Monday, September 20, 2010

Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting with Gabe Suarez

Last weekend I took Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting from Gabe Suarez in Florence, SC. This is the second time I’ve taken this class in the past three months. I’d signed up to take it out in Prescott as part of the Red June block of classes before the class in Florence was announced. Despite this, I decided to sign up for the class in Florence, primarily because I knew a bunch of my friends would be signed up as well. Gabe was nice enough to let me take advantage of the 25% discount for returning students despite the fact that I hadn’t actually taken the class the first time at the time I signed up.

This class included an even larger proportion of Suarez International Staff Instructors than the 0-5 foot class, including Randy Harris, Alex Nieuwland, Scott Vandiver, Michael Swisher, and myself. The class was around 20 people, so a good quarter of the students were SI instructors.

I shot the class with my SGL-31. I used this rather than my usual Arsenal SLR-107F because I the SGL-31 didn’t have an optic on it at the moment and I wanted to shoot the class using iron sights. The majority of the class were using AKs of one description or another, varying from Fuller built guns down to WASRs or Maadis. Despite being an AK class, there was a substantial minority using ARs of various types, along with one XCR (in 7.62x39mm) and one Mini-14.

Because I just took this course so recently, this review isn’t going to have my usual level of blow by blow detail. If you’re interested in the content of the Advanced AK class, see the writeup I did back in June. What I’m going to do instead is concentrate on differences from the Prescott class and whatever points that I found particularly interesting.


This class was held on September 11th-12th, 2010. Gabe opened the class with a prayer for those lost 9 years ago. He explained that he makes a special effort to teach a tactical class on September 11th. Next year he’s going to be teaching a counter-terrorism course with Sonny Puzikas. The date really puts these skills, and the reason most of us are learning them, in perspective.

We started with some discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of the AK. This was sort of interesting given how many people taking the class were using other sorts of rifles. Gabe made his usual case for the AK, which I think is quite good (after all, it convinced me to switch to the AK). Gabe explained why retaining empty mags is a good idea. Then we did some dry magazine changes, first stationary, then on the move.

Moving on to shoulder transfers, we did some work stationary, then did the slalom drill. In Prescott, the slalom drill was part of the AK Force on Force class. There we slalomed down a line of students, but because this range had a set of tall wooden posts every other lane at the 25 yard line, we slalomed through them instead. Basically, you treat each post as a left or right hand corner, switching shoulders as appropriate. This is really an excellent drill for getting people used to transferring from shoulder to shoulder, particularly for taking corners and shooting around cover. Our last drills of the morning were dry practicing 360 degree position shooting.

After lunch, Gabe ran through the ready positions, and we practice mounting the rifle and taking a dry shot from each position. After everyone was comfortable with the different positions, we went live. We moved on to snap shooting from the ready, then did some live shoulder transfers. With these fundamentals in place, we went through the basic get off the X drills in the six major directions. The range wasn’t really the best for practicing getting off the X. It was a gravel surface, with concrete sidewalks in front of each target running straight up and down range. Thus lateral movement involved stepping from sidewalk to gravel to sidewalk, with the attendant possibilities for tripping or loosing footing. This wrapped up the first day.


We started out the second day doing transitions from rifle to pistol. Gabe demonstrated our method and talked about why we prefer a simple two-point sling. We did some dry transitions, then did it live, but stationary, and finally did it on the move. Next we moved on to after action drills. Gabe explained the process, then we put it into practice, first dry, then live. We practiced addressing targets to the sides or rear while getting off the X both dry and live. Wrapping up the morning, Gabe talked a bit about hitting people with rifles. In Prescott this was part of the force on force class, but here he incorporated it into Advanced AK.

After lunch, we moved on to the team tactics unit. Gabe gave a basic explanation of fire and movement and how two people or units can keep fire on a target as they maneuver. We did some dry practice with muzzle aversion and trigger finger discipline to ensure everyone could do this sort of thing safely. Next Gabe lined up the students in two parallel lines and had each student fire a burst at the target, then file back to the rear of the line, reloading on the way, all the while keeping their muzzle safely straight up in the air. I stepped out on this one and helped Gabe keep an eye on the students as they did the drill.

Moving on to the usual 2-man bounding drill, the students moved down the line of targets in two man teams keeping a constant fire going all the way down. Randy and I sat this one out to help keep an eye on the students as they did the drill. The students in this class did pretty well. Only one pair managed to get both guns empty a the same time so that I had to shoulder my rifle to provide some supporting fire.

While the perpendicular sidewalks down every lane made things more difficult for the bounding drill, Gabe found a way to use them (and the fact that he had some rifle qualified instructors) to give students a chance to do some drills they wouldn’t normally see unless they took the High Risk Operator Team Tactics class. We started out doing the same 2-man bounding drill moving towards and away from the targets. The sidewalks ensured that students would stay in their own lane and not get in front of the other and we had three instructors to keep an eye on two students. Everyone did the drill dry, together, then we did it live one 20man team at a time. Moving forward and back revealed an interesting tradeoff that wasn’t evident with the lateral bounding drill. The further the students moved on each bound, the quicker they covered the distance, but the harder it was to communicate.

Finally, Gabe capped off the class doing an Australian Peel. This is a reaction to contact drill for a small unit that wants to retreat from contact with a larger (or better dug in) opponent. The unit starts out in a line, with alternating students covering the right and left sides. When the lead man yells “Contact front” (or just opens fire) the line splits, with alternating students moving right or left as appropriate. This leaves the team in two parallel lines, with the team leader in the center at the front. The team leader than the first man in each line fire at the enemy. When the team leader is ready to move, he turns around and heads up the middle to the back of one of the lines. The front of the right hand line fires until he’s ready to move, then turns and heads up the middle to the back of his line. The front man of the left hand line does the same. This keeps at least two guns on the enemy at all times and by alternating movement from the head of each line the entire unit moves further from the enemy. When the team leader comes to the head of the line and feels they’ve broken contact sufficiently to withdraw, he orders the unit to head for the rally point.

This is normally a pretty advanced drill, but the sidewalks made it possible to keep everyone lined up and Gabe had Randy and I to help watch the lines and ensure everyone was doing what they were supposed to. He split the class up into two squads and ran the drill a couple of times each. They did pretty well, for having only half a day of team training. I would really love to see this in action from a squad of really well trained troops with fully automatic weapons.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this class. I have to admit being a little dubious about how much I would get out of it taking it again so soon, but I wound up very satisfied. As a student, shooting it with iron sights provided a different experience from doing the class with a red dot. I was pretty gratified by my ability to execute these drills. The previous class, and the practice since, really paid off. As an instructor, I got a lot out of watching Gabe adapt the class to the students and the facility. It covered the same fundamental skills as the class in Prescott, but it definitely wasn’t exactly the same class.

This was a great class with a great bunch of guys and a great instructor. I would highly recommend it.

Chris Upchurch
Suarez International Staff Instructor

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