Newsletter 6/2006STRIKE friends and family, this issue is literally bursting out of its seems! We have had a tremendous amount of interest in our newsletter and written contrabutions are streaming in. This issue has totally filled our available newsletter space!
I would like to thank each and everyone who are so generous to share their knowledge and experiences with all of us.
IN THIS MONTH'S ISSUE:
1) Gunfight in Fallujah by Sgt Victor J. Garcia USMC
2) Knife Attack in Nigaragua by John Farnam
3) Instructor of the Month: Chuck Soltys by Henk Iverson
4) Training as if REALITY were REAL by Ralph Mroz
5) Mind, Body & Spirit by Caren Iverson
6) What makes the 1911 sometimes not tick by Ned Christiansen
7) Quote of the month: Gary Paul Johnson
GUNFIGHT IN FALLUJAH
By SGT Victor J Garcia USMC
(IN MEMORY OF SGT DANIEL AMAYA USMC)
This is the story of my squad leader and friend Daniel “Kung-fu” Amaya, who was killed on April 11th, 2004 (Easter Sunday), during Operation Vigilante Resolve, Fallujah, Iraq. Easter Sunday, 30 minutes before sunrise my 10-man squad is at “stand-to” in which every member of the squad is fully geared and ready to fight. I wouldn’t say any member of the squad had received a proper amount of sleep after an exhaustive day and restless night.
We had spent the day prior clearing several blocks adjacent with the other two squads in the platoon, along the other platoons in the company, which were adjacent to the other companies in the battalion. The point was that this was a huge operation conducted with the intent to clear every house and rid the city of the insurgency.
Each block we cleared contained anywhere from 15 to 30 cinderblock or brick houses. I can’t even count how many doors were blown open, kicked open, or shot open, let alone how many rooms we had cleared until we finally found that one house that contained fortified insurgents.
Most of that day prior we were receiving fire from AK 47s, machine guns, and RPGs from a distance. The insurgents for the most part would shoot and run all day without sticking around for us to retaliate properly. Of course, we all knew that this wouldn’t last long, as we got deeper into the city we would encounter heavier resistance with insurgents willing to stay and fight. I remember thinking that it was hard to remain vigilant in clearing every house. It was easy to become complacent and forget that we would encounter a room with a real insurgent ready to fight in close quarters, unlike the “pop shots” we were receiving from deeper inside the city.
Well, in fact, it finally came; the squad adjacent to my squad had finally found a house that contained insurgents. It was towards the evening, the adjacent squad had just popped the locking mechanism on the door and a M249 Squad Automatic gunner was in the process of busting the door completely open when a crack of an AK47 round ripped through his hand. The adjacent squad immediately withdrew from the house with the injured marine. At this point we were told to cordon (surround from 3 sides) the building. The platoon commander decided to build up our forces on this house since we did not know the size and composition of the enemy in this virtual fort of cinderblock and iron. The house just like the many before was made of cinderblock with windows which contained iron gating and had a small courtyard that was surrounded by a 6 foot cinderblock fence with a large iron gate.
At this point, the entire company had set into a defensive perimeter preparing for the night to come while my platoon and squad dealt with this particular hostile house.
A machine gun was positioned in a house across alleyway to provide suppressive fire from an elevated position to the front of the hostile house. With darkness quickly arriving, several attempts were made to enter the house and clear it, but none successful at the time. There was even an attempt made by using an AAV’s .50 cal machine gun, but was promptly counter-attacked by an RPG fired directly at the side of the AAV from within the house. Daniel moved our squad in the building that contained the machine gun position to provide “overwatch” of the building for the night. At this point we knew that we would no longer attempt to take the building. The building was the receiving end of a few fragmentary grenades, several hundred rounds of 7.62 from our M240G machine gun and .50 Cal, two HE rockets, and one satchel charge before that Easter morning.
As I said before it was a restless night. Our squad was positioned in the “overwatch” with the machine gun. Daniel had us occupy a room in the center of the building away from the danger of rockets or mortars and that was easily protected from intruders that may have come in the night. Our 10 man squad rotated into 4 positions every 2 hours. One was on the machine gun looking through the night optics down the alleyway, second was our security position in the house, third was observing the hostile house, and fourth was sleeping in the room designated by Daniel.
Back to Easter Sunday, we were all waiting anxiously during our “stand-to” for our orders when Daniel came back from a meeting with the platoon commander. Daniel told me to take one fire team and remain on the building to provide “overwatch” while he took the other fire team to clear the building so we could finally move forward. I told the fire team leader to position each member of his fire team so that the marines could provide suppressive fire on the house should Daniel receive hostile fire from the house. Before actions were taken on the objective a thermo baric (NE) SMAW rocket was fired into the house.
Seconds later, a fragmentary grenade explosion followed thrown by one of the marines entering the house. As Daniel and the fire team started clearing the house they observed the destruction caused by the actions from the night before. I believe to this day that this may have let the marines clearing the building guard down slightly. A question was asked; “Who could have lived through such bombardment?” someone did, as we soon saw.
