Tricks of the Trade, A Contemporary Look

ambushMountain Guerrilla

During the Vietnam War, among many other responsibilities in the SEA AOR, SF fulfilled a core mission, providing leadership cadre for indigenous ranger-type units referred to as “Mike” Forces. The project under which this was conducted was Project Delta, or B-52 (any errors in my recounting of that two sentence history are the result of OPSEC. They have nothing to do with my ongoing battle with CRS syndrome…”Can’t Remember Shit”).

One of the lasting legacies of Project Delta was the production of the now-famous Recon Tips of the Trade. This ongoing article series will be my feeble attempt at updating them, with modifications for irregular force partisans in a non-SEA AOR….–J.M.

The mini-manual known as “Recon Tips of the Trade” was developed by SFOD-B 52, 5th SFG(A), with assistance of the MACV Recondo school.


General Tips of the Trade

  1. While conducting operations, minimize fatigue. A tired shooter is a careless shooter. Sleep deprivation is a well-known and common training tool in special operations, specifically because it creates extreme stress in individuals. Contrary to popular opinion, you can become accustomed to sleep deprivation, but not inured to it. On operations, it will be necessary at times, to set aside sleep in the interest of mