Spec Ops Weathermen: S**t-Hot

“Those guys were S**t-Hot, and could swing like Tarzan, think like Einstein and climb like Spider-Man,” remembers a member of Delta Force, who deployed with SOWTs and Combat Controllers during the fierce early months of the war in Afghanistan.

When you think about what goes on in a theater of war, you’ll think of things like the number of troops deployed, the location of friendly bases nearby, and even things like the rations that the soldiers will receive. What isn’t so common to think about is the weather and how it affects the battleground.

Normally, this isn’t an issue for the United States government. How most countries work is that they report on their weather on the ground which is then relayed to countries all over the world for the purpose of getting an idea as to how the conditions are.

The only problem with this setup is that it involves trusting governments to reliably put this information out there. When the Taliban swept in Afghanistan to take control of the country back in 2001 prior to U.S. interdiction. The weather reports stopped altogether.

The reason for this stoppage is the fact that the Taliban operates under a very strict interpretation of the Koran. This meant that all women would be required to wear a burka. All men must be bearded at all times. Television and movies were outlawed. And lastly, weather reporting was banned.

The reason for this confusing ban is that weather reporting is considered by the Taliban to be a form of sorcery. They doubled down on this belief, in fact, by shelling meteorological centers and forcibly removing weather people from their positions.

The United States has weathermen of its own.

In order to better wage war in Afghanistan and understand the data so that troops could be best protected, the government sent a number of weathermen to the theater of war.

These weathermen are also known as special operations weather technicians or SOWTs. In fact, these are the only commando forecasters that the Department of Defense has in its employment.

These operatives are tasked with visiting the most hostile and dangerous places in the world and then recovering important meteorological data that ground forces can then act upon once they’re brought into duty.

Video: Being a SOWT

Video: Weather & Warfare

These weathermen are not technically combat-oriented soldiers. Instead, they move into these hostile locations and gather their data. This sounds easy, but it’s anything but. If it goes wrong, not only can the operative be captured or killed, but that highly valuable data will be lost forever, compromising any future operations.

These operatives go along with the absolute best in the field. They often team up with Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and Delta Force.

Before a major operation is going to be conducted, before any boots touch the ground or even get laced up, a SOWT will have to move into the location and give the okay. These truly are the unsung heroes of war, as they’re literally responsible for whether or not an operation will happen.

In one instance, the use of satellite data pointed toward there being totally clear skies in an area of operation. The only thing is that there was no ground data along with that and ground data is just as imperative as is satellite data.

Not only were the former meteorologists fired, not only were all of the meteorological sites turned to rubble but the decades of weather reports there were destroyed as well. Never before or since has there been such a blackout on incredibly simple and useful information. While this has made it more difficult for United States troops to conduct ground operations, this wasn’t the primary reason for everything.

On one occasion, a SOWT was brought to a location that was hazy and indistinct as the result of a substantial sand storm. This weather man risked his life by leaving the helicopter along with a small team of commandos.

While under the cover of night, they scaled a mountain and then dug into a nearby ledge. It was here that the SOWT got to work at obtaining meteorological data. He used a device to study how high in the sky clouds were, sent out weather balloons at night, and used a small device he had with him for all other tasks.


What this special operations weather technician essentially did was create a forecast that operated in real time. He then checked his data with the forecasts that were already made and tweaked the data until it seemed to line up properly. From there, commando teams were able to be dropped into locations with safe weather conditions all thanks to this brave SOWT.

As a matter of fact, it was as a result of this initial operation that the ground invasion of Afghanistan began. As such, the data had to be absolutely precise in order to be considered actionable. These fair consditions that the SOWT were enough for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to move ahead with their operation.

While it is possible to obtain satellite forecasts without ever having to use a real person, these special operations weather technicians humorously liken this process to an eager child on Christmas shaking a box to guess what’s inside. You might come relatively close sometimes, but not enough for the data to be actionable.

Every member of the United States’ military has an important job to do, a reaon strong enough for them to leave their freidns and family for months at a time. What many don’t realize is that there’s quite possibly even more dangerous position in the military that rarely gets spoken about or even acknowledged.

This position is that of a special operations weather technician. Before any boots can touch the dirt, one of these professionals must go in and single-handedly get a hold on the weather fluctuations in the area. Without these brave souls, there would be no boots on the ground and the mission would be lossed before it even started.

by J Hines

Source: Wikipedia, Military.com, USAF Public Affairs, Videos and Intro Excerpt from Nbcnews.com/pages/weathermen

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“Spike” The Vietnamese Boy

at FOB-4 Command & Control North

Article by Shawn from LooseRounds.com

Spike was apparently a bit of a mascot at SOG forward operating base-4 of CCN. Taught to serve drinks and do all manner of errands for the Green Berets of SOG..
One of the SOG recon men saying he even helped a SFC man and fire a 81mm mortar in a mortar pit during the infamous attack on August 23 in 1968 when NVA sappers infiltrated a SOG compound from the sea in the middle of the night and caused multiple casualties of the recon men.

Spike rigged up for a static line jump
” he was in that mortar pitt firing illumination rounds over the camp. But I remember he told me that Spike knew enough that he readied them and handed the mortar rounds to him to fire”– William Barclay
“ He did not jump.”– Schofield Steven

Sad to say I have to tell you it was not a happy end for Spike.
“Spike lived with me in my hooch for a couple of months. I took care of him. The Vietnamese were very jealous. He disappeared while I was on a mission. He was not seen again. I was told that he was taken away and killed.”– Dick Thompson

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After I originally posted this article a few months past and the subject of Spike came up again. Another SOG Green Beret who was there later in the war told us about Spike becoming very insolent and resentful of the American troops. This SOG man said he reported the kid as a security risk to the base security officers over Spike’s change in personality and shady actions.

