Meanwhile, the Army sent an urgent Safety-of-Use message mandating an Army-wide inspection of all M9s for completion of the MWO. Since the resources for completing the MWO no longer exist, the remedial action is to immediately deadline and turn in the offending M9 and draw a replacement.

How many units pencil-whipped their response to that ALARACT message?

Item: Safety? Sometimes it’s Evolution in Action

FOOM!Word is, some genius removed himself from the breeding population of Homo sapiens in 2014 by “improvising” M203 ammo (may have been 320) by cutting the links off of (higher-pressure) Mk19 belted ammo. The links were actually designed so they couldn’t snap off by hand, to prevent that.

Can we get a “FOOM!” from the assembled multitudes?

And oh, yeah, trying to belt up 203 ammo and fire it in an Mk 19 leads to FOOM also, of a different variety — out of battery ignition. Another opportunity for poka-yoke missed.

Item: Ambi Selectors Reaching Troops.. slowly

The Army has finally woken up to two facts:

  1. About 10% of the troops are left-handed, and
  2. There are lots of good ambi selectors available.

So the Army chose one and put it into the pipeline. So far so good, right? Not entirely. The selectors are only being replaced when the weapons are overhauled. And they don’t fit in the M12 racks many units still have. Work around is to cut a notch in the rack with a torch, or with a file and plenty of time, or to bend the part of the rack that hits the right-side selector out of shape so that the selector clears the rack.

Also, the slow migration of the ambi selectors means not all M4/M16 weapons in any given unit have them. Why don’t they just push the parts down to the unit armorers? Three reasons:

  1. The big one: they’re afraid of armorers stealing parts if they take rifles apart
  2. It doesn’t fit the concept of echeloned maintenance, even though that’s being streamlined;
  3. They don’t trust the armorers let alone the Joes, not to botch the installation.

On top of that, of course, it’s not penny wise and pound foolish in the great Army tradition.

Item: New Stuff Coming in, Old Stuff Going Out

A number of new arms are reaching the troops, and old arms are going away.  We’ll have more about that in the future, especially the M2A1 and the coming “rationalization” of an explosion of shotguns and sniper rifles. We just broke it out of this post to keep the length manageable.

ITEM: MG Maintenance Problems = Operator Headspace & Timing

m249-PIPThe biggest single problem the Army has with the current pair of machine guns (M240 and M249) is burned out barrels. That’s caused by not changing barrels, either in combat, or especially on the range. Often, units go out without the spare barrel so it’s not like they gave themselves any option.  (The M2 version of this is going out with only one set of gages for the M2s. The gages are not required for the M2A1). The Army is falling back into the peacetime mindset of “leave it in the arms room and we can’t lose it.” True enough, we’ll just destroy the one we take out instead.

The fact is, and it’s a fact widely unknown to GIs, MGs have rate-of-sustained-fire limitations that are lower than they think. (Remember the MGs that failed at Wanat? They were being operated well outside their designed, tested envelope).

The M249 should never be fired more than 200 rounds rapid fire from a cold barrel. Then, change to a cold barrel, repeat. The Army being the Army, there are geniuses who think that they can burn a couple belts in a few seconds, change barrels, burn a couple belts in a couple more seconds, then put the original honkin’ hot barrel back in and burn — you get the idea. If you have a situation where you’re going to fire a lot of rounds from a single position, like a predeployment MG familiarization for support troops or a defensive position, you might want to lay in some extra barrels (and yes, Army supply makes that all but impossible, so you have to cannibalize your other MGs).

The M240 is a little more tolerant but should still be changed every 2 to 10 minutes of firing, and even more frequently if the firing tends towards real sustained fire. (The deets are in the FM, which is mostly only available on .pdf these days).

One last thought, your defensive MG positions need to have alternate, displace positions, and you need to displace after sustained fire from one position — unless you want to share your hole with an exploding RPG, ATGM or mortar round. “Where’s your secondary position?” or “-fallback position?” should not produce the Polish Salute.

As ordnance experts have observed ever since World War II, a barrel can be burnt out due to overheat and still mic and even air-gauge good. You only know it’s hosed when it can’t shoot straight.

Well-maintained MGs are more accurate than people seem to give them credit for. Some SOF elements have selective fire M240s and really, really like them. (The standard M240 has no semi setting). They’re capable of surprising accuracy from the tripod.

ITEM: For Want of a Cord, a Career was Lost

GIs frequently lose or throw away the idiot cord on the PVS-14 night vision monocular. If these sights were being properly inspected, which they usually aren’t until a team comes in just before deployment, they’d be tagged NMC (non mission capable) for missing  that stupid cord. You don’t want to be in the bursting radius of a unit CO who’s just been told 85% of his night vision is NMC… especially when that news is delivered in earshot of his rater and senior rater. It’s a bull$#!+ requirement but it’s in the book, and if the Army ever has to choose between following the book or winning the war, the book comes up trumps every time.

You’re not going to stop GIs from losing cords, but replacement cords are in the supply catalog.

Safety: Give the FOOM Plenty of Room

You’ve probably seen, and maybe used, Tannerite, a binary explosive that’s permissible to use in reasonable quantities and with reasonable safety precautions. It’s not a terribly high explosive, but it’s not trivial either: it’s based on ammonium nitrate, like many of the things terrorist bomb-makers like to use, and it’s shock-sensitive, so it can be set off with a hit from a bullet. Those two in combination should make you respect it, at least. And as this video shows, when you add unreasonable quantities (3 lb. packed in a sheet-steel lawnmower) and unreasonable distances (a foot over 14 yards, by police measurement), you’d be lucky to escape, like this young man, David Pressley, did, with a Life Flight ride and a lifelong disability.