A marine carrying the SAW (squad automatic weapon) had moved ahead and was poised to enter a room before being halted by Daniel. Daniel under training conditions probably would have scolded the marine for moving ahead with the SAW to clear a room, especially without a light.
Instead, he simply halted the marine and moved ahead flicking his weapon light on his 39 inch M16A4 and stepped into the room. Daniel had barely breached the threshold when bursts from an AK47 ripped through his body from the side were there was no armor to protect him. Every round fired had penetrated his body along his side with one round snapping his cervical spine. He collapsed backwards not allowing for any of the other marines to enter the room. At this point our concern was getting Daniel, not knowing he was dead, out of the danger area along with the rest of the team.
Immediately the SAW gunner provided suppressive fire into the room so that the hostile inside could not come out while they moved Daniel’s body out of the building.
The platoon commander asked for permission to level the building completely. A M1A1 tank rolled up the street and was directed to take out the building with its main gun. Several rounds from the main gun were fired into the building until it finally collapsed with Daniel’s killer inside it. I still remember vividly them pulling out Daniel’s body from the building before we demolished it.
The time had finally come for me, besides dealing with death of my friend Daniel, the hardest task I had ever had to do in my life. I had cleared buildings, fought in open terrain clearing trenches with fighting Iraqis, and survived IED’s. But now I had to take over the command of Daniel’s squad and carry on with the mission. I remember spread loading his magazines, optics, and gear to the rest of the squad and telling them we had to push forward for Daniel. I have been a squad leader since that day. I never in my life thought I would have become a squad leader this way.
Had I known, I wouldn’t have wanted to become a squad leader. We carried on after that day and completed every task and mission from that point with no other life loss or injury in our squad with many insurgents killed. There were many lessons from this event. We learned that each house could easily become a fortified defensive able position that should be demolished with explosives, close air support, or a tank whenever encountered by fire in operations conducted such as Fallujah. We learnt to never assume that all the hostiles have been killed until we saw the bodies riddled with holes.
Whenever we entered a house we used our violence of action to completely clear each room without complacency regardless of damage done. Although we never trained with weapon lights we learned not to telegraph our movement by leaving a light on, (intermittent use). We took lessons like these to heart because they were learned through loss of life and blood.
This is the story of Daniel. Daniel in my mind was a leader who fought from the front and died leading his marines in combat. He definitely saved that SAW gunners life that day. There is more to the story than what is told here about my deployments and lessons learned, but this is just the beginning for me. Now I can speak and write about my experiences and how it changed the way I think and conducted myself.
KNIFE ATTACK IN NIGARAGUA, 15 Feb 2006:
By John Farnam
"The suspect arrived at the police station, shouting threats, among which was, 'Fifty police cannot stop what I am going to do.' Police had been at this man's house many times on domestic disputes and were familiar with him. The suspect had a large knife which he was displaying threateningly.
Uniformed officers poured out of the station and surrounded the suspect. The captain took charge and attempted to negotiate, commanding repeatedly that the suspect drop his knife. While so doing, the captain was holding a Kalashnikov rifle and had it pointed in the suspect's direction.
The Captain then moved closer, continuing to repeat his commands. He tripped over a wire, and, as he attempted to regain his balance, the suspect quickly moved forward and drove his knife into the captain's neck. The blade entered the captain's heart, mortally wounding him.
The attack happened so fast the captain was unable to use his rifle to defend himself. He never fired a shot. Two other officers, rushing to the captain's aid, were alsoruinously cut.
Both went down, unable to continue defending themselves. Neither of them fired a shot either. One was cut severely on the face and neck as well as stabbed in the back. The second was cut on both arms and stabbed in the chest. Both survived but sustained permanent disability and disfigurement.
The suspect then stood back up and was immediately greeted by a fusillade of bullets from the balance of the officers. He died several minutes after arriving at the ER."
Lesson: I don't know how many times this has to happen before we firmly establish the policy that the only appropriate force response to a suspect threatening at close range with a knife is gunfire, immediate and copious.
Dangerous suspects need to be evaluated based on capability, not intent. "Negotiating" with a knife-armed suspect at close range is tantamount to suicide.
These folks obviously watch too much American television!
INSTRUCTOR OF THE MONTH: CHUCK SOLTYS
In my line of work I get to meet some really great people. Just recently I hooked up with this month's featured trainer, Chuck Soltys of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Immediately apparent was the fact that Chuck knows what he talks about. Quietly proficient and totally dedicated to his cause - TEACHING other to survive the streets of America.
Chuck Soltys has been in law enforcement for 20 years. He began his career as a police officer with the Village of Mundelein, Illinois serving 3 years in patrol and 2 years in investigations. In 1991, Chuck joined the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a special agent. In his 15 years with the DEA, he has been assigned to enforcement groups that target large scale international drug trafficking organizations, money laundering investigations, wire tap investigations, the Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) which specializes in gang related drug trafficking, and served three tours on a jungle operations team in South and Central America in support of Operation Snowcap (the DEA’s cocaine source country jungle interdiction/suppression program).
