Monthly Archives: May 2012

Some AR-10 News & Views

Alas, no new photos yet, but we have seen the AR-10 that we mentioned before, and it’s really nice. Photos soon, and a range trip, insha’allah. For the time being, here’s one of the auction shots to hold you. (A single click is your embiggenator).

We’ve discovered just how rare these things are: less than 1,600 Portuguese AR-10s were made, all in 1960. Because of American gun laws and the ATF’s regulatory import ban, the ones that were imported were imported primarily as NFA Dealer Samples or — like this one — as parts kits, then mated up with new-manufacture receivers. It’s unlikely that there were more than a few hundred made in all, by at least three makers of lower receivers; and due to the ATF’s subsequent extension of the ban to barrels, it’s unlikely any more of the parts kits or firearms will be imported.

Here’s the original auction for this one, which will remain on the net for a short while.

Handling the weapon, there are a ton of differences between it at the modern AR-15-based AR-10s, some of which favor each weapon.

In the meatime, an even nicer one, in the Sudanese variant, came up on GunBroker — and sold for $5,250. Yowza. The Portuguese one we have to examine is not as minty, and has replacement wood furniture, but it changed hands for a little over half that.

It’s the first one that’s always cheap and easy, like your first hit from the neighborhood crack dealer. It’s when can’t stop yourself from upgrading the collection that it destroys your finances and your life and you wind up living in a Kelvinator box under a highway overpass — with no money, personal hygiene, or teeth,  but with one of each variant of the gun.

The AR-10, though, is an unusually seminal gun. It did not see a lot of combat use, but where it did — in Portugal’s colonial wars of the seventies, and in some Castro-sponsored insurgencies like the one in the Dominican Republic — it made its mark. That was not its real “mark,” though, however much Portuguese paratroopers and European mercenaries on both sides of Third World Wars of “Liberation” may have loved it. More important was its position as the combat proof of concept for a weapon made of aerospace alloy forgings and molded composites, as the stealthy point man for the mass invasion of AR-15s, M16s, and M4s and all their cousins that would follow.

More Army Psyops for Rangerettes

Rangerettes! They'd better use a lot of bug juice if they're going to show up at Benning dressed like that. Image: Bob Rosato, Sports Illustrated.

The Army has put its vast Information Operations apparatus — formerly Psychological Operations — to work bullshit-bombing the American public for the Pentagon’s initiative to push women into Ranger School, the Infantry Officers Basic Leadership Course, and, in 2013, Infantry One Station Unit Training. (And to do it all, we remind you that the Chief of Staff Himself says, for the Army’s single highest priority in peace or war: officer careers). The latest piece of propaganda is an editorial about women in the Sapper Leaders Course that ran on the Army home page, and was widely distributed as a press release to mainstream newspapers.

It was not a success with the newspapers, most of which delete Army press releases along with the other spam,  but it ran on almost every propaganda outlet the Army has, hundreds of them — and, inexplicably, on the website of Soldier of Fortune magazine. (It looks like that section just has an automated feed of happy bullshit press releases from the services).  It’s on the main Army page, the Training and Doctrine command page, a special page on women in the Army, the Ft. Leonard Wood website, the website and in the dead tree version of the Ft. Leonard Wood newspaper,

The aim of the Melissa Buckley editorial is clearly informational preparation of the battlefield for any coming battle with Congress over the women-in-infantry initiative. In effect, we’re spending millions of tax dollars for one branch of government to lobby — to propagandize — to mislead — another. Not that wasteful spending is likely to alarm Congress, the acclaimed virtuosos of that instrument.

While the story explicitly states that the standards are no lower for women, that’s not what former instructors say — although they say it with the look-left, look-right, look-behind caution that we’re used to seeing from the downtrodden subjects of totalitarian states, prior to risky truth-telling.

There are some interesting statistics and interesting quotes embedded in the piece. A majority of men taking the course pass, but almost 2/3 of women who have attempted it have failed. Both males and females must be Engineer officers or NCOs. It’s unclear from the story whether any women NCOs have attended the course; if so, none have passed, as all of the 46 graduates have been officers or officer cadets.

The quotes are full of Oprahfied you-go-girlism:

“I was very proud to be part of such an amazing group of strong, confident and determined women. It was great to be there with sisters in arms, and I know that because of our hard work we were able to represent women well to our fellow Sappers,” [2008 grad Capt. Emily] Hannenberg said.

Awww. Represent, sista!

“It helps to break mindsets about female inadequacy or limits being placed on what females can or should do in the military,” [Hannenberg] said.

Because nothing holds them back except Teh Patriarchy, of which are proud to be fully-tabbed members.

“I didn’t know going into the course that a woman hadn’t been the honor graduate before, but I’m proud to have shown that women can do it,” said 1st Lt. Elizabeth Betterbed, 2010 Sapper Leader Course honor graduate.

