Footlocker Find: “Firearms Retention Authorization”

Here’s something that some of you have seen a lot of, and others have never seen: a Firearms Retention Authorization, AE Form 11, 11 JUN 69. What it is, is a “weapons card” for privately owned weapons stored in a unit arms room.

Why store weapons there? If you were a single soldier — and Your Humble Blogger was disconnecting from Plaintiff I at the creation of this card, in 1985 — you weren’t allowed to keep your guns with you. Under US Army Europe regulations — that is what the “AE” means — promulgated by the extremely anti-gun provost marshals, you had to store them in the arms room.

Gun owners hated this: it was a lead-pipe guarantee that your guns would be poorly stored, exposed to rust-inducing environments, given the gefingerpoken by anyone who had business (or a buddy) in the Arms Room, and sometimes, as happened to me at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas in 1980, shot with corrosive ammunition by some armorer buddy, and then not cleaned, destroying bores.

But armorers hated this: even, indeed, especially, those armorers who were all on the up-and-up and who wouldn’t abuse your firearms. They had their hands full doing stuff with the unit’s real weapons, like issuing them out for half the troops to fail annual qualification. (They always passed, afterwards — on paper) and trying to get the Unique and Special Snowflakes® of MI to actually clean the things afterward… not to mention monthly inventories, change of command inventories, Technical Inspection and maintenance turn-in of weapons, managing the constant personnel turmoil as disaffected soldiers left at tour- or enlistment-end and replacements came in, and they had to do it with cramped arms rooms.

Some staff sergeant showing up with two or three dozen weapons and an SF chip on his shoulder did not please the armorer, who had to book in all the hardware, find a place to store it, and listen to the sergeant complain about how previous armorers had treated the guns.

“What do you need all this [deleted] for, anyway? Nobody wants this [deleted].” After all, each of the guns needed an entry in the book, a place to be locked up, and, on exit, one of these cards went with it to prove that the t’s had been dotted and the eyes had been crossed in conformity with Army Europe writ. The Germans may have lost the war, but their Prussian rechthaberisch tendencies managed to infiltrate and undermine the Provost Marshals’ Offices. Jawohl!

This particular example records the storage of one “PRC Rifle” serial number 7114859 in the arms room of the 501st MI Battalion in Augsburg, Germany, from 1985-87. (Why was an SF guy sentenced to that place? Because he had been an MI guy before going SF. You see, MI’s personnel management was so bad that they were perennially shorthanded, and until SF Branch existed, to defend its people, no one could prevent that kind of involuntary “levy,” or transfer). For most guys, the levy came to some thankless task like recruiter or drill sergeant duty. (Although most of the guys who did drill sergeant duty came to enjoy it, even while counting the days to end of tour). But this MI assignment was horrible, the leadership rotten, the work a waste of time. We did get to improve several European languages and enjoy many aspects of assignment to Germany.

At the end of the tour, each firearm being imported into the United States had to have one of these, and either proof that it came from the USA in the first place, or an approved ATF Form 6. There are entire units of Customs MPs who do nothing but inspect personnel and their stuff, and, from what we’ve seen, help themselves to what they can.

The card still bears the marks where it was taped to the buttstock of the firearm. (We had been advised to do that to prevent the MPs “losing” the card and helping themselves to firearms). The rifle was a Chinese Type 56 SKS, one of two in Your Humble Blogger’s household goods going to and from Mitteleuropa, and at the time of acquisition something of a rarity in American hands. (Soon they would be common as grains of sand). Indeed, the initial card was drafted, “Chinese Type 56,” and the armorer wanted the cards all redone as “rifle” and “pistol” to simplify his logging them in. But the rifle itself is interesting, and if it’s the one we’re thinking of, has a great apocryphal story. Perhaps it and its SKS brother should be featured Thing From The Vault sometime.


28 thoughts on “Footlocker Find: “Firearms Retention Authorization”

  1. robroysimmons

    My 3 years of weapons custodian duties I dealt with exactly 1 POW, if anyone had a POW on base they hid it well.

  2. WellSeasonedFool

    Left Germany in 1966 and was able to mail a rifle, a .22 revolver, and a 9mm semi via US Mail. Rules must have changed later.

    Was fortunate to be in a unit with several active shooters including the company armorer. We had a range in the area we could use on Sundays and usually went shooting every Sunday we were in garrison.

    1. scooby

      The Gun Control Act of 1968 happened- no more mailing firearms (except thru a FFL) as well as import restrictions.

  3. Sommerbiwak

    I can understand that the armour guy was annoyed to store the firearms. More inventory to keep track of and in no way related to mission. Just more paper war.

    But then, what else should the provosts have done? Germany has more restrictive laws regarding firearms and for good relations with the host nation some way to lock away the weapons had to be found. And probably to keep drunk GIs from doing dumb shite infused with judgement juice.

    That curious guys just took weapons without asking is at least churlish.

