Category Archives: SF History and Lore

Here’s To the One-Hitch SF Guys

The Special Forces Memorial Statue -- Bronze Bruce -- memorializes our sacrifices in war and peace, and has done so since the 1970s. Image: SFC Jason Baker, US Army SF Command, 2010.

The Special Forces Memorial Statue — Bronze Bruce — memorializes our sacrifices in war and peace, and has done so since the 1970s. Image: SFC Jason Baker, US Army SF Command, 2010.

When originally conceived, Special Forces was not for beginners, and you couldn’t expect to just join up off the street. In the 1950s, most of the members were career NCOs, especially from the Airborne Infantry, then the Army’s corps d’elite; many were Lodge Act immigrants, prized for their language skills; and a few were young bucks whose potential had caught the eye of one or more of the grizzled World War II and Korean War vet sergeants. You always had to be a triple volunteer: for the Army, for Airborne, and for SF.

Not many of those Originals are left. We can think of only one guy we know from the original manifest who’s still looking at the grass from the blade end, although there’s certainly a few others that we’re not in touch with. But from the very first, Special Forces had a guerrilla mindset (as well as a guerrilla warfare mission) and called for the knowledge and maturity of long-service soldiers. On the enlisted side, it was a specialty for career men. (In those days, tours in SF would usually be interleaved with tours in infantry, or even recruiting or drill-sergeant duty).

The officer side was a little different, because Special Forces was deeply mistrusted by most of Big Green, and a promising career officer might well poison that career by putting on the unofficial Green Beret — or even the post-1961 official one. SF tended to collect free-thinkers and eccentrics, ranging from men with Lawrence of Arabia potential to men with Lawrence of Arabia narcissism (the movie didn’t help). This was good and bad at once.

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upOver the years, it also developed that SF had some great assignments that were in high demand and one assignment that was proportionally much smaller than Big Green’s commitment to the area — Korea. This is significant because Korea, which has been expected to break out in war at any time since 1953, was an unaccompanied tour, often shunned by married or family men — if they could. As an Infantry officer, there was only one way out of orders to Korea in the 70s or 80s — volunteer for SF. (In the early part of that period, the separate SF Officers’ Course was less demanding. Starting about 1981-82, the difficulty for officers rose to equal and later to exceed the challenges facing the NCO students). A guy who went SF to stay out of the Land of the Morning Calm was probably not going to impress us, and there was high attrition among characters like that.

But for all the career guys who came in and did one tour after another, whether they were Managing a Career like some, or just having the time of their lives and unwilling to stop, teams were filled out with junior commo, weapons, engineers and medics who were in for one tour and out. As it was, it was rare to have a “12-man ODA” of more than nine men. This was, in a way, deliberate; we’d rather hold the standards and roll shorthanded than lower the bar to meet the applicants. It often meant a very junior junior had to step up into a senior commo, weapons, engineer or medic position.

Sometimes one-and-out was always their plan. Sometimes it was the many sickeners of Army culture that drove them out. Sometimes these guys had high-functioning wives that needed to live somewhere other than an Army town where shopping meant pawn shops, and entertainment, pole-dancing bars. They did one and out. And they did it honorably and they did it well.

Of our Light Weapons section only a few of us stayed in beyond that one tour. Most of the real memorable characters from SFQC were one and out. Guys went to college, to their family’s business, to other agencies, or they tried to please wives for whom the team was always the Other Woman.

But we’d never have been able to field 54 teams in a major exercise without those one-and-out SFers. They were as SF as any of us, we needed them, and by and large they performed and we missed them when they were gone.

But there’d be a new crop of young guys, who paradoxically got younger every year, and they kept the team young and kept us from losing track of the basics or overlooking any fundamentals. It was great having them, and we wish them all well in the rest of their lives.


Re: sickeners. Our observation was that everything that was bad about SF was something that it inherited from Big Army, and everything that was good about SF was SF-specific.

Our class was big, and Light Weapons was divided into two sections, one that met in the HALO Barn behind the closed-due-to-stabbings Yntema Club, and one met in Arms Room #4. So most of us only kept track of the guys in our own section.

