Planning Group Training: Developing A Mission Essential Task List

Mountain Guerrilla

(It is important to preface this article with the notice that I am not using the doctrinally correct terminology to describe some of the collective tasks included herein. If all your schooling is from reading FMs, STPs, and ARTEPs, you’re about to get really, really, confused. If you’ve served in a conventional unit, in any sort of leadership position, some of this may even sound heretical. Bear with me, think about it, and you may actually realize, Holy Shit! He’s right!  

The idea for this article arose because of some private, free training I did for a group located a couple of hours from us. They were looking for ways to help determine what they needed to train on. This article is a very modified version of what I presented to them.–JM)

The Mission Essential Task List (METL) can be most simply described as a composite, comprehensive list of the specific tasks necessary for a unit or group to master, in order to complete whatever missions they may be assigned, or believe will be necessary. The METL is absolutely crucial to the preparedness group security team and the trainer, in order to provide focus to the on-going training of the security team.

In order to develop a solid, realistic METL, the trainer, the team, and the leadership of the preparedness group must sit down, determine what missions they will, objectively and realistically, expect the team to perform, and then determine what tasks are inherently necessary to the performance of those missions. This will keep the METL development focused on realistic, achievable missions that the security team can be expected to perform effectively.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on a small-unit security team of 8-12 personnel, focused on conducting security operations for a retreat/community in a rural or semi-rural environment, characterized by scattered farms and communities, with agricultural ground and timberlands interspersed. Thus, much like most of so-called “fly-over country” in the United States of America.

In order to begin determining the missions that will be essential to this security team, we have to look at the doctrine that will guide them. To do that, it is important to understand exactly what doctrine is. The terms doctrine, tactics, techniques, procedures, and SOP have become almost synonymous in common usage amongst survivalists and preppers, over the years. It is important however, to understand the actual meanings of these, because precision is important in discussions of matters of life-and-death.

Doctrine is defined as the fundamental principles by which groups or units guide their actions in support of the mission. If we define the mission of the security team to be “provide active and passive security measures for the defense of the retreat group, it’s property, and the surrounding community,” then the doctrine they utilize will focus on the performance of that mission.

Some philosophical elements that define this mission, in my belief include, but may not be limited to:

The best defense is a good offense. The moving, aggressive small-unit is far more effective in a fight than the non-aggressive small unit stuck hiding in a static position with no idea of what is headed their way. This requires a projection of force outwards, to gather intelligence information on the activities in the surrounding areas.

Stand-off favors the small-unit. It’s an axiom of unconventional warfare doctrine that stand-off weapons and tactics, that allow the guerrilla to choose the time and place of the fight, and then leave if the situation changes to the opponent’s favor, are the best choice. In less dogmatic terminology, it could be said, “if they’re in your front yard, it’s too late to run.” By this, we mean, the sooner you know about a large, aggressive hostile force, the better chance you have of stopping them, or dissuading them from continuing to move towards you. If that doesn’t work however, you’ve created enough of a time-distance gap to allow the rest of the group to escape. If you wait until they’re coming through your front gate however, and realize you cannot stand them off, then you’re done, because it’s too late to get away.

Most people sleep at night and move during the day. It’s easier to find people when they’re stationary. Additionally, most people are afraid of the dark. That means that those bands of cannibalistic San Franciscans will have campfires and/or flashlights and torches. That really makes them easier to find in the dark, when they’re stationary. Learn to look for people in the dark.

We don’t have close-air support or artillery, so we have to master traditional light infantry skills. Since we can’t expect the help of A-10s or a barrage of 155mm howitzers to bail us out of tight spots, we have to create the ability to either avoid those tight spots, or to get out of them without that help. Contrary to the negativity of many, people managed to fight effectively without air support or large artillery support for millenia. Even today, on a tactical level, small unit irregular forces manage to hold their own against larger, more technologically advanced forces through the application of traditional scout/woodsman, classical infantry skills and fieldcraft.

