Ok, this story takes a while, so stick with me.
I was mobilized for OIF III on Veterans Day (go figure), November 11th, 2004. Two days later I was at Ft. Bliss going through 30 days of accelerated training to prepare me for deployment. As part of that training program I was issued an M-16A2 from the unit to which I was going to be assigned (which was, at that time, embarking for Kuwait.) Upon inspection, I determined that the rifles front sight post was bent, and that the weapon was deadlined. I brought this to the attention of the Major distributing the weapons (out of the back of a black Suburban, no less) and asked if I might get a replacement.
Sorry Sergeant, no can do. All these weapons are getting issued tonight, and there arent enough to go around. Youll just have to make do.
Fair enough, I said, and moved out smartly. The next day, out on the zero range, I explained the situation to the range safety who said, No problem, we can fix that right now and he whipped out his Gerber-tool and proceeded to straighten the bent post.
Ping -- There went the post, snapped in half.
Oh well, nothing to be done about it now. Youll have to get it fixed when you get to your unit in Kuwait."
Thirty days later I was stepping off the bus in Kuwait, armed with an un-zeroed and un-serviceable M-16, trying to find out my unit of assignment. Eventually I found my First Sergeant, who directed me to the Supply Sergeant, who told me everything had already gone north into Iraq, and Id have to get the sight fixed there. In addition, all available ammunition had been issued and I would have to wait till I got to Iraq to draw my basic load.
Five days later I was stepping off a Chinook in the dead of night armed with five duffel bags and an un-zeroed, un-serviceable, and un-loaded M-16. Three days after that I found myself attached to the ING (Iraqi National Guard) training program.
Heres where my luck finally took pity on me. While going through the supply room looking for things to steal for the ING, I saw a number of M-14s piled in a corner collecting dust. I asked the Supply Sgt. if I could sign one out, since it appeared to me that they werent doing much good there on the floor. He asked me if Id ever qualified on one before, oh sure, lots of times (in a previous life maybe) and then signed over one rifle, one scope, a scope mount, and one magazine.
Thats all we have, he said. No manuals, no parts, no nothing. I was going to have to figure everything out on my own.
The first issue was the incompatibility between the scope mount and the rings that came with the scope. The scope, a Leupold Mk IV 4.5 14 M1 LR/T using Leupolds QRW detachable rings, was not resting properly on the supplied scope mount, a Springfield Armory Gen. III mount.
It wont work was the reply I got via e-mail from Leupold on the subject. The SA mount is not to MIL-STD-1913 standard, they said. I needed to either get a standard picatinny mount, or get SA rings.
I opted to get a new mount. The mount I chose was the A.R.M.S. #18 M-21/M-14 scope mount. In addition, I purchased an A.R.M.S. #19 Throw lever QD mount (for the Leupold scope) and an A.R.M.S. #20 for an AN/PVS-4 night sight.
With my rifle-mount-scope issued resolved, my next task was to get ballistic data (dope) on the various bullets at my disposal, namely M80 Ball (146 gr FMJ), M852 (168 gr Match) M118 (173 gr Match) and M118LR (175 gr Match.) Searching the internet provided me with enough suspect information (what?!? doubt the internet?!? heratical, I know) that I decided I needed an authoritative source for ballistic data.
Enter the Armys Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) at Ft. Benning, GA. I e-mailed them regarding my needs, as well as describing the equipment I was using. Their response was thorough and quick. They not only gave me ballistic tables for all the ammunition I requested, but they broke it down by drop (in inches) and in clicks, for both the M1 series of scopes (.25 MOA adjustments) and the M3 scopes (1 MOA adjustments.) Their data was spot on and saved me hours of trial and error effort. I cannot say enough about the support they offered.
To round out my M-14 kit I ordered an additional 5 magazines (USGI original manufacture $30 each, new), an M-14 dash ten operators manual as well as the dash twenty-three parts manual, cartridge extractor, gas plug wrench, and an M-14 lube kit.
Finally, after a month or so of exchanging e-mails with companies all over the U.S. I had the mounts I needed, the rings I needed, the ballistic data I needed and the bullets I needed. I was officially in business.
To get my M-14 operational required about $700 on my part and a month of e-mails and internet searches. Once I started taking the M-14 on missions, I began to make notes on where I could improve my original setup.
Stock: The rifle came with a standard wood stock. While this was all good and well, it was also bone dry, and in need of touching up. A search in-country poroduced no linseed oil (youd be surprised how many folk have no idea what boiled linseed oil is) so I had to have my mother send me a quart. An alternative to wood, though, is getting a synthetic stock. While there are a number of stock manufacturers out there (I myself purchased an M3A stock from McMillan Brothers ) what you have to be aware of is wether the stock you buy is set up for an M-14 reciever or the Springfield Armory M1A reciever (M-14 recievers have a semi - full auto selector switch which has been deactivated, but still projects from the reciever, whereas the M1A reciever lacks this and mounts flush in the stock.) Either of the recievers will go into an M-14 stock, but the M-14 reciever will not go into an M1A stock without carving out a notch for the defunkt selector switch.
Furthermore, stocks come in two basic styles; drop in, and bedded. Drop in stocks are ready as is. You drop in the reciever and youre in business. Bedded stocks require the reciever be bedded to the stock, which generally involves a gunsmith drilling mounting holes in the reciever and fitting a pair of mounting pins. Bedding a rifle stock is most definitely not a do it yourself job. If you dont know what your doing you can get yourself killed. If, however, you have the time, resources, and permission from your food chain to get your M-14 bedded it will be the better for it.
Scope mount: As I said, my original mount was the A.R.M.S. #18. While this mount did what I asked of it, the one issue I did have with it was occasional ejection failures (the spent casing would get hung up in the chamber because of the narrow opening between the chamber and the bottom of the scope mount.) Looking to correct this issue (jams are a bad thing, after all) I went looking for a different mount. What I settled on was the Smith Enterprise, Inc. M-14 mount. This mount can trace its liniage back to the original Brookfield Precision Tool mounts manufactured for the M-25 sniper rifle. Since going to the SEI mount I havent experienced a single jam. In addition, I also picked up an extended bolt stop release, which basically makes it easier to manipulate the bolt stop while wearing gloves.
Bullet drop compensators (BDC): While the data provided by the USAMU was spot on, it was still a lot of data to remember, and considering that I carried several types of ammunition on me at any given time, refering to index cards in a firefight wasnt a viable option. My solution was to get a retractable ballistics chart (RBC) from Leupold. The RBC fits on the scope, where it's out of the way, and contains a self retracting tape upon which you can write down ballistic data. When in doubt, I need only pull out the tape and confirm my settings.
Another option recently offered by Leupold, is custom etched bullet drop compensators (BDC.) The BDC differs from the standard windage knobs in that they are custom built to your rifle and ammunition and are graduated by range. What this means is that with a BDC you dont need to count clicks when applying windage, you just rotate the BDC windage knob to the appropriate range and youre set. This is also a lifesaver when it comes to re-setting your scope after making several range adjustments. I havent gone this route yet, but if ever I get tapped for deployment again, I will probably have some built (just in case.)
-- Eric Daniel