Knowlton’s Rangers

Did George Washington have Commandos?
During the American Revolution George Washington didn’t have any Tier-1 Spec Ops, but he made the most of what he had. When we think of modern day Special Forces, we think of Seal Team 6, Delta Force and the Green Berets.
Back in the day of the American Revolution era, what did George Washington have?
In a time where warfare was all about marching to fife and drum then lined up in rows to blast away with muskets at fifty paces. What did they know about unconventional warfare?
According to retired U.S. Army colonel Robert Tonsetic explains that unconventional warfare was a major part of the War of Independence. He states traditionally special operations has a long historic roots dating back to King Philip’s War of 1675, when the Plymouth Colony formed “an experimental group of men who would train and operate using Native American tactics to attack Indian war parties, and raid their camps in the dense forests and swamps.”
However, if you were to ask other researchers, special operations existed back into the B.C. era. (that’s for another article)
Roger’s Rangers were famous in the French and Indian War, where Indian and French troops ambushed British regulars and American militia.
By the time when the American Revolution was underway, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys—a band of Vermont irregulars—used small boats to cross Lake Champlain and seize Fort Ticonderoga in a coup de main in 1775.

Washington Commandos
Getting back to Washington’s spec ops soldiers, he created “Knowlton’s Rangers”, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Knowlton. They were an elite unit designed for reconnaissance, espionage missions and outfitted as a regiment of light infantry.
Knowlton’s Rangers, outfitted as a regiment of light infantry, took part in several battles of the American Revolutionary War. Knowlton’s Rangers are considered the first organized American elite force, a predecessor to modern special forces units.

Tonsetic also talks about partisan warfare by bands of American irregulars in New Jersey and the South that wreaked havoc with British supply convoys and couriers. American partisans also undermine British political control and eliminated Loyalist sympathizers. It is unknown if these groups were tied to Washington’s creation, obviously they were all on the same page for objectiveness. Sound familiar to the Viet Cong operations during the Vietnam war?

By Sea as well
No Seal Team 6 or Force Recon here, but there was the “Whaleboat Wars,” in which Continental troops and partisans used small boats to capture British officers and destroy British shipping, such as the thirteen-boat raid on Sag Harbor, Long Island in May 1777 that destroyed thirteen ships and numerous supplies.
John Paul Jones also makes an appearance as a special operator, as he and his warship Ranger stalked British shipping and raided British ports. He caused the British government and Royal Navy great embarrassment.

In Tonsetic’s book on operation in an era when warfare was supposed to be gentlemanly and follow certain rules, did Washington and his contemporaries embrace special operations? The answer/observation from reading historic facts would seem to be, “Yes.” Even if they didn’t use the term “special ops,” they were willing to employ elite reconnaissance units, spies, and partisan bands to gain battlefield advantage.

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Sources: Wikipedia, Special Operations in the American Revolution by Robert L. Tonsetic , Michael Peck

Honoring Heroes

How Three of our Most Recent Awardees Earned their Medals of Honor

Photos Courtesy of Congressional Medal of Honor Society

On September 11, 2020, Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest military award – with President Trump calling him “one of the bravest men anywhere in the world.” Indeed, the Medal of Honor is only bestowed upon those soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen whose bravery and valor go above and beyond.
In conjunction with Veterans Day this month, we at American Shooting Journal thought it fitting to honor Payne, along with two other recent recipients of the award, by sharing their heroic stories here.

• Rank: Sergeant First Class (Highest rank: Sergeant Major)
• Conflict/Era: War On Terrorism (Iraq)
• Unit/Command: Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, U.S. Army Special Operations Command
• Military Service Branch: U.S. Army
• Medal of Honor Award Presentation Date: September 11, 2020
On October 22, 2015, Sergeant First Class Payne led a combined assault team that was charged with clearing one of two buildings during a daring nighttime hostage rescue in Kirkuk Province, Iraq. His team quickly cleared the building, liberating 38 hostages, but after learning that the second rescue team needed help, Sergeant Payne jumped into action. From his citation:

“Sergeant Payne climbed a ladder to the building’s roof, which was partially engulfed in flames, and engaged enemy fighters below with grenades and small arms fire. He then moved back to ground level to engage the enemy forces through a breach hole in the west side of the building. Knowing time was running out for the hostages trapped inside the burning building, Sergeant Payne moved to the main entrance, where heavy enemy fire had thwarted previous attempts to enter. He knowingly risked his own life by bravely entering the building under intense enemy fire, enduring smoke, heat, and flames to identify the armored door imprisoning the hostages. “Upon exiting, Sergeant Payne exchanged his rifle for bolt cutters, and again entered the building, ignoring the enemy rounds impacting the walls around him as he cut the locks on a complex locking mechanism. His courageous actions motivated the coalition assault team members to enter the breach and assist with cutting the locks. After exiting to catch his breath, he reentered the building to make the final lock cuts, freeing 37 hostages. Sergeant Payne then facilitated the evacuation of the hostages, even though ordered to evacuate the collapsing building himself, which was now structurally unsound due to the fire. “Sergeant Payne then reentered the burning building one last time to ensure everyone had been evacuated. He consciously exposed himself to enemy automatic gunfire each time he entered the building. His extraordinary heroism and selfless actions were key to liberating 75 hostages during a contested rescue mission that resulted in 20 enemies killed in action.”

• Rank: Sergeant (Highest Rank: Sergeant Major)
• Conflict/Era: War On Terrorism (Afghanistan)
• Unit/Command: Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Company C, 3rd Battalion, Special Operations Task Force-33, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan
• Military Service Branch: U.S. Army
• Medal of Honor Award Presentation Date: October 30, 2019

On April 6, 2008, Sergeant Williams was part of an assault element inserted by helicopter into a location in Afghanistan. As the team was moving up a mountain, it was engaged by intense enemy fire and the lead portion of the squad, which included the ground commander, sustained several casualties and was in danger of being overrun. Braving enemy fire, Sergeant Williams led a counterattack across a valley of ice-covered boulders and a fast-moving river.
From his citation:

“Arriving at the lead element’s position, Sergeant Williams arrayed his Afghan commandos to provide suppressive fire, which kept the insurgent fighters from overrunning the position. When the team sergeant was wounded, Sergeant Williams braved enemy fire once again to provide buddy aid and to move the team sergeant down the sheer mountainside to the casualty collection point. Sergeant Williams then fought and climbed his way back up the mountainside to help defend the lead assault element that still had several serious casualties in need of evacuation. “Sergeant Williams directed suppressive fire and exposed himself to enemy fire in order to reestablish the team’s critical satellite radio communications. He then assisted with moving the wounded down the near-vertical mountainside to the casualty collection point. Noting that the collection point was about to be overrun by enemy fighters, Sergeant Williams led the Afghan commandos in a counterattack that lasted for several hours. “When helicopters arrived to evacuate the wounded, Sergeant Williams again exposed himself to enemy fire, carrying and loading casualties onto the helicopters while continuing to direct commando firepower to suppress numerous insurgent positions. His actions enabled the patrol to evacuate wounded and dead comrades without further casualties. Sergeant Williams’ complete disregard for his own safety and his concern for the safety of his teammates ensured the survival of four critically wounded soldiers and prevented the lead element of the assault force from being overrun by the enemy.”

• Rank: Sta Sergeant
• Conflict/Era: War On Terrorism (Iraq)
• Unit/Command: 2d Platoon, Delta Company, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
• Military Service Branch: U.S. Army
• Medal of Honor Award Presentation Date: March 27, 2019

On June 1, 2007, while manning a static observation post in the town of Abu Samak, Iraq, Staff Sergeant Atkins was notified that four suspicious individuals, walking in pairs, were in the area. When one of the individuals began behaving erratically, Staff Sergeant Atkins approached to conduct a search. Both individuals responded belligerently toward Staff Sergeant Atkins, and a fistfight ensued.

From his citation:

“When he noticed the insurgent was reaching for something under his clothes, Staff Sergeant Atkins immediately wrapped him in a bear hug and threw him to the ground, away from his fellow soldiers. Staff Sergeant Atkins maintained his hold on the insurgent, placing his body on top of him, further sheltering his patrol. With Staff Sergeant Atkins on top of him, the insurgent detonated a bomb strapped to his body, killing Staff Sergeant Atkins. Staff Sergeant Atkins acted with complete disregard for his own safety. In this critical and selfless act of valor, Staff Sergeant Atkins saved the lives of the three other soldiers who were with him and gallantly gave his life for his country.” Staff Sergeant Atkins’ award was given posthumously to his son, Trevor, at a presentation at the White House.

THESE THREE SOLDIERS are true American heroes, exhibiting bravery, honor and valor of the highest order. American Shooting Journal would like to thank them, and all military veterans, for their service and sacrifice. Editor’s note: Citations were excerpted from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website (cmohs.org).

M16 vs M4

Which Duty AR is King? – Nick Perna, a former soldier and currently a cop, weighs in on whether the M16A2 or M4 is a better overall weapon system.

Age equals experience. One of the few perks of getting old is that you get exposed to more things throughout the course of your life. This includes weapon systems. I’ve been making a living with a firearm since the late 1980s.
In jobs ranging from the military, bounty hunting and law enforcement, I’ve carried a wide variety of handguns, long guns, crew-served weapons and other things that go “Bang!” I’ve personally bore witness to the development of the M16/M4 weapon system throughout my adult life.
My first experience was with the M16A1. I carried the triangle-gripped Vietnam-era weapon in the 1990s as an ROTC cadet and later as a member of the National Guard in Florida and California. It was full-auto, which was nice. The fore grips were a little flimsy and could bite at one’s hands at times. The rear sight was somewhat unsophisticated compared to later models, but it worked fairly well.
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Later, while on active duty with the 82nd Airborne, I was issued an M16A2. I had longed to carry one since I had seen pictures of paratroopers in Panama carrying them during Operation Just Cause in 1989. Compared to the M16A1 it seemed state of the art. Overall, the weapon was better built. A heavier barrel was used, increasing accuracy and durability.
The triangle foregrips were replaced with more stout, ribbed ones. The rear sight was replaced with one that could be manipulated with your hand (the M16A1 required the tip of a bullet to be inserted into a detent to adjust it). The one thing the military did that didn’t make sense was replacing the full-auto option on the M16A2 with three-shot burst. From the time of the introduction of bolt-action rifles in combat, generals have been obsessed with ensuring that soldiers don’t waste ammo. Some magazine-fed, bolt-action military rifles in World War I were equipped with a device that allowed loading only one round at a time, leaving the rounds in the magazine for emergency situations.

Fast forward to the latter half of the 20th Century and military leaders, fearing massive ammo waste through “spray and pray” tactics, did away with full-auto for America’s military rifle! When it comes to senior officers making micro-decisions that negatively affect soldiers, little has changed throughout the years.
I carried the M203 variant of the M16A2. This is hands down my favorite version of this weapon system; 5.56 up top, 40mm on the bottom, what else can you ask for? The 40mm can launch explosives, flares, flechette rounds and more. I took pride in the fact that I was, at the time, the highest-ranking grenadier in the 82nd Airborne! To my knowledge no other officers were carrying the 203 at the time. It made for a lot of strange looks on range day when the “lieutenant” showed up.

I’ve carried the M4 variant in the military and as a SWAT officer. It’s a great system. The shorter length makes it ideal for close-quarters battle. Getting rid of the carrying handle and replacing it with an ample Picatinny rail makes sense in the modern era where optics are standard-issue. Bringing back full-auto was a good move as well.

SO, WHICH ONE is the best overall weapon system? Is the M4 the king by virtue of the fact that it is the most current variant? It depends on what you are looking for and what criteria are used to judge.
In this comparison I’m going to exclude my personal fave, the M203. It’s a unique weapon and all modern M16/M4 variants can be turned into a 5.56/40mm combo so, in essence, it’s in a category all its own.
The M4’s major advantages are size and modularity. It is significantly shorter than an M16A2, giving it a lot of advantages. It’s better for carrying in confined spaces such as inside a vehicle and aircraft. It is also more user-friendly when clearing buildings, which is a major component of what the military and law enforcement do.