The club, yclept the Enema Club by one and all (soldier humor is not subtle), was named for an SF hero — posthumous MOH — from Vietnam, Gordon Yntema, but SF men were well advised to steer clear when it was open. The crowd was more like a seething mob of violent minority privates from the support units of the 18th Airborne Corps, and the knife fights were officially out of hand when one of them killed a responding MP.

Rangers Also Use the Glock 19

Saturday, we told you, “It’s Over. Glock Won,” in reference to the ubiquitous use of Glock pistols, mostly the G19, by American Special Operations Forces. Not having good hooks into the Ragnar community, we weren’t sure if they were running G19s, too:

[W]e are not 100% certain the Rangers are on the Glock bandwagon, but if they are, it’s over, because that’s where the top leaders of the Army come from these days. SF is on its way back to being a backwater of somewhat irregular irregular-war enthusiasts (thank a merciful God), and the lamprey-lipped careerists are all trying to get their tickets punched with the Ragnars and/or They Who Shall Not Be Named….

Well, shortly after that post went live, the phone rang. Yep, the Ranger Regiment is running with G19s, also.

The Glock Infection

The course of infection seems to run something like this: a few Glocks are bought as an experiment, and then more of the pistols are bought with MFP-11 funds, and finally there’s one for everybody, along with whatever the issue gun is. In time, as guys try the Glocks and go, “Hey, these are OK!” more and more of them switch and fewer run the old 1911 or DA/SA platforms. It  becomes a preference cascade, like Hemingway described bankruptcy: gradually, then suddenly.

The Navy also wants the world to know that their special operations elements went all-Glock before the Marine Raiders. Aye aye, frogmen, we’ll pass the word for you, although why that wasn’t in the 2,317 SEAL tell-all books, well, only their ghostwriters know for sure.

Our Traveling Reporter told us a story of a friendly foreign SOF unit that went through this exact process, and gradually the preference cascade has come and most of them prefer their “secondary standard” Glocks to their “standard issue” pistols, the HK P30.

Pity the Poor Beretta Rep

Along with the news of the Rangers using Glocks, we got a story of a Beretta government-sales representative who was re-enacting the old R&B song, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

“It was unseemly,” reported One Who Was There. “He was like that crazy chick that can’t take being dumped, and keeps begging you to take her back.” Much nodding and grinning; maybe a little flash of half-remembered irritation. “It’s not even that the Beretta is bad, but it’s just 40 year old technology. And twice the money, which isn’t the big thing.” (For the military, the system cost of a pistol is mostly in the training, and that’s either a wash or the Glock saves a little).

The Beretta guy was offering to do anything, anything, to make the pistol meet the customer’s needs; but there was nothing he could do. The customer had moved on; his mind was made up.

It’s Over. Glock Won.

glock-19-g4No, we’re not talking about the Army’s chaotic and spendy Modular Handgun System program, which is miles from any conclusion, but has plenty more chaos and spending to offer in the next two or so years.

We’re talking about the pistol of choice in American special operations, where SOF has, to some extent, their own procurement money (Major Force Program 11 budgetary funds) and channels. And pretty much everybody’s running a Glock now.

They’re still maintaining their old service pistols, but they’re carrying Glocks, and specifically, Glock 19s like the gun in the file photo here. While older Glocks are on hand, now the military’s buying G4s, and sometimes uses the ability to convert the mag release for a left-handed shooter, which requires G4 gun and G4 mags.

This has been in the news lately because the Marine Raiders (MARSOC) have publicly  announced ditching their unique M45 .45 ACP pistols for bog-standard Glock 19s in 9mm.

But the Marines were not just the last guys to cling to their treasured 1911 platform, they were the last to pick up the Glock. Army SF has been using Glocks for a while — sure, they still have M9s, but the go-to-war gun is the G19. The SEALs, who stuck to their SIG 226 for quite some time, and still have them in their arms lockers, are running Glock — namely, the G19.

We don’t know if Tier One units are still running .40s, and we are not 100% certain the Rangers are on the Glock bandwagon, but if they are, it’s over, because that’s where the top leaders of the Army come from these days. SF is on its way back to being a backwater of somewhat irregular irregular-war enthusiasts (thank a merciful God), and the lamprey-lipped careerists are all trying to get their tickets punched with the Ragnars and/or They Who Shall Not Be Named. (Careerists should be careful what they ask for. These assignments can make careers, but they can also break them beyond repair).