He is also a tactical Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-T). Chuck is currently assigned as the Primary Firearms/Tactical Instructor and Tactical Emergency Medical Service (TEMS) coordinator for the Chicago Field Division. He is responsible for training DEA agents and task force officers as well as state, county, and municipal police officers in the five states (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota) that comprise the Chicago Field Division. Chuck has a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI.
Chuck holds numerous instructor certifications, but currently focuses on firearms, ballistic shield, high risk entries, active vehicle containment measures/vehicle involved arrests procedures, and defensive tactics. Chuck has instructed extensively in the United States and has also instructed in Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Belize, South Africa, and Bulgaria.
Chuck holds membership in many professional organizations which include the Illinois Tactical Officers Association (ITOA) and is a board member as well as co-chair for their annual TEMS conference, International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA), International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI), and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA).
Chuck Soltys is a dedicated and a high-end asset to our cause. We are in the business of saving lives and I highly recommend this trainer to any law enforcement officer that wants the very best training available.
TRAINING AS IF REALITY WERE REAL
By Ralph Mroz
I was talking with a friend a while ago, and he took me to task for harping on the necessity of empty hand skills, even for persons carrying firearms. "You can't expect everyone to be a macho superman," he admonished. Well, I'm sure he has long forgotten his passing comment, but it sure monopolized my brain cycles for a few days.
What Should We Expect From People?
First, I guess, is the notion of "expect." In the larger sense, I don't expect anyone to do anything except stay out of my way, good libertarian that I am. Have a nice life, and all that. But in a narrower sense, if someone professes to be a student of a discipline, it is disappointing when they refuse to face squarely up to the issues involved.
Take the discipline of self-protection, which is what we're talking about here. Most folks seem to go about it all wrong. Mistakenly, they first study one of its sub-disciplines - martial arts, guns, or what have you. Then they view the real-life problems of self-protection through the lens of their particular sub-discipline. Martial arts people see self-protection as a series of martial arts problems, largely ignoring for example, the issues of multiple and/or armed assailants. Gun people see self-protection a set of shooting scenarios, always assuming that they'll be able to get the gun in their hand, and generally ignoring the issues of less-than-lethal force or encounters too close-in to allow access to their gun.
Naturally, this approach is backwards. The logical and tactically sound thing to do is to first analyze a problem, and then choose the tactics you need to solve it. That is, first understand the dynamics of a violent encounter, and then choose the appropriate tactics to master.
Learn From My Mistakes:
I started out in the martial arts decades ago, and for years was as guilty of this same backasswards attitude as anyone. I hated guns (no, I'm not joking)-in my mind they were for fat, lazy rednecks without the ambition or self-discipline to sweat in the dojo! Then one day, about 10 years into the arts, I had an honest conversation with myself:
"Okay, you've got 10 years of training. You get into a fight with someone without much training or experience. What're your odds?"
"Right. Now this guy has training and/or experience. What're your odds now?"
"Close enough. Now there's two guys, both without training, but mean. Odds?"
"I dunno, probably less than 50/50, in all honesty."
"Right. Now two guys with training."
"My odds suck."
"One guy with a knife?"
The conversation went on for a few more steps, but you get the idea. The next week I was looking for a pistol, and after I had acquired basic marksmanship skills, I made the pilgrimage to several national schools. The lesson here is one of overcoming prejudice and viewing the discipline of self-protection realistically. You need skills, you get 'em. Should be simple.
The Lead-Colored Lens
Now, getting back to my friend's complaint, my "expectations" (in the sense described above) fall short when I witness the myopia-the lead-colored lens so to speak, through which many people who carry a gun for self-protection view that discipline. The fact is that most street violence occurs at very close distances - close enough for your assailant to touch you, or at least to hit or stab you with a single step. Simple physiology folks: there is no way you can draw a gun from concealment at that distance before your attacker is all over you. Your gun, by itself, is useless under these conditions!
Without the empty-hand skills to create the time and/or distance to draw your weapon, you might as well have not bothered to study the gun at all (just as my empty-hands skills were, by themselves, useless in many street situations.) [While this is certainly a good argument for going about in a continuous state of condition yellow, please-we're intelligent adults here-don't anyone write in to say that heightened awareness will save you in all of these situations. Sometimes shit just happens.]
What's happening here is that gun people are falling into the same trap that I did, only in reverse. When all self-defense problems are viewed as shooting problems, then you practice a lot of shooting at distances that keep the shooting interesting and challenging.
On the range, five yards is considered "close-in shooting"; on the street, five yards is almost in the next time zone. Sure, if trouble manifests itself on the street at five yards, then you will kick into condition orange or red, and you probably will have time to get to your weapon. But it usually won't. On the range, drawing and shooting is hardly ever done within touching distance of the target; on the street, that's where it all happens. What little practice is done at touching range tends to be either the flawed "step-back technique, or the highly specialized speed-rock, which is not applicable in most situations.
To a person for whom self-protection means only shooting, the logically and empirically evident necessity of complementary empty-hand skills is simply blanked out. This is illogical, self-deluding, and just plain stupid. You Gotta Sweat.
