I recently took on a project that was a bit of an exercise in nostalgia. This was partially motivated by a project I will mention later and partially because I wanted to experience a memory through physical contact with an object. When you chase a memory based on how you recall interfacing with an item in the past, something unique happens. Regardless of whether or not you have the “right” parts, the essence is there. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to hold a piece of one’s past that has been separated from them for so long. Ultimately, it is a work of magic. Like holding something that, without permission, becomes a time machine.
In this particular case, I am talking about a rifle. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my time in service as a Cavalry Scout with the United States Army from 2005 to 2010. Yes, only 5 years, but my time in service was between the age of 20 and 25. Anyone who is in their 30s will happily agree those are essential formative years in the human lifespan.
My tours brought me to Iraq from September 2006-December 2007, and April 2009-May 2010. Two different tours, two different areas, very different mindsets and missions. My first tour I stared out as a Bradley driver and was one of the last scouts in my unit that was issued an M16. When I was finally issued an M4, I was was happier than I had expected I would be. The M16 I had been issued was a brand new FN model equipped with a rifle length quad rail handguard. Having a full sized rifle with a full sized quad rail and a non-adjustable buttstock meant I was carrying a considerable amount of weight in the rifle alone. My rifle was issued with an Aimpoint M68 red dot sight, so that helped keep it from being too much heavier. It was a good platform, but it was large and crawling in and out of vehicles with it was cumbersome.
Several months into my first tour I finally received an M4. My M4 was a wonderful piece of equipment. The M68 was taken from my M16, re-zeroed, and remained on my M4 through the course of my first tour. The maneuverability and lighter weight made clearing buildings much easier. It also made it easier to stow when I was in the driver’s seat of my HMMWV. I typically wedged it against the dash beside the radios rather than in the awkward mounting location that is left of the steering wheel by the driver’s door frame.
When I re-enlisted so I could go back I carried the same rifle, but it got some upgrades. The M68 went away in favor of a 4x ACOG and I was issued an AN/PEQ-2 for aiming with night vision. It gained back all the weight lost when I transferred from the M16 rifle to the smaller M4 Carbine, but at least the weight served a purpose.
The base rifle I was issued was a Colt M4. Along with the accessories previously mentioned it was also equipped with a Surefire Millennium M2 light and a Matech flip up rear iron sight. The Surefire was a hefty unit, especially when compared to the options available on the current market. It utilized a Surefire P60 Xenon bulb that was constantly burning out and needing to be replaced and the light output was an unimpressive 65 Lumens. The body of the light was finished in a grey anodize and it had an IR flip cover filter for use with night vision. It had a double thumb screw clamp that was chunky, but effective. It wasn’t a great light, but it was what we had and we were happy to have them. Looking back at it now, the light is an extremely nostalgic relic given how different it is from what is on the market today.
The M4 was also equipped with the legendary Knight’s Armament M4 RAS and the complimentary Knights Armament rail panels and forward grip. This was one of the pieces of equipment that really made the M4 what it was. The Knights rail is unique in how it locks to the rifle. It is a 2-piece rail, but at the delta ring it has a clamp that straddles the gas tube. A screw goes through the rail and pulls the claw of the clamp up and into place, effectively locking the rail in position. The bottom section of the quad rail can still be removed and an M203 installed, all without losing zero on any accessories mounted to the other 3 rails. This is the single most difficult to find part when attempting to replicate an army service M4.
With the exception of the front sling mount and the Midwest Industries quad rail, I feel I have done a pretty good job of replicating my duty rifle. I also equipped this replica with a Tango Down drop handle which I seated a modern Surefire switch into. The grip itself was available in 2009, and the recess for the Surefire switch makes it a better option than the Knights (even though I still have the one from my issued M4).
I was able to find a Surefire Millennium M2 up for auction on eBay. The switch that it came with was old and worn out, so I replaced it with a modern Surefire tape switch. While deployed I had a Hogue grip on my duty rifle, so I opted for that here despite there being better options available on today’s market. The personal upgrade your can’t see in the photo is the Badger Ordnance Tac Latch on the charging handle. Before every AR accessory manufacturer had their own model charging handle with extended and ambidextrous latch mechanisms, we were limited. The Badger latch provides more purchase and allows the operator to easily catch the charging handle with the left palm to rack the action. I had one on my duty rifle which I installed in the motor pool during my second tour, so I included one on this build. The barrel and bolt carrier group are Colt, as they were on my issued rifle. Most of the other components are Aero Precision including the receivers.
The optic is the correct ACOG, but if you look at the two pictures you’ll notice a difference. The ACOG I purchased for this project came equipped with an RMR red dot sight while the one I carried in Iraq did not have this accompaniment. Right before I ETS’d from the Army my unit received a handful of ACOGs equipped with Docter red dot sights. The Docter was the precursor to the RMR which has been widely utilized on handguns and as a co-witness red dot on rifles equipped with magnified optics in recent years. I felt that since there was a similar option available in 2010 before I left the Army, it would be forgivable if I had that setup on my replica build.
Given all of this, as well as the reactions I’ve gotten from the men I served with who I have sent the picture of the rifle to, I’m comfortable saying this is a good replica of the rifle I carried in Iraq. I intend to keep an eye out and purchase a Knight’s M4 RAS as soon as I can to make it correct, but for the time being I think the Midwest Industries quad rail is a suitable stand-in. This will serve as my “benchmark” rifle moving forward. It is as close as I can get to replicating my Army service rifle as a civilian now almost 13 years later.
I mentioned earlier that this build was inspired in part by another project. I recently began working on a rifle series with a friend to develop a reliable series of evolutions of the AR/M4 platform for survival situations. I felt I could not push forward with that project without first establishing a “control” rifle. This replica of my duty rifle will be that control. This is the standard against which all “evolutions” will be evaluated. This is the Benchmark M4. And yes, nostalgia is indeed a magical thing. For all of it’s out dated tech and accessories, this is still an awesome rifle.