I'll never forget the day I first handled and AR-type rifle. I was a brand-new soldier at Fort Knox, KY, had been in the Arm all of 48 hours when I was assigned to Co E, 13th Bn, 4th Training Bde. This, during the second week of June, 1973.
Sometime during the first week of training, the Drill Sergeant marched us into the arms room after morning PT. Because my name starts with a "D", everything was in alphabetical order, and I was assigned to rack number 6, which I soon learned was a rifle. Specifically a rifle, M16A1, a select fire, gas operated, magazine fed, shoulder fired weapon. I wish I could say that it was a brand-spanking new rifle, but that would be a lie. It was serviceable, rack grade, and I'd only carry it till the end of basic training.
The Drill Sergeant marched us out to the front of the barracks, and we began to learn the manual of arms. I had been around guns all my life, being a gun nut since my pre-teen years, but I had o idea that there were so many ways to carry a rifle. Port arms, shoulder arms, attention, parade rest, present arms, the Drill Sergeant went through the litany of the manual, Over and over, we toiled away in the hot Kentucky sun, until lunch, when we went to sling arms, and took our rifles with us to the mess hall.
This story won't be unfamiliar to anyone who has gone through Army basic training, After lunch, we were marched to a classroom, where we started learning the assembly, disassembly and nomenclature of the various bits and pieces. We learned to clean, oil, and maintain it. We were issued cleaning kits. We were taught function tests, everything that a basic infantryman needs to know about the weapon.
For the next several days we reinforced the lessons taught. Over and over we went through the rifle, cleaned it, oiled it, carried it, marched with it. Then, one morning, with full packs, we marched out of the company area, turned left, and went down Misery Hill toward the creek, crossed the bridge and moved into the range areas of the post. Three days later we marched back up Misery Hill to the cantonement area. After cleaning my rifle, I turned it in to the arms room for the weekend, then went up to the platoon bay to shower and clean up. I found a shiny new Expert badge pinned to the dust cover on my pillow.
In early August of 1973, I gave old rack number 6 a final cleaning and turned it in to the armorer. I was glad to be shed of it. It was just something else that I had to keep up with. We were busy that week, cleaning gear and turning it in, so that it would be ready for the next group of trainees that would come through after cycle break.
And, for the next 25 years, on active duty, in the reserves and the guard, through a dozen different iterations, a half-dozen units, annual trainings, and deployments, I carried whichever of the rifles that the Army handed me in the various arms rooms I walked through. I turned my last one in, in July of 1999. After, of course, giving it a thorough cleaning.
I never had any affection for the M16 series rifles. Oh, there were plenty of issued weapons that I liked. I really enjoyed the M2 machine gun. Really liked it. I liked the M3 "grease gun". I thought that the M203 was a silly implement. I obtained a warm affection for the M1911A1. But, the M16 series never really took hold in my psyche. It was a bullet-launcher, and while I understood the strengths and weaknesses of the platform, it held no appeal to me.
In police work during the late 20th century, we used a variety of patrol rifles. Ruger Mini-14s, M1 carbines, lever-action rifles, either Marlin or Winchester. Each had its place in a squad car, and personally, I was in a fairly rural beat. We were still using revolvers, mainly SW66s, and I liked the ammo compatibility that a pistol cartridge lever action gave me. I carried a Marlin 1894 with good peep sights for a couple of years. Qualified with it on the course. I even tried once to qualify with a Remington 7600 in .30-06. It was a good hunting rifle, but sucked as a patrol rifle because the magazines were so fiddly.
In 2003, we had a traumatic event in this area, where two good police officers died under fire from an AK type rifle. Almost immediately, individual officers started upgrading their patrol rifles. In early May, 2003, I walked into a local gun shop and bought a brand new Bushmaster AR. I took it home, cleaned and oiled it, found some old GI magazines that were till in my kit, and took it to the range.
Firing it for the first time was like putting on an old jacket. Comfortable, well understood, familiar. I still had no love for the platforms, but I was gaining an affection. Mine's not tricked out, it doesn't have any accessories. It doesn't even wear optics. I've been with that particular rifle for 13 years now, and while others have come and gone, the old Bushmaster still rides in the car with me. Rifles come and go, they're acquired, sighted, analyzed and either kept or given away, but the Bushmaster keeps hanging on.
Over the past two decades, the AR platform rifle has become the premier rifle in the American inventory. Millions have been sold, hundreds of thousands just like the one I have. It's an old friend to every GI who went through basic training over the past 40 years. It is what it is, neither good nor evil, just a tool. But, it is a very versatile tool, a very durable tool. That's probably why I've grown to have an affection for the rifle. It's very good at what it does, it doesn't require a lot of tweaking, it runs right out of the box.
One day, the AR will be surpassed by something new and advanced, but for the time being, the AR rifle is beloved of Americans. It is truly America's rifle.