(Aside: was she named by Ian Fleming? Somewhere, the old spook-turned-novelist is chortling, if he’s reading this. Still, if he’s reading our stuff, and we his, we’re getting the best of that deal).

“It is important that women of this branch be given the opportunity alongside our male counterparts to show the unity of diverse Soldiers in the Engineer Regiment,” [Maj. Jennifer] Etters said.

We knew if we stuck it out long enough, we’d see the Central Shibboleth of the New Post-Religious Belief System uttered. And sure enough, the Golden Calf of “diversity” made its appearance right on schedule. It’s enough to make you throw your stone tablets down in a huff.

But we’re starting to get the hang of this post-military Army that’s already turned its institutional back on its combat units overseas. It’s not important to train to win wars. The Army is working hard to get all that depressing and dumb war orientation out of its system and return to its peacetime, happy, hollow place. It’s important to have Hollywood-rifle-squad superficial “diversity”: which now includes the gay one, the blonde-starlet one, and the post-ingenue whose skin is now too wrinkly for closeups, as well as the Kid from Brooklyn. It’s also important to project a unified political viewpoint and crush dissent like a bug.

Lord Love a Duck.

There will be more information preparation of the battlefield like this — one-sided editorials and sudden discoveries of mighty Amazons who walk among us. Kindly keep us posted in the comments.

More on Axe/Tolley

David Axe insists (including in the comments at our previous post) that what he wrote in his notes and reported at The Diplomat was exactly what BG Neil Tolley said. He even put photos of his notes up on his blog to back himself up. We haven’t seen any sign of BG Tolley surfacing to contest this, so maybe Axe has a point. However, here’s Dave Duffy (a retired SF officer) on it (emphasis in all these quotes is ours):

I was not present for the remarks so not able to shed light on what was said or in what context. Really doesn’t matter at this point as the damage is done.

Dave Maxwell (another retired SF officer) has this to say:

This is not to rehash the reporting and misinterpretation of the misspeak of the General but to deal with the situation as it currently exists as well as what might happen….

As I have said, I think this is a result of “a misspeak and a misinterpretation:” the general was attempting to inform industry of requirements for special operations equipment in the event of future hostilities and in his effort to provide emphasis on the severity of the threat and the challenges SOF will face he inadvertently misspoke in the first person thus leading to misinterpretation of his comments.

We do believe that where COL(ret) Maxwell said “in the first person” he meant “in the indicative, rather than conditional, mood,” but he’s not a grammar nerd. And Maxwell, in turn, quotes an old Korea hand as saying:

Unfortunately, this plays directly into Kim Jong-un’s and senior KPA generals’ hands if he/they plays cards right and supports military measures to counter “US infiltrations” that the 4-5 stars will eat up. The Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department (a party organization of about 10,000 Stratcomm specialists dispersed to every level of NK society, including all KPA unit levels) will be putting out messages of threat at every level of NK society, from low-level party cell required meetings to central committee discussions.

Personally, I don’t believe Tolley made any mistake, he was simply a victim of the media. I also know SOCKOR’s been working to get a PAO for a while; they simply don’t have a billet (personnel system remains a weakness).

This reinforces our point: the irresponsible reporting on this is going to get our guys killed. Whatever one thinks about David Axe’s original report, it’s still being repopped by media long after the original pub retracted. That’s not his fault but it sure reinforces our opinion of his chosen profession — the irresponsible reporting on this complicates the mission profile for the guys who will have to go North some day, and will lead to casualties.

There’s a lot more good stuff at the link, including a brutally honest comparison of our information operations to the Norks’. Site recommended by yet another retired SF officer.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Gothia Arms Collectors

Browning Automatic Rifle -- with a Swedish accent. From

From far-away Sweden comes an interesting web page. How interesting? Well, we kept exploring different avenues in it instead of writing this post up. Oops. As you might expect, it’s great on Swedish weapons, which are an interesting blend of Swedish ingenuity and craftsmanship — think Ikea meets weapons engineering — and foreign best practices. (Well, it’s hard to fit their adoption of the Schwarzlose machine gun into that niche, but we can try. In their defense, they then went on to adopt the BAR and the Browning LMG).

There are some surprisingly good things. It’s great to find something you didn’t even know you needed to know, but that’s how we felt about the Swedish Army Museum’s curator’s advice on maintaining and restoring edged weapons.  That was typical of the kind of pleasant surprise one finds tooling around

An example of the high-quality reporting of Olof Janssen is here: Swedish Browning Machine Guns. We never heard of the Swedish 8mm x 63mm round before, a mule of a cartridge that was used only in these Brownings (which were also made in versions for Sweden’s rifle cartridges, 6.5 x 55mm and later, 7.62mm NATO). Sweden is not a NATO member, maintaining its historic neutrality, but does frequently exercise and operate with NATO forces. For example, Sweden participated in Kosovo peacekeeping, and sent a Provincial Reconstruction Team to Afghanistan.

Some of the many, many Fairbairn-Sykes knives, whose lineage and variations are treated extensively here.

