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The MEU (SOC).45: the 1911 soldiers on.

As most of you who follow the shooting sports know, the military replaced the aging M1911A1 with the then exotic-looking Beretta 92S (subsequently dubbed the M9) in 1985. Equally well known was the angst this caused in the shooting community at large, to say nothing of the military's reaction.

Cries arose from far and wide about the inadequacies of the new double-stack, double-action pistol and its unimpressive 9mm cartridge. Well, time has proven the M9 to be a reliable, robust pistol, if a bit underpowered. In fact I've carried one in combat. But does this mean there is no place on today's battlefield for the rugged old 1911? Absolutely not!


In the mid-1980s, while the rest of the military was busy implementing the adoption of the new service pistol, a relatively obscure group of men saw a continued need for the 1911, or perhaps more accurately, a sidearm chambered in .45 ACP. These were the men of the Marine Corps' elite Force Reconnaissance Companies, responsible for high-risk missions such as direct action/close quarter battle and deep reconnaissance of enemy-held areas (they still are, in the form of today's Marine Special Operations Command). These Marines required weapons with the ability to end fights quickly at conversational distances. They chose their pistol accordingly and their decision has proven itself valid. The pistol they fought for, and continue to use today, is the MEU(SOC) .45, a modified M1911A1. The pistol's unwieldy moniker owes itself to the frequent deployments these Force Recon men do with Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable).

Known Makers

These little-known weapons all originate at the Marine Corps' Precision Weapons Shop (PWS) in Quantico, Virginia. There, the pistols are assembled by Marine 2112s (Military Occupational Specialty of gunsmith), usually on vintage GI or Springfield Armory frames (although Caspian frames are now being used, too). A number of commercially available parts are used in the building of a MEU(SOC) .45. Slides are almost universally Springfield Armory, while barrels may be from any of several manufacturers, such as Bar-Sto, Ed Brown, Nowlin and Wilson Combat.

These pistols are further furnished with ambidextrous safeties, skeletonized hammers and target triggers, extended beavertail grip safeties, and Novak LoMount sights. The guns are all hand-fitted by PWS gunsmiths. In fact, major parts such as the barrel, safety and slide are all engraved with the frame's serial number to prevent accidental interchanging of parts between weapons. While not true "match grade" pistols, they are described by the PWS as "combat accurized." After test firing and final fitting, the guns are Parkerized and shipped to the appropriate unit.

When a Marine is initially issued his PISTOL, M1911A1, MEU(SOC) .45CAL, he is also issued a Weapon Record Book, seven Wilson Combat 7-round magazines, a package of five Shok-Buffs and a cleaning kit. The gun is mission capable as-is, but this doesn't keep many fellows from adding personal touches, usually at their own expense. By far, the most common accoutrement is the extended 10-round magazine, usually Wilson Combat or Chip McCormick's Power Mags.


A Personal Touch

Another common modification is replacing the gun's issued Pachmayr Signature Combat grips. The most popular grips among the Marine Special Operators are Simonich's "Gunner Grips." Made of tough G-10 composite in a variety of colors, these rugged grips offer purchase whether shooting gloved, barehanded or soaking wet--along with giving the operator just a bit of individuality. Another popular modification (but not quite as common) is the addition of an extended magazine well. Myriad other end-user mods are rarer still, including extended slide releases, full-length guide rods and aftermarket sights. As long as the gun functions the way it was intended to, the user has all the latitude he needs to set the gun up to his particular preference. As it should be.

The MEU(SOC) .45, with or without modifications, is a bet-your-life reliable sidearm. Over the course of pre-deployment training a shooter can expect to fire between 10,000 and 20,000 rounds of 230-grain military ball ammunition. During my last pre-deployment work-up, I had one malfunction. Just one. My gun had a failure to extract. I examined the gun and found the extractor had broken off. Still, it is remarkable my gun suffered only one malfunction over the course of six months and many thousands of rounds of ammunition. Unfortunately, I've not had the opportunity to put one of these pistols on the bench and fully explore its accuracy potential, but I will say unequivocally, the gun shoots well beyond what is expected for a fighting pistol.

For most of the military, the 1911 is a distant memory, but for a few elite Marines she lives on as the MEU(SOC) .45. As I write this, there is nothing to indicate a replacement is being sought. At least for the foreseeable future the M1911A1 and the .45 ACP are where they belong--on the front lines in, the hands of Marines, "pushing the fight."

Justin Carroll recently completed a tour with the Marine's Special Operations Command (MARSOC). In addition to MARSOC, he has served with both force reconnaissance and battalion reconnaissance units deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.



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Title Annotation:A GUNS MEDLEY
Author:Carroll, Justin
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Aug 1, 2008
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