Foreign Weapons Familiarization Course – Members of Chapter 54 of the Special Forces Association (SFA) recently attended a foreign weapons familiarization course in Ayer, Massachusetts – adjacent to the area of the former Fort Devens. Fort Devens was the installation that housed the 10th Special Forces Group prior to their move to Fort Carson, Colorado in the 1990s. The two-day event included instruction and range firing of a large number of foreign pistols, rifles, assault rifles, and machine guns.
The event, held at the Ayer Gun and Sportsman’s Club on 24-25 June 2017 (Saturday and Sunday), was hosted by Chapter 54. The instruction and range operations personnel was provided by Vinny A. Pestilli & Associates. The gun club was very hospitable providing the classroom, facilities and range. The gun club also put on a barbeque on Saturday night – to include ‘beverages’ (after range firing of course).
Favorable weather was a key factor for the forty-plus strong contingent of retired Special Forces Soldiers that took part in a fun and educational weekend at the gun club. Not everyone was old – as there were some SF off-spring in attendance – learning a little about what their Dad’s did in the Army. There was a three-man element from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group located in the western Massachusetts area as well.
Although many in the group of retired Green Berets had fired most of the weapons before (especially if they were a former SF weapons man) it probably had been quite a few years since they had handled a tripod-mounted, belt-fed PKM Machine Gun. It was a sight seeing some of the 80-year-old plus ex-SF dudes throw their canes to the ground and pick up the Thompson submachine gun to put some rounds downrange. There was plenty of ammo and quite a few ‘ceasefires’ had to be called to set up new targets.
Vincent Pestilli, President of the Eleven Bravo Training Company located in Brownfield, Maine, provided the numerous instructors and range safety personnel to ensure there were enough firing positions to cycle the participants through all the weapons. There were over 30 different weapons fired on the range. In addition, there were over 70 weapons on display. All the weapons were provided by Vincent as well as the ammunition.
The morning sessions were classroom instruction in a very nice facility of the Ayer Gun and Sportsman’s Club that covered the history, description, and mechanical function (to include hands-on weapons breakdown) of the various weapons. The instruction started off with a presentation of the Russian weapons (AK 47, AK 74, AK 100, SKS Carbine, Mosin Nagant 1944 Carbine, SVD Sniper Rifle, RPK and RPD Light Machine Guns, Soviet PPSH 41 Submachine Gun, and PKM Machine Gun (belt-fed).
Later instruction covered other foreign weapons such as the H&K family of weapons, Israeli Galil SMG and UZI, NATO weapons, sniper rifles, and various tactical machine guns. Some of the more interesting weapons on display and fired on the range included the Thompson Submachine gun and the H&K Briefcase SMG. These weapons prompted a bit of camera action capturing men in poses looking very dangerous despite getting on in years!
Vincent and his group of very knowledgeable instructors travel across the United States and overseas providing foreign weapons familiarization, instruction, and range firing opportunities to various law enforcement agencies and military units from all service components. His courses are custom-tailored to the organization and can be anywhere from one-day to several weeks long. His firm specializes in Russian and NATO weapon systems.
This was the 3rd Annual Foreign Weapons Familiarization Course held by Chapter 54 and plans are to continue the very popular event. There was a nominal charge to attend with proceeds covering the cost of the weekend range firing and the profits going to the Chapter 54 college scholarship fund. This was the first year that I attended the range firing event and I will certainly sign up for next year’s event as well. Chapter 54 of the Special Forces Association is based in the Massachusetts area with members that come from across all of New England. Visit the Chapter 54 SFA website for more information.
John Friberg, the author of this article, was a SF weapons man in the early years of his Army career. While attending the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) in the early 1970s he went through the Special Forces Weapons Course. He was one of eight students in the months-long class and enjoyed an instructor to student ratio of 3 to 1. Many, many, many long hours were spent on the range trying to expend all the ammo for countless types of U.S. and foreign weapons (light and heavy) allocated to that class cycle accompanied by lots of hands-on training cleaning guns and mortars in the weapons pool on Fort Bragg later in the day.
Upon graduating from the “Q” course he was assigned to a SF ODA and immediately came under the protective umbrella of a senior detachment Weapons Man (a two-tour Vietnam vet with time in CCN). The senior constantly quizzed him on the cyclic rate of fire for obsolete and obsure weapons like the Finnish Suomi KP/-31 or how to train up the team on the “Australian Peel” in a reaction to ambush from the front on a live fire range. Eventually John escaped the harassing fire of the Senior Weapons Sergeant and found comfort in the relative safety of the Detachment Intelligence Sergeant position after graduating from the O&I course (when it was hard).