Why the Glock 19? This is strictly our own opinion, but there are a number of reasons that make it attractive.

  1. It’s a very good size for both uniformed and  undercover work. Not too small to shoot well, not so big as to be hard for average-build guys to conceal. (Some of your Belgian horse SEALs could conceal a Barrett, but that’s another story).
  2. It’s as reliable as a hammer. Like any gun, Joe can (and does) break it, but the breaks and stoppages are fewer and further between. It’s more reliable than its in-service competitors, the 1911 (M45), M9, and P226 (and the P228/M11 used in some undercover roles).
  3. It’s durable and tolerant of abuse, neglect, and environmental stress throughout the SOF operating environment, from 0º to 90º N/S and sea level to Himalayan terrain. It might get fugly but it won’t lock up.
  4. It’s easy to learn. Makes a difference when you need to be able to shoot it, but are in a job where shooting pistol is only one of hundreds of tasks you have to master.
  5. It’s easy to shoot well. Most shooters do better on a Glock than on a DA/SA pistol.
  6. It’s cheap. Sure, Uncle doesn’t pay what you do for a Beretta or a SIG, but Uncle doesn’t pay what you do for a Glock, either.

Some of the other Glock-offs, like the Smith & Wesson M&P, can match some or all of these Glock advantages, but it’s hard to beat the whole package, as the dismissal of S&W from the Modular Handgun competition suggests.

The next thing the military has to do is pull the plug on the sunk cost that is Modular Handgun, and instead focus on a higher-performing 9mm round. That would pay dividends to everybody without tying down lots of money and ordnance talent on the quest for a pistol, when every pistol Uncle owns together has probably fired fewer than 200 rounds at a visible enemy in over 15 years of war.

Third World Weapons Maintenance, Part II

OK, they weren't quite this bad. This one was dug up in Kuwait. But they were pretty bad.

OK, they weren’t quite this bad. This one was dug up in Kuwait. After being guest of honor at a fire. But they were pretty bad.

Commenter Aesop wrote, reference our Latin American men-without-boots:

… their weapons probably lack basic individual cleaning kits, and their crew-serveds would likely give an armory NCO a case of the screaming shitfits, followed by a life-ending stroke.

Oh, he nailed it. The very same unit whose boots looked like the product of the cobbler’s apprentice’s first day on the job, proudly carried the same Para FALs their nation bought them… in 1958. They cleaned them in communal half-barrels full of gasoline, with steel-wire painter’s brushes. Not one had any finish left on it. If one thought that the rifle had a little finish in the low places, closer examination showed him that what he was seeing was just grime.

You might ask, “Hognose, how did they clean the bores with nothing but a steel-wire painter’s brush?” Good question, but based on a faulty assumption. You see, they didn’t clean the bores.

Asked about this, the commander explained that they didn’t need to: they never fired. That was the secret to the incredible longevity of those AARP-eligible FALs.

Another fun feature of FAL is that it needs a tool to adjust the sights. They had one. One. For the battalion. The jealously guarded property of the armorer, and he would not allow it to leave his arms room and go to the range.

Another fun conversation with our counterpart, one of the battalion officers:

Hognose: “We’ve noticed that the officers seem to be all white, the NCOs mestizos, and the enlisted full-blooded indios.

El Capitán: “Sí, that’s the way it is in my country. Every kind of man in the best job for his abilities. So the officers are white guys like me.”

Hognose: “But you seem to welcome the advice of Sergeant [Black Dude] or CW3 [American Indian].”

El Capitán: “Ah, but you Americans are all gringos all the same, not like us. Your blacks and indians are white.”

Hognose: “Are there any officers in your army who are indios?

El Capitán (giving a look that suggests he thinks ‘Nose has lost his grip): “Why would we do that? We have a couple that are NCOs, that’s enough.”


What Separates First and Third World Armies?

Pipe WrenchWhat’s the difference between the military of a first-world nation like Germany, Britain or the US, and the army of some banana republic or sub-saharan kleptocracy? It’s best expressed either as two words or one. The one word would be discipline, but since that’s a small word with a very large portfolio, instead we’ll talk about the two words that best illustrate why some can fight and some can’t, and they might not be the two words that you expect.

