AAR: Suarez International “Close Range Gunfighting (CRG-2)”, Palmyra, PA, 3/29-3/30, 2014

After taking 3 firearms training class in 2013 (I didn’t write AARs for them at the time, so the only way to do them now would be through my notes. I’m not sure I can do justice to an AAR writing in such a fashion), my first class of 2014 was Close Range Gunfighting, or CRG 2, with Suarez International. The class was held at the Palmyra Sportsmans’ Association in Palmyra, PA. Here is a link to the CRG 2 syllabus:

http://www.suarezinternationalstore.com/close-range-gunfighting.aspx

I want to stress that I am not affiliated with Suarez International, other than as a paying customer. This was my 4th Suarez class, but my first with this particular instructor. The cost of the class was $350.

The first thing I must say is that the weather sucked ass all weekend. Rainy, sleeting at times, and very windy. I mention this first because it impacted everything we did. To illustrate how bad it was, on day two we all ate our lunches in our cars with the engines running and heat on!

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The instructor was Jack Rumbaugh, who is based in VA. I don’t really know Jack’s background, but he is the Suarez International Director of Instruction, so one would assume he knew his stuff.

Having taken what is now called CRG 1 in 2013 with Dan Choi, there was some repetition of material from that class. With the new nomenclature of Suarez classes, however, each class does build upon the previous one, so that repetition of prior material was, in every case, used as a prelude to new stuff. New stuff in this class was the introduction of moving while firing, one handed firing (strong and weak, stationary and on the move), firing while IN CONTACT with the target, and point shooting (I understand that SOME point shooting is now part of the CRG 1 curriculum, but it wasn’t when I took that class in 2013. It used to be offered as a separate class.). We fired from distances from 12 inches (off hand or elbow touching target, and gun up tight by the strong-side pectoral/nipple area, angled downward a bit) out to about 10 yards, but most of the shooting was 5 yards and in.

Some stuff that we had done in the class in 2013 and continued in this class were malfunction drills of all types, failure to stop drills, multiple adversary problems, searching and assessing post-shooting, and some basic fundamental work (sight picture and alignment, trigger press and reset, etc).

There were 15 students in the class, plus the host. One student, an older gentleman, didn’t return for day two, probably due to the weather.

Handguns were mostly Glocks, with at least one Springfield xd, one Smith and Wesson M&P and one Sigma, and one PX4 there as well. A few of the Glocks were equipped with Trijicon RMR sights. I brought my Generation 3 Glock 19 and Generation 3 Glock 26 (always bring two guns to classes in case one goes down), though the only use the 26 got was as a loaner to a fellow student who was interested in buying one (he shot two drills with it and said it confirmed for him that he will definitely buy one). I shot 646 rounds over the two days out of my 19. Even with the wind, rain, sleet, and dropping a few magazines in the mud (AND not cleaning or lubing it between days one and two), the ONLY failures it had were the ones we deliberately set up for drilling purposes. I shot Federal and Winchester 115 grain FMJs.

This brings me to the weather. I ran my G19 from a Blade Tech inside the waistband holster worn appendix-style on day one, and planned to use the 26 on day two. Weather-wise, day two was even worse, so I scrapped that plan entirely. Instead, I used a Safariland drop leg holster for my G19 on day two. This allowed me to layer up to stay warm and keep my rain coat zipped up. I was more concerned with getting the body movements that were being instructed mastered than I was with getting practice drawing through multiple layers of clothing.

This was where Jack was awesome. He kept reminding us to keep our heads in the game, that with the weather and our attire, not to mention reduced dexterity due to the cold and the slippery conditions, we would NOT be able to be as fast or efficient as on a nice summer day. At every break and even during some drills, he pounded safety above all else into our collective brains, and I am glad he did. Although only minutes away from one of the best medical centers in the nation in Hershey, no one wanted to test the emergency plans we reviewed as the first order of business on day one. In our case, due to the weather, emergency didn’t necessarily mean a gunshot, as hypothermia and frostbite were very real risks. In the end, we got through it without incident.

Jack was a good instructor in the sense that he knew what he was supposed to teach, was able to demo what he wanted us to do (until his hands started to freeze!), gave good feedback, had a good sense of humor, and never gave us the “my way or the highway” stuff. He told us many times that there are several ways to do things, and if, due to our own body mechanics, training scars from other classes/careers, or some other reason, we did things in some other way that still got us where we wanted to go, that was fine (as long as it was safe, of course).

There were three issues I did have with Jack and the coursework, however, and I know some fellow students felt the same way. There was one student in the class who seemed to be in desperate need of a more basic pistol class or some immediate remediation. He used a Beretta PX4 and seemed to have no knowledge of how it functioned. For example, on several occasions when Jack gave the order to draw and fire, the student would casually draw with his right hand, hold the gun near his waist, reach with his left hand to disengage the safety, then aim the gun, and then his gun often went “click” instead of “bang”. To make matters worse, a few times the student spun away from the line to try to “solve the problem”, and would end up flagging those of us behind the line (we operated in two “relays” all weekend in order to give us more space between students for all of the movement we did). Jack missed all of this. I suppose, as responsible gun owners and students, we should have made greater efforts to bring it to his attention, but with 6 or 7 people on the line at any one time (not 20), I don’t know how he could have missed this, as it happened several times. Only when the student had a holster malfunction did Jack step in, and then it was revealed that the student was using a Blackhawk Serpa holster as an INSIDE THE WAISTBAND HOLSTER! Yes, you read that correctly. This same student, when instructed to move to his 3:00, would turn to his left, and when instructed to move to 9:00, would move to his right. In short, he was a soup sandwich and needed help.

In classes I attended after this one with more reputable trainers, it was standard practice as the first thing on day one to have all students on the line do some firing and some basic weapons manipulations in order to determine their level of expertise as well as to be sure their gear worked. Jack did not do this, and so this situation, which could have been taken care of on day one, was allowed to continue.

The second issue I had with the instruction (not sure if this was Jack or the Suarez curriculum he was utilizing) involved the final drill of the class. All weekend we had been practicing exactly what the class is titled: close range gunfighting. We had shot from contact distance out to about seven yards. Yet, for the final drill, we shot at 10 yards and from around cover, something we had not been instructed in or practiced at all over the two days. Again, in classes with more reputable trainers, the drills done over the course of the weekend tend to lead you to the final exercise that might have you incorporating all elements learned during the class. Not so with this one, and it left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

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My third issue with the coursework was the lack of accountability.  In the drill outlined above, we did not tape targets (under the plastic) between each student’s turn so we could check our accuracy.  Indeed, I don’t recall doing much taping all weekend.  Terms like “combat accuracy” were used a lot, and “any hit on them is good for you and bad for them”, which I know many would regard as a cop-out.  Also, nothing in this class or any Suarez class I have ever taken is done on the clock.  Their argument that “there is no clock on the streets”, while technically correct, completely discounts the “clock” that the bad guy starts, often without giving you fair warning.  The biggest issue with the lack of accuracy or time accountability is that you never really know whether or not you’re improving.

The three issues above combined with the nasty weather made this probably the worst class I have taken to date. This class is marketed as the “flagship course” for Suarez International, but it didn’t feel like that to me. The best part of the class was the camaraderie shared between the students, as we were all suffering in the weather together. I would consider taking this class again, perhaps with a different instructor, to see if this was just an aberration, as I’ve had better luck with all of the other Suarez classes I have taken. However, there are too many other instructors out there and so, short of winning the lottery, I doubt I would try this class again.

John was in this same class, so he might have some comments about it.


John’s Comments…

As Robert mentioned, I was indeed in attendance at the CRG-2 class discussed. I will first and foremost reiterate that the weather was about the worst that you could choose train in, short of possibly a blizzard. Either we were wet, or we were cold, and usually both. I personally went through three sets of rain gear, and after that experience, I now own Gore-tex! We learned, among other things, just how difficult it is to quickly access a concealed weapon when wearing protective outerwear. Not owning a drop leg holster at that point, I persevered with my inside the waistband appendix holster while several people, instructor included, opted for the thigh rig the second day. Had I had a thigh rig available, I probably would have too… One of the unintended consequences of the weather and rain gear was that it reinforced for me the validity of a second “roving” gun that could be carried in an exterior pocket and be immediately available in case a quick draw was needed, even allowing for one to covertly keep a hand on the gun, so to speak.

I believe Robert was perhaps in a better position to observe the apparent safety violations, as I’m pretty sure I was actually on the same relay at the opposite end of the line as the troubled shooter mentioned above. I do recall the holster issue, and I also recall a general consensus that the gentleman should not have been there. Whether he should have been sent home is not my place to say. Given Jack’s repeated warnings about cold hands and a lack of dexterity as well as his emphasis on us maintaining a safe range environment, I find the oversight hard to understand.

I want to briefly talk about the gun I used during class. I shot a Glock 19 with an RMR equipped slide… Despite the rain, sleet, and brief episode of hail, the RMR continued to function without fail, even when the lens hood was collecting rain water. At any rate, firing the gun was a quick way to displace the water! So if you worry about how an RMR equipped gun would handle rain or other inclement weather, don’t! Obviously, proper care after exposure is mandatory, but the optic works even in a downpour. In the interest of full disclosure, Suarez International performed the milling on that slide…

I had looked forward to taking this “flagship” course for quite some time as my schedule and location had prevented me from attending prior offerings. I won’t say that I was disappointed, but I also can’t say that I was particularly impressed with anything beyond the weather. The Suarez International curriculum is somewhat built around the premise of dynamically “getting off the X” while incorporating point shooting. In of itself, this is a very good idea, and CRG-2 seems to be the focal class in this regard. To my knowledge, it is the first class in the Close Range Gunfighting series that incorporates actual movement, and further iterations deal with fighting adversaries at varying distances, both near and far. If I could change one thing about the Suarez pistol curriculum (and I’ve heard Jack himself say this very thing), I would place the force on force airsoft class (CRG-4) before all the others. In other words, let the student learn the movements, as well as their vital necessity, prior to shooting the drills on the range.

Like Robert, I would be interested in repeating this class at some point at a different venue, but I’m also not likely to do so given the time and travel required to do so.

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4 thoughts on “AAR: Suarez International “Close Range Gunfighting (CRG-2)”, Palmyra, PA, 3/29-3/30, 2014

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