Inside Look: Rich Graham’s Full Spectrum Warrior Training Facility

Safariland Cadre member Rich Graham of Full Spectrum Warrior addressing students.
May 16, 2024  
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Categories: People

A county highway turned into a country road. The country road turned into an unmarked dirt driveway. A mile down the narrow, sandy path flanked by palms, I started to wonder if I was in the right place. Eventually, the dense central Florida forest gave way to acres of freshly mowed grass, a towering obstacle course, working dog pens, and several large buildings emblazoned with the telltale circle of swords logo. Welcome to Full Spectrum Warrior.

Safariland flew me and several other writers out to train at FSW with Rich Graham. He is the facility’s creator, a well-known training guru from the Navy SEAL community, and a member of the impressive Safariland Cadre lineup. Our job for the weekend was to test the brand’s holsters and retention systems in a realistic – and very intense – series of drills.

If you’re not familiar with Full Spectrum Warrior and the man behind it, I assure you the place serves as one hell of a grindstone on which to sharpen your skills.

Full Spectrum Warrior

Is This The Ultimate Training Ground?

Full Spectrum Warrior will do wonders for your tactical abilities, but there’s a lot more going on out here than shooting up steel targets.
Full Spectrum Warrior will do wonders for your tactical abilities, but there’s a lot more going on out here than shooting up steel targets.

Arriving at FSW felt like being dropped into the set of a video game. Standing in the pavilion – our staging area and chow hall for the weekend – I could see the obstacle course, a rock-climbing wall, a shoot house, two pistol ranges, and a massive raised platform for long-range precision shooting over one of two gator ponds on the property. And that was without even turning my head.

That’s no accident. The whole thing took shape over the span of about eight years. Piece by piece, it grew into something you won’t find at your local shooting range or gym. It’s like an M.C. Escher drawing; the longer you look, the more you see.

“It doesn’t need to have set-up for tons of stuff going on at the same time, we can just make it customizable; make it something that I would want to train on personally,” Graham said.

Rich Graham had us locking horns and throwing each other around before the dust settled on the driveway.
Ostensibly, we were there to learn about holster retention levels. That turned out to be a substantial understatement. Graham had us locking horns and throwing each other around before the dust settled on the driveway.

It’s an immersive experience where one training area transforms into another. A grassy pistol range doubled as our grappling area. If anyone had doubts about a Safariland holster’s ability to take abuse without forking over your pistol to the bad guys before we started sparring, I bet they didn’t by the end.

That wasn’t the only place to shoot, though. Three berms and a dizzying array of steel targets and shooting positions covered the FSW basecamp area. Even the obstacle course provided creative stations for engaging targets in between hustling over, under, and through its features.

Wrapping my head around the nuances of CQB in the FSW shoot house helped illustrate just how much more there is to learn.
Wrapping my head around the nuances of CQB in the FSW shoot house helped illustrate just how much more there is to learn.

The FSW shoot house gave us room to watch as instructors demonstrated close-quarters battle techniques, then turned us loose to practice with marker cartridges. Clearing rooms presented a big challenge made easier by minuscule details. A foot placed here, a quick sidestep there, and a subtle nod to your partner can turn an exercise in futility into a formidable tactic. 

If anyone had doubts about a Safariland duty holster’s ability to take abuse without forking over your pistol to the bad guys before we started sparring, I bet they didn’t by the end.

And then there was the driving range (no golf clubs required). A trail through the woods led to yet another shooting range, this time with decommissioned police SUVs. That’s where marksmanship, driving ability, and teamwork came together.

FSW and Rich Graham leading a vehicle shooting iteration. I guess you could say this counts as shooting from the seated position.
I guess you could say this counts as shooting from the seated position. Breach-Bang-Clear editor David Reeder rotating through one of the vehicle blocks.

Working in pairs, we practiced engaging targets from the vehicles. The next building block was dismounting, taking cover behind other vehicles, and engaging more distant targets. All the while, team communication was key.

The culmination event was to put it all together with defensive driving in the loose Florida sand. Each driver navigated a series of roadblocks and chicanes while the passenger provided cover fire until both finally dismounted, engaged the last set of steel targets, and covered each other’s movement to safety.

