When I first watched Act of Valor, I was initially struck by the poor acting during the more personal scenes in the film, but then I remembered: These are not actors, these are SEALs. Released in early 2012, Act of Valor is the first feature-length film to star actual, active duty SEALs. Based on five real stories of missions and events involving the United States Navy’s Elite Special Forces, writer Kurt Johnstad wrote a fictitious storyline that represents real threats faced today.
At this point, let me pause for the necessary spoiler alert: If you have not yet seen Act of Valor, now is the time to put this article down and go watch it!
It would be impossible to talk about this movie without taking note of the fact that unlike 99.99% of movies you will see about military operations, not only are these real SEALs demonstrating their real tactics. They are firing real guns with real, live ammunition. These are not blanks, ladies and gentlemen.
Much of the movie was filmed at the SEALs training center in Stennis Mississippi where the SEALs conduct their live-fire training. There is a great interview with one of the cameramen who says that while filming one of the jaw-dropping scenes in the movie, he literally had bullets flying over his head. Why is this possible? How can they get away with this? Because these are not actors, these are SEALs.
The weapons used by the SEALs in the movie are, not surprisingly, the same weapons used by the SEALs in the real world.
Let’s start with the handguns. While rarely seen being used, the renowned SIG Sauer P226, otherwise known as the Mk 25 Mod 0, makes a brief appearance during the film’s climax as Chief Dave uses his sidearm. For the one person reading this article that is unfamiliar with the P226, it was designed by SIG for the U.S. Army’s competition to replace the M1911A1 in the 80s. Of the nearly dozen pistols entered into the competition, only the Beretta 92 and the SIG P226 made it through the trials. In the end, Beretta was awarded the contract based on lower costs. Despite this, many branches of the U.S. Armed Services chose to adopt the P226 (or its compact variants the P228 and P229), most notably the U.S. Navy SEALs who use the P226 and the U.S. Coast Guard who carry the P229.
When it comes to rifles, the SEALs are all seen carrying the standard Colt M4A1. These rifles are seen in multiple different configurations but are all accessorized with parts from the Special Operations Peculiar MODification (SOPMOD) M4A1 Accessory Kit. All of the rifles are seen with the forward handgrip and weapon light and most of the rifles are also outfitted with the EOTECH 553 holographic sight, which was adopted by the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as its 1x weapon optic for CQB/MOUT (Close Quarter Battle/Military Operations in Urban Terrain). Many of the rifles are also outfitted with an AN/PEQ-2 Infrared Illuminator/Aiming Laser, which allows the weapon to be used accurately at much larger distances.
During the takedown of the yacht, members of the SEAL team are seen briefly using the Close Quarter Battle variant of the M4A1 known as the MK 18. Essentially the same rifle, the MK 18 takes the standard 14.5-inch barrel of the M4A1 and chops it down to just over 10 inches, making it much easier to wield in close quarters, such as the confined space of a yacht.
Next, we move on to the one sniper rifle seen in the film, and this is where things get tricky. There are two things to consider here: First, there is what the rifle should be, the rifle that is actually used by the Navy SEALs. Second, there is what we believe the rifle used on screen to actually be. Because of the nature of AR platform systems, it is very hard to conclusively identify the rifle used on screen as belonging to one particular manufacturer without an up-close look at the receiver. What we know for certain, or as certain as one can be when it comes to a group as secretive as the Navy SEALs, is that the sniper rifle of choice for the SEALs is the U.S. Navy M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS). This is no doubt what the sniper used during the mission in Costa Rica was meant to have. As for what the actual stamping on the side of the receiver was? Well, the consensus reached at imfdb.org is that the weapon is a DPMS (Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services) TAC20. The weapon is heavily camouflaged and outfitted with a scope, bipod, and suppressor.
When it comes to machine guns Act of Valor did not disappoint. The first machine gun that we see being used is the M240. A belt-fed, 7.62mm machine gun, the M240 has been used by the U.S. Armed forces since the late 70s. In the movie, it is seen mounted on the decks of the SEALs’ Special Operations Craft – Riverine (SOC-R) during the mission in Costa Rica. It also makes an appearance mounted to the deck of the Mark V Special Operations Craft during the takedown of the Yacht. In the second appearance, it is outfitted with an M145 Machine Gun Optic.
Our next machine gun comes into play during the raid on a small island off Baja California. While commencing their assault on the compound, members of the SEAL team use the M249 Para to provide suppressing fire. The M249 is a light machine gun that has been the go-to Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) for the U.S. Armed Forces since the mid-1980s. The “para” variant of the M249 features a shorter barrel and a lightweight, collapsible buttstock. The name refers to its intended use by airborne infantry.
The final machine gun to make an appearance, and my personal favorite because of the way in which it is used, is the GAU-17/A Minigun. This six-barreled beast of a gun spits out anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 rounds per minute, that’s 33 to 100 rounds a second. The minigun makes an awe-inspiring appearance as the Special Operations Craft flies around the bend of the river, guns blazing. It is a particularly impressive sequence when you are reminded, via a shot of the shell casings ejecting, that these are not blanks, these are live rounds. In the modern classic Predator, Bill Duke and Jessie Ventura used a handheld model of this same gun.
During the mission in Costa Rica, the M72 LAW (Light Anti-tank Weapon) makes its appearance when it is used by Weimy to quite literally blow an enemy vehicle off the road. Originally designed in the early 1960s, the LAW is a compact, and thus a highly portable, anti-tank weapon that fires an unguided 66mm rocket. Of all the rocket launchers used by the different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the M72 is by far the most compact thus it makes sense that it would be used in this type of operation.
Another launcher used in the movie (this time by the bad guys) is the Type 69 RPG. It is worth noting that the Type 69 RPG is a Chinese copy of the classic RPG-7. The vast majority of “RPG” launchers in cinema and television are the Type 69 RPG rather than the original Soviet RPG-7 since, until recently, it was nearly impossible for American movie armorers to get their hands on actual RPG-7s.
At one pivotal moment during the movie, an RPG strikes a SEAL from very close range. Seemingly miraculously, the rocket does not explode, leaving the man with nothing more than a shocked look on his face and one amazing story. Now my first reaction upon seeing this was, I can only imagine, much the same as most viewers, “Oh please, like that would ever happen.” Well, as it turns out, it has. The scene is based on the true story of U.S. Army Private Channing Moss who, while on patrol in March of 2006, was struck by an RPG, which impaled itself through his torso. Miraculously, Private Moss survived after surgeons working in full body armor were able to remove the unexploded warhead. One possible explanation is that the warhead in the RPG does not arm itself until it has traveled a certain distance; this is apparently a safety feature to prevent the operator from blowing himself up. In any case, this is one amazing scene.
By Zack Warburg. Originally published in the September 2013 issue of GunUp the Magazine.