Dealing With My Dumpster Fire: 2021 Legion 9/11 Memorial Run n Gun

If you put some effort into your competitive shooting, you’ll prepare for days, weeks or even months for a match. You might spend some money on gear, spend hours dry-firing and burn precious ammo practicing. You eat right, hydrate and get your mind right. As the match draws near, you get both excited and anxious at the same time. Finally it is the time to strap on your gear and get to shooting. The usual conclusion to intense preparation and focus is success in your shooting. Then there are the days that you have a dumpster fire…

Definition of dumpster fire:

an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence

MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY

The Match

Before I get into my own problems, I want to setup the event. My dumpster fire took place at the 2021 Legion 9/11 Memorial Run n Gun competition. This event is a highlight of the year for the Run n Gun community, due to the quality of the event and purpose of the weekend. Run-n-Gun (RnG) competitions see a competitor cross terrain with all of their gear, arriving at pistol and/or rifle stages along the way to complete the course of fire. Usually these are between five and ten kilometers (3-6 miles for the non-metric people), typically taking advantage of terrain, water crossings and obstacles to complicate things. Read more here.

The Legion event takes everything up a notch, as it is a fundraising event for Chapter 38 of the Special Forces Association, supporting the 5th Special Forces Group and their families. The shooting stages are based on the experiences and missions of 5th Group, often memorializing fallen soldiers of the Legion. Making the run hard is part of the experience, giving everyone a little taste of dealing with some adversity. Additionally, there are a couple divisions depending on the additional suffering you wanted to self-inflict, including Lightfighter (run what you want), Operator (bring body armor) or Tier 1 (carry a 45lb pack plus shooting kit).  

For 2021, the match was hosted at the Dead Zero Shooting Park in Spencer, TN. You could choose to run the 5K or 10K course, with the 5k being hard and the 10K taking things up another notch. While the 5K course isn’t easy, the 10K course added extra miles of cutting through woods, water crossings, a swamp immersion, hills, barbed wire fences to negotiate plus a couple extra shooting stages that hurt some feelings. I had success running the 10k Lightfighter division the year before, so I chose to give it another run for this year.

Being that this is a charity event, there were several excellent fundraiser from sponsors, participants and some fun side activities like a night shoot and I taught a few classes related to Run-n-Gun shooting. Additionally, there was some live music each night before the awards. Finally, we had the privilege of having several Gold Star families in attendance at the event.

Now that you know a little more about the event, let me preface by saying that I had a great weekend. That being said, I had a rough go at this match. Normally everything runs right, my head stays in the game and things tend to work out. This year was a BIG lesson in fighting through adversity. Since I had so many things go wrong during my run, we’ll break them up into each problem as I went through the course.

Ready, Set, Go?

During some training classes I taught the couple days before the run, we dedicated some time to talking about match preparation. While everything I had was good to go, my first problem occurred at 15 seconds before my run time started. I was standing at the starting point looking at my watch, only to realize I didn’t have my armboard and marker to record information (Legion rewards paying attention with minor letups in suffering). As time started, I thought briefly about going without it but then changed my mind, making a sprint for the truck and grabbed it. Not the greatest start to a race.

Diagnosis: I had my armboard in hand, but due to chatting with some other competitors I got distracted and then realized I was about to hit my start time. While hastily grabbing my rifle and getting to the start line, I set my armboard down and the rifle case landed on top. This ended up costing me about a minute, plus energy expended with sprinting several hundred yards and the mental distraction.

Crash and Burn

This year’s Legion had about many water immersions/crossings throughout. The first one was a creek with a culvert that had to be crawled through to get to stage one. When I went to enter the water I planted my left foot on the bank, and while shifting my weight to step into the water, the side bank gave out. It probably looked like an exaggerated cartoon fall, as I went feet in the air while my right butt cheek and holster took the brunt of the mud slide as I went into the water. Normally a little water doesn’t hurt, but the extent of the mud slide and accumulation in my belt kit was not yet realized.

After crawling through the culvert and making my way to stage one, I tried to get myself calmed down to shoot. Stage one should have been a great stage, with multiple positions, multiple targets, a smoke grenade and lots of pistol shooting. I understood the brief, got in position and then got started. Firing my first shot, I felt/saw my pistol cycle and then had a dead trigger. My first remedial action was to tap/rack/fire, but then it went to a dead trigger again. Another tap/rack and fire again, and again, and again all the way through the stage. The prognosis at that point was not looking good, having lost an entire magazines worth of ammo to tap/rack and I didn’t know what was up with the pistol.