Get Your Body in Fighting Shape

On an obstacle course before shooting steel. So, you can shoot paper at your local shooting range – but can you hit targets anywhere from 15 to 120 yards out after climbing to the top of a three-story tower?
So, you can shoot paper at your local shooting range – but can you hit targets anywhere from 15 to 120 yards out after climbing to the top of a three-story tower? Rich Graham and his cadre will push you to learn.

If all this sounds exhausting, that’s because it was. Physical stress simulates psychological stress for training purposes, but it’s also a realistic factor we should all prepare for. Odds are, if you ever get to the point where you need to shoot to protect yourself, you’ll be sucking wind by the time you get there.

Exercise is one way to get your heart pumping and your muscles fatigued. At first, we were running around the rock climbing wall, scrambling onto a shipping container, and swinging from monkey bars. By the second day, we were scaling a three-story tower to take pistol shots on steel silhouettes more than 100 yards out.

“Sometimes, that’s the closest we can get you without actually putting you into a shootout,” Graham said. “When you have the butterflies and you’re stressed, to just make your body tired to kind of simulate a version of stress. It’s not the same but we can put you under stress and then ask you to replicate those shooting fundamentals, the proper decision-making, challenges that we have – stuff like that.”

This kind of dynamic environment isn’t just good for pushing your body, it’ll expose weaknesses in your kit, too.

“You have a lot of guys who get all this gear, and it’s cool when they’re standing still but they never actually had a chance to pressure-test it. We’ll go over these walls and stuff, and you’ll have sling mounts that rip off or slings that break. Holsters pop off, pistols fall out, belts snap, body armor straps give out. Or they have plates and they think they can just go throw body armor on and then they’re doing three obstacles out of the 40 obstacles and their heart’s about to explode.” ~ Rich Graham

No matter how fit you are, this place will give you something to work on. I suspect that’s the point.

No Action Heroes: The Full Spectrum Way

Full Spectrum Warrior cadre talking to the writers attending Safariland's writer event with Rich Graham.
Shooting fast and accurately is just part of a much bigger picture.

The run-and-gun-style training was educational, effective, and tons of fun. It isn’t what Graham wants people to focus on, though. There’s a huge spiritual and self-awareness component.

“I have to be able to defend myself, my family, and those around me while we’re waiting for the police to get there,” Graham said. “If you have a wife or a child, you have responsibility – and part of your responsibility is to take care of them and protect them. So within that, you should have a baseline understanding of how to fight; how to shoot, right? You should have a baseline understanding of situational awareness so you can avoid those situations, and see those before they happen, and check your ego at the door, and remove yourself from the situation before things get bad.”

Twice a year, FSW opens its doors to the public for a Protectors Summit. The goal of these events is to build strong, resilient men who can protect themselves and their families – in the physical sense and the spiritual sense. Instructors represent military, professional athlete, competitive shooting, leadership coaching, and spiritual backgrounds. It’s as much about character development as it is about tactical proficiency.

Like Graham said, “Without the spiritual component, we’re just a bunch of meatheads learning how to smash people.”

Rich Graham, NSW (Ret.), Full Spectrum Warrior

Here’s The Firehose, Take A Sip

Scott Murdock with Rich Graham at the Full Spectrum Warrior training facility in Florida.
Rich Graham knows his shit, and he’s a good dude. If he’s talking, listen up.

“It’s going to take days for me to process all of this and learn from it,” I told Graham as we wrapped things up at FSW.

The old analogy of drinking from a firehose certainly applied. On the flight home, I found myself visualizing the room-clearing drills, the vehicle tactics, and the obstacle course. The lessons we learned at FSW aren’t things you can master in a week or even a year. They take a lifetime of practice.

Building this kind of proficiency is a journey, but there are some great people who will gladly help you along the way.

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Scott Murdock

Scott Murdock

About the Author

Scott Murdock cut his teeth as a shooter in the Marine Corps, where every Marine is a rifleman (even POGs like him). When he aged out of being young and hot enough to be a public affairs officer, Scott sought refuge in the more accepting civilian world. There he could freely binge-eat homemade brisket and grow his hair out in hopes of joining Ozzy Osbourne on tour. When that didn't pan out either, Scott fell back on military experience that includes a deployment to Afghanistan, wrangling belligerent media at the MCAS Miramar Air Show, and competing in the USMC's Western Division Matches to write about guns, gear, and fast vehicles. Lately, he's been leveraging his budding literacy into gigs with Task & Purpose, Outdoor Life, Free Range American, Pew Pew Tactical, and Breach-Bang-Clear.

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