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The Colt M4 rifle and Beretta M9 handgun were the main guns I used in Afghanistan. The M9 was a standard-issue pistol. The M4 had an Eotech red dot sight with the usual Eotech Advanced Target Illuminator/Pointer (AN/PEQ-15) wired onto the top rail, and a CAA foregrip. They were not customized. They were not named (other than their serial numbers which I memorized). But as I go through photos of my time in Afghanistan, or look at my mission logs, I’ll be damned if I don’t have one of those two on me at all times. The main thing I didn’t like about the guns was . . .

the rounds they fired. Not really the calibers they fired, but the bullet composition themselves: FMJ’s for both the 5.56 NATO and the 9X19 NATO. Both of these rounds poked nice little holes with minimal damage. The rifle and pistol themselves, however, were completely adequate ammunition delivery systems.

The Colt M4 was extremely reliable. I heard so many people complaining about the reliability of the AR platform; how the weapon has to be cleaned constantly to maintain functionality. I never experienced that. My rifle got used. It got covered in dirt. It kept on chugging out rounds. I cleaned it as and when, but not obsessively and not often. At one point, I was firing from underneath an up-armored 1151, with the rifle flat against the ground, the dust cover inches from the dirt. Zero malfunctions.

There was no reason for me to be anything other than super confident that every time I pulled the trigger the weapon would fire. As far as accuracy, I’d say it was just OK. Eventually I got an ACOG. Even with the 4X magnification — an absolute must for southeastern Afghanistan where our average initial engagement distance was 400 meters — the rifle shot no better than 2MOA on my best day. And you know what, that’s good enough for government work.

My only complaint about this weapon platform: the magazines. About 1/4 of all of the ones we were issued were just worn out and worthless. The most common problem was feed lips that would no longer hold in rounds reliably. This is why a lot of guys ended up using PMAGs. I never saw a problem with any PMAG, other than the brass telling us we couldn’t use them. We did anyway. The brass wasn’t actually there to say no.

I was pretty good with my M4. I grew up shooting rifles. My first rifle was a Winchester Model 1894 made in the ’40s chambered in .30-30 Win.  I still have that rifle and I still hunt with it. But from the time I was nine to the time I was 27 in Basic Training, that was the smallest caliber rifle I had ever fired. Oh, the joy of shooting my M16A2 and it’s tiny 5.56NATO round. It felt like a toy and was fun and just too easy to shoot. Man, I miss Uncle Sam paying for my ammo.

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My Beretta M9 was equally reliable. It was picky with magazines; it preferred Italian-made mags. But it ran great. I never had to shoot my M9 in anger, but it was always on me. There was always a round chambered, and the only difference in condition was safety on or off. Actually on mission? Safety off and in a SERPA holster (unless posing for pics so that we could keep the garrison 1SG from raising hell). All other times safety on and holstered in my pants or shorts.

Unlike the M16/M4’s I used, I was not so great with the M9. At all. I was used to shooting pistols, but not this one. I found the controls cumbersome; I had a hard time getting used to taking the safety off and dealing with the long, not-so-tuned-at-all, double-action trigger, all while keeping the sight on target. The DA/SA thing really messed with my accuracy. Still does.

One day, early in my first tour in Afghanistan, I was telling one of the soldiers on our team, a member of the 5th Special Forces Group out of Ft. Cambell, how much that pistol sucked. “So what?” he said, “that’s the pistol you’ve got. You’d better get real good with it.” He walked me through the manipulation drills he used to overcome his difficulties with the gun.

Starting that night, and every day since for over six years now, I’ve done those drills. By the end of my second tour I was winning friendly competitions left and right with my M9; winning patches, money, and a few bragging rights. More importantly, I was good with the pistol, and confident with it as well.

I don’t think those guns are very interesting because I don’t automatically equate them with combat – even though I used them in combat, even though I killed people with them. The M4 and M9 were purely tools, appliances even. They were completely interchangeable with other tools, just a zero adjustment was necessary.

They weren’t even my most important tool. After spending some time in actual combat, I learned that my radio was a far more useful, and far more deadly tool than my individual weapons. In fact, many of the guys I worked with eventually dropped a magazine or two so that they could carry more batteries for their radio.

