Military Gunsmiths

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by guntutor, Apr 22, 2009.

  1. guntutor

    guntutor New Member

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    I'd be interested in chatting with any current or former military small arms specialists. Besides being a former 11B rifleman in Vietnam, I later served as a 45B20(H) small arms repair instructor. As a federal civilian, I was the small arms repair inspector at Fort Drum, NY in the mid 80 to mid 90's, and was then promoted to Equipment Specialist (Ordnance) with the Fort Drum MAIT (Maintenance Assistance and Instruction Team). I created the Unit Armorer Course at Fort Drum, a two week ADVANCED firearms repair course, and traveled to many locations within and outside of the continental United States; taking my higher-level course on the road. My course addressed subjects such as metallurgy, firearms design theory, basic and advanced ballistics, math for gunsmiths, propellant chemistry, military small arms repair, and military marksmanship. I am also the author of the US Army's only published book on the subject, "The Armorer's Handbook", which for years has been available online.

    I also am a distinguished honor graduate of the 9-week US Air Force Combat Arms Instructor Course and served many years in the Air National Guard in various Security Police squadrons as a senior Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Specialist. I am a graduate of the Remington Arms School in Ilion, NY and specialized in the M24 Sniper Weapons System and match grade weapons. I am also a former (recovering) competitive shooter.

    I would be interested in starting a discussion group for military firearms specialists. If you read this and are interested, please contact me. We are an under-recognized, but important part of what makes America's military the most lethal in the world.

    Chuck Ruggiero
    aka "Guntutor"
  2. Dakota Red 1

    Dakota Red 1 New Member

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    You have had an interesting career! Always had a fascination with 45 series but stuck with 11B till I retired. Did take Unit Armorer in 2005 at Ft Riley. Kind of senior for that but I was the primary small arms guy anyway and that let me lend a hand prepping our stuff for deployment. I know the corporal appreciated it. People wouldn't realize how much unit level work there is for just one company.

    Even though I wasn't direct support or higher small arms, it is an interesting field and I would like to sit in and hear what the professionals have to say.
  3. guntutor

    guntutor New Member

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    Dakota Red 1,

    Glad to make your acquaintance. I became a 45B because years afterwards, there was not a lot of demand for 11B's once the Vietnam war ended, and I needed to find a position in the Army Reserve program where I could do something useful. I had a religious fervor for small arms maintenance, having "walked the walk" as a combat 11B. Also, while in Vietnam, I came perilously close to dying as a result of faulty maintenance at the unit and direct support levels, leading to the failure of my weapon. Trust me, when your weapon does the wrong thing at the wrong time, it really gets your attention!
    I stayed in the system for many years, retiring in 2004. I had switched to the Air National Guard for a few years in the mid-80's, but went back to the Army system; only to have my duties changed by Branch Management, who thought I could be more useful somewhere else. They assigned me to Headquarters, 98th Division (Training), and stuck me in the G4 as the Division's small arms maintenance senior NCO. That turned out to be nothing more than a Command Inspection Team assignment, and took me away from firearms and a lot closer to eternal paperwork. Along with that, I inherited a 145 mile commute to my unit, and I had to attend drill nights every Tuesday (290 miles round trip every week). As a result, I transferred to the Air National Guard (once again) in 1993.
    I was briefly recalled to active duty for operation Desert Storm, and again in 2001 for the Global War on Terror, and I am proud to have served during three conflicts and the administrations of seven U. S. Presidents.
    You are correct, I have had a long and interesting career. In my book, the "Armorer's Handbook" which was published by the US Army in 1998, I irreverently slammed the Army for a systemic failure in small arms repair policy. Based on the literally thousands of unit arms room inspections I conducted in my career, I was always appalled at the lack of commitment by unit commanders to their small arms maintenance programs. If you want my spin on the issue, please read my book, available at: http://rapidshare.com/files/154112741/Armorers_handbook_11.pdf.html

    The book is now 11 years old, and a lot of the weaponry in use has changed, but there is a wealth of information in the book that will give you an indication of what it was like to attend my armorer's school at Fort Drum. I was soundly criticized by officers who thought there was no value in soldiers learning things like ballistics theory...but then again, they were commissioned officers, so nothing more needs to be said...

    Thanks for your response. Please keep in touch.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2009
  4. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    My hat is off to you two lucky retirees.

    Guntoter, are you familiar with the small arms master gunner course up at Camp Robinson, AR? SAMGC. That seems to be where FORSCOM likes to send people lately.

    I'm with you on the maintenance programs being too lax in some commands. When I was a drill sergeant, the training tempo was so heavy that we'd draw M16's from the pool in Jan and wouldn't have opportunity to get more than a handful back to 30-level maint until the following Dec. The result was weapons getting Code-P like crazy and sometimes catastrophic bolt failures etc etc. Maneuver units I'm happy to say, as opposed to TRADOC etc, are typically better as far as I know. More specialized units of course don't have that problem at all, ever.

