FORT POLK, La. - Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 1st Security Forces Assistance Brigade qualified on the XM17 at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Jan. 19-20, in preparation for their upcoming deployment in the spring of 2018.

According to the Army, the XM17 and XM18 handgun systems are replacing the M9 pistol. The "X" in "XM" stands for experimental and will be used until February 2018 when the weapons complete Type Classification. Afterwards, the weapons will be referred to as the M17 and M18. The XM18 is the compact version of the XM17. Both weapons are capable of firing 9mm rounds.

Maj. Lucas Leinberger, firing range officer-in-charge from 3rd Battalion, 353th Armor Regiment, provided insight on the range and some of the fundamentals in basic marksmanship.

"We are working with members of the 1st SFAB to get some familiarization with the M17 pistol," Leinberger said. "Part of that training is going through fundamentals such as sight picture, proper grip and trigger squeeze."

The Army took a non-caliber specific approach to provide the best weapon system solution. The Army currently has plans to buy approximately 238,000 weapon systems.

"Personally, I noticed a better balance in the overall weapon - how it feels in your hand compared to the M9 and the M11 (service pistol) both unloaded and loaded with a full magazine," Leinberger said. "I believe it is much easier to use; it is more ergonomically correct. I believe it will make anyone who is firing the weapon more combat effective."

The main reason for the change in weapon systems is to make the Soldier and units more lethal. The XM17 and XM18 modular handgun system program is one of the first in what is expected to be a whole line of modernization efforts that the Army will pursue over the next few years, according to the Army.

The XM17 and XM18 MHS program successfully involved warfighters in the source selection and post-award acquisition process more than any other small-arms program the Army has undertaken.

Sgt. Max Gilbert, a combat engineer for 2nd Battalion, 1st SFAB, has learned about the weapon and put his trust in it to make him more lethal in combat.

"The instructors here at the range were professional," Gilbert said. "Yes, I feel that I am combat effective and combat ready."

Maj. Brennan Speakes, brigade operations officer for 1st SFAB, talked about the XM17 and the commitment of the Army to make them more effective
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"Overall it is a great pistol; I am extremely pleased with it," Speakes said. "I have fired over 500 rounds and not once did it jam or misfire. The fact that we are deploying and the Army has made their commitment to move these pistols to us, to me, says a lot about the Army's commitment to the SFAB to ensure we have the best equipment to go overseas."

SFABs allow the Army to reduce, over time, the demand for conventional brigade combat teams for combat advising. This allow BCTs to focus on readiness for warfighting against near-peer threats.