Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Northern New York State
Re: Military Gunsmiths
I concur with all of the comments here, and thanks to those of you who have taken the time to read my posts.
Delta, I am familiar with SAMGC, but like all good Army programs, there are never enough funds to send all the people to those schools; nor is there enough command interest. I have always complained that the issue is the lack of a small arms combat readiness requirement on the OER. If every Captain and above had to be held accountable for unit level small arms maintenance, things would be a lot different. As it is, the command inspection program does not work. During my career I worked for many CG's whose only interest was "no negative findings" on a briefing slide. SAMGC is one of those " 1000 points of light" that President Bush 41 used to talk about; an oasis of talent and expertise. Unfortunately, it should be the standard instead of the limited training opportunity it represents. If I had a magic wand, I'd do away with the the basic 45B course and send EVERYBODY to training at that level. Ask any DA civilian gunsmith (occupational series 6608 or 6610), and they will honestly tell you that the Army (the owner of the nation's largest firearms inventory) does not hire, nor does it train, actual gunsmiths. Those people know that they are merely "parts changers" in the eyes of the Army. I had the opportunity to go to some good schools, but only because I MADE IT HAPPEN. If it were not for my own initative, and being a constant pain in the butt to my bosses, I never would have had the chance to "train up". Why? Because those who work in the 6608/6610 occupational series are in the blue-collar "wage grade" system, and as a result they have no career plan, no career program, and no career progression. It wasn't until I became a GS-1670 Ordnance Equipment Specialist that I had an opportunity to have real training dollars allocated to my career progression. If the Center for Army Lessons Learned wants to fix something, they can start right there; and they can make the parallel improvements on the military side of the house. For instance, the ridiculous concept that a 45B cannot progress to E6 and beyond without having to become a 45K Tank Turret Repairman! This absoutely guarantees, by removing the experienced junior NCO from the small arms position, that you will not develop a cadre of highly trained specialists in firearms. Instead, you get a supposedly "well rounded" generalist. The Army, with the MILLIONS of firearms it has in its' inventory, should be the CENTER of the GUNSMITHING UNIVERSE. Instead, soldiers have to take college level gunsmithing courses on their own time and their own dime, and they usually do so AFTER leaving the Army. As you know, having highly trained people adds to battlefield lethality...the goal of ALL Army maintenance programs.
Tom, pleased to make your acquaintance. The National Match school was a great program. Too bad the Army decided to "dumb down" the small arms maintenance program and closed the school. If you read any of the pre-1970's technical manuals for small arms, you can see the difference in philosophy that evolved over the decades. At one time, the Army actually encouraged the art of gunsmithing...but then changed to a policy of limited maintenance capability below depot-level. When I first got into the small arms maintenance field (too long ago to remember just when!), we actually had strange instruments like micrometers and dimension gages in our tool boxes. Not only that, but we also had experienced knowledgable Senior NCO Army GUNSMITHS who knew their stuff. I learned everything from action bedding to bluing from some very talented people who developed expertise during their long careers. Over a period of about 25 years, I saw that level of talent in the Army disappear completely; in fact it was so bad that I was running into E7's who had no clue about how to use a pullover gage correctly or how to read a micrometer. When I first arrived at Fort Drum in the mid-1980's, the DOL shop there had a complete capability to do every conceiveable gunsmithing job. We had a complete machine shop that could fabricate any kind of part you could imagine, and various Army commands would send their foreign small arms to us for repair and rebuild (a lot of work came from the intelligence community). Part of my job as the quality assurance inspector was to do fault diagnosis, assist the gunsmiths and machinists in replicating parts and assemblies, and conducting test firing. I have probably disassembled, inspected/repaired, and test fired most of the foreign military small arms in worldwide production. We did everything from complete chemical refinishing to frame rebuilds, and we had the chemicals, vats, tanks, and systems needed to do any kind of finishing work. I remember that we even fabricated parts for Civil War (and earlier!) cannons that were used ceremonially and were actually fired by artillery units. Then, in the early 1990's Big Army stepped in and said "Enough! You are not authorized by Doctrine and your TDA to do these things!". And, as a consequence, all of our specialty tools and equipment either went to DRMO for eventual auction, or to the landfill. Such is the wisdom of the Army; find someone who does an excellent job (exceeding the standard and raising the bar), and punish them by putting them in their place! In fact, when the new DOL small arms maintenance shop was constructed in building P-4530 at Fort Drum in the late 1980's, a super-expensive air-evacuation system was installed (and I mean SUPER-expensive!), to ensure that the chemical finishing processes from the bluing and Parkerizing operations would create no environmental hazards. I shudder to think how much the duct-work, chemical scrubbers, evacuation fans and other components cost the taxpayers; probably more than I have earned in a lifetime. So guess what? As soon as the building opened, some "wizard of smart" from the TACOM-ACALA logistics team told us to shut down all our operations because those things could "only be done at depot, where they have real experts". The guy was a LAR (Logistics Assistance Representative), or as a fellow gunsmith liked to call them "LiAR's". As our direct representative from Rock Island, that guy was a constant pain the A$$. I found out how much he didn't know one day by inviting him to disassemble an M2 .50 caliber machinegun, and sure enough, he barely knew what end the bullet came out of. So, to make a long story come back to my original point, we had a lot of expertise in foreign weapons and national match weapons which were shipped to us from all over the world; and we were told to cease and desist. So your point about not knowing why they shut down the National Match Maintenance and Rebuild School is answered; the Army decided that no one below depot level was authorized, or qualified, to do that level of work. What a shame and what a sham!
JLA, thanks for your kind words and your professionalism. Gunsmithing is ALL ABOUT the processes; physical, mechanical and chemical. People who fail to understand that are committed to failure before they even begin. Welcome to the thread, and I look forward to discussing issues with you in the future.
My apologies to all....I tend to drone on and on. But, only because I think these issues are important from both a policy and historic perspective. This thread is getting interesting!
Chuck Ruggiero, aka Guntutor
Proud Veteran and Patriot
...unafraid to use my real name...