There’s a great page on SOE clandestine & Resistance weapons, and it’s probably the best site on the web for understanding the worldwide symbol of commandos and special operations forces: the Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife.

There’s also some very interesting stuff on the Swedish-language side that’s not on the English side — some of it is gun material, including quite a bit that’s not in English. An example of that is this report on the Kulsprutepistol M/40 — which is what Swedes called their M1928 Thompsons. (Heck, we never knew that Sweden adopted the Tommy Gun. We thought they used Suomis and Carl Gustav M45s… and so they did, according to a Swedish-language and an English-language history of Swedish SMGs. But they used a few early Thompsons, too. (The Swedish 1928 overstamped 1921 Thompsons then went to Israel).

Some of the Swedish side is about badges and decorations, including an interesting page on the Turkish Gallipoli Star, and a page on the Swedish Navy from 1935-39. If you know any Scandinavian language (except Finnish), you can easily figure the Swedish out. If you don’t… well.. you still can look at the pictures!

The Strange Case of Comandante Morgan

The classic image of Morgan, in the Escambray Mountains in 1958, with an M1 Thompson.

William Morgan was a troubled American, a dishonorably discharged soldier and Mafia associate who, driven by his own personality, traveled to Cuba in 1957 to join Castro’s rebellion. Morgan was inspired by the credulous and dishonest journalism of the New York Times’s Herbert Matthews and other yellow journalists of the day, who swooned over the Cuban guerilla. Now Morgan’s strange life and stranger death are recounted rather more honestly by the New Yorker’s David Grann. Grann’s story opens where so many thousands of Cuban stories ended, in the moat at La Cabaña prison, in the glare of lights and the smell of cordite, standing in the gore of other victims.

Morgan, who was thirty-two, blinked into the lights. He faced a firing squad.

The gunmen gazed at the man they had been ordered to kill. Morgan was nearly six feet tall, and had the powerful arms and legs of someone who had survived in the wild. With a stark jaw, a pugnacious nose, and scruffy blond hair, he had the gallant look of an adventurer in a movie serial, of a throwback to an earlier age, and photographs of him had appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. The most alluring images—taken when he was fighting in the mountains, with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara—showed Morgan, with an untamed beard, holding a Thompson submachine gun. Though he was now shaved and wearing prison garb, the executioners recognized him as the mysterious Americano who once had been hailed as a hero of the revolution.

It was March 11, 1961, two years after Morgan had helped to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista, bringing Castro to power. The revolution had since fractured, its leaders devouring their own, like Saturn, but the sight of Morgan before a firing squad was a shock.

via William Alexander Morgan in the Cuban Revolution : The New Yorker.

Morgan’s death brought no end to the mystery and debate about his life, but Grann’s effort, clearly the product of months if not years of research, interviews, FOIA requests and archive crawls, makes him a much more rounded character than the one who appears in contemporary lightweight journalism (like Mathews’s), Cuban propaganda, or conspiracy-theorist maunderings. The article is good, engaging, and well-written. You know what we’re going to tell you next, right? Right. Read the whole thing.

In a region that does not lack for examples of misrule and prototypes of dictators, Cuba’s sad history stands out, and since Fidel Castro’s public embrace of his brother’s always-overt Marxist-Leninist ideology, Castro has been the lodestone for many would-be caudillos. Cuba’s revolution also illustrates the unhappy but true maxim: historically, most revolutions have left most people worse off than the status quo ante. Batista may have been crooked and cruel (and Grann does dwell at length on apocryphal stories of Batistiano bestiality), but his was cruelty as cottage industry. It took Leninism and Castro to make cruelty the assembly-line, jet-age industry of a nation.

There are many lessons in the Cuban example, and in the pitiful story arc of William Morgan from juvenile delinquent to a set of wretched remains still held hostage by los hermanos Castro, for, as far as anyone can tell, their own amusement.

(In addition to the deep synthesis provided by the Grann article, this page provides many Morgan links, including contemporaneous sources).

Morgan’s survival in a guerilla war at all, given what Grann’s story exposes of his fieldcraft and tradecraft, illustrates the role of luck in war, as well as the genuine incompetence and utter absence of ruthlessness among the supposed Batistiano Menace. That was one Batista error that Castro did not repeat.

The problem with relying on luck is that, as Morgan must have realized as he stared into a thicket of gun muzzles, luck has a way of running out on you.

Is GunBroker down?

Because we can’t get it to load up here. It starts and then hangs in an endlessly-loading race condition of some kind. Sometimes we have problems with individual websites due to the Safari browser, but we can’t get it to load in Firefox, either.

This is irritating because we were planning to bid on two auctions today, as well as visit the friendly neighborhood FFL for last week’s haul of swag.


Lord love a duck: No, we’re not invading Nork [Updated][x2]

UPDATE 3: David Axe responds in the comments. Updates 1 and 2 at end of story.

SF teams haven’t invaded North Korea lately. So why is the press full of the story?