Preventive maintenance.

Earlier today, we posted a US DOD auction for an early-1940s halftrack. The thing was a mess, there have been no parts in the system for it since circa 1955, and all the mechanics who knew the ins and outs of the M2 Half Track Combat Car are resting in veterans’ cemeteries, or drooling in veterans’ homes. But it ran and moved under its own power, still, when Uncle finally decided to sell it off — some 75 years after it first got put on the property book.

An American officer knows when he reports in to take command of a new unit that the vehicles will run (or will have a documented reason why they don’t, and measures will be underway to fix them). His unit’s weapons will have seen a technical inspection some time within their last couple or years or appropriate cycles of rounds fired. Stuff that needs logbooks will have the logbooks, and they will have the complete history of the equipment in them. His soldiers will have sturdy boots that won’t let them down and fall apart if they have to walk 25 kilometers.

This is because the US Army (and Marine Corps, etc.) has a culture of preventive maintenance, enforced by one of the US military’s secret weapons, a professional NCO corps (petty officers, in the Navy and USCG).

None of these things is assured in a third world military. Many of them have had extensive efforts by advisors (British, American, Russian, Chinese) to teach them the supporting nation’s perfectly logical and effective maintenance system — you know, the one that ensures that when you crack the box on a surplus Mosin that some Russian armorer packed up in 1946, it’s still ready to go to war. And that tells some American logistician where to lay hands on the crates of 1911s to send them to CMP. But these educational efforts always fall short, and they fall short in predictable ways.

The memoirs of Russian advisors knocking themselves out trying to teach the Arabs of the 50s and 60s, the Americans who despaired at getting maintenance across to the South Vietnamese, and just about anybody who struggled to teach African students are remarkably similar. Indeed, some of the officers who tried to teach aviation to the Chinese under Chennault, or modern army operations to the Filipino Constabulary in the early 1900s, or raised sepoy regiments for the East India Company, could have written interchangeable tales, with only the native names being different.

That’s because PM is not just a process, or something that can be written in books and taught from a podium. It’s cultural, and trying to teach culture requires a set of students willing to have their culture changed, or building one ab initio. (Hence, Japan’s transformation from feudal backwater to modern world power in a few short decades).

We have a lot of funny PM stories over the years, like the generators in Suriname that were derelict and stripped of salable parts a year after a refugee task force donated them to the Suriname Army; the Nigerian Airborne MTT that failed because Nigerian officers had sold off the instruments, engines, propellers, and landing gear of their C-130s (the general assumption was, to South African sanctions busters); the Bolivian officer who pressed us for high-tech equipment like GPS receivers and night-vision equipment for his ill-equipped Ranger battalion.

Hognose: “But, mi coronel, your men don’t have serviceable boots. They’re tough guys and will walk till their feet bleed, but we could do more to raise the combat power of this battalion by getting your guys boots, and I’m pretty sure we could get the Milgroup to buy off on that.”

El Tte. Coronel: “I am offended at the suggestion, my dear Nez de puerco. Every soldier gets two new pairs of boots when he reports to basic training. Regrettably, some of them do not maintain their boots.”

Hognose: “Sí, señor.” Because, really, what else can you say? Either the distiguished lieutenant colonel, or some crony of his, was working a racket where the men were reported as getting new boots, but they actually got incredibly worn and crudely patched and resoled US Army surplus Direct Molded Sole combat boots. As a result, the battalion could do a 25k road march — once, to be followed by a period of convalescence.

Sooner or later, no doubt, someone broke down and ordered high-speed low-drag electronics for these guys, most of which probably went the way of the new boots, into the black market.

When you see the field forces of a non-European/non-Anglosphere military, look at their feet. You’ll learn if they aspire to first-world professionalism (you’ll never see Brazilian grunts in unserviceable boots, for instance), or if the whole Army is there for show, in which case every piece of gear they have will be either new and shiny — freshly donated by the taxpaying chumps of some foreign land — or two years old and already cannibalized for parts or scrapped.

Preventive maintenance culture. It’s what separates the powers from the popinjays.