The dude that throws the first effective punch usually wins the fight. It’s as true in a gunfight as it was in the schoolyard, against the bully. If we can seize and maintain the initiative, we can keep the hostiles reacting to our actions, rather than trying to impose their own will on events.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Well-trained, well-disciplined groups of physically and mentally courageous fighters have historically served very well to defend their homes and families, even against vastly superior numbers. Quality of training, or software, is far more important than the quality or even quantity of equipment, or hardware (granted, only to a point. Eventually, as the man said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”)

Using these doctrinal beliefs as the foundation of our mission statements, we can begin to determine some of the missions we will need to conduct in order to provide for the security of our homes and community. The operations our security team may have to perform might include:

Defense of the physical property

Reconnaissance and security patrolling to find, fix, and finish or deter hostile aggression

Attack hostile forces, including ambushes or raids.

That’s quite a workload for 8-12 people, isn’t it? Especially when we start to consider the number of supporting tasks, individually and collectively, that are required by each of those three operations. Fortunately, many of the supporting tasks will be common to multiple or even all of those operations.

Since we’ve now determined likely operations that our security team will be required to perform, let’s take a closer look at each one, and determine what collective tasks will be required to perform each one. Then, we’ll look at which collective tasks are common to all of them or most of them.

Defense of the Physical Property

Defense of the physical property requires a number of basic collective tasks. Before we list these, let’s look at some realistic considerations when it comes to defending a physical property in a tactical scenario.

First of all, we have to ensure that no unauthorized or unwelcome intruders can breach our outer security. We have to control access. This means we may need to “construct obstacles,” as well as “perform surveillance from an observation post.” It may even involve the need to “establish roadblocks or checkpoints” to limit and control vehicle access to the property. If we are attacked, we will need to “perform overwatch/support-by-fire” as the security team “conducts a hasty attack” in order to repel the attackers. This would require the maneuver element to “move tactically,” before which, they would have to assemble in one place, or “occupy an assembly area.”

Once they begin moving towards the attackers’ position, the security team will eventually have to “take actions on contact,” and either “break contact” in order to “perform a delay” to allow the rest of the preparedness group to flee in time, which falls under the task of “execute a disengagement.” Alternatively, they may be able to “perform a hasty ambush,” to defeat the enemy, if the hasty attack is inadequate. If all of that fails however, and the enemy gets inside our defenses, we may be down to “defend a building.” This of course, is a last-stand maneuver that we never want to fall back on, in recognition of our doctrinal truth that “if they’re in the front yard, it’s too late to run.” If it comes down to “defend a building,” there’s a pretty solid chance you’ve lost, and should consider eating your gun, or running like a raped ape, on the off-chance that you might actually escape. “Perform a disengagement” successfully, and you’ll be a lot better off.

If we do manage to successfully defend the property, whether outside the wire or inside the wire, we are going to have to “process detainees” including the dead, in order to gather useful materials, as well as intelligence information, and we’ll probably have to “treat or evacuate casualties,” both of our own and the enemy. We’ll also have to “perform consolidation and reorganization,” after the fight, to make sure we’ve accounted for all of our people, and treated all of our casualties, as well as prepared for another attack. All of these tasks of course, require us to have previously “developed and communicated a plan.”

Reconnaissance and Security Patrolling to Find, Fix, and Finish or Deter Hostile Aggression

While it’s a separate operation from defending the physical property, reconnaissance and security patrolling is also an integral part of that operation, because it allows us to exercise the doctrinal principle that “the best defense is a good offense,” and “stand-off favors the small-unit,” to avoid letting them get into the figurative front yard in the first place. If precision, aimed rifle fire is the ultimate expression of the individual ability to project force in defense of property and life, then security patrolling is the ultimate expression of the collective, community ability to accomplish the same. Before we get ahead of ourselves however, let’s look at the collective tasks skills required to accomplish this task.

Since we’re going to be moving around in the woods or fields, it’s pretty obvious that we better know how to “move tactically,” right? That includes “performing actions at danger areas” such as road and stream crossings, the latter of which may also require us to “cross a water obstacle.” When we go out to look for bad guys, we may or may not know where they are, either generally or specifically. If we have an idea where they are, it’ll be because someone warned us they were coming. Either way, we’re going to need to “reconnoiter a zone or area” to find their specific location. All of our reconnaissance tasks also require us to be able to “perform surveillance from an observation post.”

