Hanging in my office, is a clone of the rifle I carried on two combat tours(Iraq and Liberia). It’s a reminder of where I came from, where I stand today, where I am going and why I am going there.
While serving in 2nd Force Reconnaissance in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, my unit started seeing radical advances in small arms and light weaponry via the SOPMOD program. Suddenly, carbines could quickly be fine tuned for specific missions by mounting night vision systems, laser aiming devices, weapon lights and red dot optics to the 1913 Picatinny Rail Systems on the upper receiver and handguard.
These technologies opened up whole new tactics, techniques and procedures that could be employed to prosecute our mission of specialized reconnaissance, ambush and direct action raids.
Despite the additional capabilities the SOPMOD program delivered, opinions were sharply divided on the program. Some saw these tools as a burden, adding a lot of “crap” that would only increase the amount of weight our Marines carried on mission for little tangible benefit. A maxed out M4 could run up to 14 pounds, but we didn’t need every component for every mission.
TWO POUNDS OF METAL
The SOPMOD accessory package that my platoon ended up running included almost two pounds of weight in mounting interfaces alone. When I challenged this, I got a typical Marine Corps answer, “Because that’s what you are issued, now quit asking irrelevant questions Too Speed.” (Too Speed was my call sign)
I couldn’t accept that answer. It was an institutional answer that repeated a party line and the lives of my teammates were, and will always be, more important than not rocking the boat.
After some trial and error, the first mod I made was to ditch the Surefire M951 Weapon Light and replace it with a Surefire 6P in a shotgun tube light mount that I scored at a sporting goods shop near base. After swapping the 6P tail cap for the M951 remote switch assembly, I then ran the tape switch on the left side of the 203 so activating the light wouldn’t impact my weapons manipulation.
Getting a weapon light in tight with a rail and shaving weight off the interface was something I would spend the next 10 years fiddling with before I had a eureka moment and Haley Strategic Partners released the Thorntail Adaptive Series of light mounts, currently in use by military, security contractors and law enforcement worldwide.
This time was a defining moment for me, as it was when I first started tweaking and eventually building original components for my platoon based on the unique requirements of our missions. These experiences of shaving weight, improving ergonomics and finding a balance between capability and utility, would drive the development of so many of the components I have commercialized in my post-service career.
THE RIFLE I TOOK TO WAR
Colt M4 with 14.5” Barrel Colt M203 40 mm Grenade Launcher Knights Armament RAS Handguard PEQ-2 IR Aiming Laser Surefire Classic 6P with a custom “Simply Dynamic” mount Boone & Packer Redi-Mag Simply Dynamic Multi-Mission Sling (commercialized by Magpul as the MS3)
Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Force was trained up for both Green Side(reconnaissance) and Black Side(direct action) missions, with the assumption we would be tasked to one or the other. However, when we entered Iraq, our platoon found ourselves doing a combination of both at the same time. Force Recon is a special operations unit that prepares the battlespace and gathers intelligence for the MAGTF(Marine Air Ground Task Force) and then prosecutes specialized targets as directed.
With a few days under our belts, the entire platoon started striping gear and mags, looking for that perfect balance of speed, utility and capability. If you can’t move, you can’t be effective. Most of the Marines went from 13 rifle magazines to between five or six. I ended up with four on my vest and two taped together on my carbine with riggers tape and offset with a stick.
Force Recon ran low signature loads outs, often working out of vehicles(mil and civilian), and running a double mag on the carbine meant I had 60 rounds at the ready. When I saw the “Redi-Mag” in a copy of Shotgun News, I ordered it and had it delivered to me overseas. Despite the weight, the Redi-Mag was more versatile than the old riggers tape and stick, and cut my carbine reloads to sub one second.
I no longer run a Redi-Mag because there are so many excellent belt mounted magazine pouches available today, that I can reload at almost the exact speed as from a Redi-Mag. That said, you will sometimes find them on my house and car guns, as I do not expect to be kitting up if someone breaks into my house or I find myself engaged with an active shooter around vehicles in the streets.
The M203 is a vital component to small and agile units, like Force, who operate in small units in semi and non-permissive settings. It becomes even more essential in worst case scenarios where the mission is compromised or the unit is outright ambushed by an enemy force.
We prepared for scenarios where 203s could be employed for a hasty breach, in instances where a short count/stack was not possible. Also, as a posturing tool to achieve immediate fire superiority in the face of an ambush. Finally, we practiced employing them to suppress fortified enemy positions in buildings by putting accurate fire through windows or open doors.
In fact, in the first gunfight I was involved in during OIF, I put this into practice, pumping 40mm HEDP(High Explosive Dual Purpose) rounds through windows of enemy positions 50 meters out. This fire created instant hate and discontent on target, where crew served weapons and M4s did not offer as much of an immediate positive effect. We had never trained to fire the M203 at such a close distance for safety reasons, but I held at the top of the window frame with my Aimpoint and the round went straight where I wanted it.
The MEUSOC 1911 has an almost legendary reputation among 1911 and handgun enthusiasts. One of the most high performance handguns ever built, the MEUSOC 1911 we ran was hand built by Marine Armorers from the Precision Weapons Section at MCBQ (Marine Corps Base Quantico). They fine tuned our 1911’s, hand selecting barrels, link pins, sear springs, ejectors, firing pin stops, mainspring housings and mainsprings. Slides were custom built by Springfield Armory with beavertail safeties and recoil spring guides by Ed Brown, Novak rear sights, Wilson Combat extractors + mag release buttons, and King’s Gun Works ambi thumb safeties.