Part of the reason for this self-deception may be that a practical level empty-hands skill is often more difficult to obtain than a similar level of shooting skill. Realistic empty-hand skill comes from sweating and from getting hit. This hurts. Practical self-protection skill comes from developing a fighting spirit, which is often more difficult-and for many people, much more uncomfortable-to develop than a "sport attitude."
This may be the reason (at least in my limited experience) that martial artists often make the transition to practical skills with the gun more easily than gun people realize the same integration.
So should I "expect" people to be competent in both empty-hand skills and firearms? I guess I don't see much choice if we're discussing self-protection. That's simply what it takes. Whether it's easy or not...well, that's a different question-one that goes back to my original bias. Are guns really for fat, lazy police officers without the ambition or self-discipline to sweat in the dojo?
BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT
by Caren Iverson.
Someone once said: "The first half of your life is physical - the second half is spiritual." I never realized how important it was to balance body, mind and spirit.
After achieving high levels in different sports (competing from the age of 13 up to the age of 35), I still did not get it. I ate junk food and overtrained my body (without realizing it!) I knew NOTHING about nutrition at the time. Being a High School Physical Education Teacher, I participated in EVERY class. In the afternoons I trained with my sports students, and in the evenings I went for my own training (athletics for an hour, and swimming immediately thereafter for another hour!) I trained 7 days a week without a break!
I remember someone once asking me: "What will you do if you cannot run or exercise anymore?" I answered jokingly: "Then I could just as well be dead."
Be careful what you think. Be especially careful what you say, and be careful what you eat. EVERYTHING on earth has energy - like your thoughts, and the spoken word even more so. EVERYTHING that happens to you, YOU created - mainly through your thoughts (now or somewhere in the past). The subconscious mind holds on to those thoughts, and will do anything to achieve that goal. As the energy accumulates, it eventually manifests somehow in some form - mainly in the body as an illness of disease. Well, 10 years later I got "Yuppie Flu" (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME). I was CONSTANTLY tired. All I wanted to do was sleep! Because I knew my body so well, I realized this was serious! This tiredness was different from that of over-training or lack of sleep or ANY other form of tiredness. It is like when you step on the gas pedal of your car and there is nothing. Nothing! The message to and from your brain is cut off! Your immune system stopped functioning!
I tried to train through it, but it became worse. Doctors found nothing wrong physically after a series of tests. They said it was all in my mind. And they are right! Every disease starts in the mind some or other time! That was when I tried and studied different forms of holistic healing and nutrition. I did Reiki (a form of spiritual healing), Hypnotherapy (your subconscious mind knows) and Metaphysics (All is One). I then realized that life was a balance between body, mind and spirit...not just body! I had to change my unhealthy way of eating and I had to be extremely cautious NOT to over-train ever again. Still I resisted change and tried to train through the "Yuppy Flu", when a freak accident happened in the kitchen. I got my Achilles Tendon cut in half. A week later the other half snapped.
With plaster cast high up on my thigh (my orthopedic surgeon wanted to protect me from myself!) my clients picked me up from home to train them (I was a Personal Trainer then). Still I tried to train the other body parts that was not in a cast! Because I could not do any form of cardiovascular exercise, my "Yuppy Flu" became better after a year, and another year and a half after my Achilles Tendon operation, I could compete again!
I STILL did not get the balance between body, mind and spirit! A motor car accident, that broke my neck (C2 and C3) and right scapula and that left holes in my head, forced me to slow down and THINK!!!I still tend to lean toward the physical, but injuries keep me balanced between the physical, mental and spirituality. We are psycho-physical units, i.e. the mind rules the body and the body rules the mind. We are not only what we eat, we are what we think. Our bodies react to our thoughts. Do not eat junk food and do not think junk thoughts.
BELIEVE in yourself. TRUST the Universe.
WHAT MAKES THE 1911 SOMETIMES NOT TICK
by Ned Christiansen
Reprinted with the permission of SWAT Magazine from the January 2005 edition
It is very interesting to me, noteworthy I’d say, and, well, pleasantly surprising, to see what a following the 1911 pistol has in the law enforcement community these days. If I were more on the outside looking in, I’m sure I’d find it even a little amusing that a department allowing the use of 1911’s in place of, say, Glocks or SIGs, might be said to be “progressive”. I am a long time user and aficionado of the 1911; but just as I will appreciate it if you don’t try and pester me into joining the Hare Krishnas, I’m not writing to preach the 1911 to readers of ITOA News.
However, for those already afflicted with it, I’d like to go into some things that can be wrong in a 1911 that will diminish reliability. There are several things that can be wrong, as with any mechanical device; that’s the bad news. The good news is that if these things are not wrong, or if they are corrected, there is little that can subsequently go wrong. When everything is as it was meant to be, this nearly-100-year-old design is completely deserving of its place on the pedestal that so many experts have given it.
But why the &%$#@ would anyone spend several hundred dollars on a 1911 that might need going over before it’s fit for duty, when they could just get a Glock or a SIG and be practically certain of perfect function right out of the box?