This size comes at a cost, though. The Achilles heel of the M4 is the retractable stock. The buffer tube that supports the stock is the weakest part of the weapon. The buffer tube can be bent, dented or damaged in some other way through hard use. This can be catastrophic because a damaged buffer tube won’t allow the buffer spring and bolt carrier group to travel down it when the weapon is cycling a new round. If it’s damaged enough that the bolt carrier group can’t fit in it at all, then a round can’t even be chambered. The M16A2’s buffer tube is encased in a hardened, high-impact plastic stock.
This does a good job of protecting it. MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) manuals used by the military recommend using the M16A2 as a platform for a soldier to stand on to enter a window! In other words, two soldiers hold the M16A2, one holding the barrel, the other the stock. A third soldier then steps onto the rifle while his partners hoist him into the window. That’s a pretty robust weapon! As a sidebar, I don’t recommend trying this at home. If you absolutely can’t resist doing so, A) make sure the weapon is unloaded, and B) borrow someone else’s rifle when you try it. Another limited application for the M16A2’s stock is using it as an impact weapon. As part of bayonet training, many soldiers have been taught to use the stock to butt-stroke opponents. Try that with an M4.
The other issue with the M4’s size is barrel length. A standard-issue M4 has a 14.5-inch barrel. This translates to an effective firing range of 500 meters. The M16A2 has a 20-inch barrel with a firing range of 600 meters. This means greater hit probability at longer ranges. In the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, long-distance engagements have been the norm, so every meter matters.
Being the more modern weapon, the M4 is more modular. With rails on the receiver and foregrips, you can hang just about every device imaginable on one – scopes, holographic sights, back-up iron sights, lights, lasers, foregrips, can openers, potato peelers, you name it. The butt stock is easily replaceable too, although it still ends up on the same subpar buffer tube. The M4 is the most adaptable weapons platform on the planet, period.
IN ITS MOST PURE FORM the M16A2 is pretty much a “what you see is what you get” weapon. It predates much of the add-on gear available to AR enthusiasts today. There is limited mounting options for optics on top of the carrying handle, and the offset (distance between the point of aim of the optic and the potential point of impact from a round leaving the barrel) is pretty significant.

This becomes a problem at close-range, CQB distances. The single-point mount on a carrying handle – basically a hole in the top of the handle where you use a single bolt to lock down an optic – is also a lot less stable than a Picatinny rail with multiple points of contact. However, if you want the best of both worlds, look to the United States Marine Corps for a solution. Enter the M16A4! It has all of the positive attributes of an M16A2, such as a longer barrel and fixed stock. At the same time, it has a Picatinny rail in place of a carrying handle and rail-equipped foregrips just like the M4. As an Army vet it pains me to say this, but the Marines have done a better job in recent times of fielding better weapons and equipment to meet the needs of their troops. While the Army was struggling with finding a camo pattern that worked (remember the ACU, Army Combat Uniform?) the Marines had the excellent MARPAT pattern. The M16A4 is just another example of USMC ingenuity. So which weapon you choose really depends on what your needs are. The M4 is the highly adaptable king that is the premier CQB rifle. The M16A2 is the more robust weapon that can reach out and touch targets at longer distances. Pick the one that better suits your needs. Or, better yet, buy both. Editor’s note: Nick Perna is a sergeant with the Redwood City Police Department in northern California. He has spent much of his career as a gang and narcotics investigator. Perna previously served as a paratrooper in the US Army and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco.

Here’s a different perceptive from Youtuber James Reeves from TFB.TV


Remembering the Battle of Dak To

Almost Fifty-three years ago, the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) fought in close quarters and uphill through deep foliage to take Hill 875 in what became known as the Battle of Dak To

Story by Craig Hodgkins and Photos courtesy of US Army, Wikipedia

The 173rd Airborne Brigade had already seen action before moving inland to South Vietnam’s Central Highlands in early November of 1967. This support included a role in Operation Junction City in the spring, as well as a search-and destroy (S&D) mission in the vicinity of Tuy Ho on the south-central coast.

The 173rd was assigned to Dak To after intelligence reports indicated that North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiments had reinfiltrated the region after the termination of Operation Greeley in late summer. Just before noon on November 6, “D” Company, under Capt. Thomas H. Baird, was moving up a trail to Hill 823 when one of the men spotted an NVA communications (“commo”) wire running alongside the path. A white pith helmet was also located nearby, further confirming NVA presence.

At approximately 1 p.m., the trail widened and the soldiers came across fresh bare footprints. Although the 173rd had been in existence since 1915, it was restructured in 1963 as an airborne infantry brigade combat team, and members of the unit became known as Sky Soldiers. In the heavily forested hills and steep valleys near Dak To, however, they would fight on foot.

Ernest “Learch” Birch (left in image), who served as a rifleman and squad leader for the 1st Platoon of “D” Company, was one of many who survived Dak To, which saw members of the 173rd advance under fire (middle) and fight through the dense foliage (right) of Hill 875. (US ARMY)

Nearby, as the “B” and “C” companies and the engineer platoon prepared to receive a battery on another knoll, “A” company’s recon squad moved out on S&D operations to clear the ridge to the west. Suddenly, moments after soldiers spied glimpses of NVA in the trees, they fell under heavy AK-47 fire, and the battle was officially on.
Over the next three-plus weeks, the 173rd would fight up and down the hill, with heavy fighting following on November 13, with B Company sustaining especially heavy casualties. The official “after action” report made special mention of the terrain where much of the fighting on the 13th and afterward had occurred.

The battle for Hill 875 made national headlines, from page one of the November 23, 1967 Chicago Tribune to the December 1 issue of Life magazine. (WIKIPEDIA)
“The terrain … was thick bamboo and shrub brush with occasional open spots where most of the casualties were taken. There were tall trees encircling the hilltop. Visibility was restricted to about 5 meters and firing was at point blank range.” Because of the nature of the fighting, no air or gunships could support in their usual manner, as the fighting was too close, and artillery and air could only help indirectly.

