Obama debate jab implies bayonets obsolete, but don't tell it to the Marines

President Obama made bayonets sound like buggy whips at Monday’s presidential debate, but the fact is they’re still standard issue for Marines.

The knives, which fit on the end of a rifle barrel and have been around since the 17th century, are not just there for when the ammo runs out and the enemy is close. According to the U.S. Army, the M9 bayonet serves as “a hand weapon, as a general field and utility knife, as well as a wire cutter together with its scabbard, and as a saw.”

Obama brought up bayonets by way of chiding Mitt Romney for calling proposed military cuts devastating.

"You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” Obama said. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed."


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“The bayonet is still very much a useful tool," former U.S. Marine Doug Miller, of Hiawatha, Kan., told FoxNews.com. "That was kind of a dumb thing for him to say."

Miller, 64, a Vietnam veteran who served in the 3rd Battalion 11th Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division, said the bayonet is indispensable for Marines in urban warfare, where they may have to go room to room in search of insurgents.

"You can't always swing the rifle into position, especially in close quarters," Miller said. "That bayonet could save your life."

The M9 bayonet and others in the series have been manufactured for the military by several companies, including Buck Knives and the Ontario Knife Co. The weapon attaches to the M16 rifle’s M4 carbine. It also can be used with the Mossberg 590 Special Purpose shotgun.

"Bottom line: The bayonet remains part of the individual Marine equipment issue and Marines are trained to use it," retired Maj. Gen.  Ed Usher, president and CEO of the Marine Corps Association & Foundation, told FoxNews.com.

But Marines carry bayonets in the field, and all must complete training with the hand-to-hand combat staple. The Army’s infantrymen also have long used bayonets, though that branch has scaled back on bayonet drills in recent years. Although the last U.S. bayonet charge was in Korea in 1951, a British soldier was recently honored for leading a bayonet charge against the Taliban in 2011 in Afghanistan.

The official Marine.com website touts the bayonet with the words: “From 500 yards, every Marine is accurate with a rifle. Attach the OKC-3S Bayonet, and the weapon becomes just as effective in close combat situations. Also a Marine's multi-purpose fighting knife, the OKC-3S is the weapon of choice when shots can't be fired. Every Marine receives bayonet training in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) and on the Bayonet Assault Course in Recruit Training.”

Ontario Knife's version of the M9 bayonet, the OKC3S, is 13.25 inches long, with a serrated blade of hardened steel, a zinc phosphate non-reflective finish and an ergonomically grooved handle made of a low-noise polyester elastomer. It clicks onto the rifle via fitted internal stainless steel springs, and comes with a "Molle-compatible sheath designed for superior stealth."

“We take pride in our military products and it’s an honor and privilege to supply these weapons/tools to the US military,” said Ken Trbovich, president and CEO of Ontario Knife Co., told FoxNews.com in a statement. “The military deploys our products for a wide range of combat and field operations. These include, but are not limited to, breaching devices, rescue tools and combat weapons.”

The place of bayonets in history is assured. When all the bullets were fired, the deadly blades turned rifles into spears in the Civil War and World War I, when fighting rages from trench to trench at close range. Veterans also have been known to reminisce about using the versatile blade to toast bread, open cans, scrape mud off of boots and even dig latrines.

In the current edition of the Marine Corps Gazette, an article titled "‘Fix . . . Bayonets!’ Spanning the spectrum of lethality" by retired USMC Col. Michael Belcher praises the utility of bayonets throughout history and today.

"In counterinsurgency operations as in combat, the bayonet has proven itself to be an effective offensive and defensive weapon, one that produces kinetic and nonkinetic effects well beyond its size and across the spectrum of conflict," Belcher wrote.