Keith Sanderson: Off Season Position Building

The following is training advice from SFC Keith Sanderson. Among his many accomplishments he is the USAR Combat Pistol Coach, an Olympian (having set the American record in International Rapid Fire Pistol) and the winningest pistol shooting in AFSAM history.

Heed and succeed!

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Iranian Rifle Experience

From Major Dave Cloft, USAR, serving in Iraq.

One of the first things to catch my attention upon arriving in Iraq was a case containing two rifles prominently displayed at the entrance of the Al Faw Palace.  Being a competitive shooter and member of the “gun culture” back in the US I wanted to know more about these rifle and why they were on display. Unfortunately only one had a placard with limited information. Daily as I walked past them I took a greater interest.  These rifles were in deplorable condition upon our arrival, and continued to be neglected for the duration of our “Iraq Vacation.”  What they needed was a little TLC, a solid cleaning and some good preventative maintenance.

After three months the pain became too great and I couldn’t take it anymore.  It took two days, but I successfully acquired “official” permission to remove these rifles from their display case and give them a thorough cleaning. Without permission my fear was that someone would assume I was trying to steal them as a war trophy and I’d be punished under General Order Number One, the same rule that prohibits of from drinking, gambling and having any fun while in Iraq.  However, I gained approval faster than anticipated, and in fact I was thanked for saving the HQ Commandant cell some work.  The day of the cleaning appropriately coincided with Valentine’s Day, 14FEB11.

I knew the older rifle looked like a 1898 Mauser and the more modern rifle resembled a German G3.  Upon closer inspection they were in much worse condition that I had ever anticipated. After wiping off a layer of Iraqi dust I realized the last owner of these rifles didn’t clean them prior storage, or providing them as a gift and putting them on display – the carbon fouling was still in the bore!  To make this problem worse older ammo used corrosive primers and it was evident that these caustic chemicals had not been kind to the barrels.  Externally the metal parts were mostly rusted and pitted.

While I didn’t tell anyone until I was finished, I had never disassembled a German G3, or a copy of it, before in my life.  Proving once again if you enter a situation with confidence, no one will question you.  I also knew that military rifles are normally designed for use by the lowest common denominator, and that since I had been shooting rifles since age 4, I felt I might be able to figure it out.  I took a quiet sense of achievement when I was able to reassemble the faux-German G3 and it functioned flawlessly.  After about two hours of thoroughly enjoying myself and getting in some photo opportunities, I decided to do a little research on the origin of these mysterious display rifles.

Since the “Internet Nazis” keep us from visiting most firearm related websites from my “Gov-mint” computer in my office, I couldn’t do any quality research until I returned to my trailer where I live here in Iraq.  After a quick email back to the buddy in the US who knows more than I do about historic firearms, he suggested I research “Persian Mausers” and this was my jumping off place for my search.

What I learned is that the first rifle was indeed a Persian Mauser, and it has a unique story, most likely unknown to anyone currently working in Al Faw Palace.  These rifles were manufactured under contract from BRNO in Czechoslovakia for the Shaw of Iran from 1933 to 1937. The fit, finish and overall craftsmanship of this rifle was impressive. Even with neglect the action is smooth as a hot knife into butter.  The Persian Mausers were actually regarded as having some of the best craftsmanship of the Mauser family.  From the 1930’s and in some areas still today this rifle is a standard weapon of the Iranian Army and is acclaimed for its accuracy, it even appears in some Iranian National folk songs.  I realized that this rifle may have been in the Al Faw Palace prior to the US invasion since the Al Faw Palace was built to honor the sacrifice of the Iraqi Soldiers in defeating the Iranians.  A little piece of history as to why the Al Faw Palace is here (from Global Security).  In 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq suffered a major loss in the southern region.  Iran had launched a successful surprise amphibious assault  and captured the Iraqi oil port of Al Faw. The occupation of Al Faw, a logistical feat, involved 30,000 regular Iranian soldiers who rapidly entrenched themselves. Saddam Hussein vowed to eliminate the bridgehead “at all costs,” and in April 1988 the Iraqis succeeded in regaining the Al Faw peninsula.  Perhaps this rifle was an Iranian War Trophy taken from the battle of Al Faw, and the namesake of the Palace where we currently work.

