Coming Home to Beretta: Many Soldiers Choose Familiarity After Service

It is only natural that military men and women cling to their service pistols.

» THERE ARE MANY implements of war. The halberd is long gone, but the rocket launcher and line-of-sight range finders are pretty important. The handgun (which can be classified somewhere between the previous two) has been described as a weapon used in small battles that are unimportant to anyone but the persons directly involved.

The primary U.S. military sidearm is the Beretta M9. Most recently, the Beretta M9A1 entered service. While fans of one pistol or the other might debate the issue, Beretta won the contract and continues to serve with the United States Armed Services. The associated state and federal institutional contracts, often for modified double-action-only or .40-caliber variants, have been impressive. A large number of sales are linked to current and former service personnel who wish to own their own example of the service pistol. They like the Beretta well enough to vote with their hard-earned money when they return home.

My daughter-in-law has two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan on her résumé. She sent an email from Bagram Air Field during her tour and let us know she wanted her own Beretta when she returned home.

This is the case in my family. (I have no military experience but know quite a few soldiers well.) As for myself, I obtained my first Beretta 92FS some years ago. I was curious, but I also wished to be able to properly train students who were issued the Beretta 9mm pistol. My son is presently a Captain in the Guard attached to Military Intelligence. He’s carried Berettas on deployments and owns a personal 92FS, which he often carries on his own time. My daughter-in-law, married to my other son, has two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan on her résumé. She sent an email from Bagram Air Field during her tour and let us know she wanted her own Beretta when she returned home. Watching young soldiers handle the Beretta is a revelation: The pistol is reliable, accurate and might be used as well as any 9mm handgun during tactical drills in the real world.

Spec Sheet

Training these young people has given me much insight into the Beretta. (I also have enjoyed a 65-year-old woman showing up at one of my classes with a Beretta and five loaded magazines.) The Beretta is a worthy pistol that has earned my respect. After seeing the Beretta go through classes filled with the Glock 17, the SIG P226 and the Smith & Wesson M&P — not to mention the CZ 75 — I can state that a trained shooter with the Beretta need take a back seat to no one. There are shooters who prefer one grip shape to the other or alternate controls or action type. Some prefer a lighter handgun or a different sight configuration. The bottom line is that there is nothing that can be achieved tactically with one that cannot be achieved with the other.

The agency had used Egyptian surplus 9mm in training that someone had ordered in bulk. That crap is corrosive … said ammo suffered about a 25 percent failure to fire with the Beretta.

In absolute accuracy off of the benchrest, the Beretta is among the most accurate. Muzzle flip is controllable, even with the hottest +P loads. During the firing of thousands of rounds of ammunition in the Beretta and observing many more during my training classes, I have observed exactly two problem Beretta handguns. A weak recoil spring in one high-round-count pistol induced short cycling. Another suffered corrosion that was so bad the firing pin channel was enlarged, resulting in primer flowback. The pistol was a police trade-in Vertec 9mm, and the agency had used Egyptian surplus 9mm in training that someone had ordered in bulk. (That crap is corrosive and even worse, the officers reported that said ammo suffered about a 25 percent failure to fire with the Beretta and even higher with other handguns. Let’s file this one under “false economy.”)

Soldiers’ Choice

What makes the military folks purchase the Beretta? Well, familiarity is definitely one reason. As I mentioned, there is little profit in purchasing a pistol with no tactical advantage when the Beretta performs well and you are familiar with the manual of arms.

The Beretta features a positive manual safety, while many double-action-only pistols do not. Many military men and women appreciate a safety. They feel that a self-loader without a safety abrogates many of the advantages of the type. They also like the crisp single-action let-off of the Beretta pistol for accuracy. They have mastered the double-action press, however, and I have seen a military intelligence officer fire double-action and strike the 8-inch gong at 25 yards with every shot. When the Beretta is used to address small targets at longer range, no double-action-only pistol will perform as well with a similar amount of training.

My personal Beretta is an M9. This is the pistol I carried for 14 months while my son was on deployment as a show of solid support; he was also carrying a Beretta every day.

As for weight, well, after carrying a 50-pound pack and other gear, the Beretta doesn’t seem heavy. The Beretta is light enough for constant carry; it is the bulk of the handgun that works against us. But like the Colt 1911 or SIG P226, it can be concealed. It is the level of comfort the shooter is willing to accept that makes the break.

I’ve used the Stealthgear.com concealed carry holster with good results. This model features a rigid Kydex component wedded to a dual-layer mesh platform, which StealthGear refers to as “VentCore” technology. Another member of the family uses a custom-grade Savoy Leather IWB that he finds comfortable and effective.

At present, there are a number of Beretta handguns in use in my family. My son owns a Desert Storm Beretta, made long before his time in the military. My daughter-in-law owns a standard 92FS. My personal Beretta is an M9. I like the sight outline a little better than the standard 92, and it just seems to be a good fit for me. This is the pistol I carried for 14 months while my son was on deployment as a show of solid support; he was also carrying a Beretta every day. (Wearing a flag or a pin would have been more evident, but I am a gun person.) I also own a Beretta 92A1 rail gun that is the single most accurate Beretta 92 I have yet tested. For home defense, the ability to mount a light is an advantage.

Private Sector

I often use my Beretta handguns to demonstrate during classes. The Beretta 9mm is a remarkably easy gun to use well and a great aid in demonstrating marksmanship, speed loads and even maintenance. The Beretta is an easy handgun to maintain, as disassembly is simplicity itself. One caution, though: I’ve noticed that many military folks tend to keep the Beretta spotlessly clean but go light on lubrication, which is a habit they picked up in “the sandbox.” The Beretta likes lubricant and should be kept wet for best stateside performance.

A non-military version of the Beretta has proven popular with a number of shooters. The Beretta 9C — the compact version of the service pistol — is seldom seen but is an excellent sidearm. The slide, barrel and frame are shortened to allow greater concealment, and the result is a more compact pistol than the standard 92 that offers excellent concealed carry potential. However, even with these changes, the recoil is not noticeably different than the full-size Model 92 and accuracy is excellent.

Many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines carried the Beretta professionally and are intimately familiar with its operation and maintenance requirements.

A standard older model 92C has yielded me good results in training classes, and the modern 92A1 compact stainless rail gun proved itself practically the equal of the full-size 92A1 in exhaustive testing. Shooters with small hands might find the Beretta 92C the best choice for all-around use.

I’ve seen the occasional stainless steel Inox in my classes, and they are highly praised. A variant I have seen but once is the Beretta Vertec, which features improved sights and a specially designed grip that feels much like the 1911. (It wasn’t a great seller.)

I’ve yet to see a military man choose the .40-caliber Beretta over the 9mm. Perhaps losing five rounds in ammunition capacity isn’t seen as a good trade-off. I also have the impression that the Beretta 96 kicks more than some .40-caliber handguns, while the 9mm Beretta recoils less than most 9mm pistols.

Personal Defense

It is only natural that military men and women cling to their service pistols; the new-style Beretta magazines offer 18 rounds of hot 9mm on tap, and the 92’s 4.9-inch barrel delivers a bit of extra velocity compared to shorter pistols. Many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines carried the Beretta professionally and are intimately familiar with its operation and maintenance requirements. Despite all of the other options available, when you consider these factors, no one should be surprised that the Beretta remains a go-to for millions of responsibly armed Americans.