Inside the mammoth contract awarded to Sig Sauer to supply the U.S. Army with new handguns is a stipulation that Sig must also provide pistols specifically for Army generals. Sig’s media relations manager, Samantha Piatt, explained the stipulation for General Officer handguns is a standard contract item.
“GO handguns are issued for operational use. The GO handgun is essentially an M18 with a distinguished serial number,” Piatt said. “Additionally, each GO handgun is supplied with a large and small grip module in addition to the medium grip module it is configured with upon delivery.”
New Hampshire-based gun maker won the $580 million Modular Handgun System contract in 2017, besting a tough field of competitors that read like a who’s who of the firearm world with a version of the P320 pistol. The new gun was adopted in two formats, the full-sized M17 and the more compact M18.
So far, Sig has delivered about 800 GO pistols to the Army. To put that into perspective, the Army reports 231,586 MHS pistols have been purchased over the past three years. While the bulk of military users – about 95 percent – will be issued the larger of the two handguns, the M17, individuals, and units requiring a concealed weapon, such as overseas training teams and advisors, investigators, and special operations personnel, will use the M18.
Piatt added that other military branches have their own examples on order as well. Sig currently markets three different commercial variants of the M17, with slight differences from the military’s pistol, in Commemorative, P320-M17, and P320-M17 Bravo models. In contrast, the company does not list a non-military M18 variant, although the P320 FDE Compact is similar.
The tradition of GO pistols
While general officers in U.S. service have typically been armed — George Washington often carried several pistols with him on campaign. George Patton carried an ivory-handled Colt Single Action Army. Others alongside them did so with personal weapons.
One of the first issued handguns for generals were Colt 1908 .380 pocket models which were handed out staring in 1943. These were replaced in turn by General Officer Model M15 .45 caliber pistols made by the Army’s Rock Island Arsenal in the 1970s before Beretta M9 GOs became the standard in the mid-1980s. All have had special “GO” serial number ranges.
When an Army colonel is promoted to brigadier (one star) general, their promotion ceremony typically includes the pinning of their star by a family member, and the presentation of the GO pistol and pistol belt. The latter, a thick black leather belt with an 18-karat gold-plated buckle and imprint of an eagle, was first produced in 1944. The rig is worn at the discretion of the general.
While most flag request and accept the special pistol, they often carry legacy firearms in the field. For instance, U.S. Army General Austin “Scott” Miller, appeared at a meeting with Afghan troops last month armed with an M1911 in a Kydex holster, a gun he was first issued in 1992 while a captain assigned to the Army’s secretive Delta Force commandos.
According to U.S. law, at the end of their service, generals can purchase their issued pistols, which are typically rare collectibles if not retained by the family. As noted by the Army, noted WWII Gens. Omar N. Bradley, George S. Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower all purchased their guns when they left the military, many of which are on public display, as no doubt some of the Sig M18 GOs will be one day.