What I call the faux-German G3 also impressed me.  A 1950’s design which originated about the same time as our US M16 variant. This rifle was also built in Czechoslovakia by BRNO (they must have had a great relationship with the Shaw of Iran).  While in very rough shape the design was simple, but intelligent. The placard that accompanied this rifle in the display case showed it was a gift to GEN Petraeus.  However, since it’s still here, and his is not, he must have forgotten his gift in Iraq when he moved on to Afghanistan.  The real reason the rifle is still here is that if GEN Petraeus had landed in the US with this rifle in his possession he’d become an instant felon.  The US prohibits ownership of any fully automatic firearms that were not in the US prior to 1986.  The market value for this faux-German G3 is upwards of $15K, providing that it could be legally owned, as a Class III firearm, and the owner would subject himself to be finger printed, pass an FBI background check, obtain permission from his local law enforcement officer, and pay a $200 Federal Tax.  It’s obvious it was much easier to abandon a rifle in such poor condition in Iraq.

The fate of these two firearms is unknown, most likely they will be destroyed prior to the US departure at the end of 2011, or shipped to a warehouse somewhere where they may never see the light of day again for centuries.  It will be a sad day, but unfortunately the Army does not have an adoption program, or I’d be the first to apply. Too bad these rifles cannot speak and tell us of their history, I’d love to know where they’ve been and what they’ve experienced.

Shooting Competition in the Army

Had a Soldier contact me about shooting competition in the Army. Here are the gritty details.

I am in the Army Reserves and have been a member of the American Gunsmith Association for over ten years. I read your bio in the front of the magazine when you first became editor. The reason I write is because of your competitive marksmanship background. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to go to a competition in Massachusetts, and I found it to be more than just a great chance to have fun on the government’s dime, but a great opportunity to learn a few things and take that back to my Soldiers at my reserve unit. The problem is I can’t convince anyone to send me again. I managed to form a team and go a second time, but that was close to four years ago, and I keep getting the same excuse- no money.

Where do other units get their funding to send Soldiers to matches? Once the financial issue is resolved, where are the matches? The national matches and the All Army matches are advertised, but I can’t find any information on where or when matches are held.

I would appreciate any information you can share. It seems like marksmanship competitions are a big mystery.

My response:

>> Where do other units get their funding to send Soldiers to matches?

The simple reality is funding to attend these events is totally at the mercy of your unit/battalion command. If your command supports it, and there is money to be had, unit leadership can send folks to events, military and civilian. If it makes you feel any better, there have been large events that former National champions on the USAR Shooting Team didn’t get funded to attend simply because the budget that year didn’t support it.

Official guidance supports sending Soldiers to events. In fact, by regulation shooting competition can be attended in lieu of Annual Training.

AR 350-66 – Army-wide Small Arms Competitive Marksmanship
AR 140–1 – Army Reserve Mission, Organization, and Training

But all a unit commander has to do is say no and you’re denied. He/she doesn’t even need a reason. The regulation authorizes, but does not require, attendance.

The best way to approach this is to be a competition shooter on your own. Realize that the Army will not pay your way or buy you everything. Think of military sponsored shooting as a bonus and/or supplement to the shooting events that you are attending and paying for on your own.

>> Once the financial issue is resolved, where are the matches? The national matches and the All Army matches are advertised, but I can’t find any information on where or when matches are held.

For anyone in the Army interested in competition, All Army is the best event. Contact the AMU in advance and you get billets (open bay barracks) and rifles free. They already provide the ammo. I was in the SARG (Small Arms Readiness Group), a unit of marksmanship instructors, and didn’t get funded to go every year I attended but could still shoot and stay on post free.

Find the local National Guard events to you. The Arkansas Guard hosts the NGMTU (Marksmanship Training Unit) and is the national headquarters for each state.

CMP and NRA events are sponsored by the military and civilians can attend too.

>> It seems like marksmanship competitions are a big mystery.

No, just a victim of almost zero publicity. With the exception of the AMU, no military shooting team has a Public Affairs person and the AMU publicity is mostly concerned with the virtues of the team and not promoting the events.

Since the 1970’s the NRA has focused on politics and lobbying and marksmanship competition is now a sideline for them. Football and basketball has been consistently promoted for many decades but shooting is not. There is not any significant support or money for marksmanship competition, especially compared to big ball sports. Add in the fact that most gun owners, civilian and military, simply lack the courage to shoot for score in front of other people and competition shooting takes a back seat.

The common myth is that this the fault of the anti-gun media, or anti-gun policy in the military but the simple fact is most gun owners are indifferent to organized shooting and practiced marksmanship skill. Only 2% of the NRA membership has ever attended a NRA sanctioned shooting event. Most military personnel are NOT marksmanship enthusiasts, just like most gun owners, to say nothing of the general populace and their knowledge is limited to basic qualification. They simply don’t know and don’t care. If there isn’t already an interest in higher level shooting, and because competition is not a requirement, it is always easier and safer to ignore it or just say no.

Welcome to my world.