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Buildsheet: Government Surplus

Back in Issue 35, we ran a Buildsheet on editor Dave Merrill’s recreation of his Marine Corps Issue M16A4, circa 2004. We’ve decided to revisit the theme of cloning one’s military service rifle with a rebuild of my own Army-issued M4, carried on a one-year deployment to Operation: Iraqi Freedom in 2009-2010. During this time, I was a 1st Lieutenant working as a Reconnaissance Platoon Leader, running a variety of reconnaissance and counterinsurgency missions in my assigned Area of Responsibility (AOR).

That turn-of-the-decade time period was a transitional one for issued weapons and accessories. Bolt-ons like optics, accessories, and weapon lights were getting smaller and more powerful. Gen 1 windowed PMAGs were quickly becoming a status symbol in the ranks. Slings were going from two-point, to three-point, to one-point … eventually back to two-point. Conventional “big Army” units were finally allowing soldiers to configure their kit to “shooter’s preference” — the buzzword at the time for individualizing placement of pouches, amount of ammo carried on person, etc. Many young soldiers were experimenting with peripherals like redi-mag holders, bipods, vertical grips, and ambidextrous bolt-release devices like the Magpul-BAD lever. 

The basic blueprint is a 14.5-inch, carbine-length-gas version of the M16 with A-frame front sight, flip-up rear (ours were of Matech pedigree) and Knight’s RIS quad rails. We had a third position for our triggers, but it was only for three-round burst, and we were never allowed to use it in training. Depending on what was in your unit’s armory, you had a limited choice in optics, which included the ACOG, Aimpoint CompM2 or EOTech 552. Everyone used either an Insight M3 or SureFire M951 weapon light, both of which were tragically anemic in their output. But even a choice between the lesser of two evils was choice all the same, and we reveled in the ability to customize our weapon and loadout to personal preference. 

To recreate this pinnacle of decade-old technology, we started with an M4 upper from TNTE Sales. TNTE specializes in retro and military-issue clone uppers of all types. The barrel is a 1:7 twist, M4-profile (including grenade launcher cut) with flat-top upper and plastic M4-style heat shield handguards. We swapped that with a genuine Knight’s RIS rail and rail covers. Since the standard M4 barrel is 14.5 inches, and the A2 flash hider isn’t long enough to make up the difference, TNTE pinned and welded a stretched-out version of the birdcage to dodge the tax stamp. We mated this upper half to a beat-up old lower that we had laying around in the parts bin. It doesn’t sport a Colt or FN roll mark, like issued guns, but that wasn’t a showstopper. We built our lower out with a plain-jane parts kit and fire control group. Our only upgrade was to the buffer system, since we had a one-piece Armaspec Stealth Recoil Spring on hand, in their H3 equivalent weight.

buildsheet government surplus

With the rifle assembled, it was time to step into the way back machine and dig through old deployment photos to figure out how I ran this rifle as a bright-eyed lieutenant at the tail end of the OIF campaign. The first thing I changed on my rifle was the stock, swapping the T6-style stock for the more robust B5 SOPMOD version, which included two compartments for battery storage — not a bad feature to have when both my EOTech optic and AN/PEQ-2A IR laser were running AA batteries. On the underside of the rail, I chose the larger, more durable SureFire on an A.R.M.S. #17DL mount. I ran my light sans tape switch, as there was much conflicting wisdom at the time regarding the durability and functionality of tape switches. I mounted the light at 6 o’clock on the rail and activated the clicky switch with the knuckle of my support-side index finger — thinking that a bottom-mounted light would allow me a mirrored manual of arms if switching shoulders was ever needed. Immediately behind the light was my GripPod vertical grip. I ran the GripPod, since it’s what the unit had on hand. The retractable bipod came in handy when staging my rifle on the roof of our Stryker vehicles, as I typically rode up out of the commander’s hatch while on mounted patrol. Aside from that specific application, it’s dubious moniker as the “chow hall kickstand” was well earned. 

Finally, I finished off my setup with a personally purchased single-point sling mount, in the form of the GG&G “agency” sling mount. This mount was specifically designed for military and law enforcement personnel who wanted a rear-of-the-pistol-grip sling point but aren’t allowed to modify issued weapons with QD or loop-style endplates. This unit simply clamps around the buffer tube with a set screw. I ran a single-point bungee sling, thinking it’d be faster and more convenient for donning/doffing, switching shoulders, and weapons-handling in close quarters. What I didn’t account for was the weight of this bulked-out carbine, which wreaked havoc on the bungee portion of the sling and led to the rifle swinging between my legs like a pendulum at even a light jog. The resulting blunt-force trauma to my baby-making bits prompted some deep soul-searching about the application of single-point bungee slings.

Aside from the PEQ-2 laser, which is essentially impossible to find on open market with so many better options out there now, this build brought back some fond — and not-so-fond — memories of a foundational time in a long career of government-funded vacations to the third world. 

Government Surplus Components

TNTE M4 Upper Half: $445
Knights Armament RIS: $250
B5 SOPMOD Stock: $85
EOTech 552 HWS: $605
GripPod: $166
Armaspec Stealth Recon Spring: $80
A.R.M.S. #17DL Light Mount: $89
GC&G Sling Mount: $41
MaTech Rear Sight: $110
Buffer Tube: $30
Lower Parts Kit: $25

TOTAL: $1926


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1 Comment

  • Toulon Rouge says:

    I went through the Three point sling phase at one time and back to two point. Still with two point. Man, looking back at those early days and the fads I was indeed a geardo. Great article!

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  • I went through the Three point sling phase at one time and back to two point. Still with two point. Man, looking back at those early days and the fads I was indeed a geardo. Great article!

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