Well, as usual, the press is full of something. This time it begins with one David Axe, a sometime fellow traveler of the Internet Tough Guys at Wired magazine’s childishly-named (and generally childish) Danger Room military-affairs blog, now blogging for some Japanese blog no one ever heard of before, The Diplomat. Like his former Danger Room cribmates, Axe is very prone to exaggerate and sensationalize routine military stories.

It may have diplomats (probably not), but it doesn’t have editors, as Axe’s post saying US and ROK Special Forces were regularly conducting Strategic Reconnaissance missions inside the North Korea denied area wouldn’t have gotten past one.

Hatchet Job: Axe's original story, now discredited and retracted, lives forever in this screenshot -- and in the 190,000 websites that quoted it, not realizing it was untrue.

Or maybe it would. This single-source story made it to the Daily Caller, the Telegraph, and various other publications that ought to have known better. The only one that bothered to call for corroboration — and get a denial — was the Washington Post. CWCID.

It went down like this: at an annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict symposium in Tampa, run by the National Defense Industrial Association (aka the lobbying arm of the Military/Industrial Complex), one of the panels comprised the officers commanding the US’s geographically-oriented Theater Special Operations Commands. These one- and two-star generals and admirals described the challenges their operators face in combat or training, and talked a little about the gadgets they’d like to have. Some of those theater SOCs have big areas of responsibility — others have small, but hard areas. Each one is responsible for all the joint service special operations forces, and their operations, in his area of responsibility. That includes, for example, OEF combat operations against Al-Qaeda terrorists (which have taken place worldwide, not just in the Centcom AOR) but it also includes Joint Combined Exercise Training where SEALs or SF train with host nation counterparts and multinational exercises which might see an SF team going split-team with a European or Asian team. In the split-team scenario, the two teams merge and then yield two integrated international operational entities —  almost like cellular mitosis.

In any event, none of the generals said anything too remarkable until Axe, and Axe alone of all the people in the room (including other reporters), swears he heard BG Neil Tolley say US and ROK Special Forces teams are operating in North Korea.

But that’s not what he said. He clearly described how the biggest special-ops-soluable problem in his theater was the lack of “ground truth” intelligence on Nork facilities. And the way to get that, once the balloon goes up, is to put eyes on the targets.

Again, once the balloon goes up, these hypothetical SR teams could use some equipment that maybe the NDIA guys in the audience, who are the real world Tony Starks who put the magic gadgets in our men’s hands, could make for him. Specifically, he’d like some kind of standoff sensor that would see into caves and tunnels, communications radios that are not vulnerable to direction-finding, and a wireless long-range power transmission system that would liberate the teams from heavy batteries — and risky battery resupplies.

Somehow, Axe heard this as an announcement that these teams were going north now, and regularly.

No one else in the room heard that, just Axe. For example, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Tribune who sat in the same panel clearly heard BG Tooley’s comments as conditional, and his story’s all about the things the panelists said with no ZOMG SF CHUTES INTO PYONGYANG!!1! breathless tone.

Even Axe, while defensive about his ethics and integrity, is wobbly about defending his story now, according to the Post article. Update: There’s a weasel-worded retraction on The Diplomat site now. Axe is now claiming that a Pentagon spokesman, Jim Gregory, is backing Axe against the general (because, says Gregory — according to the less-than-trustworthy Axe — “I don’t want you to be without a job.”) [ /Update]

But the bull is all over the internet. Sadly, apart from the abovementioned Washington Post, no one checked. Typical newsmen! It was sensational, so it was too good to check. We emailed the editor of the Daily Caller who ran the story; he neither deigned to reply, nor to correct his false story, which is still there, blasting Teh Stoopid out to the public.

And stop and think what this story means for the men who actually will have to go do this in the event of a limited strike or actual war with North Korea. We’ll tell you what it means: increased probability increased probability of mission failure, injury, capture, dismemberment or death.

All from the carelessness or dishonesty of one reporter.


Update 1: US Forces Korea have categorically denied the report,

Brig. Gen. Tolley recently participated in a theater special operations command commander panel discussion at a Special Operations Forces industry conference.  Some reporting has taken great liberal license with his comments and taken him completely out of context. Quotes have been made up and attributed to him.  No U.S. or ROK forces have parachuted into North Korea. Though special reconnaissance is a core special operations force mission, at no time have SOF forces been sent to the north to conduct special reconnaissance. The use of tunnels in North Korea is well documented. Several of the known tunnels along the DMZ are visited by tourists every day.

Update 2: Apparently in conjunction with the bitter “Clarification” retraction mentioned above, The Diplomat appears to have nuked Axe’s original false story. It’s still available in Google Cache for a while (a late version with the USFK statement appended) and we’ve saved a screenshot and attached it to this article. It was also copied into or linked by almost 200,000 web pages and blog posts while it was live, and many of them haven’t corrected it. On the Internet, your bullshit quickly comes apart, but the aroma spreads forever.

Axe, on his blog, appears to be half mortified he got it wrong and half defensively furious at people for calling him on it, which makes us suspect it was actually an error — even if an error of wishful thinking — on his part, rather than a cold fabrication. Well, the lesson’s got to be hurting him, but maybe this will help him grow as a reporter. (He looked remarkably like a mall ninja, insisting to the Washington Post that he was an expert on war and the military. The guy has less time in service than John Giduck!)

Also David Martosko of the Daily Caller has belatedly prepended a correction on his retype of Axe’s story.

Ranger Fitness

On the Ranger School Preparation .pdf document, posted at the RTB’s official website, the Ranger Physical Fitness Test (RPFT) is described as one of the Ranger Assessment Phase’s, “key Must Pass Events that require a GO in order to continue your Ranger training.”  As far as RAP Week itself, the first three days (despite the name) of Ranger School, it’s the key to School attrition:

45% of all students who start Ranger School fail to graduate. Over half of those are dropped because they failed a RAP Week event…. The RPFT accounts for approximately 25% of all RAP Week failures. Most of the RPFT failures occur during the Push-Up event.

(Yes, elsewhere the RTB says that 49.87% of students quit or fail. We doubt there’s anything sinister in this, just documents that were prepared some years apart, and normal variability in this statistic from year to year. We note that the 49.87% number is presented as a multi-year average). For our purposes the exact number doesn’t matter: stipulated, a whole bunch of would be Rangers’ hopes are dashed on the first few days. Let’s go back to the Ranger School Preparation document to see what the RTB’s take-away from this is:

The bottom line: RAP Week Attrition is a direct result of students that are physically unprepared to achieve the minimum standards. 33% of all Ranger School graduates are recycled, at least once, for failure to meet the standard….

Hard to argue with that. Everything that the trainee must do in RAP Week is published on the website, enumerated in tons of documents, slide shows and videos, and verbally available from any Ranger-tabbed officer or soldier (most of whom are enthusiastic about seeing their friends, acquaintances, peers and subordinates tackle this course and succeed). These standards have not changed significantly in a long time. RAP week was once a week, and there were once several graded Ranger Runs in that first week. Some time over the last thirty years, formation running in boots and uniform has been replaced as a culling methodology. (The reason is obvious: running in boots produces unnecessary injuries).

The Ranger Physical Fitness Test (RPFT) conducted in RAP Week is different from the Army PFT (APFT). The principal differences are:

  • the Ranger test has a single standard for all soldiers, the Army standards vary with age and sex.
  • the Ranger test scores are higher than average, although not higher than the male max in the typical young age groups that succeed at Ranger school (the Army now expects most measures of fitness to peak at about age 30; until five or so years ago, they actually expected fitness to steadily decline after one left the 17-21 age group).
  • the Ranger test is administered with absolute and strict attention to the regulation form and performance of each event. Head-bob pushups or half-way situps won’t be counted. As a result, many men who come with PT cards indicating a max score leave after failing the test.
  • the Ranger test includes pull-ups. These were once a staple of Army physical fitness training and Army PT tests, but when the Army went to the current three-event test (pushups, situps, 2-mile run), they were dropped. Airborne and Ranger schools, and most special operations selection programs, still require them.

The actual events on the Ranger PFT are these, compared with Army standards for the 17-21 year old group (not always the highest scoring group, but chosen for simplicity and consistency. Most Ranger students range — no pun intended — from 18 to 26 years old):

Ranger PFT Army PFT Men
Army PFT Women (17-21)
Event Min Max Min Max
Push-up 49 42 71 19 42
Sit-up 59 53 78 53 78
2 Mile Run X 15:54 13:00 18:54 15:36
5 Mile Run 40:00 X X X X
Per Mile Speed 8:00 7:57 6:30 9:07 7:38
Pull-up 6 X X X X

This rope traverse in Ranger School is a one-time deal, not part of the PT test. One example of the physical demands on the Ranger candidate.

Sorry for the homely table. “X” means that test does not include that event. The Ranger test includes two events the ordinary test never includes: pull-ups and five mile run. Note that while the sit-up scores are the same for both sexes, the other scores are so heavily sex-normed that the female max score would be a skin-of-the-teeth pass for men. Note that the 5-mile run pace for the Ranger PFT is close to the minimum for men, and a bare 22 sec/mile off the max for women. (Although a 40 minute 5-mile run should not be an insuperable requirement for a fit young woman). The pull-ups are also something women can master, but very few do. Finally, note that in most of the Army, scoring on this test is very lax. Repetitions of the exercises that fly in one’s home unit will be laughed off at Ranger School — at least, until the inevitable standards plunge that’s coming in 2013.

There is the whole other question of: does this test adequately measure soldiers’ preparedness for service in Ranger units, particularly the Ranger Battalions? Is it a good test of combat fitness? Not particularly, except that it is a much higher than the ordinary APFT standard, as evidenced by the literally thousands of young soldiers who come to Ranger School thinking they’re fit enough only to be taking the Ride of Shame the first day of the course. But please understand this: Ranger School and the Ranger Regiment of fighting Ranger Units are two separate universes. Ranger School is a leadership school using environmental stress and small unit patrolling (squad to two-platoon-size operations) as a training vehicle. It’s used by the Regiment as a gut-check for promising soldiers and potential officer or NCO leaders (although most infantry officers complete it as part of their initial accession training).

From time to time, other units including particular Special Forces Groups and light infantry units have tried to make Ranger School mandatory for small-unit leaders, which works a little better for officers (who have more opportunity to attend the course as juniors) than for NCOs, and generally collapses when the general or colonel behind the Good Idea transfers out. The Ranger Tab is becoming fairly rare on conventional Infantry NCOs, possibly driving the perception of the brass that it’s a shiny badge for officers, meant as a uniform doodad alone and unmoored from combat utility (which has been the reality of the Pathfinder Badge for 30 years). That perception in turn is one part of the impetus for women in Ranger School. The other parts are desire to one-up the Marines, as explicitly admitted by the very non-Ranger Chief of Staff, and the push for women in Infantry, coming from the suit-wearing social engineers in the E Ring.

But one of the reasons the Chief of Staff gave for dropping standards, if that’s what’s needed to produce Rangerettes on a schedule driven by partisan politics, is that Benning can’t tie the standards to a combat requirement. Hmmm… want a combat Ranger Fitness test? Well, buckaroos, this paper from 1999 [.pdf file] is a partial answer. Major Michael Pemrick, a former Ranger Battalion Company Commander, examined both the current fitness program of the 75th (Ranger) Infantry Regiment, and the Regiment’s Mission Essential Task List, and came up with what he thought was a more combat-oriented test, to be given in addition to the regular APFT.

Combat PFT
Event  Standard  Conditions
5 Mile Road March 15 min/mile min10 min/mile to max 45 lb. equipment
Rope Climb 1 climb to pass3 climbs to max Begin at end of Road March without rest.30 foot rope2 minutes
Casualty Carry 150 m  Begin at end of Rope Climb without rest.Carrying a Ranger of equal body weight

There are many other thoughtful gems in this paper. One of Maj. Pemrick’s more interesting conclusions was that strength, relative to body weight, is an important factor.

The ideal is that a Ranger has enough size to better support the weight of a heavy rucksack or a fellow Ranger while being strong enough relative to his body weight to climb effectively. To put it simply a 140 pound Ranger who can climb and do pull-ups all day long will be less able to carry eighty or a hundred pounds of combat equipment, while the 220 pound Ranger who can handle that weight with less stress may have trouble pulling his own body weight while climbing.

Pemrick’s paper is now quite old. It doesn’t quite apply because the Regiment’s METL has changed a good bit in the years since 1999, as has the equipment of the combat Ranger. But it shows the path to something that GEN Odierno has said does not presently exist: combat-oriented, operationally required standards.

Except…in the Ranger Battalions (as in SF, that has its own internal PT standards), they have been doing combat-oriented PT for a long time; Major Pemrick, wherever he is, would probably be pleased. The estimable Jack Murphy at SOFREP had the story a while ago.

RTWT, of course, but the test used in Jack’s battalion had six events, and was even more combat-oriented than the CPFT suggested above, although it also required more gear:

  1. Conduct a 2-mile run wearing ACUs (Army Combat Uniform), boots, RBA (Ranger Body Armor) and MICH helmet. The run will begin and end at a 20-foot fast rope.
  2. After the completion of the run, immediately climb the 20-foot fast rope and do a controlled descent.
  3. When the rope climb is complete, drag a 160-pound SKEDCO litter 50 yards, turn round and drag it back 50 yards to the start point.
  4. Immediately following the SKEDCO pull, climb a 20-foot caving ladder and climb all the way back down.
  5. At the bottom of the Caving ladder, sprint 100 yards, turn around, sprint back 100 yards and climb over the 8-foot wall.
  6. Conduct a 1 mile run wearing ACUs, boots, RBA and MICH helmet. The run will begin and end at the 8-ft wall. Time stops when you cross the line at the 8-foot wall.

Note that two of Pemrick’s events, the rope climb and a version of the casualty carry (a drag instead) are here. The standards? By the time you’re taking this test, you’re in the Regiment and through RIP. If you aren’t pro-athlete-fit by now, you’re gone. So the standard for this test is to get better every time. It also reflects on the squad as well as the individual, so individual Rangers are competitively motivated to help their buddies’ fitness improve.

We’d sure love to see the times the Rangers are doing this evolution in, assuming that they’re still doing it.

Army Dumb: MagPul Mag Ban

ARMY Dumb: In the Army, the Tank and Automotive Command manages small arms. SOF outsourced weapons development to the Naval Surface Warfare Center. See why?

There’s dumb, and then there’s Army Dumb.

As part of the Chief of Staff’s and Sergeant Major of the Army’s transition to a peacetime, garrison-focused, drill-square Army purged of the “indiscipline” of combat, the Army just launched a ban on aftermarket M4 magazines. This ban is reportedly targeted on the popular Magpul polymer mags, which are more reliable, more durable, and less expensive than the flimsy issue aluminum mags.

We’ve been sitting on a report on mags for a while, but in our experience one of the major problems with M16 series weapon reliability is flimsy magazines, and the dumbasses who don’t throw them away when they fail. This is compounded by the Army Dumb supply system that, in peacetime, counts mags like it was counting the gold in Fort Knox, and doles them out like they were droplets of the supply sergeant’s own precious bodily fluids. So Joe Snuffy doesn’t want to toss away the three mags of his issued six or seven that jam all the time, because he knows he’ll have to eat a lot of abuse to get them replaced.

The original AR-10 and AR-15 magazines were designed to be single use magazines — a disposable unit that would be delivered to the field preloaded, and discarded after use. But they were overbuilt for that purpose, and so the Army began treating them as durable items from the very beginning and never planned for them to be disposable, or even faced the fact that the things wear out.

Then, a combination of peculiarities in military contracting like earmarks and minority set-asides guarantees that many military magazines are made by fly-by-night contractors who pass the same old worn tooling from dissolved firm to unstable new firm, stamp and spot-weld hundreds of thousands of marginal mags, and then close their doors.

One of many models of the popular MagPul PMAG. They are not failure-proof, but seem to be superior to the issue mags.

In SF, we recognized early on that the magazine was a critical node in semi- and full-automatic M16 series weapon performance. And we substituted mags where we could. One of the first was the steel Stirling 40-round magazine. Many teams carried a Stirling mag (which were originally intended for the AR-180) in the mag-well to provide initial fire superiority in an ambush or meeting engagement. Nobody carried spares because Army pouches took almost 20 years to accommodate 30 round magazines, and never had room for anything larger. The steel mag was slightly heavier, but it was much more durable, less prone to the cracks and deformed feed lips that are par for the GI mag course.

Alternative magazines produced largely for other countries, including pioneering polymer mags from Canada (Thermold) and Israel (Orlite) weren’t sufficiently better than the issued junk. Until H&K started making an AR mag. One almost hates to mention something they did right, lest the fanboys descend in their brain-eating hordes, but the HK mag was and is the heat. You pay a slight weight price for these steel mags, but the suckers work. And they keep on working. Unlike the disposable alloy mags, the feed ramps are still in the same place after 10,000 rounds as they were before.

Now, the Russians meanwhile had reduced their soldier’s load considerably in the 1970s with composite magazines containing steel inclusions in a molded plastic shell.

TACOM LCMC MI 12-021 M4-M16 Improved Magazine and the Use of Commercial Magazines
DTG: 301307Z Apr 12
Precedence: PRIORITY
DAC: General

Subject: Maintenance Information (MI) Message, TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, (TACOM LCMC) Control No. MI: 12-039, M4/M16 Improved Magazine NSN 1005-01-561-7200, Part Number: 13021312, Cage Code: 19200, Old Magazine NSN
1005-00-921-5004, Part Number: 2411362962382, Cage Code: 13629, and the use of commercial magazines. End Items: M16A2 NSN 1005-01-128-9936, M16A3 NSN 1005-01-357-5112, M16A4 NSN 1005-01-383-2872, M4 NSN 1005-01-231-0973, and M4A1 NSN 1005-01-382-0953.

1. Distribution:
a. This is a Maintenance Information (MI) Message. Commanders/Directors of Army Commands (ACOM)/Army Service Component Commands (ASCC)/Direct Reporting Units (DRU), Army National Guard (ARNG), US Army Reserve (USAR)
Command, US Navy (USN), US Air Force (USAF), US Marine Corps (USMC) and other Service Commanders and Responsible Offices will retransmit this message to all subordinate Commanders/Activities.
b. This message will be available on the Safety First Web Site located on the TACOM Unique Logistics Support Applications (TULSA) portal within twenty-four hours of transmission. Access to the Safety First Web Site requires CAC Card authentication. You must first request access to the Safety First Web Site. To request access click here For assistance, email the TULSA Helpdesk at XXX. The Safety First Web Site also has the
capability to email Safety and Maintenance messages directly to your inbox. To subscribe to the mailing list, click on, E-Mail Subscriptions, on the Navigation bar.

2. Issue: TACOM has become aware of units ordering 30 rd. commercial (i.e. polymer, etc.) magazines for their M4/M16 family of weapons. The M4/M16 Army authorized magazines are the following: NSN 1005-00-561-7200 (improved magazine) and NSN 1005-00-921-5004 (older magazine; use until exhaustion).

3. User Actions: TM 9-1005-319-10, the Additional Authorized List (AAL), states that NSN 1005-00-921-5004 is authorized, as well as NSN 1005-00-561-7200. Units may use the older magazine NSN 1005-00-921-5004 with the green follower until exhausted. The improved magazine is available in stock, NSN 1005-00-561-7200, and has a tan follower. The improved magazine features an improved follower and follower spring. These new features help to reduce the risk of magazine-related stoppages. Units are only authorized to use the Army authorized magazines listed in the technical manuals. Remember; “tan-is the plan, green-start to lean, black-take it back.” Magazines with the black follower are the oldest and should be turned in to your unit supply sergeant or local supply point.

4. Unit Commanders, contact your local TACOM LCMC Logistics Assistance Representative (LAR) or your State Surface Maintenance Manager upon receipt of this message for assistance. For assistance in locating your TACOM LCMC LAR, see below.

No point including the contact info. If you’re not on a .mil you can’t get there, and if you are, you can find it.

Rereading this message, it’s pretty much a CYA move from the rice bowl guardians at TACOM. There are a number of factors in it, but the primary one is to reassert the primacy of the published Technical Manual and the nice, orderly, slow process of phasing out the most inferior black-follower mags by the more inferior green-follower mags and then the tan-follower mags on an ongoing basis.

Word is, the tan-follower mags are OK if you’re ruthless with the inevitable 10% that won’t feed, won’t hold-open, or that double-feed out of the box. Then you can get one tour out of them, but if you’re a combat unit, the reset after that tour is time to bin them.

Remember that whatever games TACOM plays with the followers, you still have mag bodies that tend to crack when fatigued, to bow in the middle, and in which the feed lips wear excessively in a few months of daily use.

Now, where TACOM has a point, is some of the aftermarket magazines out there. In our experience MagPuls (at which this was reportedly aimed, even though no brand is mentioned) are more reliable than issue mags, and about on a par with the very expensive and somewhat heavy H&K mags. They have their own failure modes, and they also have their own vulnerabilities (like ultraviolet light, to which the metal mags are fairly immune). But there are some plastic magazines, including all the cheap ones and some of the expensive ones, that are exploitative crap. Don’t even think about the el-cheapo surplus Orlites and Thermolds. There’s a reason that services are selling them off. (To some extent this is true for all surplus mags, except NIB ones).

Don’t buy a bunch of mags without torture testing a couple — test them environmentally, including in a very hot gun (if you ever need a gun really badly your gun will be on the brink of cooking off… does your mag lose its integrity at high temperatures like some thermoplastics do? That’s why Ivan used a thermosetting plastic on his). And test them with a lot of rounds before you buy them in quantity.

If that doesn’t work, stick to mags that you know someone has tested examples of to destruction.

Vietnam Memorial: By Invitation Only?

Three Soldiers statue by Frederic Hart at the Vietnam Memorial. Image: National Park Service.

Today the President spoke at the Vietnam Memorial. We haven’t seen his speech. Hopefully he didn’t say, as he has done of OEF and OIF casualties, that they died for him. He can think it all he wants, but we hope he didn’t say it.

Likewise, a news source usually more friendly to his opposition has suggested that this was intended to be a campaign rally.

President Obama will become the third president to salute the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, bringing his reelection year effort to woo vets to the “Wall” on Memorial Day, May 28.  ….

Obama, the first lady and Jill Biden have stepped up efforts to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars jobs [no verb in the original -ed.] and medical attention and there have been several recent stories of how the Obama-Biden campaign is targeting veterans for support in the fall election.

We hope that claim that it was a campaign rally is an error. That’s not what Memorial Day is about. We didn’t ask about Jack Tobin’s politics or his Uncle Richard’s, and we’d hope the politicians — and the damned reporters who see everything through a prism of party politics — could put a sock in it for the day.

Vietnam Veterans should be gratified that the President — any President — spoke at their memorial on this solemn occasion. It doesn’t matter if you voted for the other guy, this is the Head of State that your countrymen chose, and he has other things he could be doing.

Interestingly, while Reagan and Clinton spoke at the Vietnam Memorial during their terms (it was dedicated during Reagan’s presidency), neither Bush ever did. Curious. Both have been very generous with time and support to veterans after their retirement, so it wasn’t some generalized antipathy to vets.

Maybe it was the ever-expanding security cocoon that limits public access to the president, and the president’s access to the public. We heard from an SF veteran, who is incidentally a committed supporter of the President and his party (which makes him a bit of a rarity in SF vet circles, but well, he’s as used to being outnumbered as any of us) that he and his party could not get to the wall. Apparently the security perimeter was set up to exclude anyone who didn’t have a ticket — which was not mentioned in the Washington Post’s article promoting the event. No idea where one was supposed to get a ticket. Or why the ones with the tickets rated higher than, you know, an actual Vietnam combat veteran who had specific absent friends to “visit” in that place.

But then the Vietnam guys are used to that. Cue the pictures of wannabees in BDUs with forty-eleven stupid pins on their hats… in 5, 4, 3, 2….