SHOT Show 2016: Danny Dietz Tribute Rifle

Ernest Hemingway once said “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” As writers we experience emotions on a somewhat different spectrum than the average person. You, the reader, can readily identify with the trickle of tears, the euphoria of joy, or the rush of anger stirred secondhand through the written word. Sometimes those written words are turned into spoken ones and you get to experience those emotions thanks to movies or plays. As a writer, I sometimes experience a depth of emotion that might shock you, the reader. The sympathy you feel reading about a terrible tragedy may very well be my bleeding, broken empathy. Of course, all writers are different, but to me Hemingway’s statement couldn’t ring truer.

Perhaps this is not what Hemingway meant, but perhaps it is. There is one case in particular that has never failed to break my heart each and every time I have written about. That one case is Operation Red Wings, and that heartbreak it inextricably tied to the men who were lost and the families which were left behind.

Cindy Dietz with Jeff Axelson holding the Axelson Tactical Danny Dietz Tribute Rifle prototype
Cindy Dietz with Jeff Axelson holding the Axelson Tactical Danny Dietz Tribute Rifle prototype

“Danny Dietz was the first to be killed. His right thumb was blown off, he was shot through the low back, and he kept firing; he was shot through the neck, and he kept firing. Death did not come for Danny Dietz after another dive down the mountains, or when he took a round at the base of his neck. Seeing his teammate grievously wounded, Marcus Luttrell tried to drag him to a safer spot, and Danny maintained cover fire as they went, despite his horrific wounds. It was later, as Marcus tried again to pull his brother to safety, that the valiant Danny Dietz took a final, fatal round to the head. Danny Dietz died in Marcus’ arms, as bullets flew, and the battle raged on.” (From “Kill or Be Killed: Operation Red Wings and the ROE” written by Katie Ainsworth)

Unfortunately, I’ve written about Operation Red Wings so many times I’ve since lost count. And yet, somehow, it cuts as deeply today as it did years ago. This gives a certain suffocating weight to a related thought: what must the families of those lost feel? What kind of pain must they live with on a daily basis? Never mind that it’s been ten years since that fateful day; never mind that there have been more than 3800 days since the one where each of them had their worlds permanently shattered by the bleakness of a family member’s death.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” KJV Bible

Danny DietzCall it what you like, but there is a massive dose of masculine, testosterone-laden love in the brotherhood. 9 years ago, Danny Dietz was shot at least 5 times, and he continued to fight for his teammates. While Marcus tried to drag him to a safer spot, Danny kept his rifle raised and laid down cover fire. And when the final round, which struck him in the head, took Danny’s life, Marcus held him in his arms as he died. Danny’s tenacious refusal to stop firing his weapon, specifically while grievously wounded and being dragged by his teammate, was a stunning example of the steadfast love of the brotherhood.”(From “The Brotherhood: Remembering the 9th Anniversary of Operation Red Wings” by Katie Ainsworth)

There is a reason I chose “love” to describe Danny Dietz’s final actions in that particular piece. And when I met Cindy Dietz, Danny’s mom, it only served to reaffirm my belief that Danny was not only a man of great love – and courage- but a man surrounded by love. Mrs. Dietz can only be described as a sweet women – a character trait attribute to her not only by myself but by many others who know her – and when you’re around her it’s actually hard to remember her life has been touched by such horrendous pain. And then, then something happens, and you remember. You remember, and you’re both crying, and everyone is crying.  Such were the events at SHOT Show 2016 at a press conference held to announce the creation of a tribute rifle being made just for Danny Dietz.

The press conference took place on Wednesday, January 20, 2016. It was heavily attended not only by those within the military community but by people in the gun industry who were interested in the firearm being unveiled. Former US Navy SEAL Ron Bellan of Reaper Outdoors did most of the talking, introducing the people involved and giving a brief introduction to the rifle itself. Bellan had boots on the ground during Red Wings but that story is his alone to tell; suffice to say he bears deeply carved wounds from the horrors of those days. Days when they were not sure who was alive, who was dead – were they all dead? – and who might miraculously emerge from the carnage. He felt the emotion of the day more deeply than those of us looking on could possibly imagine, but he was not alone. Cindy Dietz stood with him as did Jeff Axelson; Jeff, whose brother Matt was killed during Operation Red Wings. Jeff, who is building the tribute rifle at the request of Mrs. Dietz.

The rifle is chambered in 5.56 NATO and is being built to closely resemble the gun Danny carried into his final battle. It’s impossible to replicate it exactly in part due to the restrictions put on civilian firearms sales, but you can be sure the men of Axelson Tactical will do it justice. To them, this is not just any rifle. This is the rifle meant to bear tribute to the loss of Danny Dietz. Furthermore, as if that was not enough of a challenge, it is also the rifle that will bear tribute in some way to each of the men lost as well as to the one man who did miraculously survive – physically, anyway.

Rifle DietzThere will be 100 rifles made from numbers 0 to 99. The first two numbers, consecutively, will go to the family. The rest are going by pre-order with understandable speed.

The creation of this rifle has been the result of an evolution involving many people. First in that line was Danny Dietz himself, who was killed fighting alongside his brothers, then his mother, Cindy Dietz who lives on and keeps her son’s memory alive within. Cindy went to Jeff Axelson, a man whose pain over the loss of his brother Matt in that same battle gives him an understanding of her loss only a select few can truly grasp. Jeff is the owner and founder of Axelson Tactical, the firearms company he started in part as a multi-faceted tribute to his lost brother. Then there are the many man tied to Axelson Tactical in some way: Brad Holland, Ryan Bennett, Jeremy Litka, John Ciammaichella, Wade Bennett, the list goes on and includes a fantastic team of reliable, hard-working men (many – most – of whom are veterans). There’s Russ Bacon, a man whose skills with Cerakote are nothing short of impressive; Russ worked amazingly hard to replicate the battle-worn appearance and color of Danny Dietz’s original rifle. And there are men such as Ron Bellan, a man whose life is permanently entangled with the lives – and deaths – of the men lost to Operation Red Wings. It’s an amazing family, a family where those in it understand that blood does not mean everything. It’s about shared experiences, shared heartbreak, shared trust, and blood spilled on the ground both literally and figuratively.


These are the men behind the Axelson Tactical Danny Dietz Tribute Rifle. They have worked and will continue to work tirelessly making this the greatest tribute humanly possible. Because this is a brotherhood, and not even death can stand in the way of its dedication and love.

Visit Axelson Tactical at


  • Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO
  • Upper: Axelson Tactical Forged
  • Lower: Axelson Tactical Forged
  • Rail: Gemtech
  • Stock: B5 SOPMOD
  • Trigger: ALG-ACT; CMMG Parts
  • Gas Block: Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM)
  • Charging Handle: BCM Gunfighter
  • Bolt Carrier Group (BCG): Axelson Tactical; Nickel Boron (NiB)
  • Grip: BCM
  • Muzzle Brake: A2 Birdcage
  • Barrel Length: 16″
  • Barrel: Faxon
  • Feature: Spikes Tactical 37mm Flare Launcher

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine is a military and political journalist with a reputation for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred articles. Her career as a writer has immersed her in the military lifestyle and given her unique insights into the various branches of service. She is a firearms aficionado and has years of experience as a K9 SAR handler, and has volunteered with multiple support-our-troops charities for more than a decade. Katherine is passionate about military issues and feels supporting service members should be the top priority for all Americans. Her areas of expertise include the military, politics, history, firearms and canine issues.
Katherine Ainsworth

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