As a guy who works almost exclusively on 1911’s for a living, maybe I should have a better answer than I do, but my three-faceted answer is this: when put together right, either at the factory or subsequently tuned by a gunsmith, the 1911 can maybe be equaled, but definitely not surpassed, in reliability; it offers great ergonomics, accuracy, and effect, the ergos and accuracy being especially valuable to the more accomplished user, with the effect part as a nice bonus; and here’s the fuzzy-logic but undeniably true part: it’s an icon, an American Eagle atop a homemade apple pie, a walnut and steel symbol of all that has been and is great about the country of its origin.
The design of the 1911 is not obsolete, but it does come from a day when design and manufacturing practices typically called for a little craftsmanship to be thrown in; human involvement in the manufacturing process was a given. In those days it was not a cardinal sin to have a product that required some hands-on final fitting and checking, the kind of thing today’s corporate bean counters will spend any amount of money to eliminate as “inefficiency”.
Some great 1911’s are being made these days, better in some ways than during the era of Real American Craftsmanship, but often as not a few final touches are left off. The kindly, bespectacled old gent that used to carefully fit and check each gun before tenderly boxing it for shipping, retired decades ago and was not replaced. Modern materials and manufacturing methods are in every way better than in those good old days, and if applied solely for the purpose of making something better, something better will be the result; it will be of higher quality and lower in cost, than the same product made the old way. Unfortunately, it rarely happens this way, in the gun industry or in any other.
Imperfection finds its way into products as companies adjust their level of quality to meet the expectations of the majority of their customers, based on customer feedback and sales. In other words, they will generally try to keep the cost of quality as low as possible without causing customer outrage. In a way, you can’t blame them, as not every buyer of a 1911 is a sophisticated aficionado. Most, in fact, are not high-end users who will appreciate the many nuances of a just-right pistol. The Joe Gunowner buyers are the manufacturer’s bread and butter, and if the manufacturer goes to lengths to make each pistol perfect in every way for the high-end user, Joe probably won’t be willing to pay for it.
Many 1911-owning readers (most, hopefully) may be wondering why I’m writing this, having never had a problem with their 1911. Certainly plenty of them do work fine from round one (and yes, the occasional Glock and SIG will misbehave). But, for those of you who may have a 1911 that gives you intermittent or constant problems, there are some things to look for that can be described as “leading causes”.
I imagine the 1911-owning ITOA News readership ranges from those who just bought their first 1911, to those who’ve had one for years but it’s been problematic, to people who are highly trained, experienced users, well able to disassemble and maintain them, tune them, and fit replacement parts. I write this in the full knowledge that the latter bunch, having read most or all of this before, or having experienced or been taught it, will not have much use for this article; the rest of you may.
Not to start with the all-too-obvious, but a word about ammo and magazines is called for. You may have already read this a dozen times, but it is always well worth repeating: there is lousy ammo out there, and it can stop any gun. As friend, sometime boss, and firearms instructor Jeff Chudwin likes to say in the 1911 Armorer class we give for NEMRT, ammunition is your pistol’s fuel; you would not dream of using suspect fuel in your airplane, when your life depends on it, would you? I mean, most of us will buy gas for our car from the most run-down hole of a gas station if their price is $.04 per gallon less, and that’s probably OK, since if the motor quits because of it, it’s only about 12” down to the pavement, right? Your airplane fuel, and your ammo, even if it’s practice ammo, are different.
I don’t know of any factory ammo that is truly bad, although some professional trainers, who see hundreds of thousands of rounds go downrange each year, are saying the steel-cased Russian stuff breaks extractors. I don’t know why it should, the US loaded .45’s in steel cases in WWII, but…. they say they are seeing this effect and I can’t dispute it. The Russian cases are lacquered to prevent rust, and personally I think the problem is the lacquer and not the steel (much of the latest Russian ammo has a new polymer coating or nickel plating over the steel).
Apart from that, when the ammo is bad, really it’s almost always bad reloads. A surprising number of people that have ample handloading experience, and even some companies that do it commercially, are not able to duplicate the consistency and dimensional correctness of factory ammo. If you’re not 110% proficient at handloading, don’t judge any pistol’s reliability or accuracy based on any home-rolled or remanufactured ammo. As to magazines, many people don’t appreciate how truly critical it is to use good ones.
Just as ammo is the pistol’s fuel, the magazine is the pistol’s fuel storage and delivery system; if your car had a dirty, leaky gas tank and a fuel pump that was weak and worked only intermittently, you could not know if the vehicle had other problems until you had addressed these issues. Use good magazines! I’m not writing to promote any specific product, but Wilson-Rogers magazines are generally accepted as the high standard in magazines; they position the rounds measurably higher and more in-line for feeding into the chamber.