But unlike my radio, I had a gun on me all the time. I had a gun on me when I was playing poker, reading, smoking cigars, eliminating. Still do. I don’t association guns with combat any more than I do any of those other things. I feel that way about all of the guns we used, with one exception….

I served my first tour in Afghanistan with a very small group of American soldiers and Afghan interpreters embedded with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. When I say very small, I mean small. At one point there were four Americans deployed alongside about 100 Afghan Soldiers, 60km away from the nearest American force, down a bombed-out and constantly mined road.

Tactically, it was fantastically stupid. Because of those small numbers, everyone had to get proficient with the crew-served weapons. Officially, I was the team medic. I was also sometimes the driver, and sometimes the gunner. Our crew-served weapons included one M249, a few M240Bs, a couple of M19 grenade launchers, and three M2s. I’m not a big fan of the SAW, but I like the M240s and the M19 is just giddy fun. The M2, the “Ma Deuce” is where my “guns as tools” mantra ends.

The M2 holds a beloved place in my heart. I may love my children less because I can’t let go of my love of that gun. I’m at total peace with that. That gun performs exceptionally well.  There is a reason why such and old weapons platform is still in wide use: like the Great White shark, it never had to evolve. I’ve seen M2s run wet and dry, covered in sand, and on one occasion, after an IED blew it off the mount and onto the hood of a now-demolished MRAP. Remounted, it ran perfectly.

Two M2s in the hands of a pair of competent gunners is a terrifying thing. Is that a PKM or an RPK in your hands, local Taliban thug? No matter. I see your belt-fed annoyance and raise you all the angry wrath of hell. Oh, the sound they make! Not an offending snap, but a lullaby of “whump whump whump whump.” It is the most calming sound I know. If I ever get a little spooked by something, or have any “post-traumatic stress,” I can put the sound of those M2s in my head and I will involuntarily smile. Everything is going to be alright as long as those guns are talking. Everything is going to be just fine.

Next to Ma Duece, my M4 just seemed silly. I think the term “assault weapon” is a real term, but when things go well, or maybe even according to plan (which does sometimes actually happen), it’s not the assault team that does most of the killing with their M4s. It’s the support team with their Automatic Rifles (M249, M240B and G) that do the real cleaning up.

When it comes to my weapons assigned in combat, my M4 and M9 were just fine guns. Good enough for the job at hand, although the bullets themselves were not. I own quite a few versions of them today because I am very comfortable with their manual of arms and familiar with their capabilities. But I hold them in no high regard. There isn’t room at the top for anything other than Ma.

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87 Responses to Jon Wayne Taylor: The Guns I Used in Combat

  1. re-reading “Hell in a Very Small Place” even amongst the mortars and artillery, the quad-fifties were notable for their ability to halt attacks.

  2. I laugh every time the Army (or a contractor) announces yet another program to modernize the 50. Might as well plan to improve the direction from which the sun rises in the morning.

    Good read.

  3. Funny thing about the Ma Deuce. During Vietnam, the army had to find someone to manufacture the M2 because everything in service at the time was from WWII or Korea and wearing out.

    Same thing happened around year 2000.

    • I was in the Guard in the ’80’s and our M2s (and M3 Grease guns which were issued to the REMFs) were stamped “1945”…mounted on a M113, they never missed a beat…except when the “go” didn’t go or the “no-go”…did.

  4. Thanks for the post and thanks for your service. Always very interesting to hear from the folks who were ‘over there’ about their experiences.

    Now that you’re back and no longer limited in your options, what round DO you run in your M4? Would you feel confident in running M193 out of a 16″ for realistic personal defense purposes/distances (ie – probably 100 yards and in)?

    • I’m a big fan of the 65 grain Sierra Game King as well as Winchester’s 64gr JSP round for deer and pigs and I imagine they would work well for people too. But for under the 100 yard range in an AR I prefer the .458SOCOM.

      • haha nice. well, yeah, can’t argue with that. .458 Socom leaves little room for doubt.
        Unfortunately can’t use 5.56 (or semi) for hunting here, so stick to a .308 boltie (or a lever if I want a challenge getting in close). Either way, from all I’ve heard, I’m glad I’ve always stayed away from 855.

        • I should have answered your original question though. I would not use 193, but only because I think there are better rounds out there. I have, however, seen it do some really surprising things to big pigs at close range. I actually think it’s better than 855 at close range. I have no real data to base that on, only what I’ve seen on pigs. The 193 tends to tear itself apart pretty well if it hits anything solid. The 855 keeps together too well. That’s why, if I buy bulk, it’s 193 not 855. But hit a pig with a 75gr or so soft point at 50 yards and you will be just shocked at the result. At least I was.

        • Cool thanks for your take on that. Yeah, I was really thinking in regards to bulk ammo, for defensive purposes. I do think I want to take a look at some of the other options (JSP, JHP) now though, just won’t be in bulk with the costs.

  5. 5.56 is more than adequate if you get your hands on the right ammo. MK262, MK255, MK318, the special stuff the SMUs use, all are amazing when used. M855 is going to go down in history as one of the absolute worse rounds ever to be a main issue round. Its got horrible external ballistics and terminal ballistics.

    • The M855 can definitely suck. My 5.56 choice close in would be the Mk 318 Mod 0 or Mk 262. We have the split-core Winchester PDX 60 grain JSP in our ARs at work. With Pmags. It’s a decent round. I never saw nickel-plated brass in the military, but it sure is nice to use stateside. JHPs and JSPs are much better than most FMJs.

      • Other than limited quantities of the 262, the 855 is all we had access to. I had heard of the 318, but I don’t remember seeing any in-country in 2009 and just was hearing units down south getting it in 2010.
        The heavier grained JSP made me shut my mouth about the 5.56. I had argued that the 5.56 was never good for hunting until proven wrong by a friend who swore by it. Since then, I’ve killed probably 20 deer and god knows how many pigs with the round, most DRT. Totally changed my mind.

  6. Ah, A-10s, the plane I am *really* glad is on our side. If we could just get the Air Force off it’s “Ground Support is beneath our dignity” high horse so they’d stop trying to kill the thing…

    I run into a lot of active duty army at the range and many complain about the M-9 (and many others buy a Beretta 92FS for themselves, so it’s hardly universal). On closer questioning it usually turns out it’s the ball ammo they’re really unhappy with, not the gun itself, though they often don’t realize the two are (in principle at least) separable things.

    I certainly sympathize with the DA/SA complaint. (If they’d just use the old Beretta variant that has cocked-and-locked…)

  7. Agree. Out of all the “small arms” in the U.S. Army inventory, Ma Deuce was an absolute gem to shoot when i was in.

  8. Oh miss duece. I always issues with ours. I’ve heard lots of good things but the m2’s in our armoury were by far the worst. First quadruple feed I’ve ever seen in my life. The belt just jumped into the feed tray. But our other guns where bad too. My m4 had a round stuck over the bolt. Made me miss the last three targets qualifying. Made me lose confidence in my rifle. Plus I had to go find the correct drill to clear it. Gerber took several minutes. The 240 on the other hand, if I could identify it by eye. I could shoot it. I can only hope the army will one day skip on the saw and get mk48’s for everything. Assuming they run like our 240 did.

  9. The great and legendary Carlos started out using the MA as a sniper weapon. The slow cyclic rate mad it possible to launch a single round.

  10. Not being funny, but it looks like that first photo proves that the hated camo does actually work.

    • From what folks who know tell me, after a couple days in the field you have so much of the local grime onboard that what your cammo looked like doesn’t really matter.

        • In 73 my very first thought on seeing Isreali soldiers for the first time was they dressed from a second hand shop.

          Man, did I have the truly spoiled American outlook.

      • Yup, beat me to it. We often went a month or more without a shower, and uniforms sometimes longer than that. I only had 2 uniforms. Dirty blends in with dirt pretty well.
        Actually, the old style BDU’s, once they got dirty and faded a bit, were superior to the Army multicam. But nothing beat dirty Multicam. After a week of sun and dirt that stuff disappeared.

  11. I’d love to see an article where you show the clearing drills for those systems. That’d be solid and useful content.

    • If all goes well, it sounds a lot like “Trunion, Chamber, T-slot: GUN CLEARED”. The AG opens the cover and verifies the feed trunion is empty; the gunner, who is behind the gun, verifies the chamber is clear, and then the AG looks into the open action to verify there are no rounds hanging in the T-slot on the front of the bolt. If all is not well, then there’s no telling what it may resemble. Most frequent fouling I encountered was newbies watching the belt instead of the target, and thinking when the last round went under the cover that it was empty. This almost always left a round hanging in the T-slot (front of the bolt face), and it either had to be manually cleared by pushing it down, or the AG closed the cover and the gunner let the bolt forward to fire the last round. Case separations were rare unless you didn’t actually time/headspace correctly, but they were fixed in the field with a barrel change and verification of timing. Dirty ammo resulted in the addition of a jug of oil to my equipment list, and it was liberally applied to all interior and many exterior surfaces in hot conditions. In the cold, my guns really, really liked LSAT, and it didn’t take much. Even at -50 they got warm enough after the second belt to lubricate the feed components.

      I’ve only seen one broken M-2. The timing screw assembly broke and the round ignited about half-way into the chamber. Bulged the weapon body and broke a few of the rivets out of it, blew the top cover open and peppered the gunner’s nethers with brass shrapnel, none of which actually penetrated his Carhartts. Not a fun experience, but better than many of the M-60 fails I’ve seen.

      • Ad, I had a guy shoot himself with an M-60. The weapon was so hot a round cooked off before it was fully seated in the chamber. The next round tried to feed and ended up bending and pointing skyward and started to cook.. The idiot got up and leaned over the gun as he flipped open the feed tray cover. As soon as the tray cover opened and released the pressure the round went off and struck him in the chest giving him a sucking chest wound.

        • The guy was a complete idiot who refused to follow safety instructions. To bad it didnt blow his balls off so he could procreate.

    • Second for the clearing drills and how ’bout and article just on the manipulation drills you used to overcome your difficulties with the gun

  12. “one M249, a few M240Bs, a couple of M19 grenade launchers, and three M2s” seems awful heavy for four Americans to be lugging around Afghanistan.

  13. I love Ma. Got at least a hundred different stories I could tell about her: Making range cards with grid maps; lighting cigars off the barrel shroud; guessing how many trucks one APIT round will pass through before it finally stops (3 CUCV side by side, 2 end to end); truly a magnificent piece. The best thing though, that comes to my mind every time someone mentions her, is that she’s 100% idiot-intolerant. She’s the only gun I’ve ever employed that can seriously hurt you even without ammo in the room. Morons need not apply. That feature alone made picking out my crews much, much easier.

  14. I know how you feel about the fifty.
    I’m really missing my McMillan.
    When you need to destroy something a mile out, it’s tough to beat 650-750 grains of screaming fury.
    Good stuff Jon.

  15. What I found funny about the M2 was when mounted on a tripod on the ground, the inertia of the bolt slamming forward was slightly higher than the recoil of the gun. If the tripod was not properly anchored, the gun would walk forward and drag you with it under sustained fire.

    And the gun does have a single fire setting. It’s for setting the headspace and timing.

      • On a security halt, everyone knew when you thought you’d need to use the M2 when the shell dropped into the vehicle.

      • If you look at the bottom of the tripod legs you will see the spades are designed to dig in with the rearward push of the weapon to stabilize it. Thats also why you see the sandbags on it. If I remember correctly the mainspring has over 100lbs of pressure when fully compressed. That forces is needed to reliably cycle the weapon. Just put a sandbag or two on the front leg.

      • Versions built by SACO that I trained Kuwaitis on had fixed headspace, quick change barrels and a safety slide that blocked the butterfly.

        • Fixed head space and timing models of the M-2 have been available since the late 70’s but the army refused to buy them.

        • Safety slide or not (our issued weapons did not) bouncing down the road (sometimes directly over IP rock road-blocks) or out in the desert, I bet you’d want a shell under your butterfly. [a/k/a – it’s not a GLOCK but you CAN glock-it if you ain’t careful, or if your driver makes you head-but it].

  16. Great post. Thanks for your service.

    +1 on the radio as a weapon. I’m a Gulf War vet, an infantryman picked for a battalion op shop. I never fired in combat (heck, as a line grunt, I had a training mission in the German Alps that was far tougher than that war). But, given our mission, we always checked comms several times more than weapons.

    +1 on the SF sergeant’s M9 advice. There’s wisdom in James Yeager’s take about Mindset, Tactics, Skill, Gear (in that order).

