React to Contact – Solid Drills to Keep You Alive

Max Velocity Tactical

I wrote a post back in May on ‘Combat Rifle – Solid Basics to Keep You Alive’ and it would be worthwhile you reading that post in conjunction with this one. The purpose of this post is to really drill down on the procedures for your initial reaction to enemy contact.

Reaction to enemy fire is what I first concentrate on on my Combat Rifle / Contact Drills weekend classes. I work on this at an individual level and then combine into buddy pairs and then four man teams for both offensive and break contact battle drills. However, at every level the reaction to contact is still a very individual drill, which you conduct whether on your own or surrounded by a team. It forms that initial reaction and the building block from which the rest of your individual and team drills will flow.  

I teach the RTR drill. The purpose of this post is to focus down on that drill and also present you with a flow chart of sorts for how things may pan out.

R – Return Fire
T – Take Cover
R – Return Appropriate Fire

Prior to the RTR drill being taught, the procedure was simply to take cover when reacting to enemy fire. On a battlefield ‘effective enemy fire’ is defined as fire that is causing your element casualties, or would cause casualties if you did not take cover. The reason for that definition is because on a battlefield there may be fire going on all around you and that is not necessarily a reason for your unit to take cover. It is effective fire aimed at you that matters, to which you must react. As survivors operating in a domestic post-collapse environment it is safe to say that any fire going on around you, in most situations, is something that you will need to react to by taking cover.

The old drill for taking cover was remembered as: Dash – Down – Crawl – Observe – Sights – Fire. This still has relevance as part of the Take Cover portion of RTR.

Let’s look at the individual portions of RTR:

R – Return Fire:

Ok, think of this like a buffet of options. At its very basic I teach to react to the enemy contact with a controlled pair, which is two aimed shots in rapid succession. This gets the drill going, but it’s optional. Everything is optional and is situation dependent. Because I use pop-up targets at my training site, sometimes a student will ask after a reaction drill: “I hit it with my first shot, and the target went down, do I need to fire again?” The answer is no. The next question comes if they miss with one or two shots – do they continue to fire at the target until it goes down. The answer to that is maybe, but not necessarily.

To explain: I try hard not to be a fundamentalist about anything. I find that it shuts down options and limits you. Do what works, do what is best in the circumstances. That may not be entirely true, because I am a fundamentalist about things such as the principle of fire and movement, but I digress….

There are going to be factors which affect what you do with the first R. It is a 360 degree battlefield / threat and you just walked into an enemy contact. We are hoping at this point that you did not get immediately hit and become a casualty – ‘Man Down.’ So why are we conducting this drill to immediately return fire prior to taking cover? Would it not be best to just get into cover? Sometimes: It is a function of distance/range, terrain, cover & concealment, circumstances and whether or not you initially see/locate the enemy. Also remember that it may not be appropriate to take a shot; perhaps the guy in front of you in the patrol is between you and the enemy, and he is perhaps taking the shot. Or there is a reason in the background that prohibits a shot, like the guy steps out between you and an innocent party, so you have to move to a better position/take cover/let someone with a better angle take care of it.

Range: as range to the enemy increases you will move your response, at what specific distances depending on your skill level, from instinctive reactive shooting all the way up to having to get a full sight picture. Remember, you may have seen one guy but what about the potential others, the guy you did not see who has  you lined up in his scope? So the real imperative here is to take cover to then allow you to locate and accurately engage the enemy from a position of cover, giving you protection from other threats. From that position, with your team in cover, a rapid decision can be made depending on the circumstances and you can flow into the next drill, or battle procedure, of choice.

So if the guy is right there, put him down rapidly with shots intended to eliminate the threat. Then take cover and assess the situation. If you come under fire and don’t see the enemy, or they are too far away for a rapid return of accurate fire, then rapidly get yourself into cover so you can scan and locate the enemy before engaging – that is the remainder of the (R)TR drill. The point is to avoid standing like a statue as you get a sight picture and engage the enemy – you are effectively freezing to allow the enemy a good shot.

What does this come down to? If the enemy is a close enough threat, you have to engage with the first to stop the immediate threat before he hits you or other members of your element. If you come under fire and trying to locate the enemy or get an effective (i.e. aimed) distant shot is going to take too much time, then rapidly shift to T and get into cover. You will also know when you experience being under effective fire that it is time to get into cover and not dawdle about to get shot. You will experience the violence and closeness of the passing rounds, and/or ones striking close to you.

Alternatively, you may be presented with more than one initial threat, like two guys suddenly appearing. Who know what the exact situation could be – it may be an enemy in a covered position ‘popping up’ to engage you, or you could walk round a corner on a trail and straight into a ‘meeting engagement’ with one or more enemy. In that situation, those who have a shot will engage rapidly as they can to put as many down initially as possible, before dashing  rapidly to cover. If you stand there as per your super slick square range drills, trying to put shots into multiple enemy, one of them will eventually get one on you before you get him.

Unless you really are the baddest and fastest gunfighter in the valley? Nope, not you? I didn’t think so. There is always someone bigger better and faster, and even if one of them isn’t, he’s the one at the back or the flank who has time to line up on you while you take down those multiple bad guys. Thanks for the super slick YouTube videos, but it’s time for a dose of reality.

If you never move beyond square range drills and onto training in real environments (i.e. Field Firing), then you are doing the equivalent of a boxer just hitting the heavy bag and never moving on to sparring. It will also fill you with overconfidence and make you less conditioned to take effective cover.

Using controlled pairs is a good way to work on the RTR drill but beyond that you need to be flexible to circumstances and able to make rapid judgement calls that are situationally dependent.

Because of the nature of the unknown threat, the driving factor is to Take Cover. From there, the rest of the battle drills will flow.

So, you came under fire. You either did the first R or you did not. You need to Take Cover.

T – Take Cover

When I first run students through the reaction drills I use a smaller range with pop-up targets to the front, left and right. The targets come up and the student will engage then simulate taking cover by moving a pace or so to a flank and getting on one knee, the position from where the follow up shots will come (the last R). This simulates moving to cover and in a real way gets them in a lower position and out of the initial line of fire. On that point, when standing, any stoppages on the weapon are dealt with by taking a  kneeling position. If kneeling, get prone. This simulates getting into better cover while you may be out of the fight and dealing with a weapon issue. Once they move onto the movement lanes, there is no more ‘simulation’ but they are running through it for real, with the caveat that to save knees and neglected PT, kneeling is allowed on the range to simulate a prone position, when prone may have been more appropriate.

There is a procedure for taking and breaking cover. This becomes more relevant when conducting  either fire & movement or bounding overwatch, where you break cover, rush “I’m up he sees me. I’m down” then take cover again. Before breaking cover, you need to identify your next piece of cover, and while rushing you need to zig-zag a little to make it harder to the enemy to line up on you. Guaranteed you will not follow the full break/take cover procedure when you are breathing out of your rear while sucking the air in from China!

Taking cover:

Dash – short dash, almost a controlled fall
Down – get down behind or to the side of the cover you identified, either prone or kneeling
Crawl – crawl into the cover you identified

(note: getting down to the side or rear of the cover does not mean in the open, it needs to be in cover, but the point is to get down at a slightly different place from where you will crawl to, so if the enemy has sights on where you went down, your head will pop up slightly in a different  place behind your cover. You are trying to survive by inches at this point).

Observe – head up in cover, scan and observe for the enemy, who you either did or did not see when you came under fire. Locate the enemy by observation, fire and movement (another topic in detail) or by listening for shouted target indications from your buddies. Communicate it when you see the enemy, so your buddies get dialed in to it. Everyone is a link man, passing short shouted messages up and down the line

Sights – determine range, set sights or pick an aiming point as appropriate, pick up the enemy in your sights and use correct FUNDAMENTALS for accurate shooting, appropriate to the range the enemy is at.

Fire – engage the enemy with accurate effective fire with the intent of killing him or alternatively suppressing him so he is forced to take cover, allowing you the breathing space to begin to maneuver utilizing fire & movement.

Breaking Cover:

This is the reverse of taking cover. When you are ready to move, you will crawl out to the rear or side of your cover, before pushing up and making your rush either forwards, to the flank or the rear depending on where you are going and what Battle Drill you are conducting. Again, the point is that if the enemy out there is trying to kill you, he may have seen where your head was popping up as you were taking shots, and he may be lined up on you. Pop up a little away from there and again you may live by inches.

If you are in a  fire position for any length of time, such as when your buddy is fixing a stoppage or you are in a support by fire position as part of a small unit battle drill, then you need to move position slightly every now and then by crawling a little back and forth along your piece of ground/cover. Pop down, move a little, pop back up. It moves the position of your head and again may allow you to survive in the inches if there is a cold blooded one out there lining you up in his optic. If he is not located and suppressed, you can be sure he is applying his FUNDAMENTALS to put one in your brain box.

Remember, if you get too hot under the collar and the adrenalin is cooking and the tunnel vision is closing down on you, you will look over the sights in the general direction and just bang off rounds. The cold blooded killer out there will get you, or the guy who practiced, practiced, practiced his basics and his fundamentals so that his muscle memory is good and he is doing the right things under the pressure and stress of the moment.