They are specified by all kinds of high-speed “alphabet” outfits, even the good ol’ USMC (Force Recon, one of the few military outfits fortunate enough to have an official OK to still use the 1911). The new Tripp Research magazines are the only ones I’ve seen that rival the Wilson-Rogers in terms of how high the rounds are presented. They look promising but I don’t yet have the long-term use with them that I do with the Wilson-Rogers. With fresh, clean ammo and good, well-maintained mags, a malfunctioning 1911 may just change its ways; if not, at least now you know to look elsewhere for the cause.
After ammo and magazines, the most read-about functional problem in the 1911 (and any auto pistol, really) is the feedramp, and justifiably so. As you can imagine, it’s pretty important for the cartridge to have a clear, smooth path from the magazine to the chamber. As the slide comes forward powered by the recoil spring, and starts pushing a round forward and out of the magazine, the bullet nose contacts the feed ramp, which deflects it and gives it a start upward as it is moving forward.
The barrel’s part of this “lead-in” area is called the throat, and it’s pretty much a continuance of the feedramp. If you lock your slide back and look into this area, you will hopefully see a fairly smooth if not shiny surface (a mirror polish is not required; that’s a myth); note that the bottom of the barrel, the throat area, must not overhang the feedramp, or the bullet will snag on its way up. Actually there should be about a 1/32 step here in the other direction, that is, ideally, the barrel throat and feedramp are not one perfect, continuous surface; the barrel’s throat should start about 1/32 forward of where the frame’s feedramp stops.
Also, where the barrel’s throat intersects the bottom of the chamber, a certain amount of rounding off may be indicated in some cases. There is a bit of a trick to getting this right if it is not already, and it’s not a good place to experiment with a Dremel tool. It’s not rocket science, but there is a lot of potential for doing more harm than good. A bit too much metal removal and there may be enough of the case left unsupported by the chamber to cause the case to rupture when the cartridge is fired. If this happens, well, you won’t like it very much. You’ll probably need a new magazine, new grips, new underwear, and maybe a new nickname, like “Lefty”.
Going a little deeper, there are some other things that can cause serious functional problems that are not so widely known. Chief among them is extractor tension; this is an extremely common malady. It is not a design flaw, it just doesn’t get the attention it should at the factory. Too bad, since it’s actually pretty easy to make it right. In the 1911’s cycle, as the slide moves forward and strips a cartridge from the magazine, the cartridge base slides up the slide’s breech face (the surface with the firing pin hole), and the cartridge’s rim slides underneath the extractor; the extractor does not snap over the rim like you might think it would.
The springiness of the extractor is meant to crowd the case over to the left so that the edge of the rim bears on a surface there, opposite the extractor. With excessive extractor tension, there can be sufficient resistance to the cartridge getting under the extractor that it will bring the slide’s forward trip to a halt. If extractor tension is too light, you may find yourself with the just-fired case getting in the way of the next one coming in— but the most common indication is, after firing the last shot, finding the empty case (sometimes facing backwards) on top of the empty magazine when the slide locks back.
This happens because without extractor tension to keep the case in place on the breech face as the slide is moving rearward in recoil, it can simply fall out from under the extractor and fail to reach the ejector and be ejected. It’s more likely to happen on the last shot because there is not another cartridge in the magazine coming up to prevent the fired case from falling out from under the extractor. Adjusting extractor tension is easy enough— just bend it in for more and out for less.
OK, maybe it’s not that easy, it must be done carefully in small increments, and some extractors will need to have a little material filed off a pad that is just behind the hook-- otherwise it may not be able to rest far enough in towards center to contact the cartridge rim. When you can slide a loaded cartridge under the extractor and have it stay in place with some mild shaking, you have enough; much more than that will be too much.
Slide the case up under the extractor until it stops, and then back down 1/16”; this is where the cartridge is positioned on the breech face as the slide moves rearward in recoil, after the barrel has dropped down and unlocked, and this is where the extractor needs to be exerting the proper tension. This is the field expedient method of testing; there are more scientific means with a special tool and a scale to measure the actual drag, but this method works just fine.
The common method for bending the extractor is to pull it out of its hole almost all the way, leaving about the last 3/8” in, and then exert pressure on the end of it to bend it one way or the other. This is a perfectly acceptable way to do it although again, there are special tools that can be used to make the process a little easier and more easily controlled. In the field, I prefer to use the firing pin hole just because that way you’re less likely to bugger up the back of the slide than you are when using the extractor hole. One more thing about extractors: much is made about them having a good ramp-in, well polished, to help ease the rim’s entry. It doesn’t hurt, but proper tension is much more important. And, it is not unusual to see extractors over-ramped, to the point that the metal we need to be pushing on the rim is gone.
Some breech faces are awfully rough. Remember that the cartridge base has to slide up that surface. Fortunately, in order to be a stand-alone problem, the breech face would have to be rougher than any I’ve actually seen—but, it could in some cases be a contributing factor when there is another problem present. One thing about every breech face, though: they all have a firing pin hole. One less common problem, and one that’s a little harder to diagnose, is where the cartridge rim slides up the breech face and stops on the top edge of the firing pin hole.