This Sky Soldier readies his M60 in advance of the final assault on Hill 875. (US ARMY)
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Fighting continued through Veterans Day and beyond, and by November 19, American troops had finally begun the official assault on Hill 875. Sadly, this final push also resulted in one of the worst “friendly fire” incidents in Vietnam, when a Marine Corp fighter bomber accidentally dropped a 500-pound bomb near the American perimeter, killing 42 men and injuring another 45. By November 23, the 4th Battalion, which had remained engaged since the first discovery of the VCA commo wire, mounted a final assault on the hilltop of 875 alongside the 2nd Battalion.
Reaching the crest, they discovered that the VCA had abandoned their positions. The hill had been secured.
According to official reports, 376 U.S. troops had been killed or listed as missing-presumed dead and another 1,441 were wounded, in the fighting.

Boeing CH-47 Chinooks did much of the heavy lifting during the
Vietnam War, and the helicopters are still in use today. (US ARMY)
For its combined actions during operations around Dak To, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Of the thirteen members of the 173rd to receive the Medal of Honor, three resulted from heroic actions in Dak To between November 12 and 20. These three are Private John Barnes, Major Charles Watters and PFC Carlos Lozada. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-9EpYO04qE

The Making Of A Legend

The Life And Times Of Larry Vickers


From his roots in the Green Berets, Larry Vickers has spent a lifetime training civilians and law enforcement alike for the rigors of real-world threats. (ALIAS TRAINING)
From his roots in the Green Berets, Larry Vickers has spent a lifetime training civilians and law enforcement alike for the rigors of real-world threats. (ALIAS TRAINING)

Internet videos have launched numerous people into stardom, many for doing silly and stupid tricks while inebriated. When I need a good laugh at someone else’s expense, I go to the internet and look for the latest rube who has skirted death and videoed it. But the internet has also introduced some interesting people who we would have otherwise never known about. Larry Vickers is one of these people.

By now, most people in the shooting world have an idea who he is, or have watched one of his videos. After seeing a few, I decided that there was so much more to this guy, so I set out to speak with him. Vickers did not disappoint.

Vickers receiving the Bronze Star with V for Valor for his part  in Operation Acid Gambit in Panama, where American citizen Kurt Muse was rescued from the Modelo Prison.
Vickers receiving the Bronze Star with V for Valor for his part in Operation Acid Gambit in Panama, where American citizen Kurt Muse was rescued from the Modelo Prison.

Vickers was born the son of a World War II veteran and had military service in his DNA. Hailing from a small town in Ohio, he enlisted in the US Army’s delayed-entry program before graduating from high school in the early 1980s. His enlistment gave him the opportunity to go through Infantry School, followed by Airborne School and then the Special Forces qualification course. Following his successful graduation from all of these schools, Vickers was awarded the coveted Green Beret and began his career in the Army.

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During his enlistment, however, Vickers decided that being in the Green Berets wasn’t really what he wanted to do, so when his stint was up, he left active duty. Vickers expressed interest in Delta Force, but was advised that he had to be on active duty to even attempt qualification, so he reenlisted.

The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) is the brainchild of Colonel Charles Beckwith, who served with the British Special Air Service (SAS) as an exchange officer in the early 1960s. After a decade of pitching the idea for a similar group to the US Army, Beckwith was eventually tasked with forming a counter-terrorism and hostage-rescue team of highly trained soldiers capable of operating in small teams. Today, we more commonly refer to this as Delta Force.

Before Vickers was allowed to begin training for a Delta operator position, he had to pass an entrance exercise. The premise was simple: complete a land-navigation course in the mountains of West Virginia. Alone, with a 40-pound rucksack over an 18-mile course. And the time limit to complete this task was only known by test administrators. The students are simply told at the end of the course whether they are good to go or not.

After the full Delta-course training is complete and the enlisted service member is ready to graduate, there is one final test – another land-navigation course, again in the mountains of West Virginia. But this time it’s 40 miles with a 45-pound pack and the time is, again, unknown to the candidate. Go or no-go is all you get at the end. The failure rate during the course is high; estimates are as high as 95 percent, but official numbers are never given. Vickers made the cut and became a Delta Force operator.

Vickers on assignment with Delta Force in Bosnia
Vickers on assignment with Delta Force in Bosnia

The overwhelming majority of Delta’s missions are classified top secret and never made public. Of the few that have come to light, Acid Gambit represents one of Delta’s victories and Vickers was there.

Kurt Muse, an American civilian living in Panama, was accused by President Manuel Noriega’s regime of being a CIA asset. Delta was tasked with rescuing him. The mission involved flying by helicopter to the Modelo Prison in Panama, then landing on and entering via the roof. The prison was heavily guarded and resistance was expected to be heavy.

Delta blew open the top entrance and stormed down a few flights of stairs to where Muse was being held. Any guards who were foolish enough to tempt fate were quickly dispatched. The operators retrieved Muse and headed back to up to the roof. While leaving the prison the MH-6 Little Bird that carried Muse went down, but in the end no American lives were lost and multiple operators received commendations, including a Bronze Star of Valor for Vickers.

After 20 years, three helicopter crashes, numerous missions and several broken bones and a numb left leg, Vickers decided it was time to retire. “The guys who stay longer than 20 years usually end up dead or even more crippled than I am,” Vickers told me.
Let’s face it, we live in a world where information is easily accessible and there is no limit to the number of people who claim to be experts in a variety of endeavors – particularly firearms training. I’m not saying that they are all frauds, but there are many who are not all they claim to be. Vickers is not one of them.

His interest in training civilians and law enforcement started years ago, before being an instructor was hip. His expert advice has been sought by large federal to small police departments.
Vickers’ rise to popularity came from his internet videos. This is where I first saw him. He was in one explaining why he, as a former Delta operator, was fat. I laughed when I first saw the title of the vid, and was thoroughly entertained by his answer to this question. The question was raised by viewers, and Vickers’ answer was simple: He was fat because he didn’t want to end up dead, so he got out of Delta.

“The alternative, because of my lifestyle in Delta, was permanently crippled, paralyzed or dead,” said Vickers in his video. He continued, “I gave this country the best part of my life. I have no regrets and I’d do it again, but the facts are the facts. Frankly, I’m lucky to be alive.”

Blackhawk crash that Larry Vickers survived in an undisclosed location.
Blackhawk crash that Larry Vickers survived in an undisclosed location.

His videos cover a huge range of topics, from how to reload in a firefight to how much lube is too much and his crazy Russian friends running their outrageously dangerous shooting drills. One of those drills involves an operator being shot in the chest with a real round, and then returning fire at a cardboard target right next to the guy who just shot him. It’s insanely dangerous!

Videos aren’t the only thing that Vickers does or has done. He was also brought on as a consultant by Heckler & Koch during development of the company’s HK416 – the carbine purportedly used to kill Osama Bin Laden – the HK417 (the 7.62mm version) and the HK45 handgun.

Vickers has also helped Daniel Defense get their Daniel Defense M4 to market and pushed Surefire to develop smaller tactical flashlights. Most recently he coauthored a book, Vickers Guide: 1911, which was just released. I’m assured it will be a must-have for any serious handgun lover.

Vickers was also one of the founding members of the very popular International Defensive Pistol Association. According to the IDPA website, the organization has a current membership of 22,000 shooters, and IDPA matches represent some of the most practical stages of any major shooting organization.

Larry Vickers makes no bones about his favorite rifle of all time – the venerable AK-47. His love of everything AK stems from all of the variations that can be found in the world. Once the Eastern European countries disavowed communism, the different versions of the AK became widely available in the United States. The rifle’s simplistic design is its real selling point and another reason that Vickers loves it.

This Little Bird helicopter was carrying American Kurt Muse after being rescued by Delta Force in Panama. Despite the crash, not a single American life was lost during the mission.
This Little Bird helicopter was carrying American Kurt Muse after being rescued by Delta Force in Panama. Despite the crash, not a single American life was lost during the mission.

My favorite Vickers’ story is of his quest to get the autograph of none other than Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47. In 2003, the SHOT Show was held in Orlando, Fla., and it happened to coincide with Knight’s Armament Company’s open house of their new facility in the Space Coast City of Titusville. Kalashnikov was expected
to attend. Vickers knew this was his chance, so he secured tickets to the catered dinner event and went with several friends. As the night drew on he knew that his opportunity was slipping away. He saw Kalashnikov sitting in a private dining room and approached him. According to Vickers, “As soon as we walked in there I knew it wasn’t going to go well. He doesn’t speak English, but his daughter who was with him did. She asked me what I wanted, and I said that I was wondering if I could get Mr. Kalashnikov’s signature. She basically told us to get lost.”

All was not lost, however, because in 2009 Arsenal USA released the 35th Anniversary Gold Edition AK-74. Part of the astronomical price tag included a certificate of authenticity with an original Mikhail Kalashnikov signature. Mission accomplished.

Larry Vickers serving in Delta Force sporting a CAR-15 with a flashlight attached to the bottom. The size of the flashlight should give some insight into the age of this photo.
Larry Vickers serving in Delta Force sporting a CAR-15 with a flashlight attached to the bottom. The size of the flashlight should give some insight into the age of this photo.

The bottom line for me is this: When I need legal advice, I get an attorney; if I’m sick, I go to a doctor; and if my car is acting crazy, I go see a mechanic. If you have questions or need training, you seek an expert. Larry Vickers is just such an expert when it comes to surviving and winning a gun fight. His style of teaching is straightforward, and his personality is easy going and fun. If you are looking to improve your shooting skills and knowledge, give Vickers a shot – you won’t be disappointed. AmSJ
Editor’s note: For more information on Larry Vickers and training opportunities, you can visit his website at vickerstactical.com.

Big Mac Attack

With its military background and ‘Cocaine Wars’ reputation, the MAC-10 has quite a history and is still a hoot to shoot – ‘as long as someone else is paying for the ammo.’

Story and Photos by Nick Perna

Certain guns conjure up images related to the times they were used. The 1894 Winchester lever- action is the classic cowboy gun of the Old West. Thee M1 Garand is seen as the rifle that won World War II and the M1911A1 as the sidearm of choice for soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.
Not all weapons have a positive image connected to them, though. The MAC-10 submachinegun is most often associated with bad guys, such as drug dealers. Remember the infamous “chainsaw” scene in Scarface? The weapon used by the Colombian drug dealers is this bullet-spitting bruiser. When most people think of MAC-10s, they envision drug dealers and gang members spraying rival criminals.
Despite those negative images, the weapon actually predates the “Cocaine Wars” of the 1970s and ’80s in Miami. It dates back to 1964, and was designed by Gordon Ingram and Mitchell WerBell’s Military Armament Corporation.
Besides drug dealers, the MAC-10 has been used by Special Operations units in Vietnam, Grenada and elsewhere, along with armies and terrorist groups in other countries. It was also produced in South Africa and saw service in the Rhodesian wars, while variants were made in Brazil and the United Kingdom too.

Author Nick Perna test-fired this MAC-10 (minus suppressor). Check out the four-mag pouch with cool, retro camo!

I RECENTLY HAD the opportunity to test and evaluate a MAC-10 chambered in .45 caliber. For anyone used to modern firearms built to high tolerances, the initial impression is that the weapon is cheaply produced. It is made mainly from steel stampings. It’s a big chunk of plate steel built around a barrel and firing mechanism.
It’s a simple blowback design. It fires from an open bolt and there is no need to cock it. Basically, you insert the exceptionally long magazine (with the bolt in the rear position), take the weapon off safe, and pull the trigger. That’s where things get interesting.
The MAC-10 has an extremely high rate of fire. It spits out .45 slugs at 1,090 rounds per minute. Its smaller cousin, the MAC-11 in .380, fires at a blistering 1,380 rpm! Be forewarned, if you do get a chance to fire one, be prepared for excessive muzzle rise.
I was surprised at how quickly the barrel climbs when fired on full-auto. Care has to be taken not to unleash a dozen rounds over a berm at a range. Things that aid in controlling full-auto weapons are longer barrels, a sturdy stock that can be locked into the shoulder, and the weight of the weapon itself. A MAC-10 has none of these features.
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The only other weapon I’ve shot that was harder to control on full-auto was the Beretta 93R, a full-auto version of the Beretta 92 series. With a little practice, though, I was able to keep the gun on target by firing in short bursts. “Short bursts” with a MAC-10 are around eight to 10 rounds, compared to a rifle such as the Colt M4, where the norm is two to three rounds on full-auto.