Force ran the 1911 specifically in direct action raid or ambush missions. It was not a primary and would only come into play if our carbines had run dry or malfunctioned. We carried 10 round magazines with 230 Grain 45 ACP. More than enough to deal with any immediate situation and then refocus on the carbine to get it back into action.
On DRP(Deep Reconnaissance Patrol) Missions, I personally chose my Berretta M92, which was our only 9mm alternative at the time. The flatter trajectory at range of the 9mm and the larger magazine meant more bullets to deal with more problems in the event my carbine was down or permanently disabled.
When I later worked as a security contractor on Ambassador Bremmer’s detail with Blackwater, we would run Glock 17s. But in the end, the mission drives the gear. But more importantly, the mission drives the man.
THE MISSION DRIVES THE MAN
When I first started making gear, I was doing it to help keep my guys alive. When I started my first company, Simply Dynamic Tactical, I wasn’t in it to get rich. I was doing it to pass on what I learned in combat and to provide tools that would stack the deck in the favor of the men and women who were going overseas or out on our streets as warfighters, law enforcement or private citizens.
Surviving war is an awesome responsibility. For those who have been in combat, you never forget the brothers you lost. When you are one of those who made it back, you carry a weight that is difficult to put into words. I was lucky to have known such great men in my life. I was lucky to have a second family closer than any people I will ever know.
As I approach the 5th year in business with Haley Strategic Partners, we have tried to bring this industry together and to stay focused on that one mission. Enable brave men and women to complete their missions as safely as possible. Through training, through gear and through mindset.
U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Central Command, run towards a simulated casualty while conducting a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise.
PACIFIC OCEAN (May 30, 2008) A UH-1N Huey, top, an AH-1W Super Cobra, a CH-46 Sea Knight and a CH-53E Super Stallion fly in formation during a Marine Air-Ground Task Force demonstration for a Tiger Cruise aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) during the last leg of deployment from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to San Diego, Calif. U. S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David A. Brandenburg (Released)
Warrior Wednesday; U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Nicholas Rhoades, a squad leader with weapons platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Central Command, calls-in his team’s position during a live-fire raid training event, part of Mission Rehearsal Exercise 2016, in southern Jordan, Sept. 12, 2016.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Trever Statz/Released)
More than 300 members of Joint Task Force-Bravo, Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force and the Honduran Air Force gathered Sunday evening on the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment’s “Warrior Ramp” to remember and honor the life and service of U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Gantt, who was found unresponsive this past July 20 outside his on-base living quarters. The common theme that was repeated by all who spoke about Gantt was that of his sense of humor and ability to make everyone smile.Spc. Gantt is survived by his wife and two children.
U.S. Marines with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Central Command, conducting a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise, Aug. 29, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Trever Statz)
A Marine with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, provides security during a partner nation force training exercise at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 17 – 27. The Marines of 2/8 joined forces with Critical Skill Operators with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command to strengthen the process-driven capability integration process between Special Operations Forces and the Marine Air Ground Task Force and to increase the Marine Corps’ and MARSOC’s ability to partner with foreign counterparts to advise, train and assist allied security forces. Throughout the 10-day training evolution, Marines with 2/8 played the role of a notional partner nation force, while MARSOC Critical Skills Operators and Special Operations Officers advised, trained and assisted 2/8, increasing both MARSOC’s and 2/8’s ability to advise, train and assist partner nation forces throughout the globe.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Barry Morris/Released)
Providing cover fire. A Recon Marine with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force South fires from a helicopter with a M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System during a helicopter visit, board, search and seizure drill off USS America Aug. 12.
U.S. Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa and U.S. Army Special Forces operators during a joint training mission in Baumholder, Germany, March 11, 2015. The Marines trained side by side with Special Forces personnel for more than a week to develop a close working relationship for potential future missions.
Warrior Wednesday: Cpl. Kaden Prickett, machine gunner and team leader with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, fires a .50 caliber Special Applications Scoped Rifle at a target 1,200 meters away, in the Central Command area of operations, Jan. 6, 2015. Marines and sailors of Golf Company spent time on the range getting acquainted with various weapons systems and cross-training one another in their respective areas of expertise.
Wearing rebreathers, members of Marine Force Recon move out of the surf during a reconnaissance exercise. Force Reconnaissance Marines are experts in amphibious reconnaissance. Force Recon combat divers train in both SCUBA and rebreather techniques in addition to helocasting and small boat operations.
Marine Force Recon are the eyes and ears for their assigned Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) commander. They carry out amphibious and ground reconnaissance and are trained to operate in the deep battle space.
Lance Cpl. JaCari Wells, a supply administrator and operations specialist with Marine Wing Support Squadron 372, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, posts security using an M2 .50 caliber machine gun during Integrated Training Exercise 2-17 at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Feb. 15, 2017. ITX is an exercise designed to bring all the parts of a Marine Air Ground Task Force together to train as one. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Justin Huffty)
U.S. Marine Cpl. Steven Carter, an infantryman with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa
sprints with two 36-kilogram (160 lbs combined) weights during a combat efficiency test in
Baumholder, Germany, March 10, 2015. U.S. Army Special Forces created a
series of mentally and physically challenging tasks designed to test
the Marines’ abilities to complete combat operations in an urban
environment. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Paul Peterson/Released)
U.S. Marines assigned to 5th Marine Regiment Headquarters proceed to embark a landing craft utility (LCU) on the well deck of amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25) during a manifest of personnel offload as part of Exercise Steel Knight 2016. Steel Knight is a 1st Marine Division led exercise which enables the Navy-Marine team to operate in a realistic combined-arms environment to develop skill sets necessary to operate as a fully capable Marine Air Ground Task Force.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Vladimir Ramos/Released)