Since the cartridge base is not really flat against the breech face at this point in the cycle, and the cartridge case is relatively soft brass, if the firing pin hole has a particularly clean and sharp edge where it meets the breech face, the cartridge base can actually “fall in” to the firing pin hole just a little and stop everything. This would be fairly easy to misdiagnose as excessive extractor tension since both halt forward slide movement at about the same point-- but if you examine a cartridge that has been involved in this kind of stoppage, you will see on the base of the cartridge, at the rim, a neat half-moon imprint, the same diameter as your firing pin hole. The solution: barely, just barely, break that upper edge of the firing pin hole. I do mean barely. Did I mention barely? A chamfer of three or four thousandth of an inch will do it.
Springs are pretty important in keeping the 1911 cycle within John Moses Browning’s specs. Unless you’re a high-end competitive shooter using ultra-hot or ultra-light loads, there should be no need to mess with them. If you’re not sure what yours has in it, look in one of the gun magazines for an ad from Wolff Gun Springs or ISMI, call them and tell them what you have, and get the springs.
Except in extreme cases such as, say, a gun that has seen severe, long-term use, or maybe one that’s been fiddled with by someone who was not qualified, the only ones that might need replacing are the recoil spring, the firing pin spring, and the mainspring (hammer spring). Factory standard spring rates are perfectly adequate for any factory load and just about everything else. You should probably order several recoil springs while you’re at it. Experts tell us to replace them every 1,000 rounds. Personally, I think we can get away with a longer interval (I usually do, anyway), but recoil springs are not very expensive, and it sure can’t hurt to keep them fresh. The Wolff recoil springs come with a firing pin spring included. These will be longer and stronger than some factory springs— in this case it’s a good thing, it’s a safety thing.
The stronger spring helps keep the firing pin from moving forward under its own inertia if the gun is dropped muzzle-down, that’s the theory anyway, and does not induce misfires like you might think it would. Much more importantly, the firing pin and spring do double duty as a spring-loaded retainer for the firing pin stop. It’s well worth having the stronger firing pin spring just for the more positive retention of this part. As to the mainspring, I have never heard of one needing to be replaced because it became weak.
It just doesn’t get the workout that a recoil spring does; the recoil spring gets compressed almost completely each shot— this makes spring manufacturers cringe. The mainspring, on the other hand, only gets compressed about 7/32” when the hammer is cocked. One particular 1911 I know has been cocked since it was new in 1985. About the only time that hammer has been down is when it’s being fired or cleaned, and there is no noticeable difference in the firmness of the spring, and no misfires.
One further note about recoil springs. I’ve seen a fair number of shorter-length 1911’s that have had the recoil spring changed out for one that is too long. The failsafe method of making sure this doesn’t happen is to measure with a caliper, the depth from the back of the slide’s spring tunnel, that is, the surface that bangs off on the frame in full recoil, to the bottom of the recoil spring plunger.
On my Colt officers ACP for example, this is .682. Armed with this number, I know that whatever recoil spring I put in this gun had better stack up to less than .682 when it’s coilbound or fully compressed. In other words, the wire diameter, times the number of coils, has to be less than .682, or the slide’s rearward movement will be stopped by the spring going solid. That’s going to ruin the spring and bugger up or destroy a few other parts into the bargain.
I like to have a theoretical .003 or so minimum between each coil when the gun is in full recoil, slide hitting frame— which translates into having it about a coil short of .682 in this example, or if you really want the math, wire diameter times number of coils = .682, minus number of coils X .003. OK, here’s the easier way-- just rack the slide back all the way with the spring out but the recoil spring guide in, make a mark where the slide stops. Assemble completely with the spring and make sure the slide does not stop short of the mark.
Reliability can be affected by safety features. The passive firing pin block safety systems found on Colt Series 80 pistols (the system also found in Para Ordnance pistols), Kimber Series II and the new Smith & Wesson 1911’s can make the gun so safe it won’t fire when you want it to. It’s a matter of making sure the parts are “timed” right. All three mechanisms are simple enough once you’ve looked them over a few times, but if your gun fails the below tests you want to get it looked at.
In the Colt Series 80 system, the passive safety is deactivated by trigger movement, so, especially if the pistol is equipped with a trigger having an overtravel stop screw, there can be a problem where the trigger is able to go far enough back to release the hammer but not far enough back to enable firing pin travel. Simply cock the hammer, and, holding the hammer so that it can’t fall, pull the trigger just enough to release the hammer.
You can use the tip of your trigger finger resting on the frame as sort of a stop. Now with your third hand, push the firing pin in with a pencil point or something. If it stops at just below flush with the firing pin stop, it is hitting the firing pin block. Pull the trigger a bit further back. The firing pin should go further forward now if it didn’t before. This shows you what the firing pin is supposed to be able to do when the hammer falls. As you can imagine from the above description, the trigger overtravel stop screw, on pistols so equipped, can limit rearward trigger travel, after the hammer falls, to the point where the linkage from the trigger up to the firing pin safety can’t move enough to let the firing pin free.