HAVING A SUPPRESSOR helps. I fired the MAC-10 with and without the Sionics suppressor. The Sionics suppressor is over a foot long, providing over a pound of weight. This helps controll ability significantly. It also does a good job of keeping it relatively quiet.
I also fired the MAC-10 without the suppressor. The gun is a lot less controllable without it. What makes it more difficult is that there is no foregrip to hold onto, only a nylon strap attached to the front of the receiver. The strap does little to help the operator keep rounds on target. It also puts the shooter’s non-firing hand dangerously close to the small portion of the barrel that protrudes past the end of the receiver.

Thee sights are a simple, fixed-metal affair welded to the receiver. Even when the telescoping stock is extended, the sights are of limited value. Thisis is primarily a “point and shoot” weapon that wouldn’t be particularly useful at extended ranges, say, over 25 meters. This is an up-close-and-personal weapon, once described as “fit only for combat in a telephone booth.”
This weapon predates Picatinny rails and other mounting systems, so add-on optics are pretty much out of the question with a standard MAC-10. Another important note on the suppressor. It gets hot – really hot! It has a thin Nomex sleeve that mitigates some of the heat, but it still gets pretty toasty after a couple of magazines. I wore gloves the majority of the time I tested the weapon. In addition to preventing burns, gloves help keep your hands clean. This weapon spits out carbon and grease from the ejection port like a center fielder chewing on Redman tobacco. Don’t wear your favorite T-shirt to the range on MAC-10 day because it will get ruined.
The 30-round magazines could be used as an impact weapon if the weapon runs dry! They are made of heavy sheet steel. I recommend wearing gloves when loading them. I sliced my thumb open on the lips of the magazine cramming rounds into it.

The target after a couple of first-time MAC-
10 shooters had a go with it. All shots were “aimed” center mass so the high ones around the head were the result of muzzle climb.
FOR CIVILIANS, MAC-10s are hard to come by. They were made illegal by the assault weapons ban of 1994. Coupled with the fact that they can only be owned by a person with a Class 3 license, they are pretty rare, so if you have a chance to shoot one, you are very lucky.
As I shot the MAC-10, I tried to envision a practical use for it. Given its high rate of fire, which would quickly deplete a soldier’s basic load, coupled with controll ability issues, I don’t see it being a suitable long arm for infantry use.

Where this weapon would excel is as a personal defense weapon, or PDW, used by an operator in a vehicle where extra magazines are readily accessible. A vehicle-mounted executive protection team could use a couple of MACs to lay down a flurry of suppressive fire when trying to break contact from a threat, as long as accounting for the ultimate destination of fired rounds isn’t a major consideration.
Other than that, I’ve got to say it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot. I’d do it again, as long as someone else is paying for the ammo …

Here’s the Mac-10 in action with Youtuber Iraqveteran8888

Stoner 63: Navy SEAL’s long favored Gun

Have you heard of the Stoner 63 light machine gun?
The Stoner 63, is a 5.56×45mm NATO, modular weapon system, using a variety of modular components, it can be configured as a rifle, a carbine, a top-fed light machine gun, a belt-fed squad automatic weapon, or a vehicle mounted weapon.
Initially, the Stoner prototype was chambered in 7.62×51mm NATO, however, the design team focused on the 5.56 which was gaining mainstream military approval.

This Stoner was designed by Eugene Stoner in the early 1960s. Cadillac Gage was the primary manufacturer of the Stoner 63 during its history. The Stoner 63 saw very limited combat use by United States forces during the Vietnam War including the Marine Corps and the Navy Seals.

United States Navy SEALs pose for a photo somewhere in Vietnam, 1970. The SEAL in the center of the group is carrying a Stoner 63A1 Mk 23 Mod 0 Commando with a short 15.7 in (398.8 mm) barrel.

Want to know how good it was?
Ask any of the former Seal members from the Vietnam war and mid 70’s, they can attest it was the thing to have for a four man patrol.
The Navy SEALs preferred the modified version as a LMG (Light Machine Gun), honed to deadly efficiency in the jungle environment.
This baby can sing to a 700 rpm cyclic rate. The Stoner 63A (13 lbs) weighed much less than the M60 (23lbs), which required belts of ammunition to be slung over shoulders because it did not have a magazine.
This LMG shined at fighting through ambushes or breaking contact at close range.
Here’s an excerpt from a former SEAL who had served in Vietnam:(excerpts from sofrep.com)
“He reflects:
“On my first tour as point-man I chose to use the car-15. After a big firefight I found that I didn’t like changing magazines so I decided to go with the Stoner 63.

It was a little heavier, but with the short barrel and the 150 round left hand feed drum, it was a great weapon. With the adjustable gas port you were able to tune it to shoot 900/1000/1100 rpm. The thing with the Stoner 63 was you had to keep it clean. Shooting 1100 rpm you created a lot of carbon. The Stoner was the weapon that made a seven man squad so bad ass, it gave us the ability to take on a much bigger group. Our squad of seven had four Stoners, two M-60 machine guns, and our RTO carried a car-15 with a 203 grenade launcher. You put this all together and you are putting out over 6000 rpm. That will put the fear of God in you. The saying was “Peace Through Fire Superiority”.

Reliability was a question mark when the Stoner first made its inception. But, the SEALS have made it very reliable for their usage.

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The Stoner was phased out by the 1980, the M249 SAW took its place. But this wasn’t military wide as many conventional units were still armed with the M-60 machine gun.