    Maybe the rifles should have been locked away in their own boxes or crates in the arms room so that no one but the owner can access them. Throw in some silica bags to keep them dry and comfy. Maybe wrapped in a plastic bag. Unwatched storage in a rifle rack is a disaster waiting to happen.

  4. Sommerbiwak

    wait a moment.

    Single person? So it was okay to store your boom sticks at home, if you were married?

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yes. And in the States as well, soldiers who lived in barracks were expected to store firearms in the unit arms room. So there may have been some exemption to German laws. One time I signed out a Valmet M62 and brought it to a German recreational range; the rangemaster pronounced it verboten. In stark terror, actually.

      No doubt German law and US military regulations have changed in 30 years!

      1. Boat Guy

        They have changed several times since then. My weapons cards were originally yellow plastic (I still have a couple somewhere). When I first got to Germany in the mid-90’s the Rod and Gun Clubs were still going concerns and there were DEALS to be had. Bought my first S&W revolver there.
        As a single officer assigned to the TSOC living in the Q my private hardware lived with me, my married friends had theirs in Quarters. The post ranges were open for recreational shooting every weekend.
        Went back to CONUS for a year then a second tour at the TSOC, bringing some of my hardware (the stuff I already had yellow cards for) along. Acquired several other pieces on that tour as well. When I was to PCS at the dawn of the millennium the laws had recently changed to the point that I was concerned about the trip from the Kaserne to the Flughafen and actually notified the local cops that I was transiting the ten or so kilometers between the two. They were somewhat mystified (like most cops they were not up on current law) but since I’d been shooting with German cops at the BDMP and my German was pretty good then we made it work. IIRC they told me “Don’t do anything stupid on your way to the airport and we’ll just forget we had this talk – unless we must remember”. A bit of a grey area there but it all worked out OK – till I got to Dulles where the Customs guy wanted to confiscate my 15-round SIG magazines. Managed to get THAT straightened out after some time.
        Final tour in Germany as a civilian “living on the economy” and we had to follow German rules – ALL of them. PITA. Some years after returning to the states I got some kinda bill for renewing my WaffenBesizt – in arrears. Not sure how they found me, but I didn’t bother.

      2. Steve M.

        Valmet M62 ……… sigh…..

        Could you write a bit about the Valmet Rk/M 62/76 series of rifles some time?

        I was quite captivated by the gun when I read somewhere that a Finnish sniper team competing in a sniper competition completed their course of fire with a Valmet after an issue with their main rifle. I believe they were pulling first round hits at 600 meters. For some reason, I think they might have been going out to 800 with it, but my memory is fuzzy. I can’t remember where I read it either. Article by Fortier…..I dunno.

        1. Kirk

          The Valmet M76 I owned was probably the single most accurate 5.56mm semi-auto I’ve ever shot or been around. That thing was a tack-driver, and easily put the brand-new issued M16A2 we got in to shame. I have no idea what black magic the Finns work, up in those little factories near the Arctic Circle, but they have some serious knack going on on for accuracy–Something I can’t quite figure out, because none of the other AK-variants or the Galils have the same thing going for them. I’m not kidding, either–Snuck that M76 out to a couple of Army ranges, over the years I owned it, and the 300m targets were nearly unmissable with it. Meanwhile, the M16s…? Yeah. Not so much. Friend of mine was a former Marine sniper, had actually been to the Marine Sniper school back in the ’70s, took that little Valmet and was knocking off steel targets on a civilian range out to around 600m. He didn’t believe me about how accurate that little thing was, with its half-ass folding stock and rear sight on the receiver cover, but damned if we all didn’t find it to be a literal tack-driver.

          I still can’t quite figure out what the hell the Finns did with those things, but whatever it was, it works. Anyone who tells you that the AK is inherently inaccurate is full of shit–It’s obviously not the design, but the execution. The Galils I’ve fired were nowhere near as good as the Valmet, either, so either the Finns have worked some deal with the devil, or they just have better manufacture techniques going on.

          Interestly, the bayonet for the Valmet is a seriously good little tool, probably the very best field knife/bayonet compromise I’ve ever handled. A lot of the Finns don’t like them, but I’m here to tell you that that knife was incredibly useful in the field, and was a damn good bayonet as well–Something you don’t often run into. As a bayonet, it went into a side of beef damn near as well as a cruciform SKS one off of one of the Chinese copies, and came out of a rib cage without hanging up quite nicely. As well, it had a very nice, heavy spine on it that made it easy to twist without breaking it. I honestly don’t know why so many Finns disparage the things, but they are kinda weird about a lot of shit–Their infantry is really not enthusiastic about tripods for machineguns, either, preferring to get in close and blast the shit out of the enemy with them, as opposed to using the MG as a distance tool. That may be an artifact of all the forest up there in the regions they expect to be doing most of their fighting, though…

          1. Klaus

            I must have owned its twin. I had a M76 side folder in .556 that was an amazingly accurate rifle. This was in the late 80s and I ended up trading with my cousin for a Sako imported HK91 which tuned into a rather expensive obsession. To this day that particular Valmet is the one gun I regret letting go of.