Yes, he did blow his leg clean off. (Technically, it was traumatically amputated by shrapnel from the lawnmower. He can now tell people he lost his leg in a lawnmower accident, which is literally true). Tannerite comes with a whole bunch of safety precautions written right on the packaging that lots of guys know too much to bother reading. You know, men and instructions.

Zug.

As the nice news lady points out in the video, one of those advisories says give a standoff of 100 meters (or maybe just yards) per pound of the stuff. (Another tells you not to pack metallic stuff with it). So this yout’ gave the FOOM roughly 260 yards too little room. He’s damned lucky the mower-turned-shrapnel didn’t strike him in the cranium or neck instead of below the knee. He’s damned lucky he didn’t lose both legs. He probably doesn’t feel lucky, right now, with months of rehab ahead just to learn to walk again, but he is.

He was with two friends, who fortunately were not injured seriously in the blast. One of them secured a tourniquet around his stump, and they bundled him into a vehicle and ran him from the track they were on back out to a road, where EMS met them. (More info at USA Today).

To a former professional user of HE, some of the experiments we see people doing on YouTube, and the lackadaisical attitudes that sometimes accompany them, are chilling. We don’t mean to insult or demean Pressley, who’s got enough troubles right now; just to encourage everybody to have fun, but take care while you’re doing it.

The video also mentions that Tannerite blasts are a major cause of neighbor complaints. While more and more people shoot, most people don’t shoot. The majority of them seem to be fully supportive of our rights, so the least we can do is exercise some restraint and good neighborliness as to when and where we FOOM the place up. (Pressley seems to have been well out in the country, in a wooded area. Good for noise control, not so good for medical response. Everything in life is a trade-off, as any engineer can tell you).

The ATF has also been threatening for years to go after people that acquire, store or use “too much” Tannerite without an explosives license.  (ATF in 2012 via AmmoLand. ATF current explanation of the law on binary explosives). You may recall that they went after the people behind the juvenile YouTube channel FPSRussia on that score. But a little over a year ago, ATF also posted a prescient safety advisory from the interagency National Explosives Task Force on their Facebook channel. Had Pressley followed the four “nevers” in that list, he’d still be standing on his own two feet.

FBIAwarenessBothIn response to the Safety Advisory, Dan J. Tanner, the head of Tannerite Sports, told guns.com that “there has never been an injury by shooting Tannerite as recommended on all written and published literature and instructions.” Tannerite’s recommendations are found online, and, likewise, following them would have allowed Pressley to have his YouTube notoriety without having quite so much of it as he has right now.

Finally, it may occur to people that actual terrorists might try to use this stuff. It has certainly occurred to both ATF and FBI explosives investigators (the FBI has usurped a lot of ATF’s former bomb authority in recent years). If you are a retailer, you should probably have the attached joint Tannerite/FBI developed advisory (right) hanging up where your clerks can see it. Hat tip, Herschel Smith at The Captain’s Quarters.

Negligent Discharge in Combat

Time: October, 1973, after the war had shifted to the West;

Place: High in the Golan Heights of Syria;

Players: Narrator, then-Major Avigdor Kahalani of the IDF, acting battalion commander of the unit callsign Courage 77 (Oz 77 in Hebrew). Negligent discharge firer, and victim: his deputy commander, Captain Eitan Kowli.

m1919a4_from_fm23-25

One night, while tired and half asleep, Eitan pressed the trigger of his machine gun by accident. His other hand happened to be over the barrel, and two bullets went though the palm of his hand. As I leaped on his tank, he was gripping his wounded hand, his face twisted up with pain. Within seconds he was bandaged and the bleeding had stopped.

‘That was all I needed,” he said in desperation and anger.

“Could happen to anyone. The important thing is you’re alive.”

“You know, I’ve been afraid all the time that someone would get hurt because of some stupidity, and now it’s happened to me.”

“Eitan, I hope it isn’t serious. You’ll be back in a few days. Meanwhile, you are wounded, and you have to be evacuated.”

We smiled and parted. Some ligaments were torn and bones broken. He was hospitalized for quite a while.

The machine guns in use by Oz 77 on their Centurions were Browning M1919s in 7.62mm NATO; a contact wound with a rifle caliber firearm is never trivial. But in recounting the story, Kahalani gets across just how the combat soldier feels in a case like this (even more than if his wounds are due to enemy action): he has let down the team.

It’s a paradox of that sort of deployment that as much as you ache to be back home, being sent back home before the unit is the greatest calamity that you can imagine befalling you. (The people at home see this completely differently).

Thinking a little about the circumstances of Eitan’s mishap, here are some of the factors involved.

  1. Mechanical safety. The Browning M1919A4 has none. The relevant tech manual, FM 23-45, actually suggests using a wooden block to prevent the bolt from closing and firing the gun during clearing. And there is literally no way for the A4 to be both ready and safe.
  2. Human performance: fatigue. After extensive combat, Eitan and all the members of the battalion were worn out.
  3. Human performance: complacency. How many times had Eitan gone in and out of a Centurion turret, or a gunner’s cupola on a half-track, for that matter, before his mishap?
  4. Organizational performance: procedures. If you’re (a) out of immediate contact, (b) have a unit full of exhausted people, and (c) have a firearm that can’t be kept bolt-back with a belt in, safely, what do you do? You put the bolt forward on an empty chamber, or raise the feed tray cover, either way removing the belt, and add from one to three seconds to your time to get the MG into action.

Of course, the commanders that would have had to rescue the unsat risk profile of what they were doing, were probably even more exhausted than the Joes. (Hmm. We don’t know what an Israeli Joe is called, but we’re sure they have a name for him).

One wonders how many Israelis were wounded or killed by friendly fire in the wars of 1967 and 1973. It must have been a staggering number, for such a small country.

Notes

  1. Kahalani, pp. 180-181.

Sources

Kahalani, Avigdor. The Heights Of Courage: A Tank Leader’s War on the Golan. New York: Praeger, 1992.

FM 23-45. Basic Field Manual:Browning Machine Gun, Caliber .30, HB, M1919A4 Ground. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1940.

 

 

Two Resources: Survival Guide and Prepping Matrix

Both of them come to us from the Greek Preparedness blog, which is exactly what it says — preparedness for Greek citizens (with some posts posted in both Greek and English) — but is worth reading for those of you in the other 200 countries of the world.

Resource 1: Tokyo Survival Guide

tokyo_survival_guide_coverBecause Japan is an island nation that is no stranger to natural (earthquake, tsunami — which Japan named) and man-made disasters (fire-bombing, getting nuked, nerve-agent terrorism) a subset of the Japanese people take disaster preparedness seriously, and prepare with classically Japanese thoroughness, One result is the Tokyo City Government’s preparedness guide for citizens, which in classically Japanese fashion begins with an anthropomorphic mascot (Bousai the Rhino, whose name is a play on words) and concludes with an instructive manga (Japanese comic for grown-ups) — just the thing for those of shorter attention span.

It’s quite good, even though it looks like it can only be downloaded in pieces. While some of the techniques and procedures mentioned here are primarily applicable to the Japanese Home Islands’ primary threats (quake, tsunami, volcano) others are useful in any potential survival situation. Link’s to the English version; of course, they have it on the same base website, in Japanese for the natives.

Resource 2: PrepperLink Preparedness Matrix

prepping_matrix_522The PrepperLink Prepping Matrix is an excellent, if imperfect, tool for those that would prepare for survival of what the DHS coyly calls natural or man-made disasters. We’re great fans of the mind-map as instructional and reference technology (we wonder what program Gary Griffin used to create this) so we were really predisposed to like this. And we did, with a few exceptions we’ll dispose of up front.

  1. “Security” refers only to guns. Having enough trustworthy people to keep watch, and a solid watch schedule and alert plan, is much more fundamental than having firearms.
  2. Little reference to alternate and contingency plans. Every decision needs PACE; the more fundamental the decision, the greater the need for alternates and contingency plan.
  3. No reference to maps or navigation. You need maps (and if coastal, lakeside or riparian, also charts) and the knowledge to use them whether your plan is bug-out or bug-in.

One of the best things about this matrix is the way each branch is, in effect, a decision tree, with the most crucial decisions closest to the root of the tree (at the central node). We also like the way items in one branch can refer back to items on other branches. This is handled deftly with color coding — as long as you’re not color blind. Get the whole thing at PrepperLink.

Having planned for the Big Quake, the Alien Invasion or the Zombie Horde leaves you in pretty good shape when three days without power thanks to an ice storm (a much more probable disaster) had your neighbors flapping.

Why They Inscribe the Caliber Right On the Gun

Because sometimes the wrong caliber will chamber. Results, FOOM.

M4 blowd up 01

A guy posted these pictures on ARFcom, saying he wasn’t the shooter/owner, but basically, “it just blow’d up” and he has no idea what happened to it.

M4 blowd up 02

Well, that’s why you pay us the big bucks. This is not a mild AR kB! that traces back to an out of battery fire or one lousy handload. In this case, 100% of the round’s energy came back through the firing pin hole in the bolt face. And shattered the bolt and carrier. What could make an AR do that?

An obstructed barrel right at the chamber. Period. Sure, there’s a vanishingly small possibility that you got a rare combination of a round loaded with pistol powder with the previous round being a powderless squib, combined with a tight bore and wide bullet so that it didn’t go the usual 7-8″ into the barrrel. But the 95% probabilty is: .300 Blackout round in a 5.56 rifle.

He doesn’t know what happened, our fourth point of contact. He claims it was ordinary M193 5.56. Hmmm. Maybe the other rounds in the mag were, but we’re betting there’s a .300 supersonic slug lodged in there.

Go back and compare the pictures of 7.92 x 57mm ammo fired in .30-06 (7.62 x 63) chambers from TM9-2210. Like this incident, they destroyed the bolt, whereas a squib barrel obstruction normally destroyed only the barrel. Conclusion: same kB in a new century, this. (Worsened by the higher chamber pressure and sharper pressure curve of 5.56/.300 relative to the WWI vintage loads, and the bigger caliber mismatch, 2mm+ versus 0.03mm).

(Aside: if you could do that without detonating the gun, which you can’t, you’d get some laserlike velocities on the Gerlach squeeze-bore principle. And you’d get the miserable barrel life that squeeze-bore rifles have always featured).

One of the guys in the ARFcom thread made an insightful comment, that the excellence of the Stoner design is why this guy is not in the hospital (or the pathology lab awaiting dissection). And Stoner did design the AR, all the way back to the 1955 or so AR-10, to fail safe. But this discipline of firearms safety engineering wasn’t born from the brow of Eugene Stoner alone; for decades prior, engineers had been concerned about managing energy pathways in case of structural failure of their weapons. It’s been good design practice for well over a century.

You have probably heard about the “not safe to fire” early Rock Island M1903 rifles. The bad heat treating some early rifles got was only discovered when the rifles detonated, but most of the shooters were unhurt or quickly recovered. That was because the designers of the M1903 in Springfield, and the designers of the 1898 Mauser that they copied, considered and developed safe exit paths for energy in the case of a kB! from an obstructed barrel or other overstress.

If you look at many early centerfire rifle designs you will see that the designers incorporated such concerns to a greater or lesser extent. It’s just design best practice, and it’s universal now, or it should be. Hell, it was universal 120 years ago, which is why it’s nice to have guns designed by engineers and not by Cousin Bubba the Gunsmite.

While “safety” in design can only save the shooter from a beheading (or blinding) by sacrificing the gun itself, we ought to think about We should consider some operational methods to prevent loading .300 BLK into a smaller-caliber rifle chamber, but perhaps that’s another post. The root of the problem (whether it’s 7.92 in a 7.62 chamber, or .300 (7.62) in a 5.56), is that the larger-caliber round fits in the smaller-caliber chamber. (Even a .300 BLK subsonic round can me made to fit with enthusiastic application of the forward assist). You can’t design around a problem like that poka-yoke1 style, you need an operational fix.

Notes

  1. Poka-Yoke (PO-ka-YO-kay, roughly) is a Japanese term for design that imposes safe- or correct-practice constraints on the user; Japan being Japan, it’s a kinder and gentler version of their term for “idiot-proofing,” which they watered down verbally — the term, not the concept — for cultural reasons. There are different poka-yoke approaches and one might be better than the next. For instance, the power adapter cord that would only go into an early iPhone one way (the right way) was a poka-yoke, as is the improved one in later iPhones that works safely in either orientation (any way is the right way). Silicon Valley was very quick to adopt poka-yoke as a concept. It has great uses in industrial control and inspection; check out this section of one of Shigeo Shingo’s books (Google Books link).

So Two Cops were Discussing Negligent Discharges….

ND-shot-in-footAnd, guess what happened next?

If you guessed kBANG! you’re right.

What makes this interesting is that these cops were Norwegian cops. Norwegian police officers usually carry firearms not on their person, but locked in their cars or, when off patrol, in lockers at the station. For about 14 months, they carried their HKs in hard-plastic retention holsters in response to a heightened terror alert level.

“He put his finger down into the weapon holster of a police colleague and discharged the colleague’s service weapon,” the report stated, according to national broadcaster NRK.

No one was injured in the accidental shooting, but the circumstances were more than just a little ironic given the accident happened in the middle of a discussion about that very problem.

According to news agency NTB, two similar incidents have occurred within the past year. In November, an officer in Namsos was seriously injured when a colleague’s accidental shot struck him in the foot.

In Gjøvik in August, an accidental shot careened off the floor and then hit the wall before bouncing back and hitting an officer in the butt. The officer was not seriously injured.

via Oops! Accidental shot chat ends with accidental shot – The Local.

How does 3 NDs for 6,000 cops in 15 months compare to your agency?  (We make that to be 1 ND per year per 1600 cops, or about 1.9 per thousand cops per year).

We wonder if NYPD is higher than that, to name one… let’s check. The NYPD firearms discharge reports are here. Most recent is 2014 (.pdf) There were 18 NDs (see Section IV) against 34,857 uniformed personnel or about 0.52 per 1000 officers — advantage NYPD.

LAPD has a 2015 report online (.pdf). There were 8 NDs  (they break it down 5 male, 3 female officers) with no injuries to officers or the public. There is a separate personnel report that says as of 2/21/16 LAPD had 9,902 sworn personnel, so about 0.81 NDs/1000 officers — worse than NYPD, but better than the Norwegian cops.

You Didn’t Plan or Rehearse… Now What?

No, the American MTT didn't do this. Mother Nature did

No, the American MTT didn’t do this. Mother Nature did

That was the question Woody had to ask himself in January, 2010, when a massive earthquake trashed the hotel where he and his USCG Mobile Training Team were staying in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

He quickly discovered that when you haven’t planned and rehearsed, you’re down to improvising, at best; and pulling it out of your fourth point of contact, at worst.

In a painfully honest self-criticism at ReFactor Tactical, he reviews some of the things he did wrong — and right.

Complacency can get you killed. Have a plan, practice it as much as you can, and don’t count on someone coming to save you. Emergency services in a catastrophic event (those that aren’t affected by the event) will be focused on the most severe injuries or most severely damaged areas.

My team was required to submit a mission plan that included procedures for what to do in an emergency. Quite frankly, I did a crap job of sitting down and thinking about what could happen. I blame it on personal complacency. By this point, I had completed 2.5 years of mobile training teams on 5 continents. Nothing had ever happened, and I was in the mindset that nothing ever would. My plan for everything was the same: call the Embassy.

When the earthquake hit, the initial panic and injuries among personnel (both permanent party and TDY) resulted in Post One having to assume control of the net and regulating traffic. If you weren’t severely injured, you weren’t getting through.

It was worse than that. If their fallback plan was to go to the Embassy, they didn’t know how.

We had a vehicle, but didn’t know how to get to the Embassy (all our driving was done by a hired driver), and we didn’t have a map. We also had no weapons. You don’t necessarily wander around certain parts of Haiti during normal daylight hours, much less when all security and social services just disappeared.

via Lessons Learned, Haiti, January 2010 | RE Factor Tactical.

There’s a lot of painful true confessions there, and more in the article.

His commo PACE plan had only three legs, and all legs went down in the quake. The Cell phone net went paws up (P), the team screwed up their only satphone (A), and the Marine Guards’ Post One radio net (C) was saturated with higher-priority traffic. There was no (E).

As he notes, a lot of this was due to complacency. We’d also suggest lack of rehearsals. An SF team can always go to HF voice (old-timers can go to CW but they don’t teach Morse at the schoolhouse, at least not to everybody). This is also an argument for doing what we did, carrying a personal satphone. The downside of that is that we now have an obsolete Iridium phone in the basement that cost  … let’s just say, a lot of money. But we didn’t stop with buying the phone, we drilled with the thing until we could work it without reference to the manual, and we knew where we were at any point in the phone’s sometimes counterintuitive menus and screens. In other words, we took personal responsibility for and personal charge of last-ditch emergency communications.

One thing we always do in a new location is conduct reconnaissanceHeck, when we visit friends, we often do both a map and a car recon of their neighborhood. It’s nice to know if the next street over has a police station or a meth lab! The point of this recon is not just to observe the area but also look at it from a military standpoint. High-speed avenues of approach and egress? Covered and concealed withdrawal routes, if needed? Alternates? Key terrain? Observation points?

For most users, a baseplate compass from Suunto is better than a GI Lensatic. The GI compass is superior for night use (contains tritium) and for measuring azimuths (like for calling artillery). Copies of the .mil compass lack the tritium and are mostly worthless.

With the map, you need a compass and possibly a protractor. For most users, a baseplate compass from Suunto is better than a GI Lensatic. The GI compass is superior for night use (contains tritium) and for measuring azimuths (like for calling artillery). Copies of the .mil compass lack the tritium and therefore lack that key advantage..

You need maps. Physical, paper maps. Why? Because a paper map never runs out of batteries, gets jammed by a “trawler,” gets knocked offline by an EMP, or suffers the Blue Screen of Death® (Blue Screen of Death® is a registered trademark of Microsoft, Inc., for its proprietary software solutions). Everyone has become a cripple, unable to stand up without the crutch of GPS. And in the .mil it is a problem because (1) most services, schools and units do a piss-poor job of teaching map reading and land (and coastal!) navigation; (2) nobody believes that there will ever be a minute without GPS even though the satellites are vulnerable to crude ASATs, and the signal is so low-gain it’s trivial to jam; (3) not issuing maps is cheaper than issuing maps, and it never takes much persuasion to get Uncle Sam to do the cheap thing.

Now, one of you young bucks is going to say, “Yeah, but a GPS never dissolved in a light drizzle.” To which the wise old sensei must reply, “The map is only half of a map, Grasshopper.” We’re not going all Zen on you for nothing: you must cover the map with sticky (and not coincidentally, waterproof) acetate.

Is it really true that a US Embassy let a military team set up in a foreign country (in fact, a foreign country with natural and human hazards aplenty) without at least giving them a strip map from the no-tell motel back to the chancery? If that’s the case, the DAO needs a rapid transfer to a branch immaterial assistant quartermaster position somewhere out along the arctic DEW Line.

Action This Day

What you can do right now is: get a topographic map of your area and any other areas you usually are found in. Print it off if you have to. Cover it in acetate. Get a compass. Put them both in your bugout bag. (Multiple copies: house, car, boat, office, etc. are even better). Don’t just put the stuff away, either: practice with it.

Learn how things are oriented to the real world. What side of your house is north? OK, what is the long azimuth of your house? In what cardinal direction could you walk to probable help in a disaster? In what direction would you be most exposed to risk?

And think about communications. Who would you want to talk to in a natural disaster? (Or an unnatural one, for that matter). How many ways can you think of to reach that person? How many of those would be working “the day after,” whether, “the day of,” was a massive terror attack like 9/11, or a massive natural disaster like the 2010 Haiti earthquake?

At the Fudd Range, Thinking About Safety

target manSo we have two ranges we go to, the Nice Indoor Range we travel about an hour to each way, and the Fudd River Fish & Game Club that’s a few minutes’ drive or bike ride away. Both are highly limited: 100 yard max, and strict safety rules. However, Nice Indoor Range’s rules are sensible and reasonable, and pretty much standard nationwide.

We didn’t get a notification our Fudd River dues were due, and didn’t have a tickler set, so we let our membership lapse. Oops. After some time banished to the Limbo of the waiting list, we got notified it was time to come to Range Orientation. We were not enthusiastic, having been through the drill twice before, but the convenience of a range in easy bike range of the Manor won out, so we presented us for Phase I (yes, there are phases) of Range Orientation.

Phase I went like this:

  • A 20-30 minute video on range rules and procedures. Also available on YouTube! This actually was pretty well done; they guy speaking doesn’t hem and haw and lose his place, you’d think he had a script. (He doesn’t. We asked).
  • Then, you sit through the membership meeting where they try to assign you to a committee.  This batch of newbies (many of whom were fellow retreads) kept their heads down but we’ll all wind up doing something to support the club.
  • Then, the discussion of the club’s annual charity event. The chairman of this committee has many charms, but he’s, shall we say, rather prolix. What could have been a fact-packed ten minutes was a confusing half-hour, plus two restarts (“And oh, I forgot to mention that…).
  • Each newbie/retread introduced himself. We all mastered brevity, thanks to the examples we had been set.
  • Then, the meeting adjourned and the second part of Phase I began.
  • We then read the rules. Which is to say, a club officer read the pages of rules to us. One by one. Aloud. With asides, and notes, and an explanation of why that particular rule was in place (the two most frequently-occurring reasons are “the insurer insists” and “you wouldn’t believe this, but this idiot last year…”).
  • We then signed and initialed the rules pages.
  • Everyone shook hands and was welcomed to membership. Congratulations, Phase I is complete. You can return for Phase II on Sunday morning.

It was now 10:20 PM. We had started on time at 7:30 PM, and thus had spent three hours, primarily on range rules, at a mind-numbing pace.

On Sunday, we’ll present at the range and then — we are not making this up — walk through the procedures at the range and the rules. One. By. One. Budget three more hours.

This is frustrating, and annoying, but the club falls back on two justifications: the insurers require it; and/or, some idiot needs to be told.

And they may have a point. In the last 12 months, they have had to dismiss three idiots from the club, who did everything from handling firearms while the range was cold and others were setting targets, to sweeping others on the firing line, to deliberately firing low and ricocheting over the berms.

A few years ago, they actually had someone open up at the 50-yard berm on the left while two guys were setting targets at the 100-yard berm on the right. That’s when they put in the system of red lights that are switched on when the line is cold.

After talking to the range committee officers at some length, the general level of firearms safety in the gen pop of the Fudd Range is not where you want it to be. So their answer is a series of highly restrictive rules, combined with ruthlessly dropping those members who still can’t follow them. And it’s working; the insurance rates are holding and none of the NDs and careless shots that have gotten various guys expelled have required a 911 call.

And what’s interesting is the people who blow off safety seem to have nothing else in common. They’re hunters, or cops, or tactical tommies, or plinkers; they usually have some firearms experience, and often have a great deal of experience, but have grown complacent.

The rules are not that onerous. (To use the range for qualification requiring movement and firing, any PD can rent and close it for a half day or day for short money). Yes, some of them are silly. You must wear ear pro, eye pro… and a hat. Why a hat? Insurers say that. Why do insurers say that? What purpose does the hat serve? Don’t ask why — that way lies madness. Just throw an extra hat in your range bag.

Some of the local PDs have not been happy to have had officers of theirs banned from the range (as a courtesy, the range is open to all local PDs and all their sworn officers, if they follow the rules). Stop and think about that for a minute. Chief Wiggins isn’t concerned that his copper Officer Thumbs broke an ND into the overhead of the firing line; he’s concerned that Thumbs is now persona non grata on the range.

Thumbs is still out there, protecting us all as haphazardly as ever, but at least we’re not going to find him on this range. Is that worth six hours of everybody’s time?

Is it like we have a choice?

Overpressure Failure in a Colt M4

Here’s what looks like an overpressure failure in a Colt 16″ M4 6920 Carbine. Owner is active duty USAF, carbine is a personally owned weapon. Er… was a personally owned weapon.

Overpressure M4

The shooter was lightly injured by shrapnel that used to be the upper receiver. He will recover. The firearm, on the other hand, is a total loss.

Overpressure M4 in case

It’s actually worse than it looks in the picture above, or in the next one. That’s because the pictures are two-dimensional, and the damage is three-dimensional.

Overpressure M4 immediately

The bolt carrier is split through the stress-concentrating central holes, and the carrier key released, with its two staked bolts still staked in place, but holding to nothing.

Overpressure M4 bolt carrier initial

Here is the view from the proximal side, looking distal:

Overpressure M4 bolt carrier

This also shows damage (albeit minor, at this end) to the forged aluminum charging handle.

Vice versa, distal looking proximal:

Overpressure M4 bolt carrier underside

The bolt carrier key:

Overpressure M4 bolt carrier key

The bolt is seized in the barrel extension and is probably distorted (these are strong parts of heat-treated Carpenter 158 steel). The bolt cam pin may be distorted, but did come out (the firing pin remained in position when the bolt carrier split, even though the firing pin retaining pin was pulled out of place with the left side of the bolt carrier). The cam pin and firing pin can be seen in place in the third picture from the top.

Overpressure M4 breech area

The gas check rings are distorted, probably by the violence of the bolt carrier’s departure. The extractor is broken free of the extractor pin, although it too appears seized in the barrel extension.

Overpressure M4 from behindThe upper receiver is shattered into three major parts (left, which was blown clear; right side, still tenuously attached in the initial pictures, but removed in the picture above; and the receiver ring and pivot pin bosses which miraculously held together with the lower).

The parts show characteristic signs of overload failure, and the lower receiver is distorted (bulged) in the region of the magazine well.

The immediate cause was overpressure. Possible contributory causes that produced the overpressure:

  1. .300 Blackout in the 5.56mm chamber. (Note how similar this residue looks to the destroyed Springfields we saw earlier this week, fired with 7.92 x 57 instead of 7.62 x 63). It would be interesting to examine the remains of the case, which requires the breech be opened. However, the shooter says he was firing “a couple hundred rounds of Wolf steelcase” 5.56 when the mishap occurred.
  2. Barrel obstruction near chamber (i.e. powderless squib load fired ahead of the mishap round). This would be indicated by a bulged barrel. However, user did not say he had a pop and malfunction drill before the big bang.
  3. Improper ammunition (i.e. case full of fast pistol powder).

For more information:

Initial Imgur thread with some of these pictures.

Reddit thread with discussion. /u/Amishmanbearpig is the owner/shooter of the mishap firearm. Quality of the discussion varies (to put it mildly. No, this was not caused because he chose an AR instead of an AK. No doubt the Russian Army is sitting on a stack of photos of grenaded AKs like this).

Second Imgur thread with more pictures

Imgur thread with two images of the superficial cuts to the shooter’s left shoulder from bolt carrier impact.

A Mess of Accidents: Army Edition

army_gun_safety_poster_detailFor over ten years, the Army has put its fatal mishaps online in the form of Preliminary Loss Reports. Initially, there seemed to be mostly aviation and privately-owned-vehicle (Army jargon: “POV”)  reports. But for the last several years, the Army has included weapons-related accidents, both involving duty weapons and training, and POWs (you break out the acronym!). Guess which category seems to involve more mishaps? If you guessed privately-owned, personal weapons, you’re right, despite the millions of rounds Army soldiers fire annually in often risky exercises.

In the future, the Army Combat Readiness Center (the latest iteration of the frequently-renamed Safety Center, trimmed considerably from its overweening 90s days) hopes to incorporate more varieties of personnel loss, as explained by one paragraph of their FAQ.

As of 4 Mar 05, the PLRs that have been released are on accidental losses (deaths). However, as the process matures, PLRs will be dispatched on losses from hostile activity, crimes, suicide, and medical circumstances as well as accidents.

You can search the database here. It’s a typically lame Army IT implementation, 20 years behind industry; you can’t permalink results, and the actual facts are contained in gaudy (but illustration-free) .pdfs. But hey, you can get to the data if you’re willing to tabulate it yourself.

Significant Duty Weapon Incidents

ND-shot-in-footDuty Weapon mishaps are about twice as common as POW mishaps in absolute numbers, which is interesting; because every soldier is supposed to fire his duty weapon at least once a year, and combat arms soldiers fire them with great regularity, but only some of them own personal weapons. (The Army makes it very difficult, for example, for single enlisted soldiers, who are usually required to live in barracks, to own personal firearms. The Military Police branch and most posts’ Provost Marshal (senior MP officer) are as anti-gun as anyone on Mike Bloomberg’s payroll).

In other words, in our opinion, the rate of negligent discharges of privately-owned weapons is much higher than the rate of NDs of service weapons, relative to the opportunities for those NDs.

In our opinion, the relative rarity of duty weapon mishaps results from the Army’s committed safety culture, to the point that safety rules sometime impinge on training realism and verisimilitude. (Every commander and leader has struggled with this balance).

Some units benefit from a sort of papal dispension that allows them to pursue more realism in training, at the price of more risk. Sometimes, that risk comes home to roost.

A 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, Soldier was fatally injured on 9 December 2015 at approximately 2100 local, on Fort Stewart when he was struck by a 5.56 live round while conducting a live-fire exercise. The 21-year-old CPL
was pronounced dead at a local medical center.

And sometimes, complacency downrange bites a guy. Note that the fatality does not appear to be the guy responsible for the accident (it takes some care to read through it and sort out who’s who). Who wants to bear that kind of guilt?

A 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, US Forces- Afghanistan Soldier was killed by the negligent discharge of a M72 Light anti-tank weapon (LAW) on 11 January 2012 at approximately 2100 local. Reportedly a 27-year-old SPC team leader was demonstrating the operation of the LAW to a subordinate team member (22-year-old PFC) who was standing in front of him when it fired striking him in the abdomen. The warhead impacted a wall behind him but did not detonate. Two other Soldiers standing nearby also were injured and all four were evacuated to a medical treatment center. The PFC was unable to be revived and was pronounced deceased.

It’s not clear but it seems like the fatality was caused by the rocket (the fuel is burned and the LAW fully accelerated inside the tube), and the other injuries caused by backblast. The LAW didn’t detonate because the warhead isn’t live right out of the muzzle — or this might have been multiple fatalities.

M72LAW

This actually is an early (Vietnam-era) LAW, but the current ones are externally similar enough. It takes (1) removing the end covers; (2) extending the tube; (3) extending the safety; and, (4) pressing down on the trigger in the rubber boot you can see in front of the rear sight (front is left in this image), to fire this weapon. Once you do, a 66mm rocket comes out of the tube at about 650 fps (A6/A7 version; VN era was 475 fps).

The Army actually has an excellent page of advice on avoiding and (from a leadership point of view) preventing firearms (and explosives) mishaps. Do Read The Whole Thing™, but we’ll pull two lists from there. First, some causative and contributing factors.

Negligent discharges most commonly occur when:

  • cleaning, clearing or performing a functions check on their weapons.
  • entering or exiting vehicles.
  • retrieving, uploading, or emplacing weapons.
  • following a change of mission, duty, or weapon’s status.
  • joking or playing around pointing a weapon at themselves or someone else.
  • handling a foreign weapon they are unfamiliar with.
  • soldiers become distracted and fiddle with a weapon and unmindfully pull the trigger.

The old bugbear of mis-set headspace and timing, and accident ricochet and fragmentation accidents also come in for a dishonorable mention. But the bottom line is this:

As with negligent discharges, these mishaps are often a result of inadequate training, overconfidence, complacency, and indiscipline.

Amen. They also have some positive suggestions. We’ll discuss any of these in the comments, if you like.

Steps to reduce weapons handling risk:

  • Assist leaders in ensuring personnel have adequate training for their assigned weapons.
  • Do not allow personnel to use weapons they have not been trained on or that have not been inspected for serviceability.
  • As one of the first steps in clearing a weapon, ensure personnel remove the source of ammunition (magazine, belt, etc.). Do not allow personnel to clean weapons with a magazine in the weapon.
  • Ensure there is adequate command policy in place regarding authorized holsters. Avoid holsters that orient muzzles towards personnel.
  • Ensure there is adequate policy regarding handling and use of foreign weapons and ammunition.
  • Ensure soldiers use the proper gauge. The M2 and M3 are not interchangeable.
  • Remind soldiers when firing an individual weapon from the gunner’s station to ensure the muzzle has cleared the turret. A good way to do this is to have them put the barrel over the turret.
  • Partner with unit leaders to aggressively change the way soldiers THINK about weapons safety!

We’re not in love with the suggestions that imply that if you make a rule, or a policy, or make some command like an ancient potentate in a fifties’ sword-and-sandal epic, that you have Done Your Bit for safety and can now retire.

Significant Private Weapon Incidents

The database contains at least six accidents from 2013 through 2016. In one, a Fort Carson soldier was shot dead by his 13-year-old son, who mistook Dad for an intruder.

A 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado, Soldier was struck by a round fired from a privately owned weapon (POW) on 2 March 2013 at approximately 2200 local in Colorado Springs. The 36- year-old SGT was entering his residence when he was mistaken for an intruder and shot by his 13-year-old son. The SGT was pronounced deceased at a local medical center.

This accident, though, was more typical. Note two things that frequently show up here: an audience, and Judgment Juice (together they add up to, “Hold m’beer an’ watch this!”):

4/3rd Infantry Regiment, (The Old Guard), Fort Myer, Virginia, Soldier was killed as the result of a gunshot wound from a privately owned weapon (POW) on 19 August 2014 at approximately 0300 local in Omaha, Nebraska. The 26-year-old SPC was on PCS leave and was handling a .45 caliber handgun in the presence of friends when he discharged a round which struck him in the head. The Soldier had been consuming alcohol.

Audience and alcohol, again:

A 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas, Soldier was killed as the result of a fatal privately owned weapon (POW) gunshot wound on 4 April 2014 at approximately 2030 local in El Paso. The 29-year-old SGT was handling his pistol in his apartment with another Soldier when it discharged. The SGT had been holding it to his temple when the round discharged. He was pronounced deceased at a local medical center. Both Soldiers had been consuming alcohol.

And this one:

A 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (AA), Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Soldier was struck by a round fired from a privately owned weapon (POW) on 12 July 2013 at approximately 0100 local in Oak Grove. The 31-year-old SPC was handling his newly purchased 40 Caliber handgun, while sitting in a POV at an off post residence with three other Soldiers. The SPC fired a round that struck him in the head.

Here’s another, more recent one. You may see a pattern emerging here.

 A 100th Brigade Support Battalion, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, soldier was killed by an accidental discharge on 12 December 2015 at approximately 0145 local in Lawton. The 20-year-old SPC was at a gathering at another soldier’s residence when one of the soldiers began handling a firearm. The SPC was fatally injured when he was struck in the chest by a round fired from the weapon. The soldiers had been consuming alcohol. The SPC was pronounced deceased in route to the hospital. News Article

In that case, the negligent triggerman was arrested for manslaughter.

Not all the mishaps come up as “privately owned weapon” or “POW” in a search. For example, this one is listed along with many others as a “negligent discharge.”

A U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Soldier was killed instantly by a negligent discharge on 23 November 2011 at approximately 0130 local in Fayetteville. The 27- year-old SGT was handling a semi-automatic pistol and showing it to two fellow students (both SPC) when he discharged a round up through his chin killing him. Alcohol use is reported to be a contributing factor in this accident. The SGT redeployed from OEF in November 2009

Alcohol is a causal factor in many of these accidents, as the Safety Center’s Tracey Russell wrote in an article yclept, “Armed and Hammered.”

Six Soldiers lost their lives in fiscal 2012 to off-duty negligent discharge accidents involving privately owned weapons. Alcohol was involved in at least four of the six accidents. In one case, a group of Soldiers consumed alcohol over an extended period one evening at several locations, taking care to use a designated driver or taxi. Then, upon returning to his residence, one of the Soldiers decided to handle his privately owned weapon. While doing so, he inadvertently disengaged the safety mechanism and discharged a bullet into his head.

In another case, a Soldier reportedly pointed a weapon at his friend, a fellow Soldier, to scare him to cure his hiccups. Sadly, his cure worked, and his friend will never have the hiccups again. The Soldier now faces manslaughter charges because he accidently discharged the weapon, killing his friend.

As a citizen of the United States, you have a constitutional right under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes. You also have a legal right to consume alcohol if you are 21 or older. However, conventional wisdom and Army statistics indicate that exercising both of these rights at the same time has the serious potential of resulting in a wrong that may be fatal. If you are handling a firearm, wait until you have safely stored your weapon before enjoying that “adult” beverage. If you are already enjoying that beverage, handle your weapons some other time.

That’s pretty mild scolding, compared to past Army anti-gun messaging. And it’s just common sense. But as these mishaps show, soldiers could do with common sense being a smidgen more common.

The capitalized THINK is a reference to the Army’s acronym for its current five-rule version of the three or four Basic Gun Safety Rules. Its principle value is that it comes with a nifty, mnemonic acronym, and we’ll break it out in the Conclusions below.

Tentative Conclusions

Unfortunately, this reinforces our old mantra: “There are no new accidents, just new guys having the same old accidents.” Few of the duty accidents, and none of the privately owned weapon accidents, would have occurred if soldiers just had their heads out of their fourth point of contact.

Some factors we saw in accident after accident:

  1. Several junior personnel together in the absence of adult leadership.
  2. Alcohol. It’s OK to love firearms and Judgment Juice, but they are both jealous lovers and out to be enjoyed in series, not in parallel.
  3. A new (to Joe, anyway) firearm.
  4. Guns at parties (and this can bring #1, #2, and #3 into play all at once).

The Army has been promoting a five-rule alternative to the three (or four) Rules of Gun Safety. It includes a superfluous rule, but in true .mil fashion, does so in the interests of creating an acronym: THINK.

  • Treat every weapon as if it were loaded;
  • Handle every weapon with care;
  • Identify the target before you fire;
  • Never point the weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot;
  • Keep the weapon off safe and your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.

(For example, see this hunter safety poster, or this one on POWs. But another version used only three rules).

 

If you like the idea of a THINK poster, here’s one in PDF form that you can have printed at any local print shop, Kinkos, etc. As a US Government document it is not encumbered with copyright.

THINK_Weapons_Safety_POW3.pdf