Improving the U.S. military. Some thoughts from two vets…

Being a prior enlisted member of the military, it’s quite common to spout off your views on all things military. From playing Monday morning quarterback regarding current combat operations, to discussing how the Army or Marine Corps could do things better, nearly every enlisted member that I’ve ever met complains and gripes, while also suggesting how things could be better.

I’ve learned this doesn’t end when you get out, and I’ve of late been increasingly talking all things military with a guy I’ll just call “Lee.”

Lee served four and a half years in the Army, with most of his time in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Lee served two combat tours during that time and he knows about ten times more about weapons than I do, and well, that’s saying something.

Several times in the past six months, we’ve talked about things we’d change if we were in charge and we finally decided it’d be fun to throw these things out there for discussion purposes, and even better, to hear all the other ideas floating around out there.

Here were some ideas we had…

Change No. 1 if we were in charge:​

Begin using a new sniper round that’s .30-06 or above​, instead of the current 7.62 mm NATO. Platform of choice? Remington 700.

​Change No. 2:

Change the standard round of infantry/spec ops/airborne units from 5.56 mm to 7.62 mm NATO. We think we hardly have to make the case for this, but clearly there’d be better range, knock down power, and penetration.

Change No. 3:

Support troops would continue to use 5.56 mm. Arguments for this include they’re familiar with it, less likely to see combat, and it has a lighter weight/smaller size in both weapons platform and combat load when compared to 7.62 mm NATO.

Change No. 4:

We worry a 5.56 mm wouldn’t work effectively in a cold weather war. For instance, if we were to go to war with Russia, China, or North Korea.

During the Korean war, ground troops hated the M1 carbine because the .30 cal bullet wouldn’t penetrate the heavy clothing. We think there (at a minimum) needs to be much more research on this issue.

Change No. 5:

Arm troops on base with both a sidearm AND fixed blade. We don’t understand why the people defending our country are not able to defend themselves on base? The last place a crazed shooter should be able to kill Americans is on a military base.

Unfortunately, when an incident like the shooting in Texas happens, our military has to call the police to deal with the threat because 99 percent of the weapons are locked in armories. That’s idiotic.

Change No. 6:

Improve pistol training/create a new military pistol platform.

Pistol training in most cases is sparse at best, usually just qualifying. We’d like to see troops able to shoot effectively, which means far more intensive training (such as this) than they’re currently getting. The problem with any pistol is that it’s a pistol, meaning it’s a small round fired from a weapon that’s harder to shoot than a rifle or shotgun.

When the military was choosing a pistol to replace the 1911, the Beretta was so far above every other entrant that they had to lessen the requirements just so SIG SAUER could keep up. The 9 mm has tons of advantages that make it as close to a “perfect pistol” as we’ll get. It’s easier for smaller people to shoot, it carries more bullets, 9 mm is cheap and plentiful, and it’s proven.

Bottom line, we think the M9 pistol is one of the best US Military sidearms ever. (People forget the 1911 used to suck, and that troops hated it.*)

Now it’s your turn. What changes would you make?

And are we wrong on anything we’ve written above in your opinion?

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

Oak Ridge, Tenn.

About me: I’m an action fiction author with books similar to Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, and Tom Clancy. I’m also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a guy who spent 10+ years in the newspaper business. Please consider subscribing to my blog — I mostly post about things that either motivate you, inspire you, or make you laugh.

19 thoughts on “Improving the U.S. military. Some thoughts from two vets…

  1. Background for the admittedly strong statement that the M9 pistol is one of the best US Military sidearms ever…

    Sure, The 1911 is a great pistol, now. What people tend to look past is that it’s hard to shoot. You can’t find or build a combat worthy 1911 for anything less than about $1,300. You can buy a brand new, combat worthy Glock, Beretta, or SIG SAUER for $600-$800.

    So why spend the extra money for a gun that isn’t any better and holds less rounds? We understand nostalgia, but financially and practically it’s a mistake to consider it. If you were going to a fight, wouldn’t you want to take as many friends as you could?

    Like it or not the 1911 has a safety that needs to be disengaged before firing, and if one person dies in combat because he/she fails to take it off in a high pressure situation, then that’s argument enough against the gun. Sure you can carry the gun cocked and locked with the safety off, but that’s extremely dangerous and military weapons get knocked around a lot so why take the chance just for nostalgia?


    1. “If you were going to a fight, wouldn’t you want to take as many friends as you could?”
      I really like this turn of phrase, but I would modify it to read “…as many of my BIG friends…”.

      A good buddy of mine (Ret O-5) is into all things shooting related and mentioned a recent FBI study.
      It compared the number of shots fired in all law enforcement fatal shootings in a recent year.
      Per shooting:
      9mm – 17 rounds
      .45 ACP – 2 (in most of these cases, the first shot was a miss and the second round rendered the target incapable…of resistance.)


  2. In 1962, when they started to issue the M-14, they decided to rename the 30.06 to 7.62mm in keeping what was thought to be switching to milimeters through out the US. The 7.62 round is a 30.06 round and could be fired from the M-1 Garand.
    I have fired the M-16 in 60 degree below zero weather at the army base in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was still very accurate at 300 yards and no problem with the rifle freezing up. The M-16 had far more jams in the jungles of Vietnam than freezing cold weather.
    Accuracy with a pistol comes from practice. If you have the time and money, use a .22 pistol and fire a hundred rounds a day for 2 weeks. Your accuracy with a .45 will increase dramatically.


    1. “In 1962, when they started to issue the M-14, they decided to rename the 30.06 to 7.62mm in keeping what was thought to be switching to milimeters through out the US. The 7.62 round is a 30.06 round and could be fired from the M-1 Garand.”

      Not true.
      I fire a Garand and an M1A (civilian M14) and they are distinctly different rounds. 30-06 and 308 Win/7.62 are NOT interchangeable.
      The current versions of the AR15/M16 are consistently more accurate in High Power rifle competition (200, 300, 600 yards), but as I say to all the guys I shoot against: “So what?”. They shoot to win competitions. I shoot to stay proficient.

      Almost all of the better shooters can outscore me in the contests, and likewise, they would all break out their big guns if the stuff hit the fan.

      In a firefight, getting hit by a 175 GR FMJ 7.62 round is going to ruin your whole day. Taking a ping from a 55 GR 5.56 – unless it is a kill shot – not so much.

      The high maintenance of the various AR’s continues to be a problem, but not nearly so bad as we had it in Vietnam. Jamming is much less of a problem since “NOW” the ammunition is designed for the weapons being issued – not the prototypes (again, as the crap we had in Vietnam).

      By about 1970, the ammo problem had been resolved and the M16 was pretty handy in ambushes and close in firefights. An infantry platoon could put out one hell of a lot of rounds. Scope mounted M14’s were pretty common since you really wanted something heavy when taking a shot over 200-300 yards.

      Stan – more later and I have some interesting numbers for you on handguns.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent overview of the 7.62, OG. I know I’d certainly prefer to carry that over 5.56.

        And I think it’s criminal how we threw the AR’s into service in Vietnam (when they had so many problems). Reading stories about Operation Buffalo, where Marines were getting killed when they were overrun with jammed M16s, is enough to nearly bring tears to my eyes. Many of them didn’t even have cleaning rods to clear jams — and cleaning rods were treated like gold; one of the first things taken off wounded or dead Marines.

        If you ever read that book, you’ll read about Marines almost afraid to fire at the enemy once they were over-run and the NVA were hunting down final survivors, because the Marines knew their weapon would likely jam and they’d die holding a useless weapon…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Stan – Nolan was the real deal when it came to speaking truth to power. His source material was always from the participants, as well documentation. He has a whole list of books that really tell the story. I can tell you that his treatment of Dewey Canyon/Lam Song 719 made it seem as though he was there. He died way too young.
          No one in his right mind would have approved the M16 for combat use, especially in the middle of a huge conflict being fought by conscripts. Much too complicated (and finicky) to this day – and much worse with the wrong ammo.
          The ‘weight’ argument has often been offered as the deciding factor – even though our enemy was doing just fine with the AK47 (same weight as the M14).
          Robert Strange McNamara took care of his corporate buddies at Colt and the last thing any decision makers considered was the poor suckers stuck with using it.
          David Hackworth does a nice piece of it in his book. He was part of the Army team evaluating it – rejected by all field tests – and told to shut up and buy Colt stock.
          About the best documentary I’ve read is “A Better War”, by Lewis Sorley. Another author who did the real digging to get it right.
          Have stop – I’m rambling (and swearing under my breath).


          1. OG,

            I did NOT know those details about the M-16 story… I’ve always just believed that it was some kind of deal with some Congressman and the defense contractors. Nice to know I wasn’t too far off…

            Did McNamara ever express any guilt or sorrow for his decision?

            And you mention weight, if you had your druthers, which weapon would you have carried in ‘Nam? M14 or AK47?


            1. Stan –
              Foisting the M16 off on our military was truly a sordid affair. All – and I mean ALL – of the field tests rejected it as too complicated (firing mechanism, cleaning & maintenance, and basic sight adjustment), and too light a load to do any damage. It did a good job of putting rounds through paper targets on a firing range, but taking it into the woods/jungles for real testing proved the rounds were deflected by the foliage. Was and is worthless for fighting in “every clime and place”.
              McNamara parlayed his job at FordMoCo to the Defense job, brought along a whole bunch of his bright boys (no Vets, thank you very much), and then moved on to spend the rest of his working life at the highest level of international politics. He wrote some kind of self-serving crap near the end, but nothing can ever make up for what he did to so many American fighting men (and our allies). He died a multi-millionaire – all of it covered in blood.
              When he was first appointed, they made a big deal of him being a LtCol in WWII. He was an Army Air Corps staff weinee and only served for about 3 years. Not bad work if you can get it.
              No contest that the M14 is a far superior weapon.
              The AK was/is incredible for simplicity and (almost) indestructability. I don’t know what it would take to cause it to malfunction, but it sure ain’t dirt, lack of maintenance, or bad ammo.
              It is the perfect weapon to hand third world cretins, then point them in the right direction, and tell them to start jerking the trigger. The thing won’t quit until it runs out of ammo.
              On the down side, it won’t hit diddly-squat beyond about 150-200 yards, except by accident.
              The M14 is seriously accurate out to about 600 yards, much further in the right hands. Maintenance is pretty simple – toothbrush and cleaning rod – with a little more detailed work after every 500 – 1000 rounds.
              The weakness is in the firing pin and bolt rollers. They will eventually break, but are dirt simple to replace.
              When the SHTF, I’m taking my M1A, my new M1911, and a little 20 gauge for short work.
              More if I can think of it.


              1. Wow. Just criminal about the M16. I always assumed from what I had read that the M16 PASSED the field tests in the states, but performed terribly in the humidity and muck of ‘Nam. (I know the SEALs were all about the Stoner, so I assumed that science had proven the 5.56 was by far more effective and that the M16 — or AR15 — had surpassed its competitors.)

                Then, because I like to think the best of both people and situations, I assumed it only proved troublesome in Vietnam, and was initially just blamed on the troops for poor field care.

                Wow. Knowing what you’ve said now… I don’t know how McNamara even slept…

                And good comments on the AK/M14…


  3. Thanks Stan. What you say makes sense to me and i am just an old hillbilly that likes to hunt and shoot with my boys!


  4. Stan – a few thoughts on your points.

    1 – The M24 can be configured for (at least) 3 different rounds – the smallest being the 7.62. There is also a 300 magnum and a (?) 338 magnum. Any of these rounds can reach out for head shots at 1,000 plus yards – but a good sniper is going to go for center mass anyway. To really reach out and touch someone long distance, there is always the Barrett; which is in stock.

    2 – Concur about 497%. As mentioned earlier, I would never go to combat with a 5.56 round. Accurate timed fire is consistently going to win out over cyclic rate. The most used weapon in combat for the last 50 years fires a 7.62 round, and there’s a reason for that.

    3 – Not to mention that rear troops are more likely to be shooting at much shorter distances. Blazing away at 25 yards is a whole different ballgame than aiming 2-3 football fields away.

    4 – Exactly right. That silly little 55 GR round will not penetrate multiple layers of clothing – especially heavy duty winter cotton/wool parkas.

    5 – Pondering this one for a while.

    6 – No doubt about the need for real training. I think we did some basic ‘FAM’ firing of the 1911 in ITR, and even years later I never did anything more than annual qualification. Last tour in Vietnam I carried a Blooper – didn’t use it much, but I carried a lot of extra rounds for our real blooper men. Did carry a .45 but the only thing I shot with it was a snake.

    As far as the 9mm vs. 45 – welcome to the club. Both rounds have been around since the 19th century and fighting men have been arguing about which is better since day one.

    I will tell you that I got an early Christmas present last week. Springfield Armory RO Compact M1911. Shooting at steel plate targets with a (9mm) buddy. If I just grazed a plate, it fell down with a bang. Very often he would hit the plate (25 yards), make a really loud noise, and the plate stayed standing.
    Won a little bit of beer money in that session.

    Good discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad we’re mostly on the same page! And great additional discussion on each of the points. (I didn’t know the M24 could be configured for those other calibers… And you make a great point about short-range fighting whit rear troops versus long-range fights with infantry units. A 5.56 at short range is no joke, but most of the fighting in Afghanistan has been long-range; I should have made that point.)

      And that’s hilarious about shooting steel with 9 vs 45. I didn’t realize a 45 would have been less likely to knock them down. Glad you told me as I would have lost some money if someone had bet me on which round is more likely to knock down a steel target…


      1. “I didn’t realize a 45 would have been less likely to knock them down”
        Sorry, my sentence construction sux.
        I was shooting the .45 and it would knock down the plates with even a partial hit – anywhere on the plate.
        My buddy with the 9mm had to get a solid hit in the top half of the plate to knock it down. Hits in the bottom or sides would make a loud clang, vibrate, and stay right where it was.
        He kept arguing that they were ‘obvious’ hits, but the rules of the game called for how many you could “knock down”.

        Typically, the bullet weight of a 45 ACP is about 230 GR – twice that of a 9mm – so it is the old weight vs. speed argument.

        FWIW, neither of us changed our minds about the best handgun caliber.


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