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By Josh Cohen
Shortly after the U.S. Army adopted the M17 service pistol in 2017, new individual weapons qualifications requiring the use of Dummy, Drilled, Inert (DDI) practice rounds prior to attempting the live fire qualification course were implemented.
According to Vermont Army National Guard Warrant Officer 3 Cara Krauss, state ammunition manager, “on October 1, 2020, the new individual weapons qualification took effect for the M17 pistol, the process requires the use of Dummy, Drilled, Inert rounds which are mandatory prior to the live fire qualification course.”
It was just such an event that shed light on the M17 DDI failure to extract issue.
One month later, in November 2020, while assisting snipers from 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry (Mountain) prepare for a national competition, Krauss observed that when used, DDI rounds failed to extract, with the pistol upper receivers becoming inoperable, “and could only be pushed back by applying force to the front of the pistol.”
Krauss explained that “most Soldiers have no experience using DDI rounds, but marksmanship trainers have been using them for years and incorporating quite often into training events, these DDI rounds are obtained through the Army, Class V system.”
Unsure why the DDI rounds did not extract, Krauss brought the issue to the attention of Vermont Army National Guard Staff Sgt. James Farnsworth, supervisor of the Vermont Army National Guard Electronic/Armament/Calibration Combined Support Maintenance Shop at Camp Johnson in Colchester, VT.
Krauss said that over the next six months Farnsworth worked closely with “myself, a representative from U.S. Army Tank and Automotive Command, mechanical engineers from Picatinny Arsenal, ammunition managers from National Guard Bureau, and the PM Maneuver Ammunition Systems (PMMAS) Pistol Ammunition Project Officer to identify the problem.”
Farnsworth worked to troubleshoot potential issues, “each and every time we thought we had the answer, we’d get the same result; the DDI round could not be ejected and the slide wasn’t able to be locked to the rear,” Farnsworth elaborated.
“When we didn’t seem to be making any progress, that’s when Farnsworth really began going far out of his way to identify the problem.” Conducting what Krauss described as “exhaustive and comprehensive research,” Farnsworth “dug through Technical Manuals and other resources, ultimately finding a M17 Maintenance Advisory Message (MAM) stating that some pistols had reset springs in the strikers and others did not.”
Krauss said the Vermont National Guard fielded M17 pistols both with and without the striker reset springs, a factor that does not affect performance with live ammunition. Pistols without the spring will not function properly with DDI rounds, now in production specifically for the M17 and new Army qualification requirements.
Krauss said this finding “led to a new barrage of tests to see if perhaps this was indeed the issue, or at least part of the issue, since you can’t see what’s happening inside the pistol though, this was very difficult to demonstrate.”
During subsequent tests examples of the M17 with the striker reset spring functioned properly with the DDI rounds, while those without would jam and experience failure to extract manually.
“After six months of working this, we finally identified that the M17s without the reset spring in the striker coupled with the way the Army’s DDI was made, accounted for this problem,” Krauss said.
During the evaluations, Farnsworth observed that, “after jamming, if held vertically, with the barrel pointed straight upward, the firing pin would disengage from the DDI where in the horizontal position, the pin would remain logged in the DDI, causing the jammed upper receiver, in the case of an M17 with the reset spring this did not happen.”
“Furthermore, once we identified the problem, with Farnsworth’s expertise, we determined how to alter the DDI so it would work, in order to help our own deploying units meet the standard prior to mobilizing,” Krauss added.
They sent the findings to the Headquarters, Department of the Army to assist in determining if the new pistol qualification standards required review in light of the DDI issue, or if M17s manufacturers would need to retrofit the pistols without reset springs in the striker, and lastly if the DDI rounds currently in manufacturing will need modification, according to Krauss.
Soon after an engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal concluded Farnsworth had indeed come upon the cause of the issue, and a potential solution.
In September, 2021 Vermont National Guard leaders recommended Farnsworth for, and he received a “Special Act or Service Award.”
The SASA is a monetary award to recognize a nonrecurring meritorious personal effort, contribution, or accomplishment in the public interest.”
Krauss said that Farnsworth was not only instrumental in helping identify this Army-wide issue, “he did so amongst multiple deployments going on and weapons that were on-job at his office.”
According to reference: CNGBI 1400.25 Vol 451, which is used to determine SASA cash amounts, Farnsworth’s $8,000.00 award is considered an “Exceptional Value of Benefit” encompassing “Initiation of a new principal or major procedure; a superior improvement to the quality of a critical product, activity, pro-gram or service to the public.”
The award was also deemed “General” in reach, to “Affect functions, mission, or personnel of more than one department or agency or is in the public interest throughout the Nation and beyond.”
According to Jessi Lasly, Vermont National Guard Employee benefits supervisor, “this is the first year we have had anyone submit these awards, there were six submitted previously, the highest amount was $1,300.”
Krauss said that Farnsworth “never once told me he was too busy to help, every organization should be so lucky to have someone like Farnsworth working for them, if I could recommend him for a higher award, I would.”