The Kimber Series II and S&W passive safeties are activated by the grip safety instead of the trigger. They are somewhat similar in that, sometimes the grip safety can be in far enough to enable trigger movement and thus hammer fall, but not in far enough to remove the firing pin block from the firing pin’s path. Test it the same way as with the Colt except that here you are looking to move the grip safety just enough, and no more, to allow you to pull the trigger and drop the hammer. Keep the hammer from actually dropping and see if the firing pin can be pushed in. If you get a “no” in either case, get it looked at.
A quick check of your thumb safety can be made by cocking the hammer of the unloaded pistol, double check that unloaded part please, and put the thumb safety on. Depress the grip safety and pull the trigger, no need to force it, but make sure you apply more pressure than it would take to fire it. Now take the safety off and slowly pull back on the hammer. If a faint click is heard, it means your safety is not completely blocking the sear.
In other words, it is allowing part of the sear movement required to drop the hammer. In a worst-case scenario, as you do the above test and take the safety off, the hammer will fall, just from taking the safety off. In either case, the safety needs some professional attention. Test the grip safety by again cocking the hammer of the unloaded pistol, and, holding it with the thumb safety off and without the grip safety depressed, pull the trigger. The hammer should not fall, and again, in slowly pulling the hammer back, no click should be heard.
One more thing about safety—especially for those who are not sure about carrying in Condition One (cocked and locked): the safety detents on a carry gun should be set hard, so that the safety goes on and off only with a fair amount of effort and with a good crisp click. The detent is external, above the left grip panel. If you are mechanically apt and good with your hands, look at this and figure out how it’s detented, and you might feel comfortable going after it yourself with a Dremel or something to increase the detents’ firmness.
On lubrication: sooner or later you will hear somebody say, “This gun was jamming 5 out of every 50 shots until I tried Ultrafantastilube 99,” When you hear this, it is your cue to suspect that the person saying it is blowing smoke, or more likely, has only fired 45 shots since the new lube was applied. No 1911 or any other weapon should be that lube sensitive. Your 1911 should work with suntan oil or butter as lube-- of course that’s not ideal and it won’t last, but I say it to illustrate the point. In my mind, viscosity is really the main thing to worry about—as in, WD 40 is too light and axle grease is too heavy—basically, any of the commercial gun oils should work fine, and I doubt you would ever find a quantifiable difference in their performance.
Personally, I use the same oil I use in my motorcycle—50% synthetic 10 w/ 40. Think about how much harder an internal combustion engine is on oil— keeping a gun running is a cakewalk for this stuff.
Things can break on any make and model of pistol. Because the 1911 is so popular, and because many 1911 users tend to be high-volume competitive shooters and / or really serious about training, certain trends in broken parts have emerged over the years. 1911’s are being made by dozens of companies around the world, and some of them are bloody awful at any price; I’ve seen at least one that actually came with a broken part! But even among the good ones, the name brands if you will, really any pistol subjected to thousands, or tens of thousands of rounds fired, parts can break. Some of the most common breakages on the 1911: the firing pin stop.
I’ll bet 25% of all 1911’s have a crack in this part starting at 8:00 on the firing pin hole, going down to the left. Believe it or not this is not that serious—they usually don’t get any “broker”. It still should be replaced though. Slide stops will sometimes lose the tip that hangs into the magazine chute for the magazine follower to catch on, to lock the slide back when the gun’s empty.
The plunger tube, the little tube above the left grip panel that houses the detent for the safety and slide stop, is staked on and can come loose. Probably not an immediate emergency but it should be restaked. And it’s not unusual for a high-mileage 1911’s frame to crack about ¼” forward of the slide stop hole. Again, it might sound odd to some but the worst thing about this is knowing it’s there. This crack will propagate to a certain point, but once it reaches thicker metal it slows to the point where it appears to stop.
It will probably never continue to the point where something will fall off and even if it did, the area that would fall off is a dust cover and nothing more. I have one that cracked at about 10,000 rounds and has had probably another 20,000+ through it since…. other than the cosmetic issue, and actually you almost have to look for it, I could not be less worried. Other things can surely break, but these are some of the the most common.
I’ll close with a couple of things that come up often and fall into the definite, 100% positive, “never” category.
-Drop the slide from lock-back on an empty chamber. You could maybe do it a thousand times with no apparent negative consequence, just like you could wind up and slam the door of your car shut with all your might, every time you got out of it….. but no good will come of it. It’s a mark of the uninitiated, in my book. Racking the slide of an empty pistol during a clearing exercise or what have you is different; but there’s no good reason to ever do this gratuitously.
-Drop a cartridge in the chamber and drop the slide on it. This may do harm to your precious extractor tension and could be a safety issue, as it invites a slam-fire (where the hammer drops due to trigger inertia and out-of-tune lockwork-- maybe the subject of a further, more in-depth article).
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
"All U.S. ammunition companies advise that the .223 Remington, even loaded with the most effective expanding bullets, is not suitable to hunt deer, yet troops are expected to use the same cartridge loaded with a non-expanding bullet on terrorists. Is it any wonder that larger calibers are being considered in the Global War on Terrorism?" Gary Paul Johnston (Guns & Ammo Combat Arms 2006)
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE