Dragging Iron, Debating Holsters

Army MP holster

Despite 12 years of continuous combat experience and significant advances in material, design and manufacture technology, the military’s holster selection process and guidance on wear still leaves plenty to be desired.

Holster choice is largely inconsistent, frequently arbitrary and only rarely reflected in training or on the square range.

I know this to be true – I just don’t know if there’s anything to be done about it.

Airman chest armor holsterProper holster selection and wear is importantIt should be thoroughly researched, should reflect lessons learned and  based on body dynamics and mission. It should not automatically be the victim of intra- and inter-unit conformity. It should certainly not be based on the uninformed advice of untrained and inexperienced peers or the peremptory decision of SNCOs or officers who may have no qualitative rationale (or practical experience) upon which to base their decision.

When I’m addressing the subject of holsters, I’m talking as much about their location in relation to natural body dynamics, expected mission, and how their worn as I am about the breed, brand and construction. There is often very little informed guidance on what in an ideal world would be an individual choice made within an approved selection pool of gear that meets required criterion. The wear location would be tailored to mission, loadout, personal preference and training

Marine Corps thigh rig2Want to wear a holster mounted on the chest of your plate carrier? Fine, choose from holster models X, Y and Z and then qualify and perform proficiency training from that holster on the range. Before making your choice, have the options explained to you by someone who understand the pros and cons of wear locations and the merits of certain build styles. This could mean for instance that the sight of someone wearing a dropleg like Han Solo might quickly become a thing of the past. It might even result in the abolition of droplegs and shoulder holsters entirely except in those cases where it’s genuinely needed or beneficial.

Chest HolsterRight now, we have droplegs (also called thigh rigs and subloads), crossdraw chest mounted holsters, vertical chest mounted holsters, under-the arm shoulder holsters and a few others. In some cases there are excellent provisions for modularity, such as the Safariland 6004/6005 with QLS and the G-Code RTI system.

Unfortunately, only some Joes and Janes have access to them. Worse yet, in a distressing number of situations those who do have such access are not allowed to wear them except under strict guidelines.

Marine Corps thigh rigAs an example, I was once told at an Air Education and Training Command base that I needed to switch from my belt-mounted holster with a 1″ drop to a thigh rig with the (one) spare mag pouch mounted on the same shroud as the pistol. Based upon several years of experience, I protested, explaining that it wasn’t a particularly good way to carry in a patrol vehicle, with a garrison law enforcement load and that it impeded running.

I brought up the difficulties inherent in reaching for a strong side dropleg mag pouch with a support side hand and the problems that might result from suddenly making that change after nearly a decade and a half of muscle memory attuned to drawing from the support side waist.

The response from the lieutenant colonel was: “You’ll wear it because we bought them, you’ll wear it that way because I told you to, and you’ll wear it that way because everyone else is.”

I would like to think it was a problem presented by an officer more functionary than leader, but such situations unfortunately occur in every branch of service in virtually every MOS and AFSC.

“I think we should ignore types of holsters and focus first on carry location in relation to posture and mission. For instance, regarding droplegs, I have a huge problem attaching a lethal instrument to a part of the body designed to move independently of the body core. There are many options for clearing body armor that don’t involve a weak femoral tourniquet. I also think anyone calling gear audibles from behind a desk is potentially dangerous, especially if they’ve been riding a desk so long they prefer salads to steak,” said KitUp! Contributing Writer Aaron Cowan.

On another occasion, all personnel assigned to a deployed search pit were issued M9 shoulder holsters because it was “easier to move around in and under the vehicles.” I asked for a day on the range to get them used to the dynamics of drawing and reholstering from the brand new  kit. My request was ridiculed as unnecessary.

This haphazard, less than urgent approach is echoed in some deployed locations still today. Regardless of the end user’s mission, it just doesn’t seem like a holster wearer’s potential activities – climbing walls, wading ditches, deploying from vehicles, roping down through a hellhole – has much bearing on the end choice.

“Theoretically we could develop a list of holsters that meet the required principles: security, reliability and practicability. If the holster meets those requirements, the rest should be left to personal preference. For instance, IMO droplegs have their place, but only when someone is wearing heavy external body armor. Senior leaders who don’t actually do the job and therefore never train for missions are the last people who should set gear requirements. Too many leaders view conformity as more valuable than effectiveness. Impractical or even potentially dangerous holsters mandated by uninformed leaders are just one symptom of that much larger problem,” said
Kit Up! Contributing Writer Chris Hernandez.

Only rarely is there much in the way of holster choice, and only more rarely is that choice made as an informed decision.

These aren’t rhetorical questions – is there a way to provide a list of acceptable holster models in order to accommodate preference, body style, operating environment and loadout? Is there a way to make sure acceptable holster choices are determined based on a hard, realistic evaluation, or is this whole thing – like our efforts to get rid of the reflective belt – just a quixotic exercise in futility?

  • Chris

    Great article. I had to learn how to bend Kydex to get the holster I wanted.

    I can’t imagine having some “salad eater” tell me what I needed to wear, particularly if it was something dangerous (shoulder), stupid (leg), or unreliable (SERPA).

    • steelcobra

      I was issued a Mark 23 during my 08 and 09 deployments, and the drop-leg I was issued with it was trash. Fell out without me noticing a couple times while in an MRAP, so I went looking for something different, and Blade-Tech was the only Kydex maker that I could find that made one for that model. Worked a hell of a lot better than the BLACKHAWK! drop-leg they gave me.

      Another guy in my section got a leather holster made for his at a leather shop on base.

  • Terry

    Unfortunately you are absolutely correct, it is a “quixotic exercise in futility”. The quest for perfect uniformity and conformity is the holy grail for far too many military leaders of every service and every grade – vice building real tactical effectiveness.

    As a bonus, uniformity doesn’t require rigorous training, going to the range or expending any other resources. Bean counters and armchair warriors love that. And yet, a dress right dress formation with every trooper decked out in new gear he hasn’t trained with can still give the illusion of a “combat ready” unit to those who don’t know any better.

    But frankly, as you correctly point out, without any knowledge or training the individual trooper isn’t equipped to make an informed choice for him or herself either. Even the “best” holster, IF worn properly, is only marginally useful to someone without training and experience on that piece of gear and his sidearm.

  • John D

    Most pistol wearers use what’s cool. The old M7 or M9 holster is meant to carry a pistol safely, not for quick draws. For most the pistol is a last resort weapon or a rank signature. Most who wear the gunfighter type holsters never practice with them. I wore a shoulder holster around base because it’s comfortable. I wore an M9 dropleg w/ thumb snap only because it carried well for my height and body shape. I would use an old leather M7 holster when flying for security and the leather won’t melt in a fire. If I was required to use my pistol for real combat or need for transition from long to short I’d be spending time practicing drawing and reloading. My pistol was a last ditch weapon to defend me and my patients. I carried an M4 or M16 to keep targets away from me, pistol range is too damn close.

    • DB Cooper

      In Infantry Officer Basic years ago they told us if you are in a situation of having to draw and use your pistol then your screwed. The author is right about the holsters and locations. Salad eaters that haven’t gotten their BDUs dirty in 20 years are going to dictate this stuff to guys getting shot at. Army never changes.

      • majr0d

        Most of the time if you’re an Infantry officer and you are shooting you are in a very bad situation or just wrong. Squad Leaders should be marking targets and controlling rate of fire.

    • Pete Sheppard

      What were the problems with the M9 (UM85) holster? It was designed to be adapted to just about every possible carry mode, to meet the needs described in this article. Did it turn out to have ‘real-world’ issues, or did it just fall short on the ‘coolness’ meter?

      • William Clardy

        Probably multiple coolness failures, not least of which is that you never see any snake-eaters wearing it.

        Personally, I’m with the school that says you’re stupid to plan for using a pistol as your primary weapon. If you really expect to be engaging shoot-back targets, use a rifle or carbine. If ease of movement is your main criteria, why are you even carrying a weapon? Likewise for ease of exiting a vehicle — I’ve never seen a vehicle I couldn’t vacate just as easily with a rifle in my hand as with a holstered pistol strapped somewhere on my body.

  • Zane

    This is golden. Sure it can look really attractive to a commander to mandate unit SOP (simplify logistics, training, inspections, gear accountability), but everybody has different roles and different body types (and levels of experience). Perhaps if we spent more time training for the mission and not training and retraining ad nauseum on non mission essential topics (I’ve gotten the same sexual assault brief probably 9 times in the last year alone) we’d be better off as a force. I know budgets are tight, but what is the point of even issuing weapons if they can’t be used right. Honestly as far as holster selection, placement, and draw fundamentals you can train and educate without a range or ammo. There should be no excuse.

    • Kyle

      I agree completely.

  • majr0d

    Great article.

    More insight on holsters and pros and cons would have been appreciated.

    • Kyle

      I would agree, but I think this was more a opinionated article regarding a major problem with the whole military rather than just holster options.

  • moondawg

    I think Terry hit the nail on the head.

  • Alex

    Good stuff. My team mate and I (we are security contractors in A’stan) are considering getting “Drop Leg Hero” patches made up at the beeb shop and handing them out to mil types we see ACTUALLY wearing a drop leg correctly (ie not around the knee, so loose it twists to the rear, wearing any holster bought IN Afghanistan FROM an Afghan)

  • 2d Recon

    One night I was standing on the edges of a top level briefing when it suddenly became apparent there were no fewer than four loaded weapons trained on my chest from the horizontal shoulder holsters popular with the FOBBITs. From this heightened awareness, I started to look more closely at pistol wear, with the most egregious being a plastic leg rig worn by a USAF Intel guy that probably weighed more than the pistol. The pistol is a back up. it is more likely to be dropped or lost than fired, so wear a holster that secures and protects it. If you are wearing a pistol for “quick draw” you are wrong. If the pistol is your primary weapon you are a a support person, no dishonor in that, and a thigh rug, plastic, quick draw conglomeration doesn’t make you look any closer to a front line shooter. Definitely practice the way you are going to play. The FBI recently went to a pistol course of fire requiring all shots be drawn from a holster under a jacket, something that seems like an obvious condition. It was not pleasant at first, but now everyone is snapped in and firing well. The statement in the article says it all, “…focus first on carry location in relation to posture and mission…” Practice the way you are going to play. Pull the ego out of it. A horizontal shoulder holster or thigh rig will not cause me to fail to notice a protruding abdomen, so no need to spend precious funds on high cost gear for FOBBITs. Start with the front line troops’ input and design for them. All others should wear a nice, padded, flap holster. Of note, that’s what most of the folks who won the Medal of Honor carrying pistols had on when they did it!

  • 00Z6PQ6

    My favorite was the fobbit I saw at isaf wearing a shoulder holster backwards. IE the grip was pointed to the rear, still want to know what that draw looked like.

    • majr0d

      That’s HILARIOUS.

      • Kjon24wr

        00Z6PQ6, majr0d ……. the draw from that convaluted configuration probably resembled a seizure ;-) LMAO ;-D

  • Joe

    Rampant problem in the Marine Corps…and now that we’re issuing SERPA holsters its a whole new level of hell

    • Kyle

      If you have not yet seen, much of the civilian type weapons training companies have “blacklisted” the BLACKHAWK! (yes with the exclamation point) SERPA holsters due to the poor draw of many of their students to the point that there are multiple instances of people shooting themselves as they draw the weapon. I carry a CCW both IWB and OWB and I still have not yet change my draw type no matter what type of holster. This all has to do with practice, practice, and more practice. Without the essential muscle memory of using a holster, i becomes more a hindrance than a benefit. So I agree with the article regarding this, but I feel its more a issue of their leaders to ensure that each one under their charge knows how to use their weapons and equipment. Look at the multitude of sling for M4/M16A4s, each has their pro and con, it has more to do with the person and their training then anything.

  • Destro

    I was issued a thigh holster in IQ, bought a Fobus and never looked back. Only about 20 in my battalion had M9’s so training was non existant

  • Trenchdoc18D

    Good article, it is even experienced in higher tiered units

  • joshkrg11

    As a USAF security forces member i have to wear the drop leg holster because it is ordered by some higher up but as using in a patrol vehicle it makes absolutely no sense it gets caught on the seat and stuck in other places and if I ever have to draw my weapon from inside the vehicle it is nearly impossible but we have to stick with them because some higher up person thinks we should wear them because they either think we look good or they bought them and wanted to use them with the dflics or h harness. I wish the higher ups would actualy realize this and change how the ssecurity forces wear the holster and actually train people to actually use them

    • Liam Babington

      As a former USAF person myself I had the same problem….the best way to deal with that is to cantor your holster where it is a bit loose on your leg. thereby making it a little easier to draw out the M9. It sucks but with a little practice you can develop a method that works for you!!

      • Lance

        I remember My father who was in Armor in the 60s went out of regulations ans used a hip holster rather than a shoulder holster because of how difficult and uncomfortable they where. I prefer like my father the older hip holster never cared for drop leg holster or having my side arm on my chest where it can get shot up too in combat. Its all personal preference.

    • Kyle

      Go to your first line supervisor to bring it up to their attention and go on further to the first officer over you, if they have any care in the world for you they will tell you to use what you want and to **** regs, and when the s*** comes they will take the heat for it…

  • Tom

    I’m a USAF battlefield weather forecaster, and while, not a combat AFSC per se, I am technically in a combat arms unit. We have the drop leg SERPA holsters for our M9’s, however we do not have a requirement to use them. It’s simply what we have left over from BAMS. As long as the holster meets the intent, i.e. it holds your weapon and it attaches to you, then all is well. Personally I prefer Safariland, and, use them for my personal firearms. I also prefer the drop leg, but I ride them high so they don’t interfere with movement. Personally, a holster is like a pair of boots, you pick one that is comfortable, and fits you.

  • DB Cooper

    Remember Gen Sanchez walking around Iraq with his leather Shoulder holster? On all of the news clips I never saw him with a sweat stained rig. Can’t help but wonder how many of them he went through.

    • freddy

      I don’t think Generals leave air conditioning long enough to perspire.

  • Lance

    All the time im on duty I use a standard M12 holster from Bianci and never gets in the way works just fine.

  • ZUESSFS

    My pistol location depends on the mission I’m doing. If I’m vehicleborne I’ll wear it on the hip or chest. Foot mobile I prefer drop holster.

  • Snuffy

    Furthermore, what just grinds salt into the wound is the cowboys that wear their drop leg holsters literally on their knees. I usually take the top thigh strap off and ride my as high as possible.

  • sniperpitbull

    In a combat theater, it all comes down to this: Whatever works is right! But you have to train and train hard with the holster (or any other piece of gear) that you’ll carry into a combat siutation. Remember the old adage,”You fight the way that you’re trained?” Well, it’s true!

    If you like holster A and wear it in position 1 over Holster B and position 2, and you can function flawlessly with the pistol and rig under ALL conditions, positions, etc., then BUY (you are a professional, right?) your own rig, wear it, train with it and take it into the fight and come back to your hooch and then wear the ‘parade” holster/rig.

    Train for the Fight! Win the Fight! and come Home from the fight! Simple as that.

    • Kyle

      This is a great comment! The junior officers in command of all theses soldiers should be the ones who push this out, especially the train, train, and retrain aspect. It only works if you train with it.

      • sniperpitbull

        Thanks Kyle!
        Stay safe and train hard; stay calm and carry on!

        WIN THE FIGHT!

      • Ell-Tee

        As a junior officer, albeit Navy and British, it’s hard if you don’t get the support as there is only so much support and time you can fight for, as there is only so much time that is available. In my experience in theatre or in home waters/base it’s a fight for any weapons system from Mk44 Minigun down to Hi-power/Glock.

  • Kyle

    All the comments are great and I agree with most if not all. I will say one thing that needs to come in mind more is the mission and specifically any type of combatives that one can go through while on mission. Everyone needs to realize that in a hand to hand combat type environment (room clearing possibly) that a thigh or hip rig is better but you also have to weigh the ability to enter the rooms with such a large silhouette.

  • dbbennett

    Carried my 45 under my tunic in Vietnam, Did away with being told how to carry. It is a back up weapon. I went with much wackinance on civilian job before and after Vietnam. Police Department went bonkers with range rules,securing spent rounds and later spent mags made no sense. I’m still dealing with this issue when I am told how to hold my weapon during on how to clear a building. I have done it , they have not.

  • CavLeadsTheWay

    I use a Safariland with a G-Code attachment to a Blackhawk thigh rig, I like the Y harness. On my chest I have a G-Code holster to place my pistol in when I am in a vehicle. I train everyday either dry firing or with live fire drills, I also carry a Pro Hands with me to workout my hands for better weapon manipulation.
    I may be of the minority in this regard to daily training but I also started shooting at age 3 and have been shooting competitions since I was 6 and still do. I feel that the introduction of competitions to our unit in our off time at my behest has improved our abilities greatly. I also implemented some training ideas I got in college that have improved our abilities as well.
    On the note about people banning the Serpa because of it being “faulty” are stupid the holster has never failed me or anyone I know. The only time I ever hear about problems with them are ALWAYS shooter error. I still dont know how you shoot yourself or discharge your firearm drawing from a holster. When I use them even drawing fast my finger lands in the position I always keep it laying flat on the side. So what this says to me is people who don’t train are drawing there pistols and immediately trying to place their finger on the trigger to speed up the process. As most of us know you don’t place your finger on the trigger till you are ready to shoot sadly there are alot that disregard this rule.

    • kjzim

      CavLeadsTheWay,

      I’d like to know more about how you implemented the competitions into your unit?

  • DB Cooper

    CAV,
    You are spot on in your last paragraph. In the 80’s the NYPD replaced its revolvers with GLOCKs and failed to provide proper training to the officers. In less than a year they had 9 weapons discharges in the locker rooms with many resulting in cops shooting themselves. I don’t know how many drawing and other unintended dishages thhere were in the field. This resulted in NYC sueing Glock and getting the so called 8.5 lb pull cop trigger.

    All of that was caused by poor or no training to get their cops to stop putting their fingers in the trigger well like they did with revolvers.

    People just can’t seen to get it through their heads to keep their damned finges away from the trigger until they are ready to shoot.

    • CavLeadsTheWay

      You are so right we have these pencil pushers who have never been in the field be it in the Military or Law Enforcement that get new gear but don’t schedule any training for it to save money. Well as we all know most new gear is bought not because it is better (sometimes it is) but because it is cheaper. If your saving money on the equipment supplement the savings with added training. You would think this is a simple fix but sadly it isn’t.