The Listening / Security Halt

Getting ready. You don't skyline yourselves like this forward of the lines.

Getting ready. You don’t skyline yourselves like this forward of the lines.

The most annoying person in the world is the write-only device. You know that guy: he never shuts up, yammering on and on, and never stopping to listen, only to take a breath. As you might expect, that habit which makes everyone want to kill him in a peacetime classroom or office, makes it easy for the enemy to literally kill him in combat.

There is much to be said about stealth and silence. The first thing that we will say is this: truly silent motion across terrain is not possible. It is an ideal for which you must strive, but even Mark Twain recognized it as nothing but a literary convention, when he was beating the defenseless James Fenimore Cooper senseless in a battle of wits:

Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn’t step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.

It was always a Cooper white man who broke the twig, because Indians were born to patient stealth, at least in his universe. (Cooper, one must remember, was no frontiersman, but a cashiered Naval Academy midshipman). The Indian, in fact, was no more capable of silent movement than a ninja, an SF soldier, or you.

It was a crushing disappointment to learn that we would not, in SFQC, learn the Indian ninja art of silent walking on dry oak leaves. Instead, however, we learned something more practically useful: how to be quieter than the other guy, and as quiet as we needed to be.

If silent movement is not possible — and it isn’t, if your enemy can’t hear you, his dogs, with their superhuman hearing, can — then moving stealthily at night requires several things:

  1. Masking local noise with background noise;
  2. Altering the kinds of noise to attenuate sound travel; and,
  3. Periodic listening halts.
Not hard enough? Try it in MOPP.

Not hard enough? Try it in MOPP.

The first two are fairly obvious: you can move much more rapidly without giving yourself away when a train is passing by, and high-pitched sounds travel poorly. (You do need to bear in mind that sound travels differently in different atmospheric conditions). The most complicated of those three principles of night movement to apply is the periodic listening halt.

Immediately after inserting, assembly, or crossing a danger area (of which more in some subsequent article), the patrol or team must conduct an initial listening security halt. While the details of the halt may vary, something like this works:

  1. Freeze in place.
  2. Remain there for five full minutes. 
  3. Maintain 360º security.
  4. Actively listen the whole time.
  5. After five minutes, make a decision: move, or continue listening?

Why five minutes? You can change that time if you like, but it’s a good minimum because it’s quite a long time to be frozen in one place. Even a patient enemy, who stops when you do, will move and give his existence and position away before five minutes is up.

Active listening? That means concentrating on listening. You’re not only listening for the enemy, but also to develop a mental picture of what normal night sounds in your location are like. What are they like immediately when you stop? If you have been halted for a time, are there animal noises that come back (and that presumably stopped while you were moving)? Knowing this gives you an edge in the woods, compared to someone who doesn’t.

After the initial halt, the element leader must have a way to silently signal the element to begin moving again. If there is sufficient illumination, hand and arm signals may be effective; if not, touch signals should be used. Only in the most extreme case should a command be verbalized, and then, it should be whispered (remember, a higher-pitched whisper will travel much more poorly than a normal-pitched vocalized word — which is a good thing in a night full of hostiles).

It goes without saying that all these modes of command and control, and the listening security halts themselves, must be practiced in controlled conditions in garrison before attempting them in the face of an armed enemy. Night combat patrol operations are at the far end of a long crawl-walk-run pipeline; they’re the Boston Marathon of crawl-walk-run.

Animal and bird sounds make both effective stealth command and control means, and also excellent “cover” if you inadvertently make a sound in the possible presence of the enemy. Do a Leatherstocking and break a twig, or snap back a branch? The risk of exposure may be mitigated, if you can fake the snort of a deer or porcine species native to the area.

Once the element is on the move, further listening security halts should be executed at relatively short but variable periods. You can set these by distance or by time; it’s also helpful to be cognizant of terrain. If you have just passed through some stuff that was impossible to be truly quiet in, like dense mountain laurel or the dry leaves of an oak forest in winter, a listening security halt on the far side should be able to reassure you about the prospect of being tracked or tailed. As in all patrol technique, principles are iron but the means of serving those principles are best mixed up so as not to simplify the enemy’s counterpatrol planning.