Challenge: I challenge any comers to run through one of my lanes utilizing the correct taking and breaking cover procedures as outlined above. The temptation is to be tired and just get up and stumble forward, before taking a semi-serious fire position in the open on a knee! That’s fine for training when you are finding your feet and your PT level, but do more PT and drink more water, cowboy up buttercup and drive on! In a real situation, barring the nuances of chance, your survivability is increased by the factor of how well you can KEEP LOW, MOVE FAST.

R- Return Appropriate Fire

We already flowed into this at the end of the take cover procedure. You are now in the best cover available to you and you are locating and assessing the situation. Most likely at this point, once the enemy is located, the element leader will call for rapid fire before executing whatever drill you have prepared for, which may be offensive or it may be a break contact.

Just bear in mind that one of the most difficult things to do may be to actually locate the enemy, depending on the situation you find yourself in. If you can’t locate him, or all of them, then you cannot suppress them, or all of them You therefore can’t proceed to win the firefight and conduct fire & movement in better relative safety. In such circumstances you just had a reality check and your gracefully practiced break contact drill went from a lovely flow of moving back and taking kneeling positions to a team suppressing what they can and crawling back under heavy enemy fire using whatever cover (ditch?) they can to crawl out of there, probably dragging a casualty or several.

Tactical Use of Terrain/Ground

Man Down;

This is not a TC3 post, so it won’t go into too many details on that. However, in a contact situation you are firmly in the ‘Care Under Fire’ phase and the only medical intervention that should be given at this point is a tourniquet ‘high and tight’ on the injured limb, simply to stop a potential ‘bleed out’ before it is too late. The primary thing to do is to return fire to suppress the enemy, to allow you to get out of there with your casualty.

If you or your buddy are hit, then you want to consider if you or they can do any of the following:

Return Fire
Crawl to Cover
Apply Self-Aid (Tourniquet High & Tight on the affected limb)

If all those options are out, at least lay still to draw less enemy fire.

You can’t move onto ‘Tactical Field Care’ and do any other interventions until you have broken contact, which will be at or beyond a rally point, or once you have cleared the enemy position if you went offensive.

Once you have all reacted to contact with RTR and you realize that your buddy is down, you want to shout to him to do one of the four things listed above. You are returning fire. Once your team moves into a  movement phase, most likely to break contact, then you will be dragging your buddy out with every bound you do. Up, drag him while others cover, down, and fire. Repeat until you have broken contact. At this point as a team you will have a chance to organize a better casualty movement plan, perhaps with a stretcher or improvised one. Just be aware that it takes four to carry a stretcher unless you have a drag style system, and it is extremely tiring and you will need to change out bearers and have a security element.

I would not advise, as per standard TC3 teaching, that you go into a full Tactical Field Care phase at a rally point once you break contact. Circumstances will dictate, but consider the threat of enemy follow up (ensure you have a hasty ambush as part of your rally point security). You may have time for a quick intervention before packaging up your guy and moving away, to assess and pull further interventions at a safer point. In reality it won’t be as cut a dry as a TC3 trauma lane where you  simulate suppressing, running out to get your casualty, perhaps doing a hasty ‘high and tight’ tourniquet, then dragging him back to cover where you move into Tactical Field Care and H-ABC (now MARCH) and a full assessment and interventions. In reality, you are on the run at this point.

The Flow:

Let’s try and diagram this with some examples to make it flow a little easier:

1) Receive Enemy Fire > Return Fire > Take Cover > Return Appropriate Fire > Move onto Appropriate Battle Drill

2) Receive Enemy Fire > (enemy not seen) > Take Cover > Return Appropriate Fire > Move onto Appropriate Battle Drill

3) Receive Enemy Fire > (enemy fire too severe) > Take Cover > Return Appropriate Fire > Move onto Appropriate Battle Drill

4) Receive Enemy Fire > (enemy too far away) > Take Cover > Return Appropriate Fire > Move onto Appropriate Battle Drill

5) Receive Enemy Fire > You Are Hit > Take Cover / Return Fire / Apply Self Aid / Lay Still AS APPROPRIATE > Team evacuates you after winning the firefight

6) Receive Enemy Fire > Return Fire > Your Buddy is Hit > Take Cover > Return Appropriate Fire > Tell your buddy to: Take Cover / Return Fire / Apply Self Aid / Lay Still AS APPROPRIATE > Evacuate your buddy in short rushes after winning the firefight.
7) Receive Enemy Fire > Return Fire > Continue to stand and engage all seen enemy like the badass you are > Yea, there ain’t nobody tougher than me in this valley > look at my tacticool gear > Have you seen this pouch > Ouch those bullets hurt > go straight to tacticool mall ninja hall of fame > “Here’s your sign.”

Any questions? In comments please. Thanks.

As usual, there is a book with all this stuff in it. It’s called ‘Contact, A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival.’

Live Hard, Die Free.


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