For the first time, team leaders in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division will be issued pistols along with their M4 carbines. Those pistols also happen to be the newest addition to the service’s small arms arsenal, and the division was the first to receive them.

The M17 and its compact version, the M18, arrived at the 101st Airborne’s Fort Campbell, Kentucky, headquarters this week, and a handful of soldiers got to fire the weapon fresh out of the box.

The M17 is the Army’s new handgun and eventual replacement for the M9 Beretta, which was first fielded in 1986.

“That’s pretty dated technology,” Lt. Col. Steven Power, individual weapons product manager for Project Manager Soldier Weapons, said in an Army release.

“The specific performance improvements from [the Modular Handgun System] over the M9 include better accuracy, tighter dispersion, and better ergonomics, which, combined, result in a far more lethal pistol,” Power said.

The soldiers in the 101st received more than 2,000 handguns on Nov. 17, according to the release.

“It is easier to fire and simpler to operate,” said Sgt. Matthew Marsh, a 101st soldier. “The pistol felt very natural in my hand. I am excited to take my experience back to my unit and share it with my soldiers.”

With the new weapon will come standard operator and maintenance training. But the 101st also has decided that as it puts the gun in the hands of team leaders, who traditionally have not carried a handgun, they are going to add more training.

The team leader decision will apply across the Army.

The additional course, currently being developed, will teach soldiers how to fire in field and close quarters scenarios and transition from their M4 to the pistol or vice versa, said Sgt. First Class Andrew Flynn, the 101st Airborne’s master gunner.

“In the heat of the fight, it will give you an opportunity to maybe change up your tactics,” said Cpl. Jory Herrmann, a C Company team leader. “It will give us more choices, more options ... which is great for a team leader.”

Soldiers with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, and soldiers in a Security Force Assistance Brigade are next in line to receive the new handguns. They’re scheduled to receive deliveries of the new handgun before the end of 2017, according to Army officials.

The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy also intend to replace the M9 with the M17.

All Army units will see the M17 replace the M9 over the next decade. But until they are replaced and trained, the M9 will be maintained for those soldiers who carry a sidearm but have not yet received or been trained on the new handgun.

Gun manufacturer Sig Sauer won the 10-year, $580 million handgun contract in January, beating out competitors Glock Beretta and FN America. The M17 is a variant of Sig’s P320 handgun.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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