Category Archives: SF History and Lore

Afghan M4 Makeover, Step 2: Knight’s RIS

We’ve unboxed it, and dressed it up (down?) with the actual buttstock from our 2002-03 tour of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and “other places,” a stock retired from military service to an ignominious end in a dumpster (kind of like what the VA does to us, now that we think about it).

Now it’s time and past for the next phase in our Makeover. We’ve taken care of the proximal end of our combat appendage, now we need to move closer to the distal end and add a 2000-era SOPMOD I style rails system. The 6920 came with the latest version of CAR-15 inspired handguards. Again we weighed it; the scale has given us 6.5 and 6.6 pounds (Sunday, it gave us 6.60 pounds and 6 pounds 8 ounces. Wait, what?) We suspect the variations are environmental. We haven’t recorded temperature, but it’s in a basement held steady at about 40% humidity by dehumidifier.


You can see a hint of the rails to come at the bottom of that image! At this point, we’ll insert a jump to keep the blog’s front-page manageable, because this post is ~2400 words and lots of big pictures which embiggen substantially. (We apologize for the quality of the pics, which are cellphone specials. We really need to get a DSLR again).

Continue reading

A cool 1911 graphic

We saw this blurbed at Instapundit:


The full thing by artist Jacob O’Neal is something you have to see. Because as cool this is, even clicked-to-embiggen, this is just one small part of it, as a static graphic. The real thing offers several views, and is animated. 

Boy. Sure wish we’d had this back in Weapons School, when two of us ran a study hall late into the night to try to save the guys who had been recycled from the class before us. (We did, but it was hard work — mostly by them, we just happened to be college boys with good study habits who could help out).

Go to his animations site, and enjoy Jacob’s artistry. Along with the gun he’s got jet and piston engines and a tarantula. Then come back, hear?

Back now? Was that 1911 animation cool, or what? So, now go see the animated infographic he did for SilencerCo some time back. (And all you 1911 bashers who wanted a Glock, guess what’s hosting the SilencerCo Osprey in the graphic?)

Guy’s a talented artist. Some website looking for differentiation ought to commission him. (We don’t think we can afford him without crimping the toy budgets).

Afghan M4 Makeover, Step 1: Vintage Stock

We remember seeing the 6921 as it shook out of the box yesterday. It came with a maybe-good-we-dunno Rogers Super-Stoc, which is not what we had in the hills of the Hazarajat.


So we needed to go to the parts box for an original Colt Fiberite stock, of which we had a number even before putting in the order for the carbine.

But it turned out, we had a guardian angel looking out for us. One day, while the 6921 sat waiting for the stamp, we got a ring from an old friend who was then still in the old unit.

“What was your rack number?” Easy enough to remember. Jeez, we inventoried the team, and even the unit, weapons often enough. (The Army requires frequent serial number inventories which must be done by two officers or senior NCOs). Normally used and broken weapons parts are turned in, but the unit had a shipment of new SOPMOD stocks, and someone somewhere made a decision that the decade-plus-old, war-weary and well-worn stocks, were dumpster food. It would cost more to collect and ship them to DRMO than they could possibly bring at auction. So they were thrown out.

Needless to say, any of the guys who wanted one, brought one home. And our buddy — God bless him — brought ours home.


Dang. A real piece of the exact gun we had in Afghanistan, is the first part of our reproduction of that stalwart companion. Who else can say that?

Now, practically, the stock is inferior to the Rogers stock on several planes. It’s a little looser and shakier on the stock extension. The Rogers has the trick locking lever, which is nifty. Neither one really has a good cheek weld, but the Rogers curved buttplate is a lot more ergonomic.

And, of course, there are other superior stocks out there. But, like the Marine mantra about This is my rifle, “there are many like it, but this one is mine.” Not to go all seagull or anything.

(Note: we were wrong yesterday if we said the initial weight of the 6921 with the Rogers was 6.6 and then we established it was 6.5 after weighing the rifle with the Fiberite stock. As this photo, which we didn’t look at when writing the post, reveals, the second set of weights was 6.6, meaning the 6.5 was the initial weight result).

There’s a long way to go in our M4 Makeover. Next installment? Rails and foregrip.

Colt M4LE Model 6921 Unboxing

Objective: build the best possible transferable replica of an Afghanistan, early war, Special Forces carbine. Specifically the one we toted around Kandahar, Bagram, and on Operation Roll Tide with the 3rd Battalion of the Afghan National Army in the Khamard and Madr Valleys of central Afghanistan.

We started with noting what a young(er) WeaponsMan toted around the hills: an early M4A1 to which the SOPMOD I kit came as an afterthought (and because our company was remote from, and in a different state from, Battalion and Group HQ, we didn’t get the whole kit until we returned, because the Group S4 ratholed it and forgot about it. Supply, a most under-appreciated field of endeavor). We figured the nearest we could come to it was a Colt LE M4, as it would have roll marks similar to the combat-carried weapon, and the correct barrel length. We ordered the gun two years ago, and it came quickly to our FFL.


The trip to the workbench was long and eventful. An attempt to set up new trust came unglued, and after a second attempt, we moved forward with an individual purchase. (And yes, that means when we get the trust straightened out we’ll have to pay another two bill transfer tax to put it in the trust). Then, of course, ATF fell far behind in approving NFA transfers. They finally got the paperwork after all of our delays in March, 2014; in October, at the 6-month point, we called NFA Branch for an update.

“It’s all good,” the examiner said. “There’s nothing wrong with your packet, and it’ll probably be approved.”


“…in January.”

“Oh. Well, thanks. Out here.”

But the examiner underpromised and overdelivered. In November, we got a call with the welcome note: “Your stamp’s here!”

Cool. Two months early! We couldn’t pick it up till this month, so it was like getting an early Christmas gift.

You’ve seen the box; overleaf, there’s a photo-rich set of detail pictures of the carbine after the jump below. The photos are unretouched except for cropping, setting levels, erasing serial numbers (a bit silly, as the guys who scan the net for serial numbers already have this one) and stripping EXIF data.

Continue reading

The Past: Lecture on Survival, Evasion and Escape, 1970s

The following film of a live lecture appears to date to the 1970s. (Ignore the placeholder picture, which seems to be some posed nonsense, and ignore that fact that the idjit who posted it to YouTube thinks it’s SF-related). It’s definitely post-1973 as they refer to the experiences of returning Vietnam POWs. The lecturer, Capt. Arthur, a Medical Service Corps officer, wears the combat field medical badge, suggesting he is a Vietnam veteran, but he’s too young to be 15-20 years out of combat, which rules out most of the 1980s. In addition, he’s wearing the men’s khaki Class B uniform, which went out of service in October, 1981. A woman in the class is wearing one of the oddball 70s womens’ uniforms that went out sometime between 1980 and 81.

While YouTube bills this as an SF class, it is no such thing. As the podium reveals, this was a lecture period from the Army Medical Institute of Health Sciences, and CPT Arthur refers to “all of us in AMEDD” — the Army MEDical Department.

In the late 1970s, Col. James N. “Nick” Rowe revitalized SERE training in the Army. Prior to Rowe’s creation of the SERE course, a handful of men went to Air Force or Navy survival training and came back to pass the lessons on. Afterwards, Rowe’s course became mandatory for SF officers and NCOs, and later still became a must-pass gate in the training pipeline.

Survival, Evasion and Escape doesn’t come up until about 16 minutes in, and Resistance is never covered (as it never was, before Rowe). At about 19 minutes he displays a blood chit, part of an escape kit. At about 24 minutes, he explains why stealing a weapon is a bad idea for an evader. At 30 minutes or so, there is a discussion of the display of the Red Cross, something that has remained a subject of discussion or argument to date. Right after that, there’s a discussion of whether it does medical personnel a disservice to train them on the Geneva Conventions when so many of our opponents don’t honor them. This was, to us, the most interesting moment in the whole thing.

We had never thought about the situation medical officers were in, when captured; they’re supposed to have a special status called “retained,” and be allowed to treat their wounded. In Vietnam, one doctor was captured, and we learned from this lecture that he was treated no better than other POWs. This seems to have been the norm on the Eastern Front in WWII, on both sides, as well.

This video is a glimpse of what passed for Survival, Evasion and Escape training in the Army, and even in SF, before Rowe. And it’s still about what you’ll get in much of the Army today: an earnest and well-prepared officer delivering a briefing on the Code of Conduct in a classroom environment. It’s also a glimpse of what Death By PowerPoint looked like in the decade before PowerPoint’s invention.

It’s also a glimpse of the earnest belief that many in Big Green still have in the laws of land warfare and those laws’ protections of noncombatants such as medical officers. The last enemy we fought that even paid lip service to these rulebooks was Nazi Germany, a lifetime ago. Every subsequent enemy has made less attempt to honor the conventions than the one before him.

A Slice of SOF History on GunBroker

These pistols for sale on GunBroker come with a rare claim: they were used by one of the nation’s most important special operations units during a period in the mid-oughts when that unit was flat-out in a radical optempo on worldwide CT missions (and other missions as well).  Not just “pistols like these,” but these exact pistols are represented as having been used in that particular SOF unit. They have a letter of authenticity from a former unit member who did have access and placement to know about the unit’s armament initiatives at the time.


And they’re pretty good pistols, but the bid of $6,500 at press time hasn’t broken the reserve. Here’s what the auction says:

Both of these STI 2011 .40 caliber pistols saw actual issue and use in a US Army SOF unit in 2006-2007. One pistol is in 93%+ condition and the other is in 96%+ condition. They are consecutively serial numbered and are quite possibly the only consecutively numbered set to be offered for sale. This consecutively numbered set comes with the following items: *** individual letters of authenticity from Larry Vickers ( for each pistol— original, unedited versions will be provided to the buyer *** six 140mm 17 round magazines *** one 170mm 22 round magazine *** one issued Surefire X200A light *** issued Safariland 6005 light bearing holster with end user modifications *** two Eagle Industries pistol cases

via US SOF issued STI 2011 pistols. Consecutive SNs. : Semi Auto Pistols at

STI no, 1

We did some looking into this and the unit in question did indeed experiment with a batch of 60 STIs in .40 during the 2006-7 time frame. They ultimately decided not to go that way, and returned the guns to STI. Some of them were very worn and beat-up; STI went through them and then sold them as used through their distributors. These two guns have a letter from Larry Vickers of Vickers Tactical, but a lot of the others are out there without any such letter. Not sure why some are authenticated and others are not, but it obviously boosts the auction appeal of the letter-of-authentication guns.

STI No. 2

As far as we know, these are the only operator-used guns from this unit that have ever gotten out, although there may be personal weapons and presentation weapons out there somewhere. Since the Clinton Administration, the military has generally made a practice of destroying firearms rather than letting Americans buy them. Even weapons given or sold to foreign allies are sold with can’t-let-American-civilians-get-‘em strings attached.

These are very good pistols. Unless you’re famous for your shooting, they probably shoot better than you do. With proper maintenance, they’re reliable as a watch. (There were some complaints about environmental malfunctions — i.e., choking on sand — in extreme conditions).

Parsing the redacted letters of authenticity, it’s interesting to see what Larry said, and what he didn’t say. He’s not some lawyer who practices picking his words to mislead, so we may be reading too much into this, but he does say they’re the only weapons sold “outside the unit.” Have some unit members, like generals, been given the privilege of retiring with their sidearms?  We don’t know, and think it somewhat unlikely, but along with some of the best shooters, that unit has usually gotten some of the the best support people in the Army — including the best lawyers. So it’s possible.

One thing for sure: the people who have a lot to say about that unit don’t know, and the people who know about that unit don’t have a lot to say. Which is as it should be.

If you want the STIs, or just to see more pictures,  the auction is here.

(Thanks for the tip off — you know who you are).

This is why there is an AOD in your rig

AOD is an automatic opening device, and these jumpers, who look like beginners at relative work, give theirs the acid test.

Only two of the three jumpers, a base guy and a camera guy, join up. The smiling base guy is by convention supposed to be the one watching altitude, but he doesn’t look at his altimeter as the two struggle to get together. As far as the camera guy goes, you can see his altimeter, first barely in the red arc of the altimeter (you can guess what that means) and then you get a glimpse of it buried in the middle of the red.

These guys come that close to making the sickening sound that no one ever forgets if they’ve heard it once. They are saved because their AODs fire. (Both divers had the Cypres AOD, we think the Cypres 2).

The AOD works by electronically monitoring the speed of the fall versus the altitude. Older models were mechanical and worked off barometric pressure. Early SF freefallers used the Czech made Mikrotechnika KAP-3, an exported version of one designed in Russia. You had to wind it like a watch!

Years ago, skydivers were macho about AODs and didn’t use them; the military made them mandatory decades before skydive businesses started doing it, except with beginners. (At least they did it for beginners, but on some level they know that killing beginners is bad for business).

This double save shows how easy it is to get task saturated with a mission task even when you’re doing something that needs a very large part of your full attention, like falling straight down at 120 miles per hour. The first AODs were brilliant solutions to that problem of task saturation.

It’s not just jumpers that do it… we’d guess that every air force in the world has lost a fighter bomber whose pilot was so target fixated he followed his rounds or bombs on to it. We always wonder about guys who are credited for ramming enemy ships or forts or airplanes with their own plane — was it intentional, kamikaze-style, or did they just get task saturated?

Programmable software creates the opportunity to make AOD-like advances in some other operational areas. Food for thought.

And in the meantime, the Cypres is there to save you, if your forget to save yourself like these two very, very lucky fellows.

Vietnam Combat Jumpers to be Honored

For a long time, their exploits were secret. Some of the leaked out. Some of them got written up. There was never any book-length treatment1, nor any official recognition, beyond well-deserved valor awards for some participants, and

The new commander of US Army Special Forces Command aims to fix that:

army_1star_flagBrigadier General Darsie D. Rogers
Commanding General
1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) (Provisional)
cordially invites you to attend a

Recognition Ceremony
to honor
Members of Operations-35
for their
Actions in Combat during the War in Vietnam

on Friday, the fifth of December
at nine o’clock

John F. Kennedy Auditorium
3004 Ardennes Street, Fort Bragg, North Carolina

There were a number of RT jumps. Some static line, some HALO. There is a chapter in Plaster’s SOG that covers them, but we think John would admit, not completely. Teams we know of that made jumps include:

  • RT Asp
  • RT Auger
  • RT Florida, 11/70 (first HALO)
  • RT Alaska, 5/71
  • RT Wisconsin, 10/71

Some of the combat-jump team leaders included Garrett Robb, Babysan Davidson, RJ Graham, and Billy Waugh.

There were also other units that conducted combat jumps, including Marine Reconnaissance units, but they weren’t part of SOG. Some SF combat jumps were not SOG related (for example, jumps by Mike or Mobile Strike Forces).


1. There has also been no treatment of the development of HALO, either, and only a few of the developers (Jim Hauck, who welded up the 1st O2 console and was one of the record-jump jumpers of the early 60s, springs to mind) are still with us and available for interviews.  Mil History Grad Students, need a PhD thesis?

WOOT! Form 4’s approved.

This is a Colt 6921 M4LE that we’ve been waiting for… for a while. The ATF cashed the check in February, started counting in March, and last we talked told us to expect approval… by January. If they’d told us in March (or when we talked to them last, in September), “mid-November,” we’d have been bummed out; finding out “mid-November” is the date in mid-November, when you were expecting two more months ahead with no firearm, well,  that’s truly Wootsome.

Worked for us.

We”ve shot the gun with most of this stuff (have never seen the reflex sight, actually), but took it to war with only the KAC Rail Interface System and foregrip, the ACOG, the PEQ-2, the Surefire light, and sometimes the suppressor (also a KAC product). By 2004 or 2005, some of these items had been replaced by new gear. Note the Colt Fiberite stock. 

That’s nine months, including March and November, and indicates things may be speeding up in West-by-God-Virginia, which natives of the state (who seem drawn to infantry and SF the way Bostonians flock to signals intelligence and the judge advocate’s racket) taught us was the proper name of their mountainous home.

It’s a lot of hassle for 1.3″ of Shortness of Barrel, Rifle type, but it gives us something to put the 416 upper on occasionally while its bottom half is still… hors de combat. Maybe a Hartford vs. Oberndorf (or is it Hartford vs. Newington? We’ll have to check the paperwork) shoot-out is in the cards.

But the real purpose of this Colt is to rebuild, as nearly as transferably possible, our Afghanistan war gun from 2002-2003. There’s just one picture of it as deployed. We’re still looking for an old ACOG TA01, but we have most of the other cruft that goes on it, including (and this is just about magical) the actual stock of the actual gun, painstakingly salvaged by a friend from a pile in the trash when newer stocks arrived and instructions on the old ones were, “toss.”

It’s kind of like linking up with an old friend, again, after many years apart.

Yes, AR tech has moved on and we’ll be building a gun that will be quaint and obsolete.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

But after over 10 years, that M4 is real-live history. (OK: recreated, Hollywood-style genuine-imitation history). Regardless, we’re excited.

Can we get a, “Woot!”?

The 1968 LRRP Conference on Weapons: Vol. II.

Since we knew you were going to ask, here’s the weapons stuff out of Vol. II., which was the Recondo School presentation. But it’s notable that before they discussed weapons, they discussed two more crucial elements — helicopter support (both logistics, in terms of slicks, and fires, in the shape of a Light Fire Team of attack and scout helicopters). But they did get to weapons in due course.

Weapons – The type of enemy positions, type of operation planned and the AO requires a supply of varied weapons. Most of the time a major commander will make weapons available regardless of the MTOE. However. to solve the problem. a weapons pool at the company or detachment headquarters with some of each type of weapon should be created. This would include such items as the M-79 grenade launchers, M-l6 machineguns, silenced pistols and rifles and other special purpose weapons.


Straightforward enough. We have always struggled agains the Big Green bureaucracy, in our efforts to maintain a pool of foreign and obsolete weapons, as well as other low-density US weapons, for training and operational purposes. Conventional officers, especially logistical types, tend to come from way out on the left tail of the bell curve, and have a really hard time understanding this. They really hate it when sensible preparations for combat interfere with their systems of orderly and regular inventories.

Next, the report addresses the patrol member’s dream date, the CAR-15 (which is very, very rarely called “XM177E2,” its real Army name, in period reports. Of course, some were XM177s and XM177E1s, and others were combat tested with just a Colt model number, or a Colt GX — “Government Experimental” — model number).

The CAR-15 appears to be a popular and desirable weapon and should be available. However, it is questionable as whether every man should have one. Much of its popularity is due to its newness and novelty. The point man and radio operator should have them to reduce the welight they must carry and because of the convenience offered by their shorter length. Sometimes the accuracy at long ranges of the M-16 is needed and the M.16 rarely malfunctions; therefore, it must also be available.

Of course, Colt’s whole production run of CAR-15s was, according to Colt records, 10,000 weapons. Not counting odd lots and rarities like this “GX” model (“Government Experimental,” usually indicating a toolroom prototype).

Colt GX-5857


When the Son Tay Raid was standing up, there were none in the Army’s inventory in new condition, so Task Force Ivory Coast acquired a stock of either Air Force or Export guns. The handful of existing Son Tay photographs show that the carbines resemble Colt Model 639/XM177E2 “submachine guns,” but lack the characteristic forward assist.


Even though airborne insertions were never used in RVN by Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol or Long Range Patrol teams, the conference concluded it was valuable:

The group was unanimous in desiring airborne qualification. First of all they felt LRP’s had to be considered on an army wide basis and not just on operations Vietnam. They felt units in Europe would be hindered if this capability was taken away. As a bonus the group contended the airborne qualification increases a man’s ability and confidence. It is not that being a jumper is so important: it is the mere fact that a man has proven to himself that he can go through the training and overcome a natural fear, the fear of leaving an aircraft. He has accomplished something that he had probably felt was beyond his capability. He also has learned to pay attention to detail. You have to see a new jumper or a halo jumper check his equipment to see attention to detail.

An LRP team requires this meticulousness in preparing their weapons and equipment, in planning for the patrol, and in intelligence collecting and reporting. In the CIDG program all of the MIKE forces, Mobile Strike Forces and recon units are sent through jump training. The man who is cocky enough to jump out of an airplane will probably be more willing to move into that hole in enemy territory. Some felt the graduation from Recondo School should be a prerequisite for airborne pay but the majority were opposed to this since there are only a limited number of spaces at the Recondo School.

Interesting thoughts. Even today, 46 years later, most of the world’s elite forces undergo parachute training even if they will never, ever make an airborne insertion. And recent events have proven that an airborne insertion is still a useful capability.

The documents are worth the study, if you’re interested in these things. Part I is the conference, 50 pp: LRRP Conference 1968 Part 1.pdf; Part II is a presentation on Recondo School, 10 pp:LRRP Conference 1968 part II Recondo School.pdf.