COLCHESTER, Vt. – Shortly after the U.S. Army adopted the M17 service pistol in 2017, new individual weapons qualifications required the use of dummy, drilled, inert (DDI) practice rounds before live-fire qualification.
In November 2020, while helping snipers from 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry (Mountain), prepare for a national competition, Vermont Army National Guard Warrant Officer 3 Cara Krauss, state ammunition manager, noticed that DDI rounds failed to extract. The pistol upper receivers became inoperable "and could only be pushed back by applying force to the front of the pistol," Knauss said.
"Most Soldiers have no experience using DDI rounds, but marksmanship trainers have been using them for years and incorporating quite often into training events," she said. "These DDI rounds are obtained through the Army, Class V system."
Unsure why the DDI rounds did not extract, Krauss notified 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.
Krauss said 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 said.
"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," Knauss said.
Farnsworth dug through technical manuals and other resources, ultimately finding an M17 maintenance advisory message "stating that some pistols had reset springs in the strikers and others did not," she said.
The Vermont National Guard fielded M17 pistols 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.
"After jamming, if held vertically, with the barrel pointed straight upward, the firing pin would disengage from the DDI," Farnsworth said. "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."
Krauss said she and Farnsworth "determined how to alter the DDI so it would work, in order to help our own deploying units meet the standard prior to mobilizing."
They shared their findings with Army headquarters to determine if the new pistol qualification standards needed to be reviewed, or if M17 manufacturers needed to retrofit the pistols without reset springs in the striker, and if the DDI rounds currently in manufacturing would need to be modified.
An engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal concluded Farnsworth had indeed discovered the cause and a potential solution.
In September 2021, Vermont National Guard leaders recommended Farnsworth for a "Special Act or Service Award" — a monetary award to recognize a "nonrecurring meritorious personal effort, contribution, or accomplishment in the public interest."
He was awarded $8,000 for his efforts.
Krauss said 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."