          2. Hognose Post author

            I had two Valmets, an M62S and an M76FS with a lot of Galil and R4 magazines, and a Galil M16 mag adapter that had to be modified to work. I sold the 5.56 M76 and still regret it. I still have the M62. Geez that makes three of us mourning our Valmets.

          3. Kirk

            I’m not shamed to admit that I’d probably sell a kidney off, for a realistic chance to get my hands on one of my “grail guns”, an Rk95 in full Finnish tic, with a set of the magazines for it.

            As individual weapons builders, the Finns get it right. Light MG stuff…? Mmmm… Maybe not so much. But, I’ll tell you this much: You tell me I’m gonna be going up against Finnish infantry on their home terrain, and imma gonna tell you to feck right the hell off. Period. Not my idea of fun, in any way, shape, or form.

            I’m not sure I’d want to even try going up against Finns on terrain they’re not used to, either. Hell, Finns with tanks or boats? Whole lotta “nope”, there. Those bastards were a little bigger, I think we’d be talking about the “Finnish Empire”, and the Russians would be an afterthought. Although, it’s possible that the whole shy, depressive, and heavy drinking thing might have been their downfall.

            Or, alternatively, the reason they do so well at war… Who knows? In any event, just be grateful they never got it into their heads to try conquering the world. We might well be trying to work our mouths around a lot of Finnish loan-words, and that just ain’t easy for any of us lesser folk to do.

          4. Steve M.

            Being younger and not quite as blessed in the firearms experience department, the Rk 95 started a multi day internet search about the gun. Everything I read left me impressed with the Valmet line. The back up night sights and accuracy were probably most impressive to me.

            Hognose, Kirk and Klaus, you have only left me wanting to hear more about these fine rifles.

          5. Hognose Post author

            Steve, maybe the M62S needs to be a Thing From the Vault soon. An AK reverse-engineered with higher precision is what it is.

            On mine, the tritium fell out of the front sight, but it was long dead (tritium has a half-life of what, 11 years? Gun’s a good 40 years old).

  5. DSM

    I was one of those unit armorer types for a spell. When POWs came in they were inventoried, any unique damage or wear was noted and then it was cased up with a numbered, anti-pilferage seal. They had to give 24hr notice to check it out and if it was going to be out longer than 24hrs, say a hunting trip, they had to get a MFR from their unit commander which listed where they were going and contact details. I never agreed with it, we were just a place to store it not control it.

  6. TRX

    In the early ’80s I remember seeing ads for SKSs, three for $79.95 in Shotgun News. At that particular time it was no great bargain, as 7.62×39 seemed to always be out of stock.

    It took quite a while before I learned to appreciate the SKS, and by that time the prices had gone *way* up.

    1. Raoul Duke

      I worked the summer of ’93 at a retail gun place, while still in college. One of my jobs was degreasing crates full of Chicom SKS rifles…by disassembling them and dumping all the metal parts in a wading pool filled with solvents, then using rags and brushes on them. Twenty rifles per crate, lots of crates. Our wading pool had to be replaced every couple of days, due to the solvent melting them.

      Good thing most of the important parts had numbers on them. The rest was mix-and-match. Fit was surprisingly good.

      We sold those buggers for $82.50 each, and we sold a bunch of them. One of the olive-drab, wooden rifle crates was re-purposed as a coffee table, when I went back to college. Great conversation piece.

  7. Trone Abeetin

    I still got my DMZ pass for the times my infantry battalion had the guard post 553 and 554 on the MDL.
    Great times, real stuff, lock and load, night ambush, LP\OP. I remember, I was an 18 year old medic mind you, getting yelled at by the Squad Leader because I kept switching on the IR illuminator to the goggles I had. It made a high pitched sound that I kinda dug. Morons abound, eighteen year old 91B morons.

  8. William O. B'Livion

    Years ago when I were a weekend warrior I got sent to a Air Force Base for a school.

    There was going to be a moderately interesting class from a private firearms instructor nearby while I was there, so I took 2 glocks with me and, according to rule, checked them into the base armory.

    Now, I will say this–there was always someone in the armory to check my guns back out to me (I don’t know if they had official hours, but if they did I was always inside them), and I never saw any indication that they fingered them. But they they are glocks, so who can tell?

    Anyway, about 3 weeks *AFTER* I checked them in the senior instructor for the school calls me into his office and asks me why I brought two guns to school with me.

    The Aspergers THOROUGHLY kicked in at that point and I fixated on the “two” part of the question. What came out of my mouth was “In case one breaks”.

    Which was really not the sort of answer he was looking for.

    However I showed him the documentation for the firearms class I wanted to take which got everything cleared up.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, that is better than telling him about the voice in your head that says, in the voice of Paul Poole, “Never dry fire in a firefight! One is none, two is one!”

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