When we’re moving, we need to be ready, in case they’re not where we think they are, or we come across their scouts, or another hostile element, to “conduct actions on contact,” followed by “conduct a hasty attack” or to “break contact.” Both of these require us to be able to “perform overwatch/support-by-fire.” If they see us, before we see them, we may need to “react to ambush.” If we seem them first though, we may be able to gain an advantage, if we know how to “perform a hasty ambush.”

If we are not aware of their location, but we are conducting a general security patrol, we may come across unoccupied or apparently unoccupied buildings, or we may discover a hostile element living in nearby buildings which may require us to “clear a building or structure.” Sure, we can sit outside and wait for the occupants to come out, but what if we’re not sure there’s anyone in there? Do we leave and hope it was unoccupied? Do we put the rest of our security patrol on hold while we establish a siege on a group of people we may not even know are hostiles? It’s never desirable to “clear a building or structure” without flash bangs or hand grenades, or at least explosive breaches, but it’s also far from impossible.

If there are other defense groups in the area that we may have a “mutual assistance group” agreement with, we may need to “perform a link-up” to join forces for dealing with particularly nasty bad guys, or simply to patrol an area we’ve agreed to share responsibility for. We may also simply need to link-up with local supporters or friends to gather information, or if they’re part of the auxiliary, they may be serving as guides, or they may be part of our re-supply plan.

If we get in a fight and have to break contact, but find that we’re being pursued, we may need to “perform a delay” to prevent the enemy from following us home, or to allow the people at home time to escape, or to send us help. If we win a fight, we’re going to have to “process detainees,” and in any case, we may need to “treat or evacuate casualties.” After the fight, whether we won, and are doing so on the objective, or we lost or broke contact and had to run to the last en route rally point, we’re going to need to “perform consolidation and reorganization.”

Before any patrol though, we’re going to have to “develop and communicate a plan” as well as “prepare for combat operations.” Both of these will require us to “occupy an assembly area” so we can prepare to leave the secured area as a team, rather than individuals.

We’ve got a whole bunch of other tasks to master, but if you look closely, you’ll see that a large number of them, are common to both of the operations we’ve discussed so far. That starts making things look considerably more manageable, doesn’t it?

Attack Hostile Forces

While we should always strive to be defensive in nature, rather than going out and “looking for a fight,” if we know the fight is coming, we can look at our doctrinal rules and see that it might favor us to go ahead and attack first. After all, “the best defense is a good offense,” and if “stand-off favors the small-unit” we definitely want to remember that if they’re attacking us at home, then they’re in the front yard. “If they’re in the front yard, it’s too late to run.” Finally, since it’s “not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” even if they outnumber us, we’re probably better off taking the fight to them, rather than waiting at home. While conventionally we’ve always claimed that the defender holds a 3-1 advantage over the attacker, experience has demonstrated that, regardless of the odds, “the dude that throws the first effective punch usually wins the fight.” Smaller units have successfully attacked significantly larger units, to the point of delaying or disrupting a planned attack by the larger element, more than once, even when the smaller unit was limited to individual small arms. It’s a matter of training, confidence, aggressiveness of action, and surprise. When all else fails, “speed, surprise, and violence-of-action” is not a cliche; it’s a force multiplier.

