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DoD Small Arms Repair Technician: The Soldiers are my customers. What does this customer need and how can I provide that based on time, money, and equipment?

A month ago one of my mentors was going over a method of teaching various grip techniques on a handgun. Throughout the conversation if he saw me waver at any point he would ask, "Do you understand?" If I said no, he would restate what I missed in a different way, once I understood, we could move onto the next technique. I realized that my mind was a lot more willing to let new information in if I had an understanding of the previous information.

Based off of that, I'll start this article off by giving you an understanding of my position and what I do. I will then relate it to a specific scenario and dive a bit into the age-old argument of irons versus optics from a maintenance perspective. While I'm sure plenty of gunsmiths reading this understand Army lingo, I'll try to keep it to a minimum.

The Army National Guard is a very large entity that houses many different kinds of units. The Minnesota Army National Guard contains five different brigades comprised of 80 separate units that need maintenance support. While there are traditional drilling Soldiers in a reserve capacity that provide that maintenance, full time staff is needed to keep all equipment fully mission capable--that is where Field Maintenance Shops (FMS) come in. These shops provide maintenance just below manufacturer level for armament, electronics, and vehicles. In the armament section there are Small Arms Repair Technicians. This means that we wear the uniform but are technically civilians because we are employed by the Department of Defense. We also have to be dual status, which means we are Soldiers and drill with the National Guard as well. During the week I am a Small Arms Repair Tech paid by the DoD and during the weekend I am the Lead Small Arms Repair/Field Artillery Repairman for my battalion paid by the Minnesota Army National Guard. There are two tech positions in the southern half of the state which supports 37 units.

Sometimes it is like Groundhog Day at the FMS. We typically spend about four days at a unit, gaging and servicing every weapon in the vault, from a M9 service pistol to a Mkl9 Grenade Machine Gun. We then come back to the shop and create a spreadsheet of all deficiencies found. The supply Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) then creates a notification to the shop for each deficiency, the shop cuts the work order, and then we decide what maintenance needs to be done based on time, money, and equipment.

When we aren't gaging and servicing, we will attend to work orders that are written up by an operator. Many times these come in after a unit has a large training event. Weapons will go down and we aren't there to witness what the issue was. Troubleshooting plays a large role in what we do, as it does in the gunsmithing world. We will do our best to contact the operator or inspect the weapon to find the issue.

Our job isn't only to fix the problem after it has happened, it's also to make sure those problems don't keep happening. A way to mitigate misunderstandings when operators write up their weapons for issues is to teach them usual issues that go on and how to explain said issues. We have been working on the weekends with units that are drilling to give that training to the Soldiers face to face. Not only does this help them and their weapons but it makes our job easier as well. We have seen over time that the longer we spend on a unit's weapons and training the Soldiers how to employ and maintain their weapon systems, the less weapon deficiencies we see on the next annual gaging and servicing trip.

One of the major outlets that we have to the Soldiers and the unit is through their Supply NCO. The more we talk to them the more of an understanding both the unit and Small Arms Techs want out of their weapons. During visits to units we like to ask about what they are ramping up for. For example, an Infantry unit told us they would be working on breeching techniques in upcoming training. Infantry units are my favorite elements to visit because they run their guns a lot and this particular unit wanted pistol grips installed on their M500s instead of the standard stock for breeching work. We reconfigured 50 M500s in the span of two days due to the understanding of what they wanted and how to get there.

In the December 2018 issue Paul Mazan's article "Installing A Curved Steel Buttplate" discussed how the modification would "provide a slip free anchor between your shoulder and the gun." If I never had someone mention that concept and explain why it could benefit me, I would've never thought about it. If those infantrymen never had the option to change out that stock, they wouldn't reap the benefits they now have of employing their weapon in certain situations.

Sight Reliability

The failure to use something to our advantage is not always arrogance but sometimes ignorance, or simply being unaware of something. I once walked into a unit and saw 120 M68 Close Combat Optics (CCO) just sitting inside of a cage not being used on weapons. When I asked if they had ever been used the Supply NCO stated, "No, we don't want to mount them because our Soldiers do not know how to use them." Wrong answer. Not using those CCOs is not what is best for the Soldiers, the unit, or even the Small Arms Techs. Like any repair, let's look at time, money, and equipment for optics versus iron sights on a M4 rifle, specifically the CCO compared to a Back-Up Iron Sight (BUIS) from a maintenance perspective.

The last unit we were at had 160 M4 Carbines that had both a CCO and BUIS installed. Out of those 160 carbines, I wrote up 22 iron sight deficiencies and zero CCO deficiencies.

The first factor is time. The usual deficiency on a BUIS is the pin walking out on the sight aperture, causing it to flip up during firing. The usual way to fix this is to stake the pin. There are about four parts that need disassembly to get to the aperture. Once the aperture is out the metal needs to be staked, which also takes time due to the toughness of the metal. Fun fact, that aperture now comes dimpled from the manufacturer meaning that pin was riding out so often they found a way to try and mitigate the problem before it needed to be staked. Between cutting the work order, ordering and waiting on the part, and repairing, it will add up to at least two visits to the unit and 0.5 man-hours each. The front sight post also oftentimes needs to be replaced due to being scratched or bent.

On a CCO the usual things that need to be replaced are the caps or the straps due to being broken or missing. The time that goes into that is cutting the work order, ordering and waiting on the part, and repairing which is 0.1 man-hour each.

The next factor is money. With iron sights, the aperture will need to be replaced with a new one that now has a dimpled pin that will not ride out as quickly or as often. When replacing the aperture on a BUIS the 1/16" spring pin may need to be replaced. On an optic, a cap or strap is often a stocked part and can be obtained quickly and installed quickly.

There's also a need to consider needed tools. On iron sights, the spring (revise) pin takes a 1/16" punch which can break easily. Whenever removing a BUIS the mounting screw needs to be replaced with blue Loctite as well. A front sight post adjustment tool is needed to replace the front sight on a M4 Carbine. With optics, no equipment is needed to replace a cap or strap.

Finally, employment and use. To adjust the BUIS and front sight post on a M4, a front sight tool is needed, which can easily break. To mount the assembly, an Allen wrench is needed. If the assembly is mounted incorrectly it can be loose, if mounted too tight the adjustment knobs can seize. The aperture is often loose as well, causing different sight alignment each time.

With optics, to adjust the turrets on a CCO any kind of straight blade can be used such as a crushed brass case or a multi-tool. A CCO has a torque limiter knob which needs no equipment to mount and can be returned to zero if mounted on the same spot on the rail but can also be canted if not mounted correctly on the rail. An Allen wrench is needed if the mount comes loose.

From only a maintenance perspective, based on time, money, and equipment, I would much rather have optics mounted on those rifles. A Soldier needs a primary sighting system and if the irons go down--which based on what we have seen over time they are more likely to--that weapon is now not fully mission capable and ready to be employed at a moment's notice.

We have also seen issues with iron sights on other weapon systems such as the M249 Light Machine Gun. Many times we will need to replace a whole barrel assembly due to the front sight base being worn down, causing the front sight to move side-to-side while firing. Also on a M249 we have seen the rear sight aperture completely sheared off.

On a M2A1.50 Caliber Machine Gun we have seen front side hoods crack, causing the hood to come off and expose the front sight blade. While steel is strong, it wears and breaks over time which again, can cause a weapon to be non-mission capable until the repair parts are ordered, received, and installed.

An important thing to note, in the Army if a receiver is cracked or warped, that weapon is now dead-lined and deemed irreparable. If that sighting system is part of the receiver or a barrel and it wears or breaks, that weapon now needs to be turned in and the unit will wait for a replacement. That Soldier is now down his own weapon.

Understanding is 100% of the Small Arms Technician's job. The weapons world within the Army National Guard is always changing and it takes proactivity to constantly learn and understand the changes. If you understand something, you can implement change where change is needed. You can also take care of weapons in the way that they need to be taken care of, which is ultimately all of our goals: To know how to properly maintain and employ weapon systems.

by Stephanie Martz
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT
Author:Martz, Stephanie
Publication:American Gunsmith
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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