Glock 19 (G19) Compact 9mm Combat/Tactical Pistol: How and Why US Army Special Forces (SF) Adopted It…a Little History

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By Jeff Gurwitch

September 3, 2018
Last updated on 9/03/18.

The internet is a great thing. Type in a few words, and a few clicks later, pages upon pages of information will be presented to you, from pictures, to the written word, to videos on whatever it is you want to know about. While the majority of information out there is pretty good as far as accuracy, there’s also a lot of what I call “internet lore” out there, as well–internet lore being one story of something being presente a certain way, and it becomes accepted as fact, with no vetting whatsoever.

The latest example of internet lore that I feel needs to be addressed is the reason US Special Operations adopted the Glock 19 compact 9mm pistol. Our (DefenseReview’s) very own David Crane turned me onto a video a few weeks ago titled “Navy Seals DID NOT Choose Glock 19” by The Yankee Marshall. See link here:

Watching it, I almost couldn’t get all the way through it. The number of inaccuracies was way beyond comical, actually approaching the level of ludicrousness! In it, he states that, basically, SOF (Special Operations Forces) adopted the Glock based solely on it being the cheapest gun they could find. Additionally, according to him, Special Operations guys can carry whatever guns they want (including personal pistols), and if they have a choice, many still prefer the M1911A1, or other Glock models, at the very least. Plus (again, according to him), Special Operations is so hurting on money, personnel are forced to take up collections to purchase body armor and other gear. Now, where does he get all this information from? Well as he states; From talking with Navy Seals and SF guys at Shot Show and other shooting venues.

As a 19-year veteran of U.S. Army Special Forces, what do I think about all this? Complete hot garbage! The Glock 19 was in fact chosen to fulfill a very specific requirement by U.S. Army Special Forces (USSF). And while the M1911A1 has seen service with Special Operations, it was early on in the war on terror. Now, it’s almost non-existent with operational teams.

Author’s military issue Glock 19 top, Beretta M9 bottom (2015).

The Adoption of the Glock 19

The first Glock pistol I saw in service was the Glock 22 (G22), which was in use with a certain Tier 1 unit. They had started using it around 2003/2004ish. When this unit adopted the Glock 22, it created a huge demand by the rest of USSF to want Glocks as well, but Big Army said no. They told us the M9 was our full-size fighting pistol. You see, USSF gets the same guns as infantry units as our base issue from the Army.

Then, because of certain mission requirements, Special Operations Command issues specific guns and gear on top of that to Special Forces units. As the needs arise, Special Operations Command writes the funds for gear and weapons to meet those mission needs. One requirement that was identified early on in the War on Terror was for a compact pistol for civilian clothes work. This is an important fact because it is the main reason for the Glock 19 being issued to us.

SF could not have G22’s and could not purchase Glock 17’s (G17’s) because we had the M9 as our full-size pistol. So how best to get Glocks in USSF guys hands? Adopt the G19 as our compact pistol. That’s why the G19 was chosen, along with the fact that it also passed all Special Operations operational and endurance testing. That’s it. Period. Special Forces guys wanted Glocks, and the requirement for a compact pistol was a way in with G19.

From the time they were first issued, up until 2015, they were issued as a supplement to SF Teams, meaning it was envisioned that only certain teams or SF guys would need them based on the mission. So, while teams got them, often there were not enough issued for every man to receive one. I saw the first issue of Glock 19’s back in late 2006 at Ft. Bragg, NC. while serving as a marksmanship instructor in a CQB course for Special Forces soldiers.

From 2006 to 2015, I would say only about 60-70% of SF guys had an issued G19. The rest were still forced to use the Beretta M9. Then, in late 2015, Special Forces Command announced they would purchase Gen 4 G19’s with MOS cut, one for every man in USSF. I retired late 2016, but I did see G19 Gen 4’s with MOS cut start hitting the arms rooms. Not only is all USSF now rocking G19s, but also my son, who serves in 3rd Ranger Battalion. He was issued the aforementioned Gen 4 G19 with MOS cut.

Now, if you look at pictures of USSF using Glock 19s, you might notice that they’re often running it with full-size G17 extended mags, flared magazine wells and other accessories to make it more shootable and hold more ammo. This is because although it was for ‘concealed carry’, the guys were of course going to use it for everything, particularly CQB, hence extended mags and other items that you could say hurt its ability to be carried concealed. However, for the guys on the ground using it, most choose shootability and lethality over concealment. Now, seeing how most USSF guys use it more for say “conventional purposes” and not concealment, why not purchase G17s? After all, I would argue that a full-size pistol is a better pistol to have in a gunfight.

The answer? That goes back to the Army’s mindset that the M9 was for that role. Again, the fact is, USSF Operators wanted Glocks, and the G19 met a requirement, so that was the way in for it. So, as the video saying it was the cheapest option, well that’s just totally untrue. The G19 was NOT chosen because it was cheapest. It was selected for a specific purpose and from an outcry from USSF Operators for Glocks.

Special Forces soldier conducting range training. Notice the G19 loaded with G17 magazine, and equipped with a grip adaptor. It’s very common for Operators to run full-size G17 mags and mag extensions, thus increasing the round count for CQB operations.

Glock 19 and other Special Operations Units

I should point out Army Special Forces adopted the G19 first, followed by the Rangers, followed by Navy SEALs, and finally MARSOC later on. It may be true that it might not be the SEALs’ first choice to replace their aging SIG P226s. However, I can only speculate that since Special Operations had already tested and approved it for Army SF, they must have deemed it good enough for the rest of the units under Special Operations Command.

True, one could say that decision was based on saving money by not having to test a new gun of the SEALs choosing. But the SEALs did have their chance just before 9/11 with the MK23 pistol. The joint effort by the Navy and Army Special Forces to create a super pistol led to the MK23, a gigantic pistol in .45ACP. It’s a behemoth. It was also a flop with Army SF, and thus never adopted (by them)–but the SEALs said they wanted it, and adopted it, only to later end up disliking it, too. So, one could say the SEALs already had their chance at picking a pistol, and failed big, literally.

The M1911A1 and SF

What about the claim of operators wanting the M1911A1? Well, it was true at one time. After 9/11 there was a huge demand for M1911’s, particularly from members of 5th SFG (Special Forces Group), of which I was a member. The Army did supply us with WWII-era re-built Remington Rands which did see some action with many SF guys, up until about 2005/2006’ish.

However, this desire has all but died out, at least in Army SF. First reason, the M1911 does not hold up well in desert environments. Regardless of the make of the M1911, it will jam up faster from dust and dirt than a Glock. However, the main reason for lack of M1911 use is that it’s not the current users’ eras pistol, meaning the guys currently serving in SF didn’t grow up shooting M1911’s. That demographic existed when I first joined, but not now.

I joined SF in 1998. At that time, we all loved M1911’s, because that’s what most guys personally owned pistol-wise, and it’s what they first learned to shoot with on their own, AND in the Army. In fact, when I first joined the Army in 1990 serving as a M60 gunner, my issued sidearm was a M1911A1. My infantry unit had yet to receive the M9. I think Desert Storm was the last conflict that we can say the M1911A1 last served as a general issue sidearm. Fun fact: Same goes for the M3A1 .45ACP Grease Gun.

By the Mid-2000’s, the guys coming into Special Operations had grown up on polymer guns like the Glock. So, the desire to carry a M911A1 was just dying out, because guys were more comfortable with guns like the Glock, hence the outcry for Glocks in the first place. My last combat tour was in 2015. We had only one M1911A1 on the team, and I carried it occasionally on missions. Had I not used it, I’m pretty sure it would’ve just sat in the arms room the entire deployment. Truth is, all the guys who loved it early on in the war have all retired. The current crop of operators have no experience with it, and have even less desire to use it.

Author’s very worn and beaten-down WWII-era Remington Rand M1911A1 from last Afghanistan tour in 2015. Aside from the M1911’s not running well in desert environments, the current generation of Special Forces soldiers were raised on Glocks, and just don’t care to carry an old, heavy pistol like this.

Personal Guns and Lack of Gear?

How about personal gun use? The bottom line is no. Special Operations members cannot use personally-owned guns. Do they? I will neither confirm or deny it, but, officially, it’s not allowed. Now, do they have access to tons of different guns? Yes. Not only is the G19 in the inventory, but there are also some full size G17’s and G26’s in limited numbers. Again, they were purchased for specific roles or requirements. I know that the smaller G26 was purchased around 2009’ish to fulfill a requirement for a deep-cover concealment gun smaller than the G19.

How about the claim in the video about the need to pool money together for gear? That is totally not true, at least not within Special Operations. Now, early on in the war, there were some Army and National Guard units short of required items like body armor, and such. But that was the mid-2000’s. In Special Operations, since 9/11, gear in general is getting thrown at Special Ops units. Do guys still buy their own? Sure. I did. But, it wasn’t because I was lacking gear. It was more out of personal preference.

I just preferred a different plate carrier and other gear over what was issued, but the base amount of gear I was issued was plenty. For example, on my last combat tour, I was issued two different plate carriers. I had a choice of around three different rucksacks to carry, along with a duffle bag of at least 30 different pouches for mags, ammo, and such. Weapons-wise, between pistols, rifles, belt feds, grenade launchers and such, we must have had almost 50 weapons assigned to our 12-man team.

The Wrap Up

I hope this article has come off as informative, rather than a rant, but the fact is, while there’s a ton of great information on the internet concerning guns and gear in use with the military and Special Operations Forces, be wary of anything put out by people who never served in or worked with any of the units they’re talking about regarding the adoption and use of the Glock 19 within U.S. Army Special Operations.

I was there for the initial adoption, and have seen it go from a supplemental item on the teams to a standard issue sidearm replacing the M9 completely. What do the guys think of it? Aside from nothing but positive comments from the guys that carried it on my last team, I can tell you this: Every time I rolled out with my trusty M9 or M1911A1, I was usually referred to as an “Old Timer”.

Video in question:

About the Author:
Jeff Gurwitch is retired U.S Army Special Forces (SF).
26 years active duty, 19 years with SF.
15 years’ competitive shooting experience; USPSA, IDPA and 3 Gun.

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© Copyright 2018 and Jeff Gurwitch. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without receiving permission and providing proper credit and appropriate links.

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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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