Combat Operations

By William S. Frisbee Jr.


 All manner of warfighting activities are usually planned and have many similarities. There are a wide variety of missions from attacking a hill to hostage rescue. Each operation requires a different approach and different planning requirements.





In the movies you usually see the Lieutenant, Captain, Major or whoever saying "We attack at dawn," or "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." Movies rarely, if ever, show the extensive planning and the movement to the objective. Fighting the battle usually isn't even half the problem. It wouldn't be the first time a unit got lost on the way to the attack and missed it, or tried to attack an objective loaded down with heavy, useless gear.

A lot of movies will say "We've passed the point of no return" but what does that really mean? What is an Objective Rally Point, what is a rally point? What is the edge of the battle area and why is a dawn attack preferred? What's so special about a patrol?

Entire manuals have been written about Offensive and Defensive Operations, Patrols, Raids, and tactics. There are a lot of fine points to all these operations. For instance a patrol is not just a group of fighters wandering around in the jungle looking for the enemy. There are six types of patrols and each one has a very specific mission.

Defensive Operations are not just a line of fox holes where the fighters will fire at the enemy while artillery rounds explode around them. The deployment of machine guns, barbed wire, grenade launchers, mines, and secondary and tertiary positions are all of critical importance.

An Offensive Operation is not just a bunch of fighters attacking some hill, or enemy camp. Fires should be coordinated so only the enemy gets shot, how far should the unit attack or will it be a mile long assault course that ends only because the troops can't run anymore.

It is often said that the most difficult operation is patrolling. If a unit can patrol well, it can do everything else. Patrols are very highly planned and can have very unpredictable results. All patrols are basically the same with the differences being on how it will react to contact with the enemy and the end results desired. All other types of combat operations implement some aspect of patrolling.

War is a means to an end. It involves people and like people it cannot be stereotyped. Every conflict is different because the people and circumstances are different.

In essence war is about people who cannot solve their problems peacefully and for one reason or another find it better to kill their fellow man. Humans have been fighting since the dawn of time. With the ability to write and pass on knowledge the art of war has been codified and studied for thousands of years.

Scholars and warriors have studied war long and hard and several basic truths have emerged. Each nation and military has their variations based on their experience and history.

Dimensions of War

There are three dimensions of war and each one can have a different affect on the outcome of the conflict.

The first Dimension of War is the Physical Dimension. The abilities of men, equipment and logistics. This is the most recognizable dimension and it is usually the easiest to measure. It can have a powerful effect on the outcome of a battle or war but it is not the only factor.

The second Dimension of War is the Mental Dimension. The capacity to plan, think and act tactically. This is frequently the theoretical aspect and is not so easy to measure.

The third Dimension of War is the Moral Dimension. This is the courage, Esprit De Corp, the morale and will of the combatants. This can have a very powerful effect on the conflict, more than most people realize. Many of the less educated generals tend to underestimate.

Nature of War

War by its very nature is chaos incarnate. War is fought by people under pressure and people become very unpredictable under that pressure. People think differently, interpret orders differently, see the situation differently and are under pressure so they react differently than may be expected.

Although wars are different in respect to reasons and actions, the nature of war remains consistent and can be characterized by having the following different aspects.

Friction is what makes the seemingly easy tasks into difficult tasks. Digging a hole is usually easy and relatively stress free. Digging a hole while under fire and bombardment is not.

Uncertainty is the Fog of War. In a war zone one never knows exactly what the enemy is up to, where he is and why he is doing what he is doing. Uncertainty is about those secrets you don't know and uncertainty is not knowing exactly what your commander or subordinates are thinking or doing. It is so easy to make a mistake if you don't have all the facts and information but facts and information is frequently the last thing you have.

Fluidity is the constantly developing situation. Each situation is different and requires a different approach. Things do not just 'happen' they evolve. The enemy doesn't just attack from nowhere. They have to come from their base and they usually have a very specific goal, failing that goal they WILL try something else. The side with the best ability to adapt to the situation and shape it to their advantage has a powerful tool.

Disorder is what conflict usually becomes. The longer a battle is fought the more chaotic it will become. If a subordinate leader is killed or gets lost then the commander will have no idea what is going on with that sub unit. The longer a battle goes on the more chances are that the someone will get killed, wounded or lost. When that happens a link in the chain of information is removed.

The Human Dimension is the clash of opposing, violent wills. It is human nature that leads us to fight. It is lies and truths of others, tied together in a tapestry of confusion, that leads people to fight and kill each other.

Violence and Danger is also the nature of war. This causes a great deal of fear among the combatants. Fear of getting killed, fear of getting friends killed, fear of killing another man. Killing is the final option. You cannot apologize to a dead man and some people find that they are unwilling to use that final option. Others realize that if they do not use that final option then someone they know and care for may die. The violence and danger affect people in many different ways and everyone is different, and until they have received the baptism of fire, unpredictable.

Principles of War

History has taught us time and time again that certain principles apply to all wars. The lesser leader will forget or ignore these principles and that will usually lead to his defeat.

Mass: This is the concentration of fires and forces at the decisive place and time. It is not about having more troops although that helps, it is about applying what you have in the most effective and powerful manner.

Unity Of Command: There should be one decision maker. One person who sets the goals and objectives. It is up to that leader to insure the soldiers or Marines are working together to achieve that objective. Without one commander the force will be torn apart by indecision and lack of coordination.

Objective/Aiming Point: This means there must be a reason for the battle or war and it must be adhered to. Changing the aiming point or objective halfway through the conflict will lead to chaos and possibly defeat.

Economy of Force: This is balancing your force to get the most out of it. There will never be enough troops or planes or tanks to satisfy a commander so careful planning must be done to insure the force is well managed and deployed. It also means the commander must accept the risks inherent in deploying that force. For example, if supply lines are well protected then it is unlikely the commander will have enough troops to find and engage the guerrillas. If enough troops are not deployed to protect the supply lines then the troops looking for the guerrillas may starve.

Flexibility: War is characterized by chaos, disorder, indecision and uncertainty. The situation is usually changing constantly so the commander must be ready to take advantage of the situation when an advantage presents itself.

Initiative: This is making the enemy react instead of act. By taking the initiative you are forcing the enemy to try and counter you. You force him to try and figure out what you are up to and you force him to guess, possibly guessing wrong. If the enemy does guess wrong then he will likely make a mistake that you can use to your advantage.

Maneuver: This is linked with initiative. By moving around you are forcing the enemy to expend time and resources figuring out where you are and what you are up to. If you remain stationary then the best you can achieve is a stalemate. A chess game is not one by both players staring at the board, it is won by moving pieces in a threatening manner and seeking a weakness in the enemy defense.

Security: This is about keeping secrets and making sure the enemy does not surprise you. If the enemy knows what you are up to, where you are and what you are planning he will set a trap for you. If you don't have someone watching behind you then the enemy will sneak up and cut your throat. Security is basically about not getting surprised.

Surprise: It is always best to surprise your opponent and a surprise attack can inflict damage way out of proportion to the defending force. Everyone from the general to the private knows it is safer to sneak up and bash your enemy from behind than to call him out to a fair fight.

Simplicity: Because warfare is chaos orders and equipment must be simple. No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy and a simple battle plan makes it easier to adjust to the situation. When people are scared they do a lot less thinking and fumble much more easily so equipment should be as simple as possible. As Murphy once said "The side with the simplest uniforms wins."

Morale: Most people don't consider this much but it can have the greatest impact on a battle. Conscript troops for instance would rather be at home with wife and kids than fighting someone so when the rounds start flying that conscript will be less willing to risk his life than a fanatic with a grudge.

Speed: This is about acting quickly, keeping the enemy in a position trying to counter what you are doing. By staying active you are putting the enemy on the defensive and taking away his initiative. Speed is the best way to confuse and cripple an enemy.

Offense: This ties in with speed and maneuver. By taking the offense and attacking the enemy you are forcing him to try and counter you. You are also taking the initiative away from the enemy. By attacking the enemy's willpower and equipment you are destroying the enemy's ability to react and counter you.

Entropy: Basically this means that the longer a conflict goes on the more predictable and "plodding" it will become. Of course there are exceptions as each side tries different ploys to end the conflict but for the most part the conflict grinds along because both sides have learned what they are capable of and what they are not. Surprise is less easily obtained in the big picture and the war frequently becomes a war of attrition.

Combating Force

When two different forces clash very rarely are they actually equal. Commanders will seek to concentrate their forces in a decisive time and place. In order to 'control' the enemy and maneuver him into an advantageous position the commander can employ one of four methods for dealing with the enemy force.

Leading Force: The enemy will usually seek to attack weaknesses so by pretending to be weak the defender may draw the enemy into a trap.

Turning Force: By attacking a flank or from a certain location the defender can force the enemy to turn and face him with the intent of concentrating his force against the defender. This can take the enemy off balance and give the defender a chance to lead the enemy into a trap. For instance by attacking a flank and forcing the enemy to turn to meet the defender the enemy may open up his rear to another defending force.

Absorbing Force: This can be costly. The defenders intent is to strike at the enemy in brief attacks to blunt and disorganize his attack. This is one method of absorbing the enemy's attack while avoiding casualties and allowing the enemy to concentrate his forces.

Force on Force: This is a head on collision betting your force will be victorious. This is more of an Attritionist concept because it is a dare and a bet that your forces are more powerful. It is like trading blows to the face with the enemy, painful and blood, but one of you will win.

Combat Operations are planned with these factors in mind. A commander always seeks to maximize his advantages and minimize his weaknesses. By using one's strength against an enemy's perceived weakness is the best method of defeating the enemy.

Battles are usually fought with this in mind. Many war movies make it look like soldiers run around looking for an enemy to fight. In some wars this may have been the case. Those days are over however. The enemy can be 'destroyed' through the use of nukes or nerve gas but that will not be acceptable to the international community. It does not take into account civilians and innocent people.

Wars and battles are fought for a reason and it is people who determine that reason, not technology. Technology just makes it easier for combatants to find and kill each other.

Covering Fire

By William S. Frisbee


When you want to kill the enemy without getting killed yourself avoid getting shot by the enemy covering fire is the key to survival. Covering fire is used to decrease the accuracy of the enemy. If the enemy can't shoot accurately it dramatically decreases the chance he will hit you when he shoots at you.

The phrase "Cover me!" is often used improperly in the movies. The hero says "Cover me," everyone counts to three and the hero goes for it while everyone else throws lead at the bad guys.

In a way this is covering fire. In a way it really isn't. More bullets thrown at the enemy doesn't mean he is going to cower. However, he is more likely to. If the enemy is cowering then he isn't shooting. This is where coolness under fire comes into play.

Nobody wants to get hit and bullets coming your way tends to encourage most people to take cover first and see how accurate the enemy is later. For instance, when the lead man in a patrol comes under fire, the entire patrol may take cover until they figure out they are not the ones being shot at. Once they know they are not a target even then they may still be reluctant to move out of cover unless ordered to do so.

Covering fire is the secret to winning a firefight because it can deny the enemy any or all of three firing requirements.

In order to hit you the enemy must be able to meet three simple requirements. Simple in theory, not in practice.

First the enemy must be able to find and know where you are. A bullet is a very small projectile that occupies a very small amount of space. Spraying the countryside indiscriminately is the best method of wasting ammo and hitting nothing. When you see a person at a distance they are smaller than if they were closer. Bullets don't get bigger as they are fired and if you aren't aiming then chances of your bullet hitting are pretty much nil at over twenty feet. Of course you may get lucky but odds are against it.

Second the enemy must have a target area to shoot at. If he can't see an head, arm, or leg he can't shoot you. He might know you are hiding in a ditch but until you stick your head up he would just be wasting ammo. When he runs out of ammo and has to reload then it is your turn to pop up and take advantage of the situation. Of course his buddies may not have run out of ammo. . .

Third the enemy must be able to aim. This means acquiring sight alignment and sight picture. If he can't aim he is likely wasting ammo.

The closer bullets hit near a person the more likely that person is going to feel the need for self preservation. If the person can see bullets slamming into a tree near his head then only a fool would remain in position.

Covering fire has four uses.

1. Suppress the enemy. This means discourage the enemy from firing accurately. It takes time to acquire a target and aim and if bullets are hitting near him, he might not be willing to take that time. Accurate fire is what wins a fight, that is why Marines, Rangers, and other elite units consider marksmanship so important.

2. Prevent the enemy from firing. This is the ultimate goal of covering fire. If the enemy is so intimidated by your fire then you can move about with relative safety. You an stroll up and toss a grenade in his hole if he is so intimidated.

3. Force the enemy to move in a certain way. Shooting under a car is going to encourage the enemy to move to better cover where his feet won't get shot off. By forcing your enemy to move to a different piece of cover you might get in a lucky shot and down your foe or you might force him to retreat to a position that is more exposed.

4. Confuse or distract the enemy from your activities and movement. If the enemy is too busy cowering from your volley of fire he is not likely to notice your friend(s) moving off to the side where he can get a better shot. Distracting the enemy with covering fire may give you more time to aim or get closer.

There are several keys to effective covering fire. Each one is important.

Accuracy. Shooting in the wrong direction isn't going to scare the enemy (much), or kill him. Accurate, aimed fire is going to kill or intimidate the enemy. The enemy doesn't want to die any more than you do and the more accurate you are the more intimidated he will become (or the more dead he will become).

Rate Of Fire. This is more important than it might sound. Obviously more bullets fired is more intimidating. However, most magazines have a thirty round clip. Machine guns have one or two hundred rounds belts depending. If you run out of ammo you aren't going to scare the enemy for much longer. Reloading takes time and can cost someone their life if you aren't prepared for it. By controlling the rate of fire, and firing as little as you can, you can keep from running out of ammo at the wrong time.

Movement Draws Counterfire. This means that if the enemy sticks his head up he gets shot at. If he tries to fire at you, he gets shot at. If he does anything but cower, he gets shot at.

Teamwork. This is essential because it gives them someone else to shoot at. If the enemy is shooting at one of your team mates then they aren't shooting at you! Teamwork also means that you have to cooperate with your team mates to locate and suppress the enemy, make sure everyone doesn't run out of ammo at the same time and you don't get flanked. Everyone should have an area of responsibility.

Communication. This is critical. A team should be constantly talking back and forth, telling each other where the enemy is, who's doing what, who's reloading or is going to need to, who is firing at who, ect. Firefights are chaotic at best and good communications can be the key to survival.



  Fire Fight Dynamics

By William S. Frisbee Jr.


Although television and the movies make firefights look like people just throw bullets at each other and hope to hit, reality is different. Of course some people do attempt to throw bullets in an attempt to kill him/her but professionals aren't so simple and taking the time to aim is not practical.





Noise, volume of fire and heavy caliber rounds do not kill the enemy. Hits kill the enemy and prevent him from killing you. Many people will brag about heavy caliber rounds, or the capability of their ammunition, or the high rate of fire, but that is all useless if they can't hit their target. For instance the Mossad (the Israeli's CIA) uses the .22 caliber round (a very weak, nearly harmless round) as a 'signature' weapon in assassinations. A .22 round is nearly harmless and it takes great skill to use it to kill with.

Unlike the movies, people do not stand out in the open and calmly fire at the enemy. When a person is being shot at or about to be shot at, his primary concern is not to get hit. This has to do with a survival instinct, which only fools or suicidal maniacs do not have. It takes a real fool to ignore enemy rounds and stand calmly there while aiming at the enemy. Of course if there are no other options it takes a great deal of bravery. There's one saying that goes like this; "A Hero is a coward that got cornered."

In essence firefights are confrontations where one person or group tries to kill the other person, or group, without being killed themselves. Combat is very simple, there is a first place and second place, second place is laying face down in the mud, sometimes, so is first place.

When a firefight begins, training and experience come in to play. These two qualities are more important than the weapons used in many cases.

To avoid being shot a person dodges, takes cover or hides from the enemy. A moving person is a very bad shot in the real world and professionals know it is a waste of ammo to move and shoot at the same time. Standing and shooting are less accurate than laying down and shooting. Also, when a shooter is laying down he/she presents less of a target for the enemy. For example if a person is six feet tall and lays down his target area just went from six feet of target to about two feet (or less) of target, making him over sixty percent harder to hit. Also, that person who just lay down will be able to fire more accurately because he can brace his weapon.

When a person takes cover he/she gets behind something solid which (hopefully) will stop enemy bullets (or beams). From such a position the person has a brace for his weapon, hides more of his body than someone who is prone (usually) and has some shelter to hide behind if the enemy gets the upper hand.

When a person finds concealment he is still vulnerable to enemy fire but decreases the chance of the enemy being able to fire accurately.

Dodging makes it almost impossible to accurately return fire. At most, the dodger can hope to intimidate the enemy and prevent him from firing accurately. Firing is only a little more accurate than throwing a baseball, try dodging and accurately throwing a baseball, it don't happen.

The term 'being pinned down' means that the individual pinned down has been intimidated by enemy fire and his/her survival instinct is going strong. When a person or unit is pinned down, they have lost the upper hand and are unable to return accurate fire. This is the worst thing that can happen to a defender, it is the best thing that can happen for the attacker.






Fire Superiority means that one side is able to fire more rounds and/or more accurately than the other who becomes 'suppressed.' 'Pinning down the enemy' can be complicated and difficult, or simple. Machine guns are usually instrumental in suppressing the enemy and allowing the attacker to gain the advantage through sheer volume of fire which intimidates the enemy. Accurate fire is also helpful in gaining fire superiority, combined they are deadly.

Training is critical in this. A person who has been trained to be aggressive and gung-ho is less likely to be intimidated by enemy fire. That is why Marines, Rangers, Special Forces, Seals and other elite units are so successful. Many people complain that such units are arrogant and elitist, but that, along with quality training, is what allows them to survive on the battlefield. A fighter who is timid, nice and peaceful is much more likely to be intimidated by someone who is not, even if the fighter is the best shot, very intelligent and resourceful. When the nice guy comes under fire he has fewer reason to try and 'out do' the enemy.

When a person is suppressed by enemy fire then the enemy will very likely close in, surround the defender and kill him/her. A suppressed enemy is also more likely to surrender because they are scared and believe the enemy is superior.

A machine gun is an intimidating weapon, so are rockets. A single sniper can gain fire superiority over an entire company if he is good enough. For example, Marine Carlos Hathcock and his partner shot a North Vietnamese soldier in the front of a column. When the enemy column turned around to run he shot the NVA soldier in the rear (now the front) of the column. Not knowing where the Marine Sniper was the NVA took cover. If they left cover Hathcock would shoot them. The NVA became very reluctant to leave cover or even stick their head out to look for the Marine. They attempted to return fire many times without success. Because the NVA unit was 'pinned down' they were eventually all killed by the actions of two Marines.

The tide can suddenly turn in a firefight if suppressive fire is not maintained. If the machine gun(s) or riflemen run out of ammo or have to reload the slack in suppressive fire can allow the enemy to start fighting back effectively again.

When maintaining suppressive fire, machine guns will fire aimed bursts (of three to eight rounds, three to five is average) and riflemen will fire aimed shots. If the enemy manages to stick his head up, it is likely it will be ventilated, especially if he sticks it up where it is expected.

Gaining suppressive fire is an art form. Advantageous positions, good weapons, excellent training, concealment as well as cover, coordination and more, all effect the fire fight.










Actually seeing the enemy is not as common as in the movies. Usually only a few people will see the enemy. Camouflage is designed to hide the soldier from enemy view. If the soldier can't be seen he cannot be easily shot, furthermore, when a soldier is firing at an enemy he takes cover and tries to hide from enemy bullets as well as enemy observation. Of course when someone ducks behind a tree, rock, car or some other object he/she can't be seen at all and so he/she can't be shot.

What this usually means is that both sides are hiding from the each other at the same time they are trying to kill each other. Sticking your head up to look for the enemy usually means you get shot at or start attracting fire. This is a bad thing so most fighters don't spend a lot of time looking for the enemy. This means it is important for professionals to communicate and inform each other when and where they see the enemy. There are a great many ways warriors use to inform each other of where the enemy is at. Team leaders can use tracers, smoke grenades, or shouted commands to show their team where to fire. Just because a unit can't see the enemy doesn't mean the enemy cannot be suppressed with a high volume of fire. What is important is that the suppressive fire be close enough to the enemy to scare them.

Amateurs will just fire blindly at anything that moves, sometimes even each other. Team leaders and squad leaders lead the panic fire. For instance, one US unit in Vietnam was fired on by a VC sniper and the entire battalion opened fire on their surroundings expending incredible amounts of ammunition.

Something else that must be considered is the will of the firer. Some conscripts, for instance, don't want to be fighting and don't want to have the death of another person on their conscious. For this reason they may not fire at all and this is not good when a unit is trying to suppress the enemy. Of course if cornered, even a conscript will fight back fiercely.

The way warriors fire is also important. If troopers fire over the head of the enemy the bullets are wasted, if they fire too low the bullet can ricochet off a hard surface and still kill the enemy. Also the enemy can see the bullets bouncing off the ground and the enemy will fear them. Tracers are also an excellent way to intimidate the enemy because they can be seen as they ricochet and zip by. Regular bullets make a crack as the pass the listener and break the sound barrier but they travel too fast to be seen, tracers fix this problem.

For example, in Africa, one commando team parachuted into their area of operations at night and attacked, by using a very high mix of tracers (usually there is one tracer for every four regular rounds, these bold fellows had more). Their targets were severely frightened by this high volume of fire and although they were outnumbered more than ten to one, and attacking, they were still victorious because the enemy soldiers ran away.

Flanking an enemy is also important. When a person becomes scared their attention frequently focuses on the source of their fear and this is called tunnel vision. It is like the person is looking down a tunnel at the source of his fear and he can't see to either side. Even if rounds are coming from the side he might not notice. Good training teaches the warrior to constantly look around, amateurs submit to their tunnel vision. In addition to tunnel vision there is also the formation to consider. During a fire fight everyone tries to get a shot at the enemy and nobody likes being shot past or shooting past an ally. For this reason fighters line up facing the enemy. If an attack should come from the side, fewer people could return fire because they would be firing past friends. Moving to deal with an attack from the flank means that the defenders have to redeploy to face the new attackers. If they are being fired at from the original group then moving is a lot more difficult. Also another thing to consider is the fact that when a person takes cover to deal with a threat to the front then he might be vulnerable because he has to protection from the sides.

Another way to make the enemy put their head down and keep it down is artillery and mortars. Fighters and attack helicopters are another method of discouraging enemy initiative and keeping where they're at.

As you are beginning to see combat is as much physchological as physical and attacking the enemy in a firefight is attacking his mind as much as his body because if the enemy cannot think well enough to resist he is simply waiting to die.





As mentioned before machine guns are instrumental in suppressive fire. Light machine guns usually have a higher volume of fire (because the gunner can carry more ammo). Medium machine guns are good for suppressive fire because they are more intimidating and have better penetration (they can go through more than one soldier and light cover). Heavy machine guns are even slower but have a higher level of penetration. Machine guns can lay down a wall of fire that is lethal to cross. More details about machine guns in the defense will be covered later, it is important to note here that the heavier the machine gun, the more intimidating it is, this does not mean a heavier machine gun is always more dangerous.

Here is an example of a firefight between a professional unit and one that is not.

A Marine patrol is stalking through the jungle on a search and attack mission. Suddenly the point man comes under fire and hits the ground. The Automatic Rifleman, behind the pointman, opens fire on the suspected enemy position, firing as fast as he accurately can. The third man in formation (with a grenade launcher) starts to fire on the enemy also. As quickly as it can, the Marines will bring as much firepower as they can on the enemy and will get in a line facing the enemy. There will usually be enough room between Marines so that a single grenade will not kill more than one or two. The point man might have a higher content of tracers in his weapon to designate the enemy's location and because tracers help with suppression.

Grenade launchers will fire smoke, as well as explosives to mark the enemy location for those that don't yet see the enemy. The smoke would interfere with the enemy's ability to see the Marines and it will tell the Marines about where the enemy is at, the smoke is also less likely to interfere with the Marine's ability to see. Fireteam leaders will order their fireteams to concentrate fire on those locations.

If the Marines have managed to suppress the enemy, the squad leader may send a fireteam to the side of the enemy and assault him from there (flanking). If this fails or is not practical then the squad leader will get on his radio and call for mortars or artillery (if he hasn't done so already). Also, reinforcements might be dispatched by higher authorities.

If the enemy fire is too strong and the Marines are taking casualties then they will retreat under cover of mortars, artillery, close air support or Naval gunfire.





If the squad leader believes he cannot flank the enemy and the squad can assault them he will give the order. At this point he can advance the squad by fireteams, or give the fireteam leaders control. While two fireteams lays down a high volume of fire, and suppresses the enemy, another fireteam will advance. Meanwhile, fireteam leaders are directing their teams to advantageous positions, with the machine gunner taking priority. If there is a target that the machine gunner is having difficulty with then the team leader will engage it with his grenade launcher. Also, Marines on either side of the line will be told to be more watchful so the Marines don't get flanked.

If the squad leader has a machine gun team (with a medium machine gun) it will receive the best firing position in the squad and remain as stationary as possible. A rocket team will be used against fortified targets or difficult enemy hold-outs as directed by the squad leader (or team leader).

All Marines will place a priority on killing enemy machine gunners, radio operators and leaders, and concentrate fire accordingly.

If the vegetation is too thick and the squad leader is having difficulty controlling the squad, the squad leader may order the fireteam leaders to advance their teams. The fireteam leaders can advance their people two ways, in battleteams of two, or he can move one person at a time while the rest of the team 'pins' down the enemy. These methods can be alternated depending on the terrain and situation. If the fireteam does not have a target it will advance until it does or is fired at. A good unit does not waste ammo, because it also gives them away and even when rounds are flying all over the place an individual can still surprise his enemy.

If a team goes to battleteams then one person will move while the other covers. The person that moves will not run far and will have something to hid behind when he gets there. Usually, the Marine gets prone behind something that can protect him from enemy fire, or at least provide him with a little concealment. It is important to note that a person does not always get and run forward. The Marine might crawl forward and he is unlikely to just stop in the open and get down if there is not cover.

During the attack (or retreat since everything can be done in reverse) professionals are always communicating. Fireteam leaders tell their teams where to concentrate their fires, team members yell out when and where they see the enemy, everyone yells out when they are running low, or reloading, when they have taken cover and firing (so the other person can get up and move).

Fireteam leaders and members should also communicate with their fellow Marines on either side regardless of fireteam or unit.





Squad leader are always moving around, directing fireteam leaders, machine gunners, or, occasionally, firing at the enemy.

With all the communication, massive amounts of fire are directed on specific targets which are quickly killed or suppressed. (Having four men fire at you with everything from grenade launchers, rifles and machine guns is very intimidating or fatal.)

Once the Marines get close to the enemy positions they may begin throwing hand grenades. In the jungle this can be dangerous because a grenade may hit a branch and bounce back.

Grenades are not 'sure kills' and work both ways. One of the most common words movie goers hear is 'Grenade!' This tells everyone to take cover and protect themselves.

To avoid having grenades thrown at them as they get closer, Marines may decide to 'assault'. This is little more than a banzai charge for a short distances. Firing from the shoulder (since they are closer it is much easier to hit) the Marines charge into the enemy positions and engage them in close combat. Hopefully, the enemy is dead and unable to fight back at this time. Battle cries and 'war faces' also help intimidate the enemy into fleeing or not firing back. These tactics can have more effect than most people would credit them with.

All this might sound simple but that is the last thing it is. Confusion and chaos reign supreme. If a unit or person gets too far ahead of the rest he mind find himself with enemy in front and either side. Needless to say, this is very dangerous (but he can take advantage of the enemy on his sides if they are concentrating on his fellow Marines in front of them.)

Additionally, there are a great many tactics that can be used to give the defenders an advantage such as machine guns that are shooting an X across the front. This creates a wall of lead which is difficult to cross.

The enemy will also be trying very hard to gain fire superiority and may even try to flank the Marines. They will have their own rockets and special weapons. A great many factors affect who will win with the edge going to the more professional warriors who know their trade.

Communication is critical, just because the enemy is firing at you doesn't mean you see him, but your buddy might and he can tell you where the enemy is. Usually by saying something like 'at eleven o'clock, three meters right of that big tree, behind the log.' Nobody but a fool is going to stand up and point at the enemy. Hand arm signals also work and are very useful because it can get hard to hear. The problem with hand arm signals is they have to bee seen. If it is dark. . . you get the idea. A lot can go wrong.

When looking for or shooting at the enemy it is always wise not to look over something. Visibility might be a little poorer looking around the side but you will be harder to see and won't be silhouetted. It is also wise to always change the location you shoot from when possible, because the enemy might be aiming there waiting for you to appear.







There are so many variable in a fire fight and training is critical to the survival of the individual as well as the unit. The quality of training is also important. Giving a soldier a rifle and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition to fire isn't going to make him proficient with it. A soldier can fire a thousand rounds a day and it still won't make him a great fighter if he doesn't take cover or gets flanked.

Not every situation can be prepared for and there is never enough information for a leader to act on with confidence. The squad leader in the above example has to make a great many decisions based on his experience or beliefs. He can't know for sure what he has run into. He can only judge from the amount of fire the enemy is returning. If the squad leader doesn't do anything and tries to figure out what is going, on it is a sure bet the enemy will be doing something, calling for mortars, artillery, or reinforcements. They might even be preparing to flank the Marines.

By acting aggressively, the Marine squad leader forces the enemy to respond. An aggressive attack can confuse the enemy and make him think he is facing a much larger enemy. Like the commandos in Africa, they were aggressive and intimidating and they were facing poorly trained and led troops.

Another example. In one of the World Wars the Germans were attacking the French across a river. Only one small group of Germans made it across and they were hopelessly outnumbered. However, the German Squad Leader led his men and continued the attack. The French Commander, fearing the Germans had penetrated his lines, and were more numerous than they really were, ordered his troops to retreat and the Germans won the battle.

Another example I like is when Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the rest were on the Death Star in StarWars. Han Solo encountered a group of storm troopers. Although Han Solo was outnumbered he immediately attacked, with Chewbacca at his side. The Imperial Storm Troopers thought they were outnumbered and ran. When the Storm Troopers found out they were only being chased by two attackers, Han Solo and Chewie were forced to run.

Combat is chaos and confusion. People have to make instant life and death decisions. Often, there is not time to stop, look around, get everyone's opinion and make a plan so there it is important someone be in command and that person be the most experienced warrior. Every firefight is different in one way or another and experience is the most effective method of figuring what is going on.

patrola.jpg (12002 bytes)





One way to consider this is the OODA loop, Observer, Orient, Decide, Act. Whoever has the faster OODA loop is very likely going to win. A person observes what is happening and he must orient himself, how does this affect him? Then he must decide what to do about it, once he has made his decision he must act and the thought process begins again. By aggressively 'pushing' the enemy he has to take longer to go through his OODA loop because he is trying to Orient, Decide what to do and then Act. Meanwhile, he is rapidly losing the initiative and becoming confused. A confused fighter begins to make mistakes and eventually one of those mistakes will be fatal.

In most situations it is better to be the attacker than the defender. Even in a defensive position, the defender can be the attacker. It is more the mind set than the situation. The defender is static, waiting to react to an enemy action. With this in mind the defender has already surrendered the initiative to the attacker.

On the other hand it is the attacker who makes the important decisions. What to attack and when, how to go about it and how to deploy.

To aggressively defend a commander must go on the offense. This does not mean abandoning his position. Small groups can make contact with the enemy and call in mortars, artillery, close air support, naval guns and the like. The groups can snipe at the enemy as he approaches the defensive position. In addition the small groups can inform the commander what the enemy is up to. As an old saying goes, "The best defense is a good offense."



By William S. Frisbee Jr.


Patrols are some of the most important combat operations conducted. A patrol can be anywhere from a fireteam in size to a battalion. The mission often determines the size of the patrol.

Patrolling is a very general term used to describe a unit that is on the move and is doing something other than attacking a fixed enemy position. Patrol formations are often used during movement in hostile terrain.

There are six types of patrols recognized in USMC handbooks. The acronym used is RACESS or CARESS. This stands for Recon, Ambush, Contact, Economy of Force, Security and Search and Attack. Recon patrols are also broken down into three subcategories, point, area and route.

The mission of the patrol heavily influences how it is organized and how it will react to enemy contact. Not all patrols will stand and fight, even if they are superior to the enemy.





A lot of planning goes into patrols. Entire manuals have been written on how to conduct and plan for patrols. This section is not nearly big enough to cover all the different aspects but it will cover some of the more important ones.

All patrols have several things in common. They must go into the combat zone, avoid getting lost while in it, and get out of the combat zone without getting shot by friendly forces.

Most patrols leave from friendly lines, a positions protected by mines, booby traps, barbed wire and machine guns. Then the patrol must come back to a different route to avoid getting ambushed by an enemy that saw them leave. This requires coordinating with the front line units so the patrol is guided out safely and back in safely. Usually, when a patrol comes back in they radio ahead and a guide is sent out into no-man's land to guide them back in. Due to the possible presence of enemy forces this is a very scary operation, especially when it is done at night. You never know if those people you are approaching are friendly or enemy.

Passwords, locations and other relevant data is important. When a patrol leaves friendly lines it is possible they might get attacked and be forced to retreat. Retreating through an unfamiliar minefield is a nightmare and can be quite fatal. Getting reinforcements outside the defensive barriers is also not easy because the route out is usually very narrow and one enemy sniper could shut it down.

Once a patrol has safely gotten out of friendly lines it must move quietly and avoid getting ambushed. To avoid getting ambushed and to keep the enemy from guessing where they are going if they are seen, a zig zag line is used to reach the objective or to travel the patrol route.

During the patrol the leader will frequently stop the patrol so they can listen to their surroundings, take a break or drink water. Usually during extended breaks the patrol leader will find a hiding spot and establish a perimeter. Discipline and common sense are two of the most important aspects of patrolling. If a person stops to drink water, he may lose sight of the person ahead of him and get lost. A half empty canteen can slosh around and give away a soldier's location. Poor troops sound like a herd stumbling through the forest because of the clicking and clacking of gear, talking, half empty canteens, ect.

Every so often the patrol leader will designate a rally point, which is usually an easily recognizable land feature. This is done in case someone gets separated from the patrol. If that happens, all the lost individual has to do is go back to the rally point and wait. Also, if the patrol comes under fire from artillery or mortars the patrol leader may give the order and everyone will break up and make their way back to the rally point.

When the patrol is almost near the rally point the patrol leader will find a hiding spot and designate it as the Objective Rally Point. At this point the patrol will establish a perimeter while the leader does a recon of the site. He may take element leaders with him.

A patrol may be inserted into the area of operations (AO) by boat, scuba diving, parachute, helicopter, truck, or IFV. (see the resource listing on Insertion/Extraction)

When the patrol has accomplished its mission it will have to return to friendly lines. A patrol may also need to be resupplied if it is staying out for very long (like more than two or three days.) Most patrols only last a couple hours.



A recon patrol is usually small, a squad or even better a fireteam. Recon patrols make every effort to avoid getting in a fight, or being detected by the enemy. The main weapon of a recon patrol is stealth. The mission of a recon patrol is to gather more detailed information about a point on a map (like a hill top), an area (like a valley) or a route (like a road). The recon patrol will gather any and every bit of information about its objective that it can.

Elite units like Force Recon are frequently deployed far behind enemy lines to gather information. Force and Company recon may be deployed from ship or sub to gather information about a beach or beach defenses in preparation for an attack. Detailed report formats are used to insure that landing forces will not get bogged down in deep muck or be unable to get off the beach.

If such a reconnaissance is detected it can inform the enemy that an attack may be imminent and they will fortify the beach or whatever was reconed. This makes the information gathered suspect.

Regular infantry units also use recon teams usually drawn from the company or platoon reserve in order to gather information. Despite the new advances of technology, like satellites that can count eggs on a table, recon patrols are still of critical importance. In the Falklands, the British Marine's use of recon patrols gave them a decisive edge. The Royal Marines knew where to hit and how to do the most damage because professional men on the ground sneaked in for a look-see.

Some things simply cannot be determined from the air, like water depths or whether or not the enemy is hiding in a jungle filled valley. People on the ground have to go look for themselves and they can't just stroll in for a look unless they want to get ventilated.

One type of recon that should be mentioned here is recon by force and recon by fire. Recon by force is when a unit is looking for an enemy company in a valley, it sends in an entire battalion to see if it is there. Recon by fire is more useful to the individual that does not need to rely on stealth. It is a favorite in the Israeli Defense Force. Basically, a possible target is fired at. If the enemy fires back then you know they are there. The disadvantage of recon by fire is that it tells the enemy you are in the area.






An ambush patrol is tasked with setting up an ambush in a specific area, usually along a road or trail used by the enemy. The ambush patrol sneaks into the ambush site and waits for the enemy to walk into it. After the ambush it sneaks back to friendly lines.

Ambush patrols work quite well when used to psychologically attack the enemy. If the enemy moves around a lot at night (like in guerrilla wars) and they experience several costly ambushes they will be much more scared of moving around at night for fear of ambush. An ambush is also a very effective way to inflict casualties on the enemy. It is a surprise attack designed to inflict the most casualties on a moving enemy. Fear of getting shot by an unseen attacker is the worst kind of fear because you must be constantly alert (which is stressful) and even then there is no promise you won't be shot.

Ambushes are feared because they are often sudden and if done properly, very lethal. Most ambushes can be avoided however by staying off roads and trail. Also varying your route through an area can help avoid ambushes. However, when troops are tired and undisciplined they will take the easy route instead of 'busting bush'.

A large amount of firepower and good planning is the key to a successful ambush. If done correctly a small unit can inflict casualties far out of proportion to their size.

One method of setting up a good patrol is for the leader to do a recon of the ambush site when the patrol reaches its Objective Rally Point. Upon looking over the ambush site the leader will return to the ORP and select different individuals. Security is first and most important. If the ambush is on a trail or road, at least one person will be placed at either end of the ambush site to warn the patrol of the enemy's approach. Whatever they use to inform the patrol leader of the enemy, it must be quiet or the security may risk ruining the ambush (and getting killed!). Anything the patrol does not need in the ambush site (like packs) may be left in the ORP.

With the security personnel in place, the patrol leader places his support group in place. The support group consists of attached machine guns and other special weapons (like rockets). With the support group in place the patrol leader then places the assault group. The patrol leader then positions himself where he can best control everything. If the time and situation permit, he may task members with setting up claymore mines and booby traps.

Machine guns are placed at either end to close off the kill zone and when possible shoot down it. For this reason a bend in the trail is preferred. This allows the machine gun to open fire when the enemy is almost in a strait line. Regular riflemen are used to fill in the gaps between machine guns.

Special care should be taken to make sure nobody is visible from the enemy's point of view, otherwise the ambush could be ruined. When possible the patrol leader should walk the ambush from the enemy's point of view to insure nothing will give them away.

With everything set up and ready the most difficult thing is waiting and staying alert. At night, staying awake can be a royal pain in the ass. Setting up an ambush near a trickling stream or water is the best way to put the patrol to sleep because the sound is so relaxing.

When the enemy approaches, the flank security inform the patrol leader who passes the word to everyone else (if possible).

The ambush is best initiated by detonating a claymore mine. A claymore mine is a directional mine that can sweep the kill zone with hundreds of high velocity pellets. The deafening blast and sudden casualties can confuse the enemy and dramatically slow down his response, especially if his leader was caught in the blast.

The mine is usually the signal and everyone else in the ambush opens fire cutting down any survivors. Of course if someone is seen then that person should initiate the ambush. Inexperienced troops frequently imagine the enemy saw them and spring the ambush prematurely.

In an ideal ambush all the enemy are killed or severely wounded. If the enemy does manage to find cover then grenades can be used to blow him out. Eventually, the squad leader calls a cease fire (or a retreat!). An EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) team is sent out to search the bodies for information and if an enemy soldier survived, to take prisoners. Care must be taken with some soldiers because as they die they might place a hand grenade under their body and rolling him over will cause the grenade to explode. Care should also be taken to insure an enemy soldier is not pretending to be dead. (A swift kick in the nuts does no damage to a dead enemy soldier, but one that is playing dead will be talking soprano in a prisoner of war camp). EPW teams work in pairs, with one man searching one man covering. The searcher should never get in the way of his cover man, especially when dealing with a prisoner. (Green and poorly trained troops do this a lot).

Enemy wounded may, or may not be treated depending on the honor of the ambushers.

Once the EPW team has done its job, the patrol leader starts pulling people back to the ORP in the reverse order of how he set them up, with flank security being last.

When the patrol gets back to the ORP it quickly moves out and heads back to base or the extract point. Speed is important after an ambush because the enemy might fire artillery or mortars in an attempt to kill some of the ambushers.

On the way back 'home' the patrol displays the same precautions and techniques it used going to the ambush site.

Various types of ambushes are possible. In a large open area, like a field, several strongpoints may be established. Each strongpoint supporting the other with fire. When the enemy is detected, one strongpoint opens fire. When the enemy responds by attacking that strongpoint it will enter the kill zone of another strong point which opens fire. In this way a less cautious enemy may be trapped in the open and destroyed.

The British have a method that is used to ambush guerrillas that run away. Several different little ambushes are employed and if the enemy escapes one ambush they run into another one.

Another method of ambushing the enemy doesn't even require the patrol make itself known. The patrol finds a good, defendable site where it can observe a large area. When the enemy enters the area the patrol calls for artillery or close air support, directing it with pin point accuracy.






The contact patrol has two different uses. One use is to make contact with friendly forces. The same procedures used for other patrols are used for contact patrols. The patrol is assigned the mission of going out, finding a friendly unit or patrol, and either giving them some information or guiding them back to the unit that sent it out.

With this kind of patrol, the most dangerous part is making contact with the friendlies. It is usually very easy to mistake a camouflaged individual for an enemy soldier and neither side wants to expose themselves for fear that the enemy will see them or the other group is the enemy. Camouflage is tricky in this respect, there are not different vines and leaves for enemy head gear and friendly headgear.

The other type of contact patrol is when friendly forces have gotten into a fight with the enemy and for one reason or another cannot pursue immediately. In this case a patrol may be sent out to maintain contact with the enemy so he doesn't get away. This type of patrol is more like a running gun battle with frequent breaks in the action or a patrol that is tracking the enemy and not giving him time to conceal his tracks or lay false trails. If the enemy turns around and runs like rabbits they will probably get shot in the back. If the patrol moves too fast they might get suckered into a trap and killed.


This kind of patrol is used to support the operations of larger forces. For example. A battalion is going to cross a bridge later on in the day. To make sure it is safe it may send a patrol to scout it out and make sure the enemy does not set up an ambush there.

An EOF patrol might be sent out to occupy a certain strategic hill or other terrain feature. An EOF patrol is basically the force commander making good use of his forces.


A security patrol is used to screen the flanks, front or rear of a larger unit. The security patrol is responsible for a certain area and warns the higher command of enemy forces. This ruins the enemy's chances of surprise and gives the higher command time to prepare.

Security patrols can be used when a force is dug in waiting for the enemy and doesn't want to be surprised or it can be used when a force is moving.


These patrols are the most aggressive use of patrols. Heavily armed patrols are assigned areas in which they actively search for enemy forces. Once enemy forces are found the patrol attacks and attempts to destroy them. The size of a Search and Attack patrol can be anywhere from a squad to a battalion. It is unlikely, but possible to use fireteams in this role. It should be noted that it is very likely a fireteam will be outnumbered and outgunned by the opposition unless the fireteam was relying on stealth and artillery support. A fireteam sized SaA patrol would also be excellent for a hit and run type mission.

Reinforcements are usually kept in a standby mode in case the patrol bites off more than it can chew. Fire support is also kept in standby just in case.

Search and Attack is the more politically correct term for what they called Search and Destroy missions in Vietnam.



Patrols are usually very highly organized with everyone having a specific job, field of fire and location within the patrol. Before the patrol even leaves friendly lines there is a great deal of planning that takes place.

Of course, a commander could just say "Sergeant, take your squad and go on patrol for a couple hours. You leave in five minutes." That is when you know you are cannon fodder.

Before a patrol goes out it should know what it is going to accomplish, where it is going, how it is going to get there and how long it should be - at a minimum! Manuals have been written on how to prepare for a patrol and they can be extensive.

Usually, the first thing a patrol leader does when he finds out he is going on a patrol is issue a warning order. The Warning Order lets people know who is going on patrol, what their position is, and other similar information. It warns them so they can get ready. The Navigator can get maps of the area, special weapons or gear can be drawn from supply, radio frequencies and call signs can be acquired, fire support can be arranged, transportation can be arranged, headquarters can be notified of code words and routes. The navigator has to plot a route, someone has to talk with the front line units so a guide is available to let them in and out of the defensive perimeter. Weapons need to be test fired (if possible). The locations and types of other friendly patrols in the area should be determined. If another patrol has been through the area, they should be contacted for any hints and suggestions. The availability of food and water must be considered. Possible landing zones should be noted in case someone is injured and needs to be extracted. Someone should also make a terrain model for the briefing. Holding up a map for twenty men just doesn't work. It is much better if they can gather around a model of the terrain that has markers, string for gridlines, tags, ect.

It is virtually impossible for one man to do all this in a decent amount of time so the wise squad leader assigns patrol members to do different things. When all this information is gathered, the patrol leader writes his five paragraph order which will detail all important information.

Finally, when everything has been figured out, the patrol leader gets the patrol together, checks their work and issues his five paragraph order. Final preparations are done and then the Patrol Leader inspects the patrol. If possible rehearsals are conducted and then final preparations. When the patrol is ready to leave, the patrol leader does a final inspection to make sure everyone is silenced (done by making them jump up and down, noisy items are taped down) and has the required equipment. It can be embarrassing as all hell if the patrol exits friendly lines and finds out the Navigator forgot the map.

The planning usually pays off in a big way. If everyone knows what is going on and what is expected of them the entire patrol will go much more smoothly and safely for everyone. For instance, if the patrol runs into trouble and higher headquarters knows where they are at reinforcements can be sent or artillery fired.

If a patrol is in range, a ring of protective fire can be created around it by artillery. If nobody knows where the patrol is, they can be in big trouble.

A half-assed, unplanned patrol is likely to run into a world of hurt and die quickly.


This is the key to a good patrol. If a unit is well trained and organized it can launch a well prepared patrol very quickly. The secret is designating responsibility. This only works well with quality troops however, especially at the lower level, like squad.

When a patrol leader receives a warning order from his boss he immediately makes his own. From that piece of paper, a well organized unit will disperse to take care of needed tasks, each person having his own checklist.

On a patrol, each member has a job. These jobs may affect what they do in the planning phase.

Below is a listing of the jobs and positions that should be filled. Each job should be assigned to one or more persons. With very small patrols one person may have several different jobs.

PATROL LEADER: This is the person responsible for the safety, success and deployment of the patrol. The PL must make sure everything goes according to plan, usually his plan. During the patrol he moves around the formation as needed, preferring to stay in a position where he can best control the movement and activities of the patrol. Usually this is near the front and in the vicinity of the navigator. The radio operator usually stays real close to the patrol leader.

ASSISTANT PATROL LEADER: This is the second in command. He may coordinate supporting fires, liaison with the front line units or whatever the PL assigns him to. During the patrol he is usually located near the rear of the formation in case the Patrol Leader becomes a casualty, in which case he takes over. He also remains in the rear of the formation so that there is a senior man with the formation if it is cut in two for some reason.

NAVIGATOR: The navigator is the one who plans the route and guides the patrol. Most of his work is done before the patrol and he may have an assistant or two to help him. If the time and situation permit he may contact other patrols that have been in the area for tips on the terrain and enemy. During the patrol he is usually located behind the point and coverman so he can direct and guide them. During the patrol the Navigator is responsible for guiding the patrol and knowing where it is at all times.





POINTMAN: The pointman is the front security man. It is his job to keep the patrol from getting ambushed by the enemy. Despite what most people might think, the pointman position is not where a patrol leader puts someone he doesn't like or someone who is incompetent. The pointman usually a veteran and knows exactly what he is doing. He takes directions from the Navigator and leads the patrol in such a way as to keep it from being detected. This means he does not follow roads, streams, ridgelines, ect. Woodswise individuals make some of the best pointmen. The pointman may also be a tracker. Prior to the patrol he may be assigned to assist the Navigator in planning the route. The pointman is usually armed with a light, fast weapon. Shotguns or regular assault rifles are preferred.

COVERMAN: This position is held by a warrior with an automatic weapon. During a patrol he is placed behind the pointman. He is responsible for covering the pointman with a high volume of fire. Automatic weapons are usually not put on point because of the weapon's bulk and vulnerability. Automatic weapons are usually bulky and need more attention from the user, they are also a favorite target for the enemy.

FLANK SECURITY: This is an important job. Usually one person is positioned on either side of the patrol, a little behind the pointman. Their job is to watch the sides for enemy activity. If properly deployed, flank security keep a patrol from walking into an enemy ambush. In really thick terrain, it may not be practical to deploy flank security. In patrols larger than squad size, a platoon may deploy fireteams for flank security and a company may deploy squads (in this case a squad may operate like a patrol of its own). Flank security is an art because the security person has to avoid getting lost and yet be far enough out to detect an enemy ambush.

TAIL-END CHARLIE: This is also called rear security. The position is usually filled by the Assistant Patrol Leader. This insures that if the patrol is cut in two then there is a senior leader who can take charge of the rear section. The TEC is responsible for the enemy does not walk up behind the patrol without warning. There is usually a coverman (with an automatic weapon) located in front of the TEC. In this way the patrol can rapidly turn around and travel in the direction it just came.

PACEMAN: Usually a patrol will have several pacemen. The job of a pace man is to count the number of steps he takes. Usually about 50-80 steps equals one hundred meters. It varies from individual to individual and is determined before the patrol. The Navigator may poll the pacemen to determine how much distance has been covered (using the average). A paceman may tie a knot in a cord every one hundred meters to avoid losing count. Ten knots, one kilometer.

TERRAIN MODEL MAN: This is a pre-patrol job that is usually assigned to a SAW Gunner. The TMM is responsible for building a model of the patrol area. A great deal of time and effort may go into the terrain model. Hills would be little mounds of dirt, streams might be marked with cream powder from rations, woods may be marked with coffee (again from rations). String might be used to mark grid lines. The route, rally points and objective should be marked on the map. The terrain model is used to brief the rest of the patrol and illustrate the terrain and route. The TMM man may have one or more assistants.

RADIO MAN: The radio man has a very important job. He does not just carry the radio for the patrol leader. Prior to the patrol he coordinates with other units and gets frequency numbers and call signs. He insures he has the proper report formats and he learns what kind of fire support may be available for the mission. He may coordinate with other patrol members and plan fire missions at predesignated locations. He is also responsible for making sure the radio works, he has extra batteries, ect. During the patrol he is responsible for monitoring the radio and informing higher headquarters of the patrol's location by the use of checkpoints (which are designated by the Navigator).

ELEMENT LEADER: An element leader is responsible for his element during the patrol. He insures his element has the equipment needed for the mission at hand and knows what they are doing. In a three fireteam squad without reinforcements (machine gun teams or SMAW gunners) each team leader may be designated as an element leader. First team may be assigned security, flank and rear (since the 1st team leader is the 2nd in command and usually APL this makes good sense). 3rd Team may be assigned as the lead element, pointman (rifleman), coverman (SAW), Navigator (team leader) and radio operator (Assistant SAW gunner). 2nd team might be deployed with the main body as the patrol leader's tactical reserve (for flanking and such) and classified as the maneuver element. In this example, First team leader (aside from APL duties) would make sure the flank securities have night vision goggles and know the route and their specific job, everyone has water, food, ect.

Other people may be assigned coordination jobs. One person contacts the front line commander and arranges for guidance out of friendly lines, another might contact the commander of the area the patrol will be coming back in. The battalion planning officer must be contacted for information and to let him know a patrol is planned and where it will be. The mortars, artillery, Naval gun coordinator and forward air controller should be consulted on the various aspects of the patrol and how they can assist if needed.

Special operations require even more coordination. Insertion/extraction pilots should be consulted and briefed. Emergency extract should be planned. More information is usually needed on the enemy. To tell a Force Recon team to locate and capture a brigade commander without giving them a specific location (ten square kilometers is NOT a specific location) is a recipe for disaster. Satellite photographs, or air photo's should be gone over and evaluated by any patrol leader that has access.

The planning for a patrol is often tedious but it can pay off big. When writing about a squad or platoon that is about to go on patrol you should avoid long boring details. Who cares if the supply clerk is some fat slob working out the back of a truck. If you are going to include the coordination for a patrol in the story do so very carefully, make it advance the plot or something, don't bore the reader with details to show you did your homework.


The Future of Patrolling

Patrolling is such a critical function it is unlikely to die out. As long as troops are needed to control an area, troops will be used for patrolling.








With the proliferation of computers the planning and organization for patrols will likely become easier and more automated. A squad leader on the front might use a computer (in his helmet or elsewhere) to network with other units (Battalion planning, front line commander, subordinates, ect) and notify them of the mission. By filling out a form, needed information can be transmitted to the appropriate authority as needed.

Computerized checklists can also be used to standardize information and requests. Specific data, like passwords, frequencies, unit commander's names and locations, can be downloaded from the appropriate net and distributed among the patrol members as needed.

Here is an example. The patrol leader (platoon commander, company commander) receives an e-mail message from Battalion planning (S-3) informing the recipient and his commanders of the need for a patrol to be conducted. Details on the mission, coordinates and such will also be uploaded to the patrol leader's computer. Other information such as time of departure and time of return may be uploaded as well. The S-3 might also have sent a message to the unit on the perimeter where the patrol will depart/return.

After reviewing the warning order the patrol leader makes his decision on the basics. Filling out the checklist stored in his computer, he transmits it to higher authorities who review it. The patrol leader might also have portions of the checklist filled out (like who is going and what equipment/weapons are in use). Battalion S-3 might already know that and they might keep track of available units available for patrol and a program automatically tasks them.

By using a networked computer system, planning and organization for patrols can be reduced dramatically. Information can be gathered even more quickly and efficiently. A simple call, or e-mail message can be sent to a front line commander informing him that he needs to arrange for a patrol to leave or enter his sector. A data base can be reviewed for information and local conditions about the patrol area. The Patrol leader can search the network for needed information or contacts. The Patrol leader (and members) might even be able to view the helmet camera footage of the area.

Out on patrol, recording cameras mounted in the helmet will help the higher authorities review the patrol and assess its overall impact. An intelligence specialist reviewing the recordings could likely gather a great deal of information about the enemy. The information being recorded insures nothing is forgotten and can be reviewed in detail afterwards.

Optionally, the helmet footage can be transmitted to higher command for instant review. If a patrol leader runs into a situation, he can contact higher authorities and draw upon their experience and training. Less scrupulous militaries might use this to micromanage and control their subordinates.

With computer tracking and monitoring, higher headquarters can be instantly notified if something starts happening. The progress and activities of the patrol can be monitored to insure the patrol is not fired on by friendlies and does not encounter a friendly patrol without warning.

Additionally, the patrol leader may have access to a library detailing enemy weapons and equipment. Upon encountering an enemy tank for instance, a graphical overlay may indicate vulnerabilities and shortcomings that might be exploitable.

Sensors in the helmet, or weapon, might make it easier to detect the enemy. An AI or sophisticated computer program might monitor the situation and help the soldier assess the threat presented by the enemy. It might be able to scan the area and highlight the enemy on a heads-up-display (like on the soldier's visor). Furthermore, it can help the soldier decide which enemy soldier is the biggest threat. For example. In a firefight enemy soldiers are highlighted in maroon. An enemy machine gunner might be highlighted in bright red indicating a serious threat.

The AI might also be able to analyze the enemy's actions and warn the user of potential threats.

By taking a 'picture' an AI could examine it for anything out of the ordinary and highlight or mark it for the user. This would allow people without experience to do things like track the enemy and determine what the enemy might have done during a stop. It could analyze a shell crater and determine the possible direction and distance of the artillery piece that fired it. It could evaluate damage inflicted on the enemy and identify possible threats like minefields and ambushes. The AI might also monitor a complete 360 degree arc around the trooper.

When linked with fire support coordination computers the enemy can be brought under fire by supporting arms almost instantly. Technicians, software or AI's could recognize the enemy and determine what weapons can be brought to fire upon the enemy by accessing the database of available weapons and systems. For example. A patrol makes contact with an enemy that is six hundred meters away. The range and location is instantly transmitted to the Fire Control Computer which is able to determine that two mortar units are within range, an attack helicopter is not far away and an artillery battery is in range. A fire mission is instantly transmitted to the artillery battery (which may be automated) and within minutes (maybe seconds) of encountering the enemy artillery is raining down on his head. As the patrol leader gets closer to the enemy, the artillery may cease and the mortars might begin. Meanwhile the attack helicopter has received a mission and could get there any minute to support the ground units as needed, and all of this could occur without the patrol leader placing a single call. With this kind of coordination, a fireteam might be able to destroy an enemy regiment because all the fireteam has to do is find the enemy.

Computers may also help leaders control their units under fire. A fireteam leader may see a target he really wants removed so he marks it somehow (voice, blinking, ect) on his HUD (Heads-up-display) and get it transmitted to the rest of his fireteam as a priority target. Each team member would then see the target light up on their HUD. Communications could also be built in each helmet thus allowing the teams to communicate without yelling or giving away their position. This would dramatically increase the life span of leaders because they wouldn't be running all over the battlefield issuing and receiving orders and information.

The patrol leader might be able to patch into the HUD view of the pointman, seeing what he is seeing as he sees it. Each patrol member might also be able to track the progress of the patrol by reviewing various readouts that display, maps, times, distances, ect.

Computers can be networked via radio. The technology exists today. The biggest problem with a radio 'network' is enemy interception. If the enemy can crack the codes then the enemy can set up on ambush, or some other nasty trap. Of course by using very powerful computers that change the code and frequency often it makes the code much more difficult to crack. If there is radio interference this can also dramatically effect the network.

There are some people who believe in the concept of unjammable radio transmissions. I'm sure time will show what a myth that is.


By William S. Frisbee Jr.


In my opinion, one of the most challenging jobs is that of the scout sniper. It takes a special breed of warrior to hunt the enemy like big game. In the US Marines, every battalion has a platoon of scout snipers. Some people have said that the Geneva Convention states that snipers are a violation of the Rules of War, however I have been unable to find it.   Regardless, there is not a single (decent) military that does not employ them. Snipers are very highly trained individuals and can be critical to the success and failure of a mission.







Snipers do not just shoot at enemy targets using pinpoint rifle fire from some location in the jungle, that is just the movies. A sniper's most important skill is observation, the next most important skill is stealth and THEN marksmanship and everybody knows a sniper has to be an excellent shot so he must be even better at the other two skills!

When properly deployed, snipers work in two man teams. One is equipped with the sniper rifle and the other one is equipped with a weapon (either a SAW or assault rifle with a grenade launcher), a spotter scope and a radio. The sniper may also have another weapon in addition to his sniper rifle.

The radio, not the sniper rifle, is the most dangerous weapon they have. With a radio those two snipers could lay waste to an entire division by calling in artillery, close air support, mortars, ect. Scout snipers also provide valuable information to the commanding officer.

A two man team is ideal for stealth but not combat. A squad of ten men would have little problem dealing with two men if they found them. That is why snipers are so careful with their appearance and use 'ghillie suits'. That is also why the second sniper is more heavily armed than the first. Snipers usually spend a lot of time on their hands and knees sneaking around.

When it comes to killing the sniper team can do an excellent job. By hiding where they can see the enemy, the sniper team can make a call on the radio and cause all kinds of explosives to rain on the enemy. Doing this means the enemy has a much harder time detecting the snipers because they are not really doing anything. Furthermore, they can tell their commander what the enemy is up to so he can take advantage of the situation.

Sniping is what snipers usually enjoy most though and they can be very effective. In most situations a sniper, even if he is a bad shot, can have a profound effect on the morale of a unit. Each man begins to feel that someone out there is taking aim at him and getting ready to pull the trigger at any time. This can be nerve racking to say the least!

When snipers do become active snipers, they will find a very well concealed position. They will have to take into account all sorts of different factors like hiding the muzzle flash, masking the sound and most important, hitting a valuable target. The range to the target is critical as well as any wind. Heat should be considered since it can change the apparent location of the target, ect.

The snipers are both highly trained marksman but they work as a team. One is the designated spotter, the other the shooter. The spotter uses a scope that has a much wider field of view than the sniper scope mounted on the rifle. This allows the spotter to see more. Also the spotter scope usually has additional aids built in, like range lines, that can help him determine the range. The spotter locates a target, determines the range and directs the sniper to zero in on the target. When the sniper fires the spotter determines where the sniper actually hit and gives the sniper directions to get on target if he cannot see. Both members, being highly trained snipers, can double check each other's calculations and make sure they are the same. If they are different they do them again.






The sniper rarely takes more than three shots. One shot is ideal because it is nearly impossible to tell where it came from. Two or more shots increase the chance the enemy will be able to determine where they are and maybe call in artillery or send patrols out. Any sniper who fires more than four shots before moving to another location is usually not very smart.

One trick some snipers might use is shooting past a hill. The sonic crack of the round passing the hill may mislead the enemy into thinking the sniper is on that hill.

Snipers, despite the Geneva Convention are usually an integral part of the battle.

During the siege of Khe Sahn in Vietnam the VC would post a sniper on a nearby hill. The snipers really annoyed the Marines so the Marines would bomb the hill and kill the sniper. Eventually the VC posted a sniper that would fire but wouldn't hit anybody. At first the Marines thought the VC was a real bad shot but then they figured out he just didn't want to die. So to make sure he wasn't replaced with someone more competent, the Marines began to 'fake' hits when he fired (which probably worried the sniper!).

There are many different uses for a sniper and they can go from one roll (of scout) to another role (like sniper) quickly. For instance, during a raid, one or more scout sniper teams may infiltrate into an area before the rest of the assault unit. They will keep the objective under observation until just before the assault unit arrives. Then, right before the assault unit arrives they may take out different targets with pin point fire.

One training raid my platoon did was have a couple scout snipers sneak into an area and begin monitoring the objective (a compound). When the assault group attacked, we came in quickly while the snipers opened fire on the compound. With snipers covering us using accurate fire, and the machine guns on the helicopters providing suppressive fire, the assault group fast roped out of the helicopters and attacked the objective. Everything happened very rapidly and in under five minutes an entire platoon had appeared and was on the ground assaulting the compound in a very aggressive manner. The battle was over quickly.


Special Operation units might deploy a sniper on a helicopter to cover an assault. A helicopter makes it much more difficult to fire accurately but the sniper doesn't have to worry about stealth and can take more than one shot. Helicopters also bring the sniper closer to the battle making it easier to hit.

Snipers can be used to harass a unit in the defense. This is a very effective use of snipers because to the psychological impact it has on the enemy. It discourages them from moving out of their positions and makes them even more scared when they have to get out and improve their defenses. It also gives the commander an intelligence source for planning his attack.

Snipers can also be used very effectively to protect minefields. Nobody in their right mind would be willing to get out in the open and start searching for mines when someone is shooting at them with very deadly, accurate fire.

Before an attack begins snipers could be used to take out enemy leaders or machine gunners. During a battle snipers could be used to fire over friendly forces and take out important targets.

Snipers can also be used to defend against enemy snipers. Because a sniper knows all the tricks he is more likely to know what the enemy will do, kind of like fighting fire with fire.

The Future

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the sniper may become a rare and endangered species. Current technological trends are oriented at crippling the enemy sniper. Four different technological systems are being developed to detect enemy snipers. Three systems include the use of microphones to triangulate the path of the bullet or the sound of the weapon firing. Even a silenced weapon will make noise that can be tracked, especially if it doesn't use subsonic bullets. The weapon may be silent but the bullet will still make a crack when it passes something.

If these microphones were built into a soldier's helmet and the data was collated on a computer that displayed the data back to their helmets, a unit would have a pretty good chance of locating an enemy sniper that fired on them.

The fourth method is the use of an IR scanner to detect the muzzle flash. At night it is much easier to see a muzzle flash with the naked eye, but during the day it is much more difficult. With the IR scanner it would be like detecting the muzzle flash at night, much easier. Battle computers that control the helmet display could record the muzzle flash and display it for the soldier as a fading red dot. This would also be very helpful in a regular battle. The muzzle flash is very rapid and the soldier might miss it if he is terrified. As a fading red dot he has more time to return accurate fire on that location.

Lasers would probably be as easy to detect with the IR scanner as regular bullets because lasers generate heat and IR is all about heat.

This does not mean snipers will become obsolete, especially in the regular order of battle, it simply means they will become more passive. They will be more likely to call in artillery or close air support than to fire. Stealth is, and will likely always be, the prime weapon of a sniper and it is the fear of the unknown that will make the sniper one of the more effective weapons in a commander's arsenal.



Tactics are of the utmost importance before and after the battle as well as during the battle. Proper tactics before the battle can give a warrior a critical edge when the fighting starts and poor tactics could cost him his life. Good tactics after a battle can prevent the enemy from counter attacking effectively. It can also keep the good guy from getting killed by a bad guy he/she missed or failed to notice during the battle.

For example, if a warrior walks through a large empty field with short grass he is begging to be shot. When the firing does start he will have no cover and while he cannot see that every possible hiding place is empty the enemy will have no problem spotting him in the open. If the hero goes around the big open field and sticks to cover he will have someplace to hide if someone starts shooting at him. Tactics is almost always common sense and this is where most amateurs make their mistakes, they don't think things through.

Tactics begin with the individual and the military doctrine of his nation or military branch. In reality, the individual is more concerned with survival. First (in most cases, not all) is the individual's survival, then (if he likes them) his comrades survival. National survival is not always at the top of his list.

A nation's doctrine on the subject is often a matter of the type of government. A democratic government is more likely to encourage the soldiers to survive first and foremost. Dead soldiers make bad public relations because that soldier has a mom, dad, brother or sister somewhere who can raise a lot of hell for the government.

A more oppressive nation tries to teach that survival of the state is more important than the individual and the lowly soldier should be more than willing to die for his country. This is drilled into the soldier until he is almost brainwashed in some cases.

Regardless of national doctrine however, most militaries do not want their troops to drop like flies when fighting the enemy. A nation wants its military to win gloriously. When a military designs its doctrine, it must consider what kind of troops it uses. Are they smart, resourceful and tough or are they perceived as rugged, dimwitted peasants. Are they conscripts or volunteers.

With this in mind unit tactics are devised to maximize those advantages and minimize the disadvantages. Next, technology needs to be considered. Then maybe logistics and capabilities. Finally, the tactics must be able to mesh with all the weapons available so the maximum effect can be imposed on the enemy.

A machine gun is a weapon that can lay down a high volume of fire on enemy positions. This makes the enemy put their head down so riflemen can advance on enemy positions and enter them or throw in grenades. Machine guns are the backbone of the infantry. The disadvantage of the machine gun is often the weight and ammunition required. For this reason not every infantryman is armed with a machine gun.

The key to winning a fire fight is often fire superiority. Whoever has it, wins because they have outgunned the enemy. Fire superiority does not necessarily mean a higher volume of fire. Fire superiority means that one side has forced the other side to seek cover, in effect fire superiority is fire intimidation. This can be accomplished by using a high volume of fire, or accurate fire. For example, a Marine named Carlos Hathcock gained fire superiority over an entire north Vietnamese company with only a sniper rifle. The enemy could not effectively return fire and Hathcock kept them suppressed because they knew that if they were to show themselves they would die. The entire Vietnamese company was eventually wiped out by this sniper, his spotter and the use of a radio.

Individual Tactics

Tactics at the individual level are as complex as tactics at higher levels. The individual usually has little say in whether or not combat is initiated and is more concerned with not getting killed, killing the enemy is secondary.


Individual tactics, more than any other level of tactics are extremely common sense. If the enemy doesn't know you are there he's not likely to shoot you. If he does know you're there and is firing at you, he can't hit you if there is something in the way that his bullets can't go through, unless of course you stick your head up to shoot back. If you don't stick your head up and shoot back he is going to move into a position where he can shoot around your cover or throw a grenade at you.

This is what it is all about and it is amazing how commonly people mess it up. Amateurs (like Rambo) will stand out in the open (believing they are bullet proof?) and try to mow down the opposition. What usually happens is that one of the bad guys takes aim from behind cover and ventilates the 'hero.'

Some other common mistakes an amateur makes are taking cover behind something that does not stop bullets. Plywood does not stop bullets, neither do leaves and bushes. Leaning up against a wall is a bad thing too because bullets will ricochet off it and travel along the wall, about one to six inches parallel. Bullets do not ricochet off objects in perfect angles. Laying on concrete is not a good idea for this reason.

Another thing that amateurs do is keep sticking their head up to fire from the same spot. Eventually the enemy gets a chance to aim and when the amateur does get predictable and stick his head up again he gets shot because the enemy was waiting for him. A professional will vary his firing location and he will look around cover instead of over it because it is easier to silhouette yourself by looking over something.

It is never easy to figure out where the enemy is when he is shooting at you because nine out of ten times he is shooting from cover or concealment and you are trying to avoid getting hit rather than finding the enemy. A muzzle flash is not very visible in the light but at night it is a good indicator of where the enemy is. Bullets cannot be seen as they fly overhead, the human eye cannot track something that fast. Bullets do make a crack as they zip by because they are breaking the sound barrier. This crack can sometimes be mistake for the firing of the weapon. At longer ranges this can make things confusing because a crack can be made by shooting past a large hill. This makes the target thing the shot came from that hill.

It is very difficult to pinpoint one single shot (which is why snipers prefer firing only once) and the more shots the easier it is to figure out which direction the shooter is in.

Also, despite what most people see on the movies, bullets do not make cute little explosions when they hit something. If they don't penetrate the object and leave a little hole, they ricochet, usually unpredictably. Although they lose much of their velocity when they hit an object and ricochet, they can still be very deadly.

The movies are usually pretty good about having the good guy leap behind cover made of dry wall and receive protection. Dry wall does not protect against bullets. A trailer, in a trailer park is unlikely to stop bullets, some of the furniture inside probably will but usually not the walls, floor or ceiling. Concrete stops bullets, along with heavy metal. The type of round is also important, an armor piercer will very likely go right through a car door which will stop a lesser round but an armor piercer will also punch a hole in the bad guy that is much smaller and less dangerous than another round.

Another important aspect of individual tactics is presenting as little a target to the enemy as possible. This is one reason for crouching, or laying prone. An amateur will show a lot more of his body than a pro when firing from cover. For instance, when a pro fires around the right side of a corner, he/she places his right foot at the corner and leans over, this presents a very small target area for the enemy. An amateur will step to the side exposing everything from his head to his foot. Ricochets make it easier to hit this type of amateur.

When an individual fires it is usually his intent to hit and kill the enemy. This is not done by 'throwing bullets' at him, aiming is the most effective way of hitting the enemy. Aiming is also best accomplished when the weapon is braced. Anyone who has handled a weapon and used the sights will have noticed that the sights don't sit still on the target. Even something as little as breathing will cause the aimpoint to keep moving. This becomes even more important at longer ranges when the target is smaller.

Consider the size of everything. Bullets are very small, even a 30mm cannon round is small when you compare it with the area it is being shot at. Bullets do not home in on living targets, they go where they are aimed at and where gravity helps guide them to. This means that it is much easier to miss a target than hit it, unless the target is close enough to count pimples.

That is why professionals do not run and fire at the same time, even with a machine gun. If the weapon sight is wavering when the shooter is motionless and concentrating, it is going to waver a hundred times more dramatically when the shooter is moving. Even slowly walking forward and aiming it is difficult to keep the weapon aligned on a target at further than fifteen feet. Try aiming sometime with a toy gun and you will see how difficult it would be to hit a target at about fifty to sixty feet. Rifles are easier to aim and have a longer range, pistols are the worst and anything beyond twenty feet is usually a waste of ammunition. Pistols are good for close range where speed and ease of movement is important.

A pro is going to aim his weapon, even a machine gun, an amateur is going to spray and pray. Machine guns put out more rounds than a regular rifle, they are not more accurate. The advantage of a machine gun is that by firing a larger number of bullets at the enemy the shooter is more likely to hit OR force the enemy to take cover.

If the enemy takes cover he can't fire back effectively because it takes time to aim, time he no longer has. Of course the spray and pray practitioner might get lucky but chances are he won't. Spray and pray was the method preferred in Vietnam and thousands of bullets were expended to just get one single hit, and that was not always fatal. Explosives and shrapnel scored most of the kills.

Another reason a person will get in the prone, or behind something is because he/she can then brace his/her weapon and fire more accurately. Fox holes usually have the edge of the hole carved out to brace their weapon and expose as little of the shooter to the enemy as possible. Fox holes (or fighting positions as the Marines call them) are not just holes in the ground, when properly built they provide cover, concealment and a brace for their weapon so the shooter can kill the enemy with a minimum of personal danger.

Firing from the hip is also stupid, even firing a machine gun from the hip is something only an amateur will do. Some machine guns, however, have too much kick to fire from the shoulder and must be fired from the hip in an emergency. When Rambo mowed down all the bad guys with an M60 machine gun in one hand I realized that the producer had no clue as to what he was doing. Hip firing is not accurate at all and is a great way to waste ammo. The only way it might be accurate is if the gunner 'walked' his rounds into the target by observing where they hit and adjusting his hold. Walking rounds into a target is only effective if the shooter has all the time in the world and the target is not firing back. Machine guns come with bipods and tripods for this reason, they are not meant to be firing without being braced on something solid.

Moving under fire is also important. The shooter wants to get closer to this target because it is easier to hit him. Running across the open is stupid, the runner is a big target and very hard not to see. Running is fast however and is most effective when the individual has to cover a small distance. Crossing a long distance (like thirty or more feet) is suicide unless the individual's buddies are keeping the bad guys from looking.