Once the stage was over, I asked the RO if I could take a look at the pistol. My quick diagnosis was the pistol fully ejected and fed rounds on the stage, including returning fully into battery. At that point it was an internal trigger issue so I locked the slide back and hosed it down with some water, then ran my finger inside the magwell and where the trigger slides in the frame. I got some mud and a small leaf to come out, and the gun reset some of the time dry-firing. There wasn’t anything else I could do or see, so I loaded it back up and took off to stage two a little bit pissed off.

On a positive note, my ammunition planning incorporated an extra magazine should one gets lost. In this case, I spent my time on the stage sprinkling rounds on the ground, but the extra loaded magazine did help prevent panicking too much after only stage one.

Land Nav Gone Wrong

After stage one it was time to try to analyze my kit a little closer. As I was heading down the road, I started checking magazines. Most were soaked through with wet ammo and some debris. I started trying to organize my pistol mags, consolidating two nearly partial mags and moving loaded mags around. Before starting to look at my rifle mags, I looked up for a trail indicator, flagging tape or something to make sure I was on the right path….but when I didn’t see anything I stopped, took a look around and saw some flagging on the reverse slope of a hill over a hundred yards away. That was too far to be my next marker, so instead of wandering around on an active firing range I pulled out my phone and double checked the map provided…realizing I missed a turn when I was fumbling with magazines. After a little backtracking I made my way to stage two.

Diagnosis: I lost situational awareness of my location while I was working through my thoughts and getting gear somewhat squared away. I added about .6 miles and 8 minutes to my run unnecessarily, in a sport where the fastest time wins.

Rifle Problems Part 1

Stage two was a straightforward stage assuming you remembered height over bore clearance with your rifle. I loaded the first magazine off my chest rig that I knew to be clean. As I negotiated the stage I decided to do a speed reload before the final firing position. I went to my usual belt reload, only to have the magazine not insert into the rifle. After trying to jam the mag in and not lock into place, I ditched the magazine and went to a chest rig magazine. My stage time placed well (3rd in the 10k race), however I burned an unacceptable amount of time trying to get the rifle running and lost at least 5-10 seconds in the process.

Diagnosis: After I finished shooting, I picked up the attempted reload mag and saw it was caked with mud at the over-insertion stop/lip. There was so much mud on the magazine, it couldn’t be compressed when I was trying to stick the magazine into the magwell. As a note, doing a push-pull on the magazine during any insertion will tell you’re good to go with a magazine in place. Doing this on the stage identified there was a magazine problem before making things worse.

Rifle Problems Part 2

With the first two stages having not gone well in my mind, I took off at a walking pace to stage three while trying to figure out a little more what I had going on. Since the dirt and mud were so bad in my belt pouches, I committed myself to working from my chest rig and ignoring the belt that is my usual go-to. Stage three went well for me, but I was still working off the bad juju of everything to that point.

Stage 3 on video

Arriving at stage four, it was a stage that is generally suited to my shooting strengths…lots of movement with wide target transitions. As I got into the first rifle position, I got 2-3 shots off and the rifle went dead. With the rifle firing and a dead trigger, a tap/rack was done and still no joy. At this point inspecting the ejection port revealed two rounds crammed together. Now it was out with the mag, get the rounds out and reload a fresh one. This worked, I fired another shot and same problem. Fix the problem again and then finally I got out of that firing position. At the second firing position the same problem repeated, so I tried another magazine. With the fresh mag, I fired another couple shots and same problem again.

Diagnosis: During one of the many remedial actions I noticed that a fresh round was going in and it wasn’t an empty case stuck in the chamber, so a tap/rack was trying to stuff a second round in. So now instead of a tap/rack I was dropping the magazine, partially pulling the bolt to the rear and letting it slide forward. Sometimes the forward assist was needed to close the bolt all the way. Somehow, I was able to get my way through the stage without a DNF. I still don’t know what the problem was, as after that the rifle ran flawlessly the rest of the match. My assumption is some kind of debris had at some point worked its way in and then back out.

As I left stage four, the thought crossed my mind to toss the mags into the woods forever, but I ended up just sorting through and selecting the best of the magazines to use as my primary for the rest of the match. I brought a few paper towels in a Ziploc and downloaded rounds into my hand with a towel to dry off and reload into the magazine.

Pistol Pain

At this point in the match, I’ve taken a spill into the mud, figured out my pistol doesn’t work but got it at least dry-firing ok, don’t know what’s up with my rifle, my belt pouches are full of mud, half my magazines are in the same shape, and I had gotten lost…all after having to run to the truck since I forgot something. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not a quitter and was determined to finish the damn race even if I had to throw my ammo at the target or steal another runner’s gear. Then I had to laugh because if something was going to go wrong, I might as well have everything go wrong.

