Editor’s note: The column below, which contains explicit language, is a response to an article in the MarineTimes that broke the following news:
For Marine special operators, the never-ending debate over whether the 9mm or .45-caliber round is the more powerful bullet has been settled.
Previously, the classic .45-caliber Colt 1911 was one of three pistols that Raiders were allowed to carry, but now the 9mm Glock 19 is the only pistol that Marine special operators can take into battle, said Maj. Nick Mannweiler, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
“We put our money behind the 9mm round fired by an extremely well-trained marksman carrying a Glock 19,” Mannweiler told Marine Corps Times… read more
Finally, even the dinosaurs over at Mother Corps have woken up to the facts. The 1911 is a terrible choice for a combat handgun, and now MARSOC finally gets some combat Tupperware, like all the other boys at SOCOMs School for Hooligans and Ruffians. Hold onto your keyboards, there, internet commandos, I don’t care if your granpappy defended Wake Island with ole slab sides; I have skin in this game too. And it’s probably more recent than yours.
Let’s go ahead and discuss this term “combat handgun.” It doesn’t mean your choice of what to carry to 7/11, though some mortal combat may ensue there. We are talking about an issued weapon for the troops going into harm’s way. Your choice of a BBQ gun doesn’t count. The one thing a combat handgun absolutely needs to be is reliable. A pistol is rarely used for doing the Lord’s work, but when you need it, you REALLY need it. I can count on one hand the number of people I know with a legit pistol kill in the Global War on Terrorism, it’s that rare. And I used to ask every class during the pistol phase of my urban combat course, “Has anyone here got a pistol kill, and if so let’s talk about it.”
Considering I was teaching the Magnificent Murderous Bastards of 3rd Special Forces Group at the time, who have arguably carried more water pound for pound than any unit in the U.S. Military in this conflict, that is a very low number. There are outliers, of course, there always are. One of my teammates who we shall just refer to by his call sign, “Gene Pool Cleaner” (GPC), had eight pistol kills on one of our tours. That is a pretty long streak of strange luck, so it does happen. But the reality is that pistol is bringing up the rear when it comes to tools a soldier wants to use for cockroach extermination. For most of us that have fought in this war, the order goes something like this:
- JDAM GPS-guided bomb, preferably from your hotel balcony while sipping a scotch on the rocks (Hat tip, Greg Stube. He taught me that one in the SFQC.)
- Sniper rifle
- Machine guns
- Rock, Toaster, or whatever else is handy at the moment
- Your hands
Of that small number, 99 percent of the pistol kills in question came during CQB, when a rifle had malfunctioned. Probably the scariest environment imaginable is a room-sized gun fight, against some other dickhead holding a machine gun, who you probably have already hurt with your now defunct rifle, and you need to “phone a friend,” aka skin your pistol to finish the fight. Never happened to me, but for those who’ve experienced it, it’s very much a Jesus-take-the-wheel kind of moment. When you grab that last line of defense, the motherfucker had better work. Now, we can say a lot of good things about the 1911 pistol. It’s accurate. It has a nice trigger. It was the weapon of choice 100 years ago. It may actually be more inherently precise than a Glock. But I don’t think anyone will argue that it is more reliable than a Glock.
Who am I kidding? This is the Internet! Of course someone will argue that the 1911 platform is more reliable than the polymer prince. Look, I wasn’t born a 1911 hater. My first gun was a Springfield Loaded 1911, and it was my only pistol for many years. I was a Recon Marine, and that was the pistol I took on my first combat tour. Age and maturity, however, have taught me to love the striker-fired wonder.
It’s a great irony, the more expensive your 1911, generally the tighter it fits together. That makes it more accurate. It also makes it more susceptible to environmental factors. When the new Kimber 1911 was issued to Force Recon Marines, the old hands dug through the boxes to find the ones with the most rattle (I was already transitioning to the Army by then, but, of course, I asked my boys about the new guns). 1911 fanboys, why do you suppose they did that?
In training across 18 years, I have seen more malfunctions in a week of 1911 time than any 2 years with a Glock. The 1911 was a great design for its time, but that time has passed. Dust, sand, and lack of lubrication all have a much worse effect on a 1911. I know people who have carried a Glock for an entire tour in the sandbox, never once pulled it from the holster, and upon rotating home, fired the gun without a hitch. No one would have the stones to try that on a 1911.
What else? Well, a Glock is significantly lighter. That does matter. Every ounce counts in a mountainous environment. Special Operations Forces are much more likely than anyone else to be using a pistol as the primary or only weapon, thus further underscoring the need for reliability above all else. A double stack Glock is both easier to reload, and less likely to need reloading with its 15 or 17-round magazine. It’s a dual-use weapon, it works for urban assaults or low visibility concealed carry. It’s one of the most prolific weapons on the planet, the G19 can be found the world over. It doesn’t break easily, it rarely wears out, and it doesn’t need a special armorer to work on it.
Last summer, I spent a few months in Okinawa as a contracted instructor for the USMC Special Operations Training Group. For 3 months prior, I shot only my 1911s in preparation for that job. Still, with months of work, once or twice I forgot the safety or had the beavertail safety eat my lunch. Reloading was both more frequent (single stack gun, 8 rounds) and slower than my normal gun.
Finally, my last week in country we did an exchange day with the Special Forces group on the Island. The brotherhood of Green Berets runs deep, even after you retire. Picking up a loaner Glock from 1st Group to teach my pistol class to them was like finding an old friend. Even after months of 1911 work, it was a seamless transition back to the plastic framed glory of the Glock 19. With zero warm up, I was faster and more accurate, and not one issue with malfunctions over the day. That is a pretty apples to apples comparison, and I applaud the USMC for its choice.