Attending the class were 24 students (21 male, 3 female), including law enforcement officers, competition shooters, instructors, current or former military, and private citizens. Several students, myself included, were members of AR15.com. The class was led by Greg "Sully" Sullivan, DETC's primary instructor. In addition to his work with DETC, Sully is also a full-time police officer, serves as an instructor at a Minnesota SWAT training facility, and is the creator of the "Sully Stock," a shortened and ergonomically improved fixed stock for the AR-15/M-16 weapon system. In other words, he's a busy guy. Sully was assisted by DETC Master Instructor Marc "Fritz" Fritzler, a Vietnam veteran, retired Minnesota police officer and a capable instructor in his own right.
We began with an overview of the armorers tools provided for us, and were instructed how to render our weapons safe so we could begin work. Sully then gave us a brief history of the AR-15/M-16 weapon system and recent trends (ie adoption of "patrol carbines" by law enforcement) before progressing into a top-to-bottom review of the gun's various features and parts. Students were encouraged to bring their own guns; those who did not were given loaners to work on. As a result, there were many different AR/M-16 variations present in class, making it possible for students to see firsthand the differences among them (A1 vs A2 sights, flat-top vs. carry handle uppers, fixed vs. collapsing stocks, AR-15 vs. M-16, Colt vs. Bushmaster vs. DPMS, etc). Under guidance from Sully and Fritz, we field-stripped our rifles and started to work on the bolt group, removing the firing pin retainer, firing pin, bolt cam pin and bolt head. The design and function of each part was explained as we removed and cleaned it. We then went further, stripping the ejector and extractor from the bolt head itself. Once that was done, Sully walked us through reassembly of the bolt/carrier group, then had us tear it down and reassemble it again on our own. After that, the class adjourned for lunch. Upon our return, we were guided through complete stripping of the lower receiver, starting with the stock (students with fixed stocks would do theirs while students with collapsible stocks watched, and vice-versa) and continuing through the pistol grip, selector switch, trigger group, pivot pins, mag catch and bolt catch. Again as we went, the function of each part was explained and variations of certain parts were passed around for the class to examine. We were also shown two ways of doing many procedures - using the basic hand tools in front of us, and using purpose-designed "tricky tools" available from gunsmith-supply houses. In some cases, the "tricky tools" made the job much easier and would be a worthwhile investment, while in other cases the "simple" way was more than sufficient. Additionally, Fritz commented that it was possible in some instances to fabricate one's own special tools rather than having to buy them. Once we had our lowers stripped and cleaned, we reassembled them using Sully's step-by-step instructions. Then we tore them down and reassembled them again on our own (notice a pattern here?). That concluded a very long but very informative first day of class.
Afterwards, Sully and Fritz joined the ARFcom members from class for dinner at a local restaurant, where we hooked up with a bunch of other members for a meet-and greet. It was nice to catch up with some of the guys who I hadn't seen
in awhile, as well as put some new faces to screen names. We left about 9:00, after driving our waitress to wits' end. :-)
We began the second day by finishing up on trigger groups. Sully had us pull them out again, then explained in detail how the various parts of the trigger group interacted with each other and with the bolt during the cycle of fire. We were also shown the differences between semi-auto and full-auto fire-control components, and how the full-auto system worked. We were also introduced to the two-stage "National Match" trigger group, using the one out of my gun as an example. Sully explained the difference between a light trigger and a smooth trigger, and showed us how to perform a proper trigger job to achieve the desired result (hint - there's no quick and easy way to smooth!). He also addressed problems that could arise from improperly performed trigger jobs (Sully joked that Dremel tools should be licensed under the NFA and require a $200 tax stamp). With that out of the way, we reassembled our lowers for the final time and set them aside. After a quick break, we tackled the upper receiver, starting with disassembly of the front and rear sights, followed by removal of the forward assist and ejection port cover. Upon reassembling the A2 rear sight mechanism (those students with the simpler A1 sights were lucky!), we were shown the proper way to index it for a 50-yard "improved battlesight zero".
After lunch, we began the laborious process of removing the gas tube, front sight base and barrel. I was really dreading taking off the front sight base; I've heard tales of folks needing sledgehammers and torches to remove stubborn pins. Mine, fortunately, popped out with a minimum of effort, but it helped that Sully provided us the proper tools and techniques to facilitate the removal process. In fact, out of more than 24 uppers (some students brought more than one), there was only one pin on one FSB that refused to come out using the taught methods (unfortunately, we didn't have the equipment to heat or freeze it). Pulling and reinstalling the barrel was the only place where the pace of the class really slowed down. Having only three sets of vises/receiver blocks/barrel wrenches available created somewhat of a bottleneck, but I actually didn't mind a bit of a break from the otherwise hustling pace of the course. This was also the only time Sully or Fritz wasn't immediately available for assistance; between helping two groups of students remove and install barrels and assisting a couple individuals with stubborn FSB pins, they were pretty busy. Because my friend Aaron and I had removed and installed barrels on several AR builds prior to class, we were able to jump in and help the other students in our group with theirs after completing our own. While we had our barrels out, we discussed the relationship between barrel length, twist rate, velocity, ammunition type and ballistics. Once everyone had gotten their barrels, FSBs and gas tubes reattached, Sully ended the class by explaining the concept of headspacing and why it is important to check it anytime a barrel or bolt is replaced. Finally, he passed around tools that allowed students to check headspace and firing pin protrusion on their newly reassembled uppers. The course concluded with the presentation of Armorers Certificates to the students.
The person who told me that the DETC Armorers Course was just about putting aftermarket goodies on rifles, had obviously not taken the class. Sully is a "fixed stock and iron sights" type of guy; very little mention was even made of the various stock, sight, barrel and accessory options in existence (probably because there are SO many), and nobody in class had what I would classify as a "tricked out" rifle. In short, I found DETC's AR-15/M-16 Armorers Course to be worthwhile and informative. Even though I had completed several AR builds for myself and others in the past, I still learned plenty. The biggest thing I took away was the importance of having the right tools for the job (I have a new shopping list!). Most of the tools I'd already accumulated are sufficient, if not optimal, but there are some I still need to get and some I've got that I really dodn't need. Also some aspects of the disassembly process (gas tube, bolt head, A2 rear sight) were entirely new to me. The knowledge, experience and certification I attained in this class will serve me well as I work on my own guns, as well as those of my customers in my part-time gun shop job. The only real downside I can think of is that the course did not include any kind of written or practical exam at the end to test what we had learned and validate the quality of the instruction (ie, did we "get it"). Even when we were left to do assembly/reassembly tasks on our own, we could ask Sully or Fritz or a fellow student for help, or consult the Armorers Manual that DETC had provided for us. It seemed to me there were a couple students who needed help with almost every procedure; I worry that when left to their own devices, they will be unable to do things correctly.
At Pat Rogers' carbine course last year, I shared the line with Sully as a student and was impressed by his level of skill and professionalism. Experiencing Sully as an instructor has given me an increased appreciation of the knowledge base he brings to the table regarding the AR-15/M-16 system and defensive shooting in general. Based on my experience at this Armorers Course, taking an actual shooting class from DETC has just moved up several notches on my to-do list!