Don’t be the foot-shufflin’, twig-snappin’, noise-makin’ equivalent of the yammering guy in the first paragraph. On patrol, the silent man comes home; the guy who loves the sound of his own noise dies from it.

It Levels Out After the Pond

10th SF -- not a bad bubble to be in, 1980-1985.

10th SF Group — not a bad bubble to be in, 1980-1985. We were oriented towards all of Western Europe, from Norway to the Med. That tested all our skills — and our fitness — every day.

So you guys want more SF stories? Here’s an SF story from the ancient past — specifically, 1981.

That year finds Your Humble Blogger as a new guy in the 10th MI Co. (CBTI), the integrated intelligence unit of the 10th Special Forces Group. By that we mean, all the group’s intelligence disciplines were clustered here, under the leadership, usually, of SF qualified officers and senior NCOs with ODA and staff time. The disciplines included all-source analysis, HUMINT, SIGINT, IMINT, and CI. In later years, these units would be broken up and smaller all-source cells pushed down to the battalions. Nowadays the intelligence specialty personnel are not expected to pursue SF qualification (which, nowadays, would remove them automatically from the intel unit and reset them on the team-guy track) but that long ago it was a common aspiration of both the all-source analysts (who found it eased rapport with the ODA and ODB guys) and the intel collectors (who, in those days, operated independently as teams in their own right, and therefore had to match the fieldcraft skills of the ODAs, also). In that unit, nobody shrank from physical and moral challenges, and everybody pursued hard, realistic training.

LTPosterfinalIt was almost exactly 35 years ago, and the weather where we were that day, in the mountains of Vermont, was much like the weather for yesterday’s Seacoast bike ride: gloriously sunny, dry and calm, and just under 90ºF (32ºC, for those whose nation has yet to land men on the moon). Mountain Warfare was on the menu, along with some UW training. This was not technical climbing; this was basically a lot of uphill hiking with the occasional scrabble over rocks. (It has probably gotten more uphill in the last three-dozen years of remembering). But this is less about the training, and more about how 1LT Dave went from our most liked to our least liked officer.

We really did like Dave. He was like us: young, irreverent, smart, and he’d rather be on an ODA than stuck in a CI officer billet. But he did his best in that job, and frequently went the extra mile to organize tradecraft training for those who needed it, primarily the CI cell and the operational detachments.

It was when he strayed from trade- to fieldcraft that we came to curse his name. His family had had a retreat in the Vermont mountains, and he offered that as a base for a week of fieldcraft and tradecraft training. The field points were hiking in, living out of poncho hooches as we did, and then, after the rural tradecraft work, hiking (again) to a particular riverbank spot where we would find rubber boats, then running the rapids of the river back to an RV point where trucks would meet us for the ride back to civilization. There was probably some more hiking than that; hiking always loomed large in our legend, you might say. Most of our planned hiking was along the Long Trail and the Vermont portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Civilian hikers on the Long Trail. Looks easy! (Deceptively).

Civilian hikers on the Long Trail. Looks easy! (Deceptively).

Dave planned the hike based on several hikes from his childhood memory. Some of the trails he had in mind were not marked on military maps, but it didn’t matter much as our key waypoints were mountain peaks, which are rather unmistakeable; the hike was along a by-section of the official Appalachian or Long Trail, so in high summer we could count on lots of company. The civilians must have been wondering who were the armed goons with the oversize packs, whose mother had dressed them funny.

As we started off the first morning, Dave uttered the words for which he would come within a heartbeat of a lynching: “It’s pretty steep at the start, but as I recall it levels off after the pond.”

About 6 hours in, most of it spent on 40% or higher slope, an ill-advised detour through some mountain laurel, and a few stretches climbing rocks on all fours, we came to a pond. We couldn’t see what was ahead because of the thick vegetation, but we all expressed relief. “It levels off after the pond!” We were stripped to t-shirts and had to periodically reapply bug juice, as both black and yellow flies were in season, and sweat — which we all did, profusely — sluiced the insect repellent off.

The pond! It would level off after the pond, thank a merciful God, and Dave’s memory.

Now, our faith in God survived the coming evolution, but our faith in Dave’s memory was badly shaken. Because rather than leveling off after the pond, the terrain seemed to redouble its rate of ascent; the Green Mountains, which peak out from around 3,700 to 4,400 feet (call it 1130 to 2000 meters) are not exactly the Himalayas, but it was the going down to 2500-3000 feet between peaks that was kicking our teeth in. We finally crested the Big Daddy (Mt. Mansfield, site of the Stowe ski resort) and discovered we had an RV to make with trucks to Dave’s family’s place.

The rack, the auto-da-fé, the Large ALICE pack -- this one underpacked; we'd call it a "nerf ruck" at this level of load (about 50%).

The rack, the auto-da-fé, the Large ALICE pack — this one underpacked; we’d call it a “nerf ruck” at this level of load (about 50%).

We tumbled down the hill (in some cases and at some times, literally tumbled). We were bruised, sore and exhausted. Some of the guys were having cramps. On this descent, we passed a couple of college cuties hiking the trail. We figured we looked studly, in our filth and sweat and arms and accouterments. They quickly set us straight. We looked like overladen, crushed and beaten gun-toting hobos in coincidentally-matching rags.

At the bottom of the trail, Dave met us. He was fresh. He probably smelled fresh, not that we could confirm any fragrance from where we stood amidst a small herd of human wildebeests. From the wrinkle of his nose and his rapid backstepping, it was clear that the fragrance we couldn’t smell on each other was evident enough to normal humanity.

“I thought you said it leveled off after the [censored] pond!” (Before the Army, we had never known that “mother” was only half a word).

“Sure it does. You have to take the left where the trail is blazed…”


“Didn’t do that, did you. Did I forget to tell you?”

The next day, tradecraft classes resumed. As we dispersed to conduct various types of technical communications, every single guy had something to say about that everloving pond.

In fact, a couple of years ago, we ran into Dave, now an executive with a Federally Financed Research & Development Center. And he knew how we’d greet him (and did!)

It levels off after the [censored] pond!

Nowadays he takes it with good humor. And since 1981, he has never, ever told anyone it levels out after the pond.

Retro American Service Rifles, Part 1: M14

Vietnam Memorial Soldiers by Frederick Hart

You can get an Vietnam era rifle without getting bronzed, it turns out.

If you can afford a collection of service-type rifles, and have checked the key World War II blocks, two of the most iconic weapons are the guns of the Vietnam War: the M14 carried by the Marines and some Army units in the war’s earliest years, and the M16A1 carried by most US soldiers from 1965 on, and by the ARVN from 1970. Here’s examples of M14 clones that you can take home: an early M14 clone with an interesting history (thanks to OTR for sending this one in), and a rare M21 that was a deliberate “contract overrun” the manufacturer made for himself while producing a short run of snipers for a Special Forces unit.

Tomorrow, look for low-production M16A1 clones from a new vendor. If you’re well-off and generous, either would make a nice gift for the Vietnam Vet in your family.

The M14 was developed over 12 years at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, and what the taxpayers got was, basically, a slightly larger M1 with a larger box magazine, a slightly more compact (but ballistically equivalent) cartridge, a fairly useless select-fire capability, and a much better (from weight and accuracy standpoints) gas system. It was the last hurrah of the Springfield Armory (and its high cost for low innovation was one of the things that sank Springfield with the too-influential SecDef, Robert S. MacNamara). But the men who carried it (especially, the Marines who trained with it) loved the gun.

It was quickly adapted to target shooting by Marine and Army marksmanship units, and continued in this role for many years after the adoption of the M16A1 due to public (and competitor!) belief that the M16 design did not have the accuracy potential to be competitive at High Power or Service Rifle competition. (Someone who has only competed in these events recently might be surprised to hear that; now, the old Garand action guns struggle to compete with modern ARs). It was target shooters, first, who demanded competition-legal M14 clones. Former servicemen who’d used the rifle in training or combat were also a demand nexus.

M14: An Early Semi Clone

Before there was an M1A, there were other attempts at making semi commercial M14s. In fact, Lee Emerson, in Volume 4 of his M14 Rifle History and Development, Fifth Edition, lists no fewer than 19 manufacturers. The high-visibility and high-volume producer has certainly been Springfield Armory, Inc., of Geneseo, IL and Texas. But prior to 1989 significant quantities of Chinese rifles (marked Polytech or Norinco) were imported, Smith Enterprises and LRB Inc. have and continue to make high-end M14 clones, and numerous smaller builders have come and gone.

AR Sales M14 01

One of the earliest was A.R. Sales Company, which shared a location in South El Monte, California, with later M14 producers Federal Ordnance (Fed Ord) and National Ordnance. According to Emerson, 225 receivers were manufactured by A.R. Sales. Marked “Mark IV” (there is no sign of Marks I through III), and with 200 serial numbers from the range 1 to 225 and all 25 from 226-250, they were mated to surplus M14 parts by A.R. Sales’s armorers. A.R.’s (and Fed Ord and Nat Ord) receivers were investment cast and finish machined.

This rifle is Serial Number 34.

AR Sales M14 06

Because there was no selector or provision for one, the unsightly notch in the wooden M14 stocks was fitted with a plug carved to match. (This approach would later be used by others, too).

AR Sales M14 05

Is that a little bit of touch-up on the finish?

This A.R. Sales rifle was produced, shipped and sold in 1972. The auction is a model of how to set up a GunBroker auction (except that there’s no “M14” in the title for search convenience!): there are 68 (!) photographs, including close-ups of every feature and flaw in the rifle, and the complete provenance of the gun, which is proven by documents.

AR Sales M14 07

Amazing. The seller says this:

A letter from I.I. Karnes of A.R. Sales to customers and potential customers said that you could hold your position for an order with a $15 deposit. All rifles had National Match barrels (this one certainly does) but they weren’t glass-bedded or NM accurized.

Opening bid is $2,650; high for a generic M1A type clone, perhaps, but the originality and provenance of this rifle must tempt any American service rifle collector. If you want a lot of M14 clones, you ought to have this one; and if you only want one, why not make it one with a story?

M21: A One-Off

Smith Enterprise built a series of M21s for the newly-forming 1st Special Forces Group in 1984. Ron kept one as a personal rifle, sold it to another M14 enthusiast some 20 years later, and it’s now for sale again.

Smith M21 overview

These rifles were marked with the SF Crest before being heat-treated. All but Ron’s with this mark went to 1st Group. (Why mark a firearm with an OPSEC violation? Your guess is as good as anybody’s on that). All the others had selective fire provisions, so this is the only legit crested M21 that will ever be on the private market.

Smith M21 CrestWe believe that these were originally configured like the 1980s M21s we fired, with a Leatherwood ART II scope in a GI mount. This one has been set up since 2005 with a Leupold Mark IV (NTTAWWT, it’s what the Army did after the ART II).

Smith M21

This is a very high-end collector rifle and the seller expects a very high price.

Originally, we meant to cover some new M16 clones as well, but we found more to say about these M14s than we expected. Look for the ’16s tomorrow or Thursday morning.

Bleg: World War II Suppressors

Business end of typical Maxim silencer.

Business end of typical Maxim silencer.

We’re working on a technical post on the suppressors of World War II. We know of the following:

Germany: Pistole 27(t) late war suppressor, MP 40 suppressor (limited production) K.98k suppressor (ditto).

Great Britain: Welrod, High Standard .22, Luger, Maxim suppressors (SOE was disappointed), Mk IIS Sten. De Lisle carbine.

United States: M1911A1 .45, integral M3/M3A1 SMG, Colt .380, High-standard .22 (entirely different from the British development).


USSR: none (this does not seem right, given the Soviets’ extensive use of “diversionary” and special operations elements, and their broad conception of intelligence and reconnaissance operations).

Italy: none

Japan: none

Minor powers: none

Help a brother out here. What else is unknown out there? I expect the bulk of the article is going to be on the P.27(t), which is known from several surviving samples, and the British stuff, which is very well documented.

Be My Woobie

There’s no rational explanation of a man’s attachment to his woobie — his poncho liner, one of the few things of military issue that is treasured long into civilian life.

If rational won’t work, here comes Mat Best and friends to explain the story in song:

We’re closer to the Out door than the In door of life, no matter how optimistically we measure, and we still have woobies strategically prepositioned on all recliners in Hog Manor.

Indeed, a woobie and a dog, and a nice recliner… why ever go out?