Patrolling Fundamentals I

Written by David R. Reed

The patrol order will be a briefing that includes all of the details and contingencies. It will provide the instructions that everyone needs to do their job. It will begin with the boarding of the helicopters/trucks/aircraft/submarine and end with the debriefing. You must include every conceivable contingency and allow time for training and rehearsals.

What do you do if you are discovered on the LZ upon insertion? If you will break your team into two elements for some reason, what are you going to do if one of the elements is discovered/captured/killed/ or for some reason doesn't return at the prearranged time?

If you are walking along and are ambushed what are you going to do? Break the patrol down into phases and spend a lot of time discussing each phase with your people. Identify all areas of concern and plan for them. You should rehearse everything as best you can. If you can locate an area to rehearse in that has similar terrain, practice moving into your ORP (Objective Rally Point)/Patrol Base at night. Make sure each person knows what sector he will be responsible for and can set up in the dark without talking. Rather than give a lengthy narrative on all of this, why don't we discuss some specific techniques and then go over the phases of a patrol and discuss how these techniques are integrated into the mission.


Much of these texts concern small clandestine patrols. Small clandestine patrols avoid contact with the enemy. They do not have the firepower to engage, and frequently operate beyond the range of rapid reinforcement. A large, powerful, and heavily armed combat patrol on a mission to seek out and destroy the enemy doesn't give a darn whether they make noise or not. They want the enemy to try and mess with them. They know that if the enemy does, they are going to kick some ass.

Vietnam was a war, not a movie. I don't doubt that with constant rotation of personnel, and a lot of young lieutenants, that some of the silly things you see in Vietnam-era War movies actually took place. Point is not a job for some green kid because he's more expendable. Point is the most important job in the patrol. I suppose if your patrol is undisciplined, noisy, high on drugs, listening to portable radios, and stumbling along through the jungle loaded down with comic books and all kinds of other crap there is VERY GOOD CHANCE you are going to get ambushed. In the movies these patrols put cherries on point because they know they are going to get hit. This is the stupidest, most screwed up, irresponsible wad of worms I can think of. If you think you are doing anyone any good by running a unit in this manner you should be court martialled and tried for treason. You go on patrol for a lot of reasons, but you don't do it to kill off your own people. Your job is to give the enemy the best opportunity that you can to die for HIS country. It's not the other way around.

Other things you see in movies that would get you slapped for trying on a patrol:

It should be noted that if I found you in possession of unauthorized items mentioned above (cigarettes, playing cards, and comic books) the punishment would be most severe. This is because the only way you could have gotten them would have been to sneak back and get them after the APL inspected you and your gear. If the APL let you bring any of the items he would probably be relieved immediately and charged with dereliction of duty. Phase of Patrol (Modified for our sample warning order)


Fundamental Concepts


When moving at night you will be very close to each other. 'Ranger Eyes' are sewn onto the back of your cap. These are two small strips of luminescent tape. In very dark places (like in a triple canopy jungle) you may have to hold onto the man in front of you. The worst sin a man can commit (along with coughing, sneezing, and stumbling) is to break contact with the man in front of him. DON'T DO THIS. People who are wont to break contact have no place on a patrol.

Movement formation should be such that the PL can control all of the patrol elements. Remember that you must be able to control teams in a variety of emergency situations. If you are strung out to far, your patrol can be cut in half by an ambush. If you are too close to each other, one mortar or artillery round can kill you all. You should organize your little patrol into a point element, headquarters, and rear security. (This is only for our small sniping mission) Patrols are usually organized according to the mission. While moving, people are organized into 'maneuver elements' and each has a team leader. In battle, the patrol leader will maneuver these teams against the enemy.


Point Element

While moving your patrol should have a point element. A point element is composed of a Point man and a slack man. Their mission is to provide security, NOT to navigate. The point team should not stray too far ahead. The PL must be able to control their direction and see them at all times. The point team must be very alert for booby traps, ambushes, and enemy patrols, positions, etc. The point man walks in front and the slack man moves behind him about 20 meters depending on terrain and vegetation. The slack man must watch the point man in his peripheral vision. When the point-man looks to the right, the slack man 'takes up the slack' by looking to the left. They must work together to provide constant 270 degree surveillance and check back to the patrol to get guidance on direction. If the point team does not keep an eye on the patrol, and the patrol stops for any reason, they will break contact. The point team is the patrols primary defense against ambush. They must be able to spot an ambush before the patrol gets within the kill zone. They will communicate by hand and arm signals. At night, or in dense vegetation, or rocky terrain, the point team will close up to the patrol. Tired men have a habit of looking at the ground in front of them. It is difficult to concentrate for long periods of time in a high-pressure situation like point.

The point team should not be in place for longer than one hour. 30 minutes is a better time period. That way your point team will always be alert. If your patrol is not large enough to rotate the point, or you have other reasons, make sure that your point team is a good one.


Headquarters Element

Your HQ element will be the Patrol Leader (PL), APL, and RTO (Radio Telephone Operator). If you were taking a medic, the medic would be part of the HQ element. For movement purposes the APL will be at the rear of the patrol. He will watch for litter, broken branches, tracks, and pull rear security. In a small patrol you may want to alternate the position of RTO so that each man can have a respite from point. It really depends on how well each person can operate the radio. Assuming everyone can operate the radio with a high degree of competence it is OK to do this, if not you may have to use a dedicated point team. You will have to make the decision, it is important to have a competent radio operator at all times. It is also important to have an alert point team at all times. Remember this, combat success is measured by the degree your unit can move, shoot, and communicate. Without communication, both within your patrol, and with field artillery and air support, you are dead in combat. A patrol leader must be able to maneuver his men, talk to HQ, fire support, and display leadership, all under a hail of bullets and other weapons. A good RTO must be able to encode and transmit messages fast. Once you are in contact with the enemy, the enemy knows where you are; it is acceptable to talk in the clear. This means it is no longer necessary to encrypt messages when time is of the essence. If you are in danger of being overrun you cannot waste time encoding. The "gun bunnies" love this stuff. When they hear you under fire and the urgency in your voice, they really earn their pay. They will load and fire like their lives depend on it. Every man in your patrol must be able to call for fire, quickly, and accurately. Part of your patrol order should cover fire missions.


Sniping Element

If you and the APL are snipers then you are also the sniping element. You will not be sniping during the movement phase, so it is acceptable to perform other jobs during this phase of the patrol. It is no different from any other special purpose team, demolitions, snatch, POW search and handling, river crossing, all must perform security and be ready to fire and maneuver in contact with the enemy.


All weapons must be kept on safe. Everyone will keep his finger on the selector switch. Since you will be behind enemy lines, and outnumbered by virtually any enemy unit in the area, you must not have an accidental discharge. You must hide and or run from anyone we meet if at all possible. The moment anyone fires an M16 or .308 you are compromised. This danger can be minimized somewhat by using sound suppressors. Would it make sense for everyone except snipers to carry enemy weapons? Could we get resupply if necessary? What are the chances of being re-supplied instead of extracted? Is everyone trained and competent with enemy weapons? Are sound suppressors available for the weapon you want to carry? Sound suppressors are essential pieces of equipment for all weapons.

Familiarity is one thing and competence is another. How you will perform with the equipment when suddenly ambushed, pinned down, or in a serious firefight is quite another. Dime store novels have commandos carrying all sorts of exotic weapons.

I'm saying that you are better off carrying the standard weapons everyone regularly carries. If everyone is competent with foreign weapons you may consider it. Remember that you don't want to fire your weapons, and resupply will be difficult if you are carrying non-standard items. The fact that the area is crawling with the enemy cannot be overlooked. The odds of a shoot-out at some point are likely and you want to survive it first, and then escape. If you can survive the fight with enemy weapons and you are sure of it, then your odds of escape are somewhat enhanced. Everyone within earshot will have heard their own weapons being fired, they will know their comrades are shooting at something, but won't know what.

This uncertainty can work in your favor. If the troops guarding the rear area are not seasoned combat soldiers, i.e., MPs, or other green troops, they will be more likely to wonder what the ruckus is about and wait for someone to tell them what to do. They will know that certain weapons sounds don't sound like theirs, even if they don't immediately recognize the source. If they don't hear strange weapons, they may think someone is qualifying or practicing! Notice I'm using a lot of 'less likely', 'apt to', 'odds are" 's. You must consider these things and make your decisions, there are no guarantees. What will happen may be something else entirely.

Weapons always follow your eyes. As you scan an area to your flank, your weapon's muzzle follows. It should always be pointed wherever you are looking.

Each man in the patrol has a sector to watch as you move. Stagger this so that you alternate from right to left. One man looks right, the man behind him looks left, and so on all the way back through the patrol.

All of your men should be able to qualify right & left handed with their weapons.


The basic indivisible unit is a 2-man buddy system. You should never leave a man alone for any reason. You will not be forgiven for a tragedy befalling someone under your command when it could have been avoided.


You should not use radios unless absolutely necessary. The enemy can determine where you are transmitting from and they will fire upon your location. You should work out a system of squelch breaks to communicate. When you separate for recon purposes, each team should have a small, low-power radio.


Immediate Action Drills

Spotted by unarmed civilian

If you can you should capture him and tie him up. If you can't leave him tied up for whatever reason consider killing him, quietly, with a knife. Can you trust him? Can you verify that he is a partisan? Anyone in fear of his life will tell you anything to get out of the situation. The textbooks will tell you to gag him, tie him up, and force him to go with you. After all, he's a civilian and you are not supposed to kill him. Another thing you won't be forgiven for -- officially.

Spotted by armed soldier who doesn't shoot

Kill him quickly and quietly -- if he shoots try to kill him quietly. If you have the same kind of weapon he has kill him with it if you have to. Rehearse this. Now what will you do, did anyone hear you? He will certainly be missed; can you make it look as someone else shot him? Like he shot himself? Can you bury him, drown him, anything to keep his body from being discovered?

Spotted by Armed soldier(s) Who Shoot

The point team should immediately drop and return fire. The point man fires an entire magazine at full-auto and throws a grenade. If possible the slack man should lay down a base of suppressive fire while the point man runs or crawls back to the patrol. The patrol fires to cover the slack man's escape. You can repeat this moving one man to the rear of the patrol at a time until you have broken contact. Then everyone can run like hell to the last rally point.

Far Ambush

Suddenly mortars fall on you or a heavy machine gun opens up from 600 yd.'s away. The PL yells "9:00 300 meters!" or something, everyone runs to the 9:00 direction for 300 meters and regroups. If they are separated then they return to the last rally point. (Later)

Near Ambush

You are suddenly ambushed, the only thing you can do is assault their position. Don't try to hide, any place that provides cover will only be booby-trapped in a well-laid ambush. If you run you'll be shot down. Your only hope in a near ambush is to attack the enemy firing on full auto, throwing grenades, swinging you rifle like a club, etc. This must be rehearsed. Everyone must do it instantly, w/out hesitation for it to have any chance of working. Anyone not in the kill zone must immediately flank and assault the enemy position. Basically, if you are caught in a near ambush you are dead meat! The best defense is this one, don't ever forget it DON'T GET YOUR ASS AMBUSHED!

Your point team must be a good one! Its job is to make sure there is no one hiding in ambush along your route.


Rally Points

Along your route you must select rally points while you walk. You will probably have a few picked out beforehand by looking at prominent terrain features on your map. As you pass big gnarled trees, rocks, etc. you point and say rally point. Make sure the point element gets the word, not just the people behind you. If you have to run, the rendezvous place is always the last rally point. If that isn't possible the rally point before that one becomes the rendezvous.


In Ranger and LRP training these concepts are drilled into your head in a pressure cooker environment. The slightest error brings almost violent reactions from the instructors. By the time you have lived like this it becomes second nature, instinctive. If you have not had the benefit of this training then you must rehearse (and you should anyway, no matter how much it pisses them off) these actions with your men prior to the patrol.


Actions When Stopped

Whenever you stop for any reason everyone must form a hasty perimeter. You must never stand up unless you are moving. The instant the patrol stops everyone quietly moves a few feet out and forms a defensive perimeter. This can be a simple cigar shape.

When you start out again get a head count. People who are very tired can fall asleep while stopped. The PL should tap his hat as the signal for the count. Everyone in turn will tap his hat all the way back to the APL who is in the rear. He says "one" to the man in front of him who in turn says "two," so on and so forth back to the front of the patrol. If someone has been left asleep you will know and can get him up before you move out.

When in formation everyone has a direction they will watch while stopped. You don't want everyone walking off to the left and leaving the right unguarded.

If you will be stopped for more than a few minutes you may follow this schedule of maintenance.


Actions at Danger Areas

Contingencies are: Plan to have people separated as little as possible. If you are hit you don't want a danger area separating your men. Do not send one man across at a time unless you are crossing a stream or river. If it is a road spread everyone out. When the right & left flank give you an all clear everyone runs across at once.


Command and Control

Certain signals will mean certain things in an emergency. You need a signal to: At night, when everyone is firing, they cannot hear you yell. A good way to signal is with different colored flares that everyone can see. Everyone must know radio frequencies without writing them down. They must know how many clicks left or right to arrive at the right frequencies in the dark. If you run the risk of capture you must reset the radio to a different frequency so that the enemy won't find the radio with the proper frequency already set for them.

Forget birdcalls. Unless your enemy is a bunch of idiots they will know your signals are not birds chirping. Most birds call in the early morning and evening. They do not call each other in the middle of the night. Owls hoot, but how many owls do you hear? Are they native to the area? Owls stick to one area their entire lives. If you have one near your house you will hear him every now and then. If the enemy has been in an area for several weeks without hearing an owl, and suddenly they hear two of them hooting back and forth they are not going to think it's two owls. Any noise you male will be assumed a threat and fired upon. Forget cowboy movie tricks, your enemy has probably seen a few westerns too.


Scout dogs have no place on a clandestine patrol. They are noisy, defecate everywhere, and may give away your position. If they are hot they can't help panting. They may bark, scratch, or any number of things that can compromise your mission. Don't even think about it.

Water Proofing

Radios must be water proofed by wrapping with visqueen and taping. Leave enough slack in the plastic to operate the knobs. The handset is wrapped too. First put it in a sock to absorb condensation then wrap with plastic. Tape the handset cord far enough down to insure a watertight seal.

Back to Training