I strolled into stage five not having not seen the forewarned paintball-gun-armed terrorist and wondering how interesting the stage was going to be due to my gear situation. While stage five was straightforward in action: engage a target with five rounds from the four corners of a vehicle, the stage that should have been a sub-20 second run took almost 50 seconds to complete. The pistol was back to a single shot. However, since I had some experience with stage one, I went to the very unusual remedial action of having to pull the trigger forward to reset for every shot. While slow, I was still able to stay in the game by taking a shot, trigger finger out, support hand push/pull the trigger forward, then fire again, and repeat.

To cap off this stage, I encountered Jihadi George with his paintball gun that was menacing runners along the way. I at least hoped the paintball that got me in the right rear-end cheek would add some splatter to my pistol and somehow fix my problem.

Swamp Thing

Since I ran back to the truck for my armboard, you might be asking if it was worth it… and the answer is yes and no. On stage six I used it to record the barricade engagement sequence, doing well on that. But, between stages six and seven was an obstacle that could have been prevented had the phrases I had written down been legible by the time I needed them. While nothing went wrong other than having to do it, I got to have a nice, long, chest deep walk through the swamp.

Trevor sending another victim into the swamp.

Finish the Race

The remaining run to stage seven encountered yet another water entry, this time with a walk in a creek that would have been worth of “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival as a soundtrack, followed by another crawl through a culvert. I survived stage 7, and it turns out did ok since I finished before time expired. That being said, I missed the easy 100 and 200 targets starting out, requiring me to fight with my pistol to engage the penalty pistol target required if you missed.

Once the final stage was done, I was more than ready for the finish line, a beer and a shower. To cap off the race, the last act on the clock after running uphill to the end was a set of twenty-two burpees for Mission 22 awareness.

Lessons Learned

The Legion RnG event is a marquee event for the community, one that many train hard for. Despite my absolute trainwreck, I did finish in 4th place in my division. While a top 10 finish is a good one for many, all of the problems I had and knowing I could do better bothered me. Usually my gear is squared away, guns run flawlessly, and I can take advantage of opportunities to do well. With lots of self-reflection and inspection of my gear, I did make some errors and had a great lesson in dealing with it.  

After the event I did a complete disassembly of both rifle and pistol. Before I did that, I tried to diagnose my pistol without the race pressure. I cycled and dry-fired my pistol another 50 times and still had the trigger hang-up. After coating it in oil and another 50 cycles, I still had a problem. Then I let it sit overnight soaked in oil and then during cycling and dry-firing again it finally started to reset the trigger. Upon disassembly I didn’t find any one thing inside, except for just enough mud and grit that had accumulated between the trigger bow and frame, as well as between the trigger itself and it’s opening in the frame, that there was enough drag to prevent the trigger from resetting under its own pressure. I also noted scratches on the normally clean trigger and polished trigger bow from the grit being forced between the trigger/frame during operation.

Would a Glock have had the same problem? That is hard to say. I’ve had other mud immersions with a Glock that induced similar problems with material causing drag on the components. If you get enough stuff in between the small parts you can create an issue. Will this keep me from running a 2011 again at a match? No. I could have been a little more cautious at that initial water crossing, but the 2011 will ride again.

Aside from the firearms, here are some lessons learned and/or reiterated throughout the day:

  • Having firearms manipulations skills down pat ensured staying in the game even when things went wrong.
  • Being able to diagnose problems and adapt quickly allowed me to stay in the game, even if the solution wasn’t ideal.
  • Know your gear and have some proficiency to adjust your plan for things like ammunition management when your go-to pouch is full of mud.
  • Understand the course of fire/stage plan so when something goes wrong, you’re not totally lost on the stage.
  • More ammo gives you more options. Unless you’re on fire or drowning, a few extra rounds might be worth it.
  • Have some emotional durability when stuff goes wrong. If you can physically keep going, just keep trudging along until the end.
  • Losing situational awareness of your location on the trail is not good, slow down if you need to but stay on the correct path.
  • With the extensive water immersions, having non-Goretex shoes with wool socks worked out extremely well to let the shoes drain of water and not let my feet get into bad shape.
  • Softshell pants don’t absorb water like cotton pants and stay light, even when wet.
  • Bringing extra lens fobs and dry paper towels in a Ziploc was a big help for getting shooting glasses and riflescope lenses clean, as well as drying off/cleaning ammo.
  • I’m going to add a small sampler tube of lube, just to add another option in my remedial work to get a gun running better. I don’t know if it would have helped either, but I didn’t have it to try.
  • I’m going to go to a written pre-match checklist so I don’t forget anything before I start.

Many thanks to Matt Stennett, the match staff, volunteers, Dead Zero Shooting Park and the competitors for a great event and weekend…even if my contribution was a dumpster fire!

And to commemorate this year’s event, I give you a collection of memes for Legion:

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