Zig-zagging is good when running toward the enemy and he is aiming at you, it only makes you move slower when you are running across his front. Zig-zagging can also be bad if you are zigging or zagging in front of a buddy behind you who is trying to provide covering fire, he might accidentally shoot you in the back.

It is always important to move unpredictably when the enemy is firing at you because he will try to anticipate your movement and aim at where you will be. Shooting at a moving target is not as easy as it sounds, especially at longer ranges, don't forget the bullet is very small compared to the target area.

Another thing that is important about movement is the person should know where he is going before he moves and it shouldn't be far away. Solid cover should be chosen before the person even gets up.

On Patrol

When a unit is on patrol people do not just blindly follow the person in front of them. Everyone has a job and everyone has a sector to cover. When an individual is on patrol it is in his better interest to assume that the enemy will start firing at him any moment. For that reason a professional will carry his weapon ready to be fired, and will continuously be looking for cover and concealment (in addition to looking for the enemy.)

Each person in a patrol is responsible for a certain arc that overlaps with another persons. Before the patrol everyone should know their area of responsibility because they will be responsible for watching that area for enemy activity. The pointman is not the only one looking for the enemy because an enemy patrol can stumble into the center of a patrol, and a point man can miss an enemy ambush.

There are three types of ready positions that a pro can use. One is the pro holds the weapon near his right shoulder and pointing down toward his left foot (but not AT his left foot) so he can bring it up, into his shoulder, quickly and fire accurately. Another ready position is to have the butt stock in or near the right arm pit and the weapon pointing off to the right of the right foot. Again this allows the shooter to bring his weapon up quickly into an accurate firing position. One variation of the first method, is the weapon is not brought into the shoulder but is placed near it against the chest, below the firer's eye. This helps with accuracy and the shooter is trained to fire with both eyes open. The third method is to have the butt stock near the hip and the muzzle up near eye level. The trooper would then be looking over the muzzle and wherever he looked he would be looking over the muzzle. When he sights a target the muzzle juts forward at the enemy and the buttstock comes out and into the shooter's shoulder. This method is best for urban combat because the shooter will most likely be firing over something and the muzzle is already over the object to be firing over. The disadvantage is the muzzle sticks out and can tip off the enemy if he see's the muzzle coming around the corner, also the shooter is likely to fire high initially and it is always better to fire low (because of ricochets).

The first method is the best because it is quick, efficient and during long patrols, the easiest to maintain. The second method can be awkward for long periods of time. Another important factor when carrying a weapon in the ready is the finger is completely OFF the trigger. The other hand, holding the rifle, has the trigger finger pointing down the barrel. This helps because all the shooter has to do is point at his target with his finger and so will the barrel, this is a very helpful method because it is more natural for a person to point his finger at something than to point a weapon.

Professionals are also trained to point their weapon wherever they are looking. This makes accurate fire quicker, if you are looking at your squad leader, however, this is not a good thing.

In a potential firefight the weapons is kept in the shoulder and aimed slightly down (and the finger OFF the trigger) until a target is spotted and then the muzzle comes up, the thumb engages the safety (if not done already), and the finger pulls the trigger. It is usually better to bring the weapon up to the target instead of down because the shooter will be more likely to shoot low, remember ricochets can kill or scare the enemy, rounds passing by overhead are much less intimidating.

It may seem strange that a lot of emphasis is placed on keeping the finger off the trigger until the enemy is actually identified. This is to prevent friendly fire. It doesn't take long to move the finger to the trigger and it gives the shooter a chance to identify his target. Someone who is scared may shoot movement before he can identify it, that fraction of a second might help him avoid shooting a friend. Also, if the shooter falls and his finger is on the trigger, he is very likely to accidentally fire and possibly injure himself or others. When getting up to move closer to the enemy the shooter takes his finger off the trigger for this reason.

An amateur on the other hand is likely to sling his rifle or carry it over his shoulder like a stick. He might even use it as a walking stick. He will aim it wherever simply because he has little or no respect for what it can do. A pro will NEVER aim his weapon at a friend, even accidentally, or put his hand over the muzzle, unlike an amateur who might do something stupid like use it to scratch his nose. When the firing starts an amateur will waste precious time changing his weapon from the carry to the fire position.

Also, while on patrol, a pro will try to keep a low profile, be as quiet as possible and move from cover to cover, always assuming the enemy is watching him and preparing to fire. Amateurs believe they are superior to the enemy and their superior skills or ideology will allow them to defeat the enemy, (or the are simply lazy). Amateurs will also take the easiest route, simply because they have not been fired at by the enemy in a while and are probably getting tired. This is what discipline is about. A highly disciplined warrior will do everything 'by the book' even when he is tired or believes contact with the enemy is unlikely. An amateur makes excuses for poor discipline, the pro may not like doing things by the book but does it anyway. A fire fight never really begins when a person expects it, now matter how keyed up a person is and that first shot fired is almost always a shocker. The transition from surprise to action is the difference between professionals and amateurs. An amateur will waste time trying to figure things out, a pro will be operating on instinct and training.

Something else that can has more importance in a real battle than a 'Hollywood' battle is ammunition. Firearms are hungry beasts and a magazine can be emptied rapidly. Machine guns are even worse. For example, the specs on an M249 squad automatic weapon say it can fire seven hundred and fifty rounds a minute, a belt of ammunition for it only has two hundred rounds. This does not take into consideration that after so many rounds the barrel will turn cherry red and literally begin to melt.

Sooner than later, the combatants are going to have to reload and when they do they will be vulnerable to a quick rush by the enemy. Professionals are trained to reload behind cover where the enemy can't take his time and shoot them. One method used by pros is the last couple rounds in a magazine are tracer rounds. When he fires a couple tracers he knows he is almost empty. Keeping count of ammunition expended is not practical. When a person realizes he is about to run out of ammo he can always change magazines early. This keeps one round in the chamber of the weapon (for one emergency) and he doesn't have to chamber another round. Revolvers are the worst when it comes to reloading. Several FBI agents were butchered in Florida when they had to reload their revolvers and their enemy attacked.

The Battleteam

Two men make up a battleteam and they will never be far from each other. This is very important on a battlefield. First is the morale factor. A person is much more likely to panic if he is alone. He will feel cut off, in extreme danger and about to die. If someone else is nearby it provides a great deal of support because, if the individual is injured or lost, there is someone to help him or go for help. Other factors come into play also. If someone else is present the individual will attempt to mask his fear and in this way, more easily over come it. (This is one reason military forces do not readily acknowledge a soldier's fear and encourage the 'fearless' attitude). Another factor is that in 'tight' units that the two (or more) are looking out for and relying on each other. When someone knows that someone else is doing their best to protect him from harm it has a very calming affect.

The battleteam is the smallest 'unit' employed for these reasons. When a squad leader does a recon of an area he takes someone with him as 'backup'. Sniper teams usually operate in two man teams, very rarely do they operate alone.

There are exceptions to the 'battleteam rule'. If a squad uses flank security than a single man will be put out on either side. However, the flank security people will not be too far from the rest of the squad if they run into trouble.


When the firing starts a battleteam should work together very closely. A pair of professionals will continuously be talking to each other. They will inform each other when and where they see the enemy, what kind of weapon the enemy has (especially if it is a machine gun). They will also tell each other when they are reloading or running low on ammo. Whenever a grenade is thrown a warning will be yelled so friendly forces can take cover. Pro's will use special code words to prevent the enemy from understanding them. Words like 'fire in the hole' let friendlies know a grenade or other explosive has been loosed and is getting ready to explode. The word 'grenade' is very similar in many languages and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out.

A good team will also talk about their own status, especially if one is running low on ammo and/or needs to reload. This way the other person knows to conserve ammunition and keep the enemy from rushing his partner who is vulnerable. A magazine can be dropped from the weapon and abandoned but usually they are recovered for reuse. Also, if there are a few rounds still in the magazine they can be recovered if worst comes to worst.

A pair of pros working together is also more effective than an individual because while one is moving to a better position the other is forcing the enemy to keep his head down or fire less accurately. This is called different things, leapfrogging, fire and movement or fire and maneuver, depending on the 'school'. Regardless of what it is called, the basics are the same.

Movement by a battleteam is like it is for an individual. Everyone moves from cover to cover and keeps the distance short. Many infantrymen are taught to use the phrase "I'm up, he see's me, I'm down" in order to keep distances short. By the time the trooper has recited it, he has gotten up, moved a few meters and taken cover, fast and furious.

Two troopers working together also increase the chance of locating the enemy. Four eyes are always better than two.

On Patrol

On patrol a battleteam is also important. While one man is drinking water, relieving himself, eating or whatever, the other man is covering him. This allows the person to take care of business as quickly and quietly as possible without having to worry about the enemy catching him by surprise.

Two pros working together are also less likely to be surprised because they have different areas to watch for enemy activity. Amateurs might have their attention drawn to a stream or animal or something and everyone might be looking at it when the shooting starts. Regardless of other distractions, pros will try to concentrate on their area of responsibility.

Silent Sentry Take out

Everyone has seen a movie where the good guys sneak up and cut the throat of the bad guy with a knife. This is one of the more difficult methods. Silenced weapons are preferred, bows or crossbows are secondary, knives are used when nothing else is available (like in most infantry units). A garrote can be used also.

Whenever a sentry is designated for 'removal' usually a pair of troopers is assigned the job of removing one or more sentries. One man employs the weapon (usually a knife) and the other man remains ready with his assault rifle (or machine gun) in case things go wrong.

More than two people can be used in a sentry removal team but silent sentry removal will be detailed in another section.


In the defense a two men are usually stationed together. While one man is digging the hole, the other man is watching for the enemy. While one man is sleeping, the other is watching for the enemy (this is called fifty-fifty, fifty percent asleep, fifty percent awake). When one man is placing booby traps or barbed wire, the other is covering him.

When the fight begins the two remain stationary in their holes and if one is injured he has another person present to help him and/or get help.

The Fireteam

A fireteam consists of three to six men. One member is usually armed with a light machine gun and one is the team leader. In some formations there is also a grenadier with a grenade launcher. In US Marine units the grenadier is usually the fireteam leader, in some Army units the grenadier is just a team member.

A fireteam is usually the smallest unit sent out on patrol and the team relies more on stealth than combat power because of its small size.

A well balanced combat unit, fireteams are designed to be versatile. The fireteam revolves around the light machine gun. The team leader insures the machine gun is positioned where it can do the most damage to the enemy. If the machine gun cannot fire at an enemy because of a dip in the land, a crater where the enemy is hiding or whatever, the grenadier can lob grenades into the enemy's location. If the enemy is protected or some reason from the low angle arc of the grenadier the machine gun can provide covering fire while one of the riflemen gets closer and throws a grenade or places a demo charge.

Because machine gunners are a primary target for the enemy the machine gunner is kept as safe as possible (like he does not usually lead an attack). Also, if the machine gunner is injured or killed, the next (or closest) senior man picks up the machine gun and becomes the new gunner. Regardless of casualties, the machine gun is the most important part of a fireteam. Without the machine gun the fireteam is a whole lot less effective.

The machine gun is also manned at all times. If a machine gunner is digging a hole, eating or relieving himself he gives the machine gun to someone else and takes their weapon until he is done.

In addition to carrying their own ammunition, each member of the fireteam usually carries extra ammo for the machine gun. Rocket launchers (like the LAW and AT-4) dramatically increase the effectiveness of a fireteam. A long range radio also increases the lethality of the fireteam ten fold because if they can't destroy it with their already considerable firepower, they can call in artillery, mortars, strike aircraft or reinforcements.

The Firefight

In battle a fireteam, when properly trained and led, is incredibly effective. Armed with machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets, hand grenades and a radio a fireteam is the most lethal, single unit on the battle field.

When a firefight begins everyone takes cover and fires at the enemy. The fireteam leader directs the machine gunner to the best position and directs the fireteam to concentrate fire on certain targets (like enemy machine guns or leaders).

If a target cannot be killed by direct fire weapons, the grenadier opens fire.

If the enemy loses the advantage, the fireteam leader may direct his team to advance on the enemy. Depending on the amount of return fire his team is receiving, he may move his team individually or in pairs. He might even move everyone except the machine gunner and once everyone has moved, then he will move his machine gunner (or vice versa).

Basically, anybody moving is supported by accurate fire, whether the person moving is a single person or several, he has people suppressing the enemy while he finds a better position, reloads or carries out some other combat related task.

Unless the fireteam leader retains control over movement, (not an easy task!) movement is like it is for battleteams and individuals.

On Patrol

Each member of a patrolling fireteam adheres to the basics of individual and battleteam patrolling. In addition to those basics, fireteams move in formations. Each formation has a different purpose and is designated anticipating enemy contact. Since it is tiring to move from cover to cover, getting up and down, formations are used. It should be noted that although a formation looks good on paper (or screen) it is not easy to maintain any formation because warriors have to go around objects and don't pay perfect attention to the formation. Also, when the firing starts most units deploy in a line facing the enemy so everyone can fire freely at the enemy without endangering a friend. Every team leader and squad leader is different so there will be variations according to the whim of the leader. In larger formations more can change so all machine gunners are not on one side, ect. In general, the team leader places himself where he can best see what is happening and so control the unit.


Unit formations are used to control the unit so that firepower is focused more effectively on the enemy. Formations are also used to reduce the confusion and place order on the unit so the commander has more understanding of what is going on. Formations are used by all command levels from fireteam leaders on up. All formations are not set in stone and leaders frequently vary them according to the situation or terrain. The easiest formation to control is when everyone is in a line, then the leader only has to worry about the first person is going. When the unit is online, the leader has a much more difficult time controlling everyone because everyone is looking forward towards the enemy so they don't get shot. On line, or skirmisher, formations usually look like wavy lines in practice because of terrain, lack of attention or poor visibility.















FIRETEAM WEDGE: When a fireteam is unsure of the enemy's location a fireteam wedge is the best formation. It maintains a large amount of firepower to the front and makes it more difficult for the enemy to trap the fireteam in a flank position where it's firepower is severely limited. The machine gun can be placed on either side of the diamond, as directed by the team (or squad) leader. In the five man fireteam the machine gunner is kept in the rear of the formation so he can look over the situation and then deploy to the best location. The machine gunner is never put in front of a formation because the machine gun is heavier and not as easy to maneuver as a rifle. Also the lead man is more likely to come under fire and needs to be more alert, the machine gunner, because of his heavier load, usually tires faster. A tired warrior is not as alert as a fresh one.

Fireteam Echelon










FIRETEAM ECHELON: The Echelon is used when the enemy is suspected of being to either side. It can also be used when friendly forces are to the side not being protected against, like when a fireteam is providing flank security for a larger unit. This focuses all available firepower to the side. Firepower to the front is only slightly diminished in favor of protecting against a possible flank attack. When proper spacing is employed, this kind of formation allows each warrior to fire directly forward and to the side without endangering a comrade. Individuals are staggered instead of getting in a strait line to avoid getting in line for an enemy machine gun.








