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Posted: 8/25/2004 8:10:07 AM EDT
M4A1 Delivers Flexible Firepower to Marines
Marine Corps News
August 19, 2004

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. - Since the Civil War, U.S. military forces have been using an increasingly wide variety of combat firearms and weapon systems.

Today's changing face of American war and the global war on terrorism have inspired the military to adapt its tactics, affecting the distribution of firearms to troops, including Marines serving in the Operating Forces. The effect has resulted in a trend to equip special operators, security forces and noninfantry servicemembers with a more handy, versatile and compact weapon without sacrificing firepower.

Replacing some M9 service pistols, submachine guns and larger service rifles, the M4A1 is produced for the U.S. government by Colt Defense Weapon Systems, makers of the venerable and ubiquitous M16 family of assault rifles.

Although currently only available in small numbers to Marines, the M4A1-the carbine version of 'America's assault rifle'-serves alongside 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines here at Miramar and more notably in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Our unit has approximately four (M4A1s) and they are issued to Marines serving on security detail for the (commanding general)," said Lance Cpl. Samuel Beglau, armory technician, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3. "Right now the weapons are in Iraq with deployed Marines and for them the (M4A1) is a great advantage because of its compact size as they often need to move quickly in tight quarters. The carbine also allows them to better maneuver while being able to deliver a lot of firepower which is sometimes hard to do with just a pistol or even some submachine guns. So far, everyone who has used the weapon has been satisfied with its usefulness despite the decreased muzzle velocity due to the slightly shorter barrel length common to carbines."

The Lodei, Calif., native added that some Marines with MWHS-3 may see some of the improved, fourth generation versions of the M16-A2 service rifle-the highly modifiable M16-A4-but they have not been sent any at this time.

Firing 5.56 mm NATO ammunition like the M16, the M4A1 can also be found here in the hands of select Marines with Miramar's Provost Marshal's Office.

"The M4A1 is typically used by our Special Reaction Teams who, like their civilian law enforcement counterparts (S.W.A.T.), really enjoy the versatility of modified (M4A1s)," explained Lance Cpl. Dennison Watchman, armorer, PMO. "Depending on the situation, (the M4A1) can support a variety of modifications like the larger M16-A4. It has a rail-mounted forward handgrip, a telescopic stock, a removable carrying handle and rail mounts for night vision sights, combat optics, red-dot laser sights, flashlights or other add-ons-even the M203 grenade launcher. The trigger unit is also modified to fire full-auto rather than three-round bursts."

The Ganado, Ariz., native added that PMO's 10-man team also benefits from the carbine's larger magazine capacity compared to that of a pistol. The SRT often performs duties above and beyond that of an average military policeman, dealing with anything from hostage situations, search and rescue, barricaded suspects or even felony arrests. The shorter M4A1 lends itself to room clearing and close quarter battle.

In contrast to the Marines, the U.S. Army has issued the M4A1 carbine in greater numbers to its soldiers, especially those in Iraq who have benefited from the weapon's reduced size.

"The biggest strength of the M4A1 is definitely its compactness," said Lance Cpl. Jason Lahmann, armorer, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, and native of San Diego. "The Army has more (M4A1s) than the Marines, and a lot of Marines with the (air combat element) would also benefit from having a carbine while deployed."

Although the Army has announced plans to adopt and field a radically new battle rifle designed by the German firearms firm Heckler and Koch-the flexible XM8 Lightweight Modular Weapon System-the Marines have decided to stick with the M4A1 and the M16-A4 following a decision made by former Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, in August of 2002.

To accommodate the varied combat requirements of all Marines, the M4A1 will continue to be issued to specialized Marines in place of the M9 service pistol, but the more numerous noninfantry Marines may eventually see the day when the M4A1 or a similar carbine is their standard weapon in the field, said Lt. Col. Michael J. Mulligan, infantry weapons system director, Marine Corps Systems Command.

"After a comparison of the M4A1 carbine and the M16-A4 one can easily see the versatility of each weapon," said Gunnery Sgt. Douglas B. Schaefer, School of Infantry instructor, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., in his recent award-winning essay 'Does the Marine Corps Need to Replace the M16-A2?' "The M4A1 and the M16A4 are simply a better fit than the current M16-A2 service rifle for the way the Marines will be fighting in the future."

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