In this video, we’re fortunate enough to hear a Navy SEAL share his memories of the unique Stoner machine gun.
This 80’s video shared on Youtube tells us the historical role that the Stoner 63 played for the elite military unit and how adaptive it was on the battlefield.
The SEALs knew it was a bastard child that found its only home and legacy among the ‘Green Faces’ who carried it with pride against the VC’s during the Vietnam war.
Sources: Wikipedia, SofRep.com, Youtube

Suppressed Revolver

Was the Preferred Weapon for the U.S. “Tunnel Rats” while Hunting the Việt Cộng

Since World War II, America’s elite forces have used quiet firearms for missions where it pays to be silent. Sound suppressors—commonly referred known as silencers—remain in service today. What many don’t know is that U.S. commandos once carried revolvers with special cartridges designed to muffle gunshots.

In the 1960s, the AAI Corporation developed the cartridges for the U.S. Army’s and Navy’s rifles, pistols and shotguns. The U.S. Army Special Forces and Rangers tested the unique ammunition in Vietnam.

While they offered many advantages, AAI’s products failed to win any widespread acceptance in the halls of the Pentagon. The rounds were expensive and ineffective at moderate ranges.

According to a 1968 Army report on silencers, “Throughout the history of firearms, gun noise has been of considerable concern to the military.” “To the enemy, gun noise reveals presence and, often, the location of the shooter, thus resulting in a counter attack.”

To better understand how a suppressor works. In most modern firearms, the sound of the gunshot comes primarily from bottled-up gases escaping as the bullet leaves the barrel—like uncorking a bottle of champagne. A sound suppressor helps muffle the bang by trapping these fumes.

But even with these devices, the gunshot is never entirely undetectable.

In the early 1960s, Army weapon designers looked at alternatives that would completely eliminate the sound of the propellant exploding. They came up with the so-called “piston cartridges”.

How this special cartridge works
A normal cartridge contains a casing—which contains gunpowder—and a bullet wedged into an opening at the top. When the propellant detonates, the bullet explosively detaches from the casing, and goes flying through the barrel toward its target.

In a piston cartridge, the case is completely sealed. A plunger transfers the force of the explosion to the slug—like the cue ball striking another in a game of pool.

A gun shooting these types of rounds produces no muzzle flash or smoke, either.

By 1962, the Army had piston rounds available for .30-caliber rifles and .38-caliber revolvers. The ground combat branch’s Special Forces sections also planned to develop a new weapon to go along with the ammunition.

This special firearm was envisioned to provide “escape detection, terrorize the enemy, taking out enemy patrol, snipers, sabotage, reconnaissance and assassination,” according to a report from the Army’s Chief of Ordnance.

The weapon designers also felt this firearm could silently take out sensitive vehicles and gear like aircraft, missiles, radar dishes and electronics.

Above is the artists conception of this relatively crude hand cannon that looks equal parts revolver and submachine gun. The concept features a folding butt-stock and simple iron sights.

Commandos could use the special firearms to “eliminate sentries, guards, guard dogs, military and civilian personnel and collaborators,” the technical document suggests.

With all the speculation, in the end, this new revolver was used in the tunnels during the Vietnam war to hunt for the Việt Cộngs.

The Việt Cộng dug elaborate subterranean networks to hide guerrilla fighters and supplies from American firepower.
Soldiers who volunteered to scour these amazingly complex tunnels couldn’t carry full-size M-16 rifles with them through the narrow entry points. M-1911 pistols were their only means of defense.

However, the tight passages amplified the sound of gunshots. These U.S. “tunnel rats” could quickly go deaf from firing their pistols at enemy fighters.

To try and save the soldiers’ ears, Army commanders scrounged up silenced .22-caliber handguns. The Limited War Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland also sent suppressed .38 caliber revolvers—but without any special piston rounds.

This gave the AAI Corporation a chance to to build a dedicated “tunnel weapon.”

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As it turns out, the AAI’s modified gun came in as a .44 and .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. The weapon fired piston cartridges loaded with 15 steel pellets, making it a miniature shotgun. The Army quickly sent 10 of the unique revolvers and almost 1,000 rounds of ammunition to South Vietnam for testing.

While intended for tunnel-scouting soldiers, the 23rd and 25th Infantry Divisions both handed the weapons over to their Ranger units. Special Forces soldiers reportedly got some of the guns, as well.

Units using it had successes as reported by the U.S. Army, “The tunnel weapon was found to be ideally suited for ambushes.” As originally expected, the elite troops used their silent guns on various occasions to ambush and kill enemy officers.

At the same time, AAI was offering similar ammunition to the Navy SEALs. The sailing branch purchased a stock of silent full-size, 12-gauge shells for their own experiments.

“The only sound heard when firing the silent shotgun shell was the click of the shotgun’s firing pin,” writes noted SEAL historian Kevin Dockery in Special Warfare Special Weapons. “Though the … shell was not completely silent, it made a weapon firing it very hard to hear and effectively unnoticeable.”

But the ammunition had serious restrictions. Silencers can slow bullets to varying degrees, piston cartridges launch their projectiles at even lower velocities.

How slow? AAI’s tunnel weapon—eventually renamed the Special Purpose Quiet Revolver—was useless at distances greater than 25 feet.

“There were several occasions in which the tunnel weapon failed to incapacitate an enemy soldier after he was hit from 10 feet away,” Army evaluators reported.

“Another instances, the first round struck a large leather pocketbook, filled with papers, that was being carried across the officer’s chest,” the shooter reported. “The second round struck his stomach, knocked him over, but failed to kill him.”

The other problem with the rounds was that it was expensive to make.

“The high cost was not considered balanced by the usefulness of the round as other suppressed weapons were becoming available, and the project was shelved,” Dockery stated.
The Navy didn’t buy any more rounds from AAI, either. In 1973, the Army followed suit and canned their revolver program. “No further development was planned,” progress reports from Aberdeen declare. “Several weapons and some ammunition will be available … if a special need arises.”

Today, American commandos regularly use more technologically advanced suppressed guns, but don’t have a pressing need for the complicated piston cartridges.

Photos from SmallArmsoftheWorld.com, Pinterest, U.S. Army, Wikipedia
Sources: Joseph Trevithick , SEAL historian Kevin Dockery, MilitaryVideo.com, War is Boring