We undertake offensive operations like “Attack Hostile Forces” in order to destroy the enemy and his will to fight. An attack is an offensive action characterized by fire-and-maneuver. The two types of attack are hasty attacks and deliberate attacks. Hasty attacks are a supporting task, in the form of a battle drill at the team or squad-level. Deliberate attacks are characterized as such by the time available for preparation for the attack. Raids are deliberate attacks, and ambushes may be deliberate attacks. A successful attack depends on overwhelming speed and violence-of-action, combined with the element of surprise on the part of the attacker. A successful attack combines a plan for maneuver with coordinated, overwhelming suppressive fire to shatter the enemy’s spirit and will to fight, by unraveling his plan, and destroying whatever cohesion his unit may have. The focus of an attack is a weak point or vulnerable flank or rear of the enemy and once the attacker has identified that point, he establishes a base-of-fire on it to fix the enemy in position, allowing the maneuver force time to move to and occupy that position, in the process destroying the enemy. With small units attacking a significantly larger hostile force, it may be as simple as the maneuver element running THROUGH the enemy position, shooting anyone they identify as a bad guy, and continuing right on out the front door (look at some of the history of SOG Recon Teams in Vietnam for examples of this…)

A deliberate attack is a carefully planned and coordinated assault on the enemy. Because of the time available for deliberate planning, it takes advantage of a thorough reconnaissance, all available intelligence, and analysis of possible courses-of-action, going through all the steps of the troop-leading procedures. A deliberate attack, for the security team will generally be in the form of a raid or ambush. A raid is an operation involving a swift penetration of the hostile area to obtain information, to capture or kill specific enemy personnel, or to destroy his facilities, such as his vehicles or food supplies. It ends with a planned withdrawal after the completion of the assigned mission. Examples might include a raid to destroy a band of cannibalistic San Franciscans food supplies, or if they’re stuck out in the desert, maybe just their vehicles.

An ambush is a surprise attack, from a concealed position, on a moving or temporarily halted enemy force. This might include conducting a deliberate ambush on the cannibalistic San Franciscans, when they are in those vehicles, driving towards your home or town.

The collective tasks required to complete an effective “Attack on Hostile Forces” are largely similar to those for a security patrol, since the raid attack will require the security team to patrol to the enemy position prior to the actual attack. Once close to the enemy position however, the raid leader will need to conduct a leader’s reconnaissance, in order to confirm the information he has received regarding the enemy situation is correct, and to ensure that his tentative plan will work. This requires him to “perform surveillance from an observation post.” Once he has confirmed this, and is ready for his force to actually conduct the attack, his support-by-fire element must be able to “perform overwatch/support-by-fire” while his maneuver element is going to need to be able to “perform infiltration/exfiltration.” Once they get to the perimeter of the enemy position, if the bad guys have any tactical savvy at all, and we should never underestimate our enemy, the maneuver element may need to “breach an obstacle” before they can “execute attack.” Actually getting inside of the enemy position during the execution of the attack may require them to “clear a building or structure,” especially if the mission is to capture or kill a specific enemy leader, or to destroy food supplies or equipment that is stored in that building.

Once the mission is over, they have to perform the exfiltration portion of “perform infiltration/exfiltration” again, or at least “perform a delay” in order to give them room to maneuver. This may simply involve “breaking contact,” or it may be more involved, including the execution of “perform a hasty ambush,” in order to delay or dissuade pursuers.

With a very few exceptions, the same collective skills are required to conduct an ambush as are required to conduct a raid successfully.

Suddenly, the collective tasks requirements to successfully train our preparedness group security team doesn’t seem nearly as onerous, does it? After all, in total, we only have 30 or so collective tasks that we have to master, in order to accomplish any of the three major operations we might be called upon to perform. Surely that’s achievable, right? Especially when we begin discussing ways to streamline those in training, by the use of the basic battle drills. Something a lot of trainers are either not aware of of, or have never considered, for example is that fact that the basic battle drill “Squad Attack,” when taught properly, actually leads to the mastery of many of these collective skills, including:

Perform overwatch/support-by-fire

Execute Attack

Breach an Obstacle

Perform a hasty ambush

Conduct Actions on Contact

React to Ambush

Process detainees

Treat or Evacuate Casualties

Perform Consolidation and Reorganization

Once we’ve begun to master the Four Pillars of Individual Tactical Proficiency, we can begin to put these together. The important thing is, now we know what skills we need to possess, as a team, in order to fulfill our missions. Additionally, knowing what collective tasks we need to master can help us tailor not only our collective tasks training, but also our individual tasks training, since we know what skills we need in order to achieve mastery of the requisite collective skills.

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