Online/Skirmisher: When the fireteam is attacking, or knows where the enemy is at, the team leader may deploy the team in a line. This focuses all available firepower to the front but leaves the team vulnerable to its flanks. To minimize the danger to a machine gun getting on a flank and mowing everyone down each individual is staggered. While this diagram looks good in theory practice is not this pretty and a line is never perfect. People take cover behind what is available and try to avoid getting in each other's way.









FIRETEAM COLUMN: A Column formation is used when the fireteam is not likely to encounter the enemy. It is also used in thick vegetation or for speed. The column formation is extremely vulnerable to an attack from the front but is well deployed for an attack from either side. Two variations of the column exist. One slightly reduces the vulnerability to a frontal attack so one machine gun cannot kill the entire unit. The other one is best used in very think terrain or at night so people don't get lost or disorganized. The illustration shows the preferred type of column. On a road for instance the rifleman and Assistant Automatic Rifleman would be on opposite sides of the road. In the less preferred formation, each member is directly behind the other.

In each formation, the fireteam members attempt to maintain as much room as possible so one grenade cannot take out more than one person and a machine gun has more space to traverse to target more people. Another side effect of good dispersion is it reduces visibility for the enemy. It is much easier for the enemy to see a group of camouflaged men than it is to see one or two camaflouged me.

Also by maintaining distance between individuals more ground can be covered. If the team walks into an ambush the dispersion may also mean that fewer people are caught in the kill zone.

The Defense

In the defense, fireteam members are deployed in pairs, two to a fighting hole. The machine gunner is carefully placed so that any approaching enemy are more likely to encounter him. Because the machine gunner is the second senior man in the fireteam, the team leader mans a different fighting position. This way, if the team leader is killed, the machine gunner can take command and pass his weapon to the person with him. They are separated so one explosion doesn't kill them both.

The machine gun is of critical importance in the defense. Usually it is deployed along the flattest piece of ground so that it can fire farther along that line effectively. This is called grazing fire. The machine gun bullets graze the ground from one foot up to four feet. Any attackers crossing the machine gun's path is vulnerable to this grazing fire, even if smoke or weather obscure the machine gunner's view.

A stake is also used to designate the machine guns FPL, or final protective line. When the enemy is about to over run the unit, the FPF (Final Protective Fire) command will be given. This means the machine guns especially will create a wall of bullets across the units front. Anyone crossing this line will be in severe danger from the machine gun firing as fast as it can. When two or more machine guns use interlocking fields of fire it creates a near impenetrable wall of fire. This makes it doubly important that machine guns be manned.

When barbed wire is used, a roll can be deployed along the machine gun's path. This way any enemy soldiers who run into the barbed wire will be stopped temporarily in the path of the machine gun. Another strand will discourage enemy troops from getting within hand grenade range of the machine gun position.

The grenadier is placed so he can fire into places the machine gun cannot.

Communication in the defense is just as important as in the attack.

The Squad

A squad consist of two to three fireteams, with two being the average. Some militaries, like the French and British call a squad a section. Not all squads are broken down into fireteams.

A squad usually has a massive amount of firepower at its disposal. However, some squads are little more than a bunch of soldiers following their squad leader. Some militaries discourage squad leaders, or any non-officer from displaying initiative. Sometimes even officers are discouraged from showing initiative.

For the purpose of this book I will talk about two and three fireteam squads. With all fireteams armed with grenade launchers and machine guns a squad is not something to trifle with. The reason a squad has two or more fireteams is because it gives a squad leader a great deal of flexibility. If one fireteam makes contact with the enemy and engages in a firefight, the squad leader can send the other fireteam around to flank the enemy. With his squad already divided into teams, the squad leader doesn't have to reorganize or assign a leader, it's already done. Furthermore, the team is well balanced as far as weaponry goes. When rounds are flying a leader doesn't have time to say "You, Jake, Mike, Kevin and Eric go attack their right flank. You might as well take Jason with you because he has a machine gun. . ."

Organizing a squad into fireteams also dramatically increases the squad leader's ability to control the squad. Instead of directing six or more people, he only has to direct two or three, and team leaders in turn only have to control two or three men. This insures more senior soldiers are in charge, more control is displayed and more initiative is displayed.

Breaking down a squad into fireteams is not always practical for militaries. If the troops are conscripts and only serve for one to two years breaking them down into fireteams may not be as effective because they will not gain nearly as much experience to be very effective. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule.

Another point to note is that in some formations, like US Army or British, the squad leader might lead the first fireteam and the assistant squad leader might lead the second. Other units, like the US Marine Corps, will usually have a designated team leader for each fireteam.

When the firing starts one fireteam can lay down a base of fire while the other fireteam gets closer. Instead of having one man cover another man while he rushes, the squad leader can have fireteams cover each other. With three or more fireteams, a squad leader can direct one fireteam to assist another, thereby doubling the firepower at any one point.


When a firefight erupts it usually escalates as combat elements make contact with each other along the battle line. Only in the desert or other open terrain can two large units suddenly start firing at each other.

In the woods, jungle, hills or whatever, usually fireteams start fighting and more units are committed to the battle as the commander makes his decisions. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. If a unit is crossing an open area and comes under fire they will have to adjust. A firefight can quickly escalate from an individual firing at the enemy to a battalion, or regiment firing at the enemy if the two face each other in a line.

When a squad makes contact with the enemy the squad leader has to make several quick decisions. This decisions are based on the mission and the squad's capabilities. He must evaluate what kind of force the squad is facing. Sometimes this can be determined by the how many enemy rifles are being heard and how much of an area those weapons are occupying. A lot depends on the situation. If the squad has been ambushed and has taken casualties he can't extract safely, he might order an attack. What kind of attack varies on the terrain and situation. Most likely he will order a fireteam to try and flank the enemy, or he might bring up the other fireteam to help suppress the enemy while casualties are extracted.

Of course he might order everyone to run for their life. As explained above fireteams are independent units and have a great deal of firepower. It is the squad leader's mission to deploy his fireteams in an effective manner against the enemy. With all the yelling, screaming, gunfire and confusion, a squad leader has a very difficult job controlling his squad and maneuvering it effectively. A squad leader can't always see his entire squad, or even his team leaders. Squad radios are a god send to a squad leader and allow him to receive reports and give orders. If the squad doesn't have radios the squad leader has to yell or use hand arm signals. Usually yelling is of limited value because of all the noise and hand arm signals down work very well unless people are looking at him or it is night time. What ends up happening is he has to run around from team leader to team leader giving directions or receiving reports. Of course yelling sometimes works but not always.

This is why standard operating procedures are so important to a squad. SOP's cover most situations and help overcome much of the confusion. For example, if the SOP calls for first fireteam to lay down a base of fire when they make contact and for second fireteam to envelope (flank) then everyone knows what is going to happen when the shooting starts. First team will automatically move up so they can fire on the enemy and Second team will look to the squad leader for directions on which way to flank the enemy.

Overall, the team leaders have a great deal of control and can spell the difference between victory or defeat if they and their team are properly trained.

Some squads are organized around medium machine guns. For instance, not so long ago British squads were organized with eight men. One had a medium machine gun and the other seven had regular assault rifles.

When the firing began, the machine gunner and his assistant would lay down a base of fire while the six riflemen advanced. When the squad leader was ready for the machine gun to advance, all six riflemen would fire to cover the gunner's advance.

Regardless of organization, poorly trained (or led) squad would operate as one big mob directed by the squad leader. The squad might have a great deal of firepower in the form of machine guns and rockets, but there would often be a lack of initiative among the troops.

The Soviets were a prime example of this. All tactics were based on battle drills or standard operating procedures. The advantage of this method was that everyone knew what was going on and what was expected of them. Only squad leaders knew how to read a map or a radio. If something unexpected happened then the battle drill could rapidly fall apart. To overcome this the Soviets used waves. When wave one fell apart then wave two would move in, or wave three. Eventually, one wave would succeed and the waves that failed could regroup and reorganize. This method of combat was great for the Soviets who relied on quantity over quality.

Soviet soldiers were not encouraged to think or act on their own. In a Soviet type military, the squad leader would be nothing more than a fireteam leader with a lot more men and weapons than usual. The platoon commander, an officer, would be the real decision maker and even then he would always defer to a higher authority.

A Soviet style squad is heavily armed with automatic weapons. Usual doctrine calls for the squad to deploy on line and while standing or crouching, advance on the enemy. As the squad advances a high volume of fire would be maintained so that the squad would have fire superiority and their enemy would be forced to seek cover. With fire superiority, the Soviet squad would advance on line with their weapon in their shoulder or at their hip. When a soldier fired he would 'walk' his rounds into the target, adjusting his aim according to where his rounds hit.

Of course the Soviets did not always do it this way. They would take cover and use finer tactics, but because they didn't trust their soldiers they preferred to keep things as simple as possible and trained their troops accordingly. Most of their soldiers were conscripts and didn't want to be there anyway. This is also a reason nearly all Soviet weapons had the automatic fire capability.


A squad is organized very well for a patrol. It has enough organic firepower to hold its own and is small enough to move with some degree of stealth and security. Patrol organization will be covered in another section as this is a primary mission of an infantry squad.

The Defense

A squad in the defense can be a powerful force. A squad leader, as directed and assisted by the platoon leader is assigned a specific area to cover. In turn, the squad leader assigns his fireteam leaders specific areas to cover and they assign individuals specific areas as described in Fireteam Defense.

The squad leader makes sure the machine guns are properly placed and can fire across the squad's front. The squad leader also insures all areas of the squad's front are covered by one or more weapons. More details on the Defense will be covered in another section.


A squad only uses dedicated formations when it is moving to the attack. During patrols it may use formations but due to the fact patrols usually cover large amounts of area formations are not always practical except in certain situations. The squad uses many of the same formations as a fireteam, with one additional one.

Inside the squad formation, the fireteams are in their own formations. Sometimes the squad leader dictates which formations the fireteams will use but not always. For instance in a squad wedge, the lead fireteam might be in a fireteam wedge and the fireteams on either side might be in echelons.

Squad Wedge: When the squad leader does not know where the enemy is he will likely deploy the squad in a wedge formation. This gives him protection to the front and flanks. It only works with three fireteams however. If a squad leader does not have three fireteam he may employ an echelon, or have the lead team form a wedge and the second team follow in a column. Like the fireteam wedge, this formation is easier to control because nearly everyone can see the lead rifleman and adjust off him.

Squad Echelon: When the squad leader is expecting an attack from the side he will likely deploy the squad in an echelon facing the possible enemy location. This concentrates firepower in that direction and provides protection to the front as well. The squad echelon can be used when protecting a larger unit's flank. Individual fireteams will most likely deploy in echelons to support the squad formation. The lead fireteam may deploy in a team wedge or a skirmishers formation.

Squad Skirmisher/On line: When the squad leader knows his right and left flanks are covered and he knows the enemy is to his front he will deploy his squad on line (also called a skirmish line). This allows him to concentrate firepower to the front but leaves him vulnerable to the flanks. Deploying the squad on line is also a good way to search an area. Fireteams will likely deploy in skirmisher formations, wedges, or echelons depending on the perceived threat. The on line formation is usually very hard to control even under the best circumstances and is used only when contact is imminent or searching an area. At night this is a nightmare because people usually can't see the person to either side very well.

Squad V: The squad V is a reverse of the wedge. This is used primarily to protect the rear of a larger unit's column. Firepower is concentrated to the rear and flanks. One variation of this is to have the two lead fireteams close together. When contact is made, the first two fireteams will lay down a base of fire and the trailing fireteam flanks the enemy.

The Column: The column is used when the squad is more interested in speed. It is always easier to follow the guy in front of you than to make your own trail. At night the column formation keeps people from wandering off and getting separated. The column is also more quieter since one person is making a path and everyone else is following instead of making their own. The disadvantage of a column is firepower to the front and rear is severely limited and the squad is vulnerable to attack. Firepower to the sides is good however.


Whenever a squad makes contact with the enemy it usually tries to deploy in a line facing the enemy. This way more squad members are able to fire at the enemy and not risk shooting another squad member. When the unit is on line it is very difficult to control and this is where the team leaders play a big role. If the fireteam leaders are incompetent and not paying attention to the battle they may fail to support another fireteam or be completely ineffective against the enemy.

The Reinforced Squad

Most infantry squads are usually composed of riflemen and a few light machine gunners. Companies usually have a special platoon of special weapons like medium machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars. A battalion will have anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns in a special company.

What usually happens is a company commander will assign each platoon so many machine guns and rocket launchers depending on the missions and availability. The platoon leader in turn, may assign these units to squads for special missions. There may also be other specialists assigned to squads, like engineers, local guides or translators, scout dogs, sniper teams, anti-air missile team and so on.

A machine gun squad (usually assigned to a platoon) has three gun teams, each one with a medium machine gun. The number of men in each machine gun team can vary from three to five people.

When a squad leader receives such attachments it increases his combat effectiveness a great deal. The squad is then generally reorganized to take advantage of the attachment. Like a fireteam leader deploying his machine gunner, the squad leader deploys the special attachment where it can do the most damage to the enemy. In most cases the attachment leader is intimately familiar with his weapon and can advise the squad leader. This is one reason specialists train separately. For instance a rocket gunner training with other rocket people, learns more than if he was detached and training with a regular unit.

Depending on what weapon is attached to his squad depends on how it is deployed. For instance a medium machine gun is not the best weapon for a rapid, moving assault. A medium machine gun is best employed from an overwatch position where it can provide covering fire while the squad advances. A rocket launcher might be held in reserve until a bunker or some other hard target is encountered. An engineer team might be sent forward to clear a route through a mine field while the rest of the squad provides covering fire.

In general the squad leader remains in command of the unit until the specialist's abilities come into play. In good units the squad leader (or platoon leader) will let the specialist do his job and provide what support he can. In bad units the commander will attempt to supervise the specialist and will refuse to rely on the specialist's abilities.

A US Marine squad leader usually commands up to thirteen men. In a combat environment with attachments he can command up to twenty, or in rare instances, more.

The Mechanized Squad

A mechanized squad operates like a regular infantry squad in many ways. The biggest difference however, is the armored personnel carrier (APC) or Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). The IFV is usually a lightly armored, well armed vehicle that provides a great many advantages on the battle field. It is important to note that the armor of the IFV is not considered the primary advantage. The IFV can transport troops around the battlefield more quickly and safely than if they were on foot. The IFV also provides an impressive amount of firepower to support the infantry squad.

IFV's also allow a soldier to enter combat more lightly equipped because he can leave his non-critical gear, like food and supplies aboard the vehicle. An armored vehicle also provides some protection from enemy artillery and mortars. It makes a big target for enemy attack aircraft and anti-tank weapons. Most anti-tank weapons were designed to take out main battle tanks and IFV's have nowhere near the amount of protection a tank has.