    If you have a ton of relevant experience, and it sounds like you do, I'd recommend if you want to share, contact the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). (913) 684-3035 / 2255 or DSN 552-3035 / 2255

    Address
    Center for Army Lessons Learned
    10 Meade Ave (bldg 50)
    Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027

    http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/call/index.asp

    Those dudes are always producing new publications and I believe looking for subject matter experts.
  5. Tom Militano

    Tom Militano New Member

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    I'm a retired 11B with a secondary mos of 45B. I've attended the National Match Maint. and Rebuild Course at Rock Island, IL many years ago. It's closed now. I retired from the All Army Eastern Region Rifle Team. Actually I was the NCOIC when I hung it up. I only worked on national match weapons. I'm a Vietnam vet too.
  6. Dakota Red 1

    Dakota Red 1 New Member

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    Now that must have been an interesting course. Went to the small arms museum there the Saturday before Easter. Literally bumped into fellow gun enthusiasts as all our attention was on the racks of weapons. Now that I know how to get through town to Arsenal Island, I hope to return as there is so much to take in.
  7. Tom Militano

    Tom Militano New Member

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    It was a good course. I'm not sure when they closed the course down. I attended in 1978. Yeah, yeah, I'm getting old.
  8. JLA

    JLA Well-Known Member

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    you guys are the reason I went to school to be a gunsmith, and the reason i continue to seek knowledge. I graduated In the 97th percentile of the Gun-Pro program of the Penn Foster Career Institute. I have had a blood lust for firearms since I was old enough to shoot my first .410. Owning them wasnt enough for me. I had to understand them, know them. When A gun goes off I dont see a simple muzzle flash and a hole in the target, I see a mechanical masterpiece in motion, utilizing the chemical and physical forces required to operate the action. I see a well designed assembly of art. For me firearms are not just a hobby. they are one of my dearest passions.

    Allow me to be the sponge of this group, and the fruits of your knowledge be the water;)
  9. Dakota Red 1

    Dakota Red 1 New Member

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    I like how JLA says it plus the technical history of firearms is a big thing for me as well.
  10. guntutor

    guntutor New Member

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    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!
  11. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    You bring up some good points; all way over my pay grade and out of my field. I could relate several similar things about the Army; same stuff, different hardware.

    You got me thinking. Very true. Weapons are rarely mentioned in any NCOER above junior NCO's. It is interesting that nearly every senior NCOER will have a bullet in Responsibility and Accountability that reads something like, o Responsible for the maintenance and operation of eight vehicles and BII worth $6,500,000 that were always 95% mission capable.

    OER's can't even reflect as much.

    Maybe this is why so much has been shifted to contractors for the Army. It's a philosophy thing. Top down.

    Just thinking out loud. Thank you for the insight and sharing your knowledge.
    Last edited: May 13, 2009
  12. Tom Militano

    Tom Militano New Member

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    Chuck, I retired from an Army Depot. They had a national match rebuild shop there for M14's and .45's. What they called national match weapons was a joke. I've seen them use test cradles on the M14's and there wasn't one group under 4" out of any one of them. There was always two or three fliers out of each gun and they attributed it to the ammo and weren't counted in the group. They were using Lake City Match. When All Army got the weapons from them they rebuilt them into real national match weapons. At the time you had to be a graduate of the National Match Maint. and Rebuild Course at Rock Island Arsenal to work on national match weapons, by regulation. None of them at the depot were but one person that I knew of.
  13. guntutor

    guntutor New Member

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    Tom

    Why am I NOT surprised? At Fort Drum we serviced a lot of national match weapons that came to us from places like ROTC marksmanship training centers and various numbered Army, Corps or divisional teams. The complaint we often heard was that the "NM" maintenance at depot-level was a joke, and many teams and units refused to send their weapons to depot. At Drum we bench mounted and sand bagged every weapon at the range, and sub-MOA was always the standard (we always strived for .25 MOA, but outdoor environmental factors always made it impossible to get that precise. Drum did not get an indoor range until 1996.)
    Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, we nevertheless succeeded because the chief of our DOL maintenance division was dedicated to quality and supported everything that could be done to assure it. As the firearms QA guy, I always knew I had 100% of his support. He just retired two weeks ago after 4 decades of service.
    It is truly sad that as my generation of workers has left the craft, so little remains of that capability within the Army.
  14. Tom Militano

    Tom Militano New Member

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    Chuck, the All Army Team has a shop full of real gunsmiths and toolmakers. They make their own barrels. I imagine the Marine Team does too.
  15. guntutor

    guntutor New Member

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    Tom,

    That is good to know. I understand that the service-level teams have to maintain those capabilities, and that is the right thing. However, my lament is the fact that across the military branches, there is little or no education and emphasis on actual "gunsmithing" among those who repair firearms. I attended the USAF Combat Arms Instructor Course in 1986, and that was a good course for what it did. USAF Gunsmiths (their real title, by the way), were with us for about the first six weeks, and then went off to the shops for their hands-on practical training. In the 1990's, the USAF changed their doctrine to reflect the "joint warfare doctrine" of the DOD. As a result, broad changes were made to the USAF Law Enforcement career field. The separate Air Force Speciality Codes (AFSC's) for the traditional roles of Law Enforcement, Security, and Combat Arms were eliminated, and a combined AFSC was created. This new AFSC has a letter "shred out" appended to it, to distinguish a "security forces" member's training, education, and duty status. When the new AFSC was created, and for another 8 years before I retired, I never knew of a "shred out" for gunsmithing. As a result, I do not know the current status of that program. I do know that the Army Ordnance Corps (and it's subordinate depots) are the "program manager" for small arms in the DOD (a scary thought!), and that their emphasis was on creating a single maintenance doctrine, which did NOT include "gunsmithing". If anyone on this forum knows the current state of the USAF Gunsmithing program, I'd appreciate a shout-out.

    Tom, thanks for the input!
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