    +1 on the reliability of the M4/M16 system. Having communicated with several vets and read accounts of the M4 (alleged) issues, I think the problem is extended use in long range suppressive fire situations. A short barreled DI rifle is not really suitable for that task.

  17. “Two M2s in the hands of a pair of competent gunners is a terrifying thing.”

    I’ll raise a glass to that.

  18. I can identify with ignoring the brass and their stupid and dangerous policies. In my time we talked of the 2 wars we had to fight. One against the enemy and the other against our leaders. I gave advice to a young friend of the family who was deploying for his first time to Astan and had never seen anything but training. He asked, I told.

    When he came back he had seen the truth. He thanked me for the advice.

    I’ve never used the m4. It was all m16 in my day. Hated the damn thing and couldn’t wait to turn it in and be done with it.

    • Early on with my team in Afghanistan my NCOIC stopped me and told me the truth of it. Of course, I would have to live that truth to really understand it.
      “The Taliban are the opponents. The POGues are the enemy.”

  19. Jon,
    The army keeps screwing around with the mags and they fix everything but the real problem – they are made of aluminum! The lips spread so much after 1 use that they cannot be used in the M-249. They have known that since the mid 80’s. Its because of that I only have steel mags or Pmags.

      • Yes, that is why. MK is a Navy designation. The MK system is used for everything in the Navy. So a MK43 can be referencing a machine gun or a torpedo. So proper designation would be MK43 MOD0 machine gun. The 0 represents the first version. The next upgrade gets called 1. Since the Navy is responsible for the development of small arms and munitions for SOCOM, its why you see a lot of the ammo having MK names, and the weapons also.

        • Further pedantry- Mk is short for “Mark”, since the the Navy designates a lot of its weapon model numbers with Mark-, such as guns, torpedoes and the like.

  20. My friends who served in SEA in the 60’s and early 70’s described their favorite weapons. #1 fave for them was not the M2.

    Well, actually, it was, but mounted with three other M2’s on a truck as a “Quad 50.” They said that when Charles came a-calling, they’d do their best to pull him in closer and then open up with two Quad 50’s. After that, they said that things got a bit gruesome to behold.

    Their descriptions of what they could accomplish with four 50’s on a truck, with ammo loaders, gunners, and all the ammo a Deuce-n-half could carry (which was quite the load) etc were nothing short of remarkable.

    Sadly, it seemed that the platform was too effective cheap and obvious to withstand the Pentagon.

    • “Their descriptions of what they could accomplish with four 50’s on a truck, with ammo loaders, gunners, and all the ammo a Deuce-n-half could carry (which was quite the load) etc were nothing short of remarkable.”

      Madre de Dios…Makes me both smile and cringe.

      • The original quad .50s were from WW2 and were Anti Aircraft. In Korea since the North flew no air combat missions against our forces the quad .50’s were employed as antipersonnel weapons and were quit effective against the human wave attacks the chinese used.

      • But the bad guys used the quad zsu-23 (4 23mm guns on a mount), way more powerful, higher rate of fire. They were the worst AAA for Huey’s and Cobras to go against (until the King Cobra).

    • DG, too simple, too cheap, too effective. Where is the employment for all the puzzle palace paper pushers if you take things you already have and make them even more useful?

      Ah, for a rental range with one of those. Fun limited only by my wallet. Or I could just move to an-NFA positive state and make my own…hmmm.

    • Just as a note the M-249 was a damned good light machine gun until the army took it and improved it.

      Most people don’t know that at one time the army was considering buying the Rapier AA missile system. At the time it was the best in the world. You guessed it -our product improvement team jacked the system up so bad it was useless so we bought Patriot instead.

  21. Invaluable rarely seen information to be sure…My hats off to these fine Gents and I thank them for their service to this Great Nation. May God Bless.

  22. I saw Rambo and the violence the .50 was doing. So what unit did you serve in? You talk too much about combat. The few people I know who experienced it don’t say that much. You’re weird.

  23. JWT – having never served in the military, I wanted to ask how it felt, going from the field where you were always armed, to coming home and going on base, where you were purposely disarmed?

    • Great question worthy of its own post, but probably for someone other than me. Quite simply, I did not disarm.

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