Mechanized infantry were mechanized so they could keep up with tanks. Without infantry, tanks are extremely vulnerable to enemy infantry.

Doctrine frequently varies from military to military, however, when combat occurs infantry almost always dismount from their vehicle. Some IFV's have gun ports so the troops inside the IFV can shoot out. This looks real good on paper, in practice it is nearly worthless. Visibility from inside a IFV is very poor and by nature, IFV's give the troops a false sense of security. IFV's may be bullet proof but one missile can kill everyone inside. Outside their IFV troops have a much better chance of survival.

When attacking an objective, tactics usually vary on whether or not IFV or infantry lead the way. With the proliferation of anti-tank missiles and rockets it is becoming standard for infantry to lead the way. The IFV will either follow the infantry or take up a position and use its heavy firepower to suppress the enemy and support the infantry attack.

If the enemy is known to have few or no anti-tank weapons, then the IFV's will usually lead the way.

When moving or patrolling, a platoon of IFV's will often use many of the same formations as fireteams but will not have designated riflemen or automatic riflemen. The Wedge, Skirmisher, Echelon, and Column are all used by vehicle platoons (which consist of three to four vehicles). Companies will move like infantry squad formations. All basic infantry formations can apply to vehicles because the formation is about focusing power without endangering other friendlies.

Tracked and wheeled vehicles are often more restricted in their movement because of terrain. In a thickly wooded area or the jungle for instance, vehicles are more of a liability and can only operate on roads. Large trees can stop tanks cold for instance and in some areas (like a swamp) the tank will sink into the muck. Just because a vehicle is amphibious does not mean it can go anywhere. Many vehicles need a gradual slope to safely enter and exit the water otherwise they might capsize or get stuck.

Another important aspect to remember when dealing with mechanized units is they frequently expect to encounter other mechanized units. This means that there will be a higher number of anti-tank weapons organic to the platoon and squad. They are also able to carry more ammunition and equipment than a regular line infantry unit.

The Platoon

The infantry platoon usually consists of two to four squads, three or four being average. The platoon is usually commanded by a junior officer, or if none are available, a senior sergeant. If a platoon is lead by an officer then he will always be assisted by the platoon sergeant. The platoon sergeant will act as the second in command of the platoon and assist the lieutenant in commanding and controlling the platoon. The platoon sergeant will also be responsible for many of the administrative functions of the platoon.

A platoon usually has an incredible amount of firepower and the platoon leader almost always has a long range radio and a radio operator. In addition to what a platoon leader (or in the Marines a platoon commander) has in his regular squads, the company commander may assign special units to him. These units are usually medium machine gun teams and rocket teams. They might also include anti-tank or anti-air teams.

Sometimes the platoon commander will keep these units under his direct control but sometimes he will assign them to squad leaders.

In combat, a well trained and led platoon is very dangerous. Aside from the organic weapons, the radio allows the platoon commander to call for artillery, mortars, close air support or reinforcements. In effect, if the platoon cannot destroy a target with its regular weapons (or even if it can!) it can lay waste to a target area by accurately calling in supporting fires.

The Firefight

When the shooting starts the platoon commander frequently deploys his squads like the squad leader deploys his fireteams. In my opinion the platoon commander has one of the most difficult jobs on the battlefield. The platoon is too large for him to control it from a central location so he must move around giving orders and receiving reports. In addition he must move around and try to figure out what is going on and how he can exploit any advantages. He must also be willing to lead his men from the front.

What this boils down to is the fact the junior officer moves around a lot under enemy fire. To make matters worse, officers are a prime target for enemy shooters. Moving around a lot while the enemy is firing at you tends to be fatal. Trivia devotees will note the very large number of junior officers that did not survive in Vietnam. Platoon commanders usually had a very short life span when the shooting started.

Deploying squads is not like deploying fireteams. For starters a much larger area needs to be considered and in rough terrain, the lieutenant is unlikely to see everyone in a squad, just smaller portions of it. This means the lieutenant has to build a mental picture of the battle field and what is occurring. Frequently this mental picture is slightly flawed because of all the confusion. If a squad leader doesn't know exactly what is going on, how many of the enemy there are, where the enemy is at, he can't pass on that information to the platoon leader. As more information becomes available the platoon commander begins to get a better grasp of what is going on and how he should deal with it.

Then, when he thinks he has figured out what to do, he has to let the squad leaders know so they can carry it out. The best method is if everyone has radios, otherwise he has to find the squad leaders, while they are moving around directing their squads, avoid getting shot and issue his orders. The platoon sergeant can help a great deal by going after one or two squad leaders.

Fireteams almost never separate, squads do so only rarely. In a battlefield environment, with units remaining dispersed, squad members may not see their buddies in another squad for hours, maybe days, even though they are not really far apart.

Platoon Basics

I learned from personal experience that while in garrison NCO's and Officers may have several advantageous perks but on the battle field they more than earn those perks. While most of the squad members are sleeping, the NCO's and officers are planning, briefing each other or checking on their people.

Usually, the platoon leader will try to keep at least one squad in reserve until he knows what is going on. If he doesn't keep one squad back from all the firing he will not have anybody to protect the flanks or attack the enemy's flank. Nor will there be anyone to reinforce a squad that is being overrun.

The radio operator usually stays close to the platoon commander. When the shooting starts higher headquarters needs to be notified. An experienced radio operator can pretty much figure out what is going on and report it but usually the platoon commander has to make the report, in addition to figuring out what is going on, give orders and avoid getting shot. The enemy also likes to target radio operators because the radio can call for all manner of lethal unpleasantness like artillery and reinforcements.

Because of his many responsibilities the platoon commander, like the squad leader, usually does not have time to shoot at the enemy. To the enemy, a platoon commander can be compared to a duck target at the shooting range that goes back and forth until you shoot it down.

Platoons like squads, have standard operating procedures (usually) so everyone usually has some idea of what to do in a given situation. However, figuring out what the situation is can often lead to confusion and errors. For instance, if the SOP calls for first and second squad to lay down a base of fire when the shooting starts, while third squad envelopes the enemy everyone knows what is happening. If third squad tries to envelope and runs into an enemy force that is enveloping then everyone is probably going to start wondering where third squad is until third squad sends back a report. At that time the platoon commander has some decisions to make. Sometimes the platoon commander will lead the flanking maneuver.

Pulling back troops that are under fire is never an easy proposition. The enemy will be happy to shoot the troops in the back as well as in the front. Furthermore, if the enemy sees their targets retreating they are likely to assume their targets are running away and pursue them. This can open up another squad's flank to an aggressive enemy and that can lead to disaster.

A platoon commander will also (in most cases) have special attachments like machine gun teams and rocket launchers. Again this makes his job more difficult because he has to deploy them so they do the most damage to the enemy. By assigning them to a squad leader he lightens his work load, or the platoon sergeant can take responsibility for them.

If (or maybe when) the platoon commander becomes a casualty the platoon still has to figure out he has become a casualty. If one fireteam sees the officer go down, they still has to pass it up the chain of command. This can take time and during that time the enemy is not going to be sitting still just returning fire.

The platoon sergeant is the next in the chain of command to lead the platoon. If the platoon sergeant is on the ball and knows what is going on the fight can continue effectively. In formations where NCO's are not encouraged to display initiative the loss of an officer can bring the attack to a grinding halt if it doesn't already have orders.

Unit morale comes into play here. If the unit is composed of unwilling conscripts they will likely remain in place and return fire, or more likely run away if there is nobody to stop them. Soldiers with high morale, or conscripts who really believe in their cause will usually be more aggressive and willing to stand and fight. Well trained, and motivated leaders will be aggressive and use every little advantage to get the drop on the enemy.

For example. A good fireteam leader may notice a ditch leading into enemy lines that is not covered by enemy fire (maybe because the team leader directed his team to take out the person guarding it). He will notify his fellow team leader, or squad leader if possible and then lead his squad as they low crawl through this ditch and into enemy lines. With a fireteam popping up among them the enemy will have to readjust to the new threat and more gaps will open in their battle line, gaps others can exploit. The fireteam leader could also have his saw gunner cover the rest of team while they crawled into enemy lines. A squad leader might send in his whole squad. This is one way major firefights can be won by aggressive action. During one of the World Wars a German squad managed to fight its way across a river and breach the French lines. Because the squad leader continued the attack instead of waiting for reinforcement, the French (Battalion or Regimental?) Commander feared the Germans had penetrated his line in force and retreated when he could have held the line.

A poor unit might notice the route into enemy lines but would be unwilling to try and exploit it because of the many dangers. They might also mistrust their fellows ability to provide covering fire. Unmotivated troops would find a great many reasons not to exploit such a weakness, like 'it might be booby trapped, what if someone else is guarding it, it is too exposed, ect."

It is a well know fact that warfare is about risks. Nothing is ever risk free and usually, the bigger the risk the bigger the gain. Sometimes the risk is greater than anticipated and sometimes it is less than anticipated. Either way, someone must make the decision and carry it out. If the person is an unwilling participant in the war he will be more interested in survival than anything else and getting such a person to take risks will require more than kind words.

A combat officer is usually more educated than his troops. Officers are usually heavily indoctrinated to believe in the cause (like the Soviet military), or they are dedicated professionals. Most militaries have a combination of the two. Either way, the officer is responsible for commanding his troops. If the officer is good he will motivate his troops, whether they are conscripts or not, and encourage them to fight well. If the troops really like the officer they are more likely to take risks for him. If the troops dislike the officer they might 'have an accident' that insures he does not survive the fight.

In a platoon, the lieutenant has, perhaps, the greatest impact on his troops. He is with them almost constantly. The troops will see him inspecting their lines, talking with their leaders, and giving orders. Company commanders and up are frequently little more than voices on a radio, especially on a battle field. It is the platoon commander that frequently gives his troops morale courage because he is the most visible authority figure.

As a marine I served under good lieutenants that I would die for and at least one lieutenant I wished would die. While a company commander might be highly visible in garrison, it was the Lieutenants that would have the most impact on a platoon. As the most senior man, all NCO's would defer to him (even if he was younger and less experienced then them). As professionals the NCO's would enforce his rules and regulations regardless of how they felt about it. As the mouthpiece of higher ranking officers, if the troops didn't like the lieutenant anything he said would not be trusted and that mistrust would extend up the chain of command in most cases. Troops would not be willing to go that extra mile that could often spell success or defeat on the battlefield.

Loyalty is a two way street. Not all officers (or NCO's) realize this. If the troops are not taken care of they will not strive to maintain anything other than minimum standards. NCO's are people too, and if they are poorly lead they will frequently lead their troops poorly (but not always!)

This is one reason it is so important to have good, quality officers. Good officers can train good NCO's and good NCO's can train good troops.

A great deal goes on at the platoon level. Combat platoon commanders are frequently junior officers, fresh out of training. They have a very difficult job and no amount of training in the world can fully prepare them for it, their responsibilities and duties are enormous. Any military with a poor officer corps is bound to be defeated. If it is not initially defeated then it is likely that natural selection will mold the officer corps into an effective organization. Bad officers will end up killed, either by their troops or by the enemy, maybe even their commanders. Good officers will lead their men to victory. Politicians will frequently destroy the a military by degrading the quality of its officer corps. Officers, more than enlisted, are more vulnerable to politics, especially as they reach higher ranks. History shows this time and time again, from the Romans to the Russians to the USA.

Because their presence can have such an impact on the regular soldier this is the main reason good officers lead from the front. By willingly shouldering more danger and responsibilities than the regular soldier, the officer earns the respect and trust of his men. By leading from the rear the officer is all but telling his troops they are expendable and he is expending them rather than endanger himself.

Warfare is more about psychology than bullets, especially at the smaller unit levels. Not many people recognize what a powerful effect morale has on combat effectiveness. Morale is not a tangible thing and is usually very hard to understand. For instance in Saudi during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield I, and many of my fellow Marines believed morale couldn't be any lower. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no civilized benefits, we felt like forgotten savages. When the war started however, we couldn't wait to get in there and kick Iraqi butt. Casualties probably would have dampened the mood a bit but we were fired up and anxious for combat despite a poor platoon leader and platoon sergeant, neither of which anybody really respected. The major saving grace was the Company Commander who was viewed as a tactical genius by his men.

The Company

Most companies, whether regular infantry or mechanized, or armored, have an incredible amount of firepower at their disposal. They cover a sizable amount of area when dispersed for battle and can be very versatile in their operations.

Most companies have two to six platoons and are led by an officer, an assistant (usually one grade lower) called an executive officer, and at least one senior sergeant.

Because fireteams, squads and platoons can vary so much, a company in one army can be completely different than a company in another army. For instance, a US mechanized platoon has four vehicles, a Soviet platoon only has three. However, in the big picture the Soviets have many more platoons than the US.

A lot of companies do not have certain organic weapons, like mortars, some do. This means that the availability of certain organic weapons can greatly influence how the company or battalion fights.

For example. A Soviet company does not have organic mortars so they must rely on higher authorities to provide support. This forces the company to rely on orders from the higher authority and can reduce the effectiveness of that company by discouraging initiative.

A US Marine Corps company does have mortars. Usually three of them. This allows the company to exploit an advantage without having to rely on higher authorities. It also allows the company to operate more independently and effectively on its own. While three mortars is not a lot of firepower, it is dedicated to the company and can provide immediate support until higher authorities can authorize additional support. Mortars also allow the company to deploy their own illumination and smoke rounds quickly which can greatly influence a battle.

When a company enters battle the company commander, like the platoon commander, will hold back a reserve. In a three platoon company this means at least one platoon will be held back, maybe two. When an advantage presents itself the company commander will deploy his reserve in an attempt to favorably influence the battle.

A company without a reserve can find itself in severe trouble if something goes wrong (and it usually will). The commander will have no one to reinforce a platoon with, or protect a flank that is under attack. For this reason, the bigger the reserve the better. Of course with the presence of a battalion reserve, the company commander may be more willing to commit his own reserve.

During a battle, the company commander must frequently rely on his platoon commanders to tell him what is going on. The company occupies a large area and it is not always practical to go to the front and see what is going on. A good company commander will go to where the action is so he can see for himself what is going on. Still, this area may not be completely visible to one man. The Company Commander and his staff deploy to where they can best control and influence the battle. If a Company Commander is firing at the enemy with his personal weapon he is nothing more than an over trained rifleman so he usually doesn't want to be too close to the front.

In a 'regular' battle a company commander could theoretically command from the rear but more often than not the company commander will get close to the fighting. If the company has a weapons platoon, he is responsible for deploying it so that it will do the most damage to the enemy. This usually means breaking it up and dividing it among the platoons, but not always. For example. If the terrain is relatively open and the company is attacking an enemy on a hill, he might put one platoon and all medium machine guns on another hill so they can fire over the heads of the other two platoons as they attack. The company might even be assigned a few heavy machine guns from a higher headquarters.

The company commander has a great deal of responsibility because he has more troops and assets assigned to him. How he fights often depends on what assets he has and what his mission is.