I like my rifle. It’s a fine piece of gear.

When I was a private long ago, the army issued me a tattered old M16A1, late Vietnam era issue, stamped with the maker’s mark of General Motors Hydramatic Division. It was so loose and wabbly in its action that it wouldn’t cycle more than three or four times without binding up unless I had the foresight to fill it with about four ounces of LSA, the general purpose lubricant that was used for rifles, typewriters and, for all I know, light-duty generators.

That meant that when I came off the qualifying range, I had so much LSA sprayed onto my face that I looked like every other Lewis I’ve ever met in the army: African-American. Except back then there were no African-Americans in the army. Jesse Jackson hadn’t yet coined the term. Anyway, I managed to qualify Expert with that old war club, so the barrel must have been sound, and at least I didn’t get a rifle made by Mattel.

Times change; equipment, too. “Jeeps” (M151A2s like the one I drove all over Korea) are long gone, Gama Gotes are so old school everyone thinks they were Czechoslovakian trucks from the movie “Stripes,” steel helmets are only worn by the Poles, and this time around, the army issued me a NEW RIFLE.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The rifle I drilled with at the Hooper USARC in Bothell was just fine by me. An M16A2, it had an improved barrel and sighting system compared to those I used to carry, and was more accurate and more reliable. But the guys (kids?) I work with cursed the thing for a “musket,” old-school, long and way too heavy. Of course, those pampered kids think the heater in a HMMWV is inadequate.

A heater, they have!

After we qualified with our muskets at the mobilization station in Ft. Bragg, NC, they were abruptly taken from us and replaced with brand-spanking-new, out of the box, never-fired-except-for-test-rounds, gen-yoo-wine Colt Arms M4 carbines.

M4 carbine with ACOG

These things are cool: short barrel, top rail for modular sighting systems, collapsible stock and an ACOG optical sight with 4X resolution, incorporating night-friendly tritium-enhanced crosshairs and an onboard ranging system. “Only” good for 400 meters, as opposed to 600m for the A2, but we can all live with that.

Ever try to hit someone at 600 meters? Hint: they’re 3/16 of an inch tall, and you aim two inches over their head. Good luck with that!

What’s not to like? My M4 is fast to handle, light to carry and rides on my hip like a deadly baby. I can partially retract the stock to leave room for use over Interceptor body armor. And it’s so fresh-new that it hasn’t even worn in the bolt yet. When I clean it, its innards sparkle like a NASA tool drawer.

Like most soldiers in this theater, private contractors included, I’ve pimped out my little bangstick somewhat. It sports a custom stock scored from a demobilizing Second Infantry Division armorer. Not only does this stock add a big, soft buttpad (and who doesn’t like one of those?), it also, oddly enough, stores eight always-handy AA batteries, or a slew of CR2 lithium batteries for Surefire lights.

My ACOG has a rubber sight cover system zip-tied in place. There’s a magazine holder Velcro-strapped onto the butt stock so I don’t have to keep 30 rounds in my pocket where they crash around uncomfortably. There’s also a Mamba assault sling fitted, so that I can tuck the little devil out of the way to my side, but still bring it up almost instantly if necessary. And of course I keep a little plastic cap over the muzzle, which keeps the crud out and never needs to be removed except for cleaning — you just shoot it right off if you’re in a hurry.

We know this for a fact, since a certain detachment NCOIC who shall remain nameless shot off his muzzle protector inadvertently. That same round also went through the brake pedal, then clean through the floor, of his HMMWV. I kind of wonder about that floor armor.

Others go much further with their modifications. For a few hundred bucks (I’ve spent 40 PX bucks or so between the mag holder and the Mamba), you can add a Picatinny rail system to the forend, a modular mounting track allowing you to spend even more hundreds to fit a front pistol grip with a bore-sighted tactical light and a pressure switch.

Some guys switch out their ACOGs for more exotic scopes: variable 3-9X sniper sighting systems (curious investment for a short-range carbine) or bright-dot systems that you barely have to aim at all. Some have added bipods for steady holds at long range. There are bayonets available from the U.S., Sweden, Austria and even our old buddies in France.

There’s virtually no end to the panoply of accessorizing options available, and gun guys obsessing over their M4s show all the discretion of women on unlimited shoe budgets. The silliest mod I’ve seen to date was by a little Civil Affairs senior NCO, notorious for being a “gear queer,” who actually spent about a hundred American dollars on a left-handed charging handle. Everyone I know clears their weapon, post-mission, by charging it left-handed and catching the last round as it flies out of the chamber (this with the standard charging setup).

A lot of guys have decided that they’re going to buy themselves an M4 when they “redeploy,” army-speak for returning to the Land of the Big PX. And hell, maybe they should. I know if I had 500 bucks or more invested in M4 accessories, I’d probably want to attach them to the rifle they were designed around.

Of course, it’s not like you’re going to take the thing deer hunting, and you hardly need a tac light for target shooting, and God alone knows why you’d need a gun around the house with a for-real bayonet lug, but still… y’know, they’re really good weapons. They handle well. And it’s been interesting having a new — well anyway, it was new when I got it – rifle, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer (thank you for your support!).

Like I said, I like my rifle. It’s a good piece of gear. Still, I think when I come home, I’m going to put it back the way it was when it was issued, clean it thoroughly, and hand it over to our armorer.

And never pick up another one again.

JAN 05, FOB Sykes, Tal ‘Afar, Iraq

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  1. I totally agree with you with your plan to just give the gun to the armory and never touch one again. You have used that gun enough.

  2. I applaud your decision to just leave your gun in the armory. You don’t need that anymore you have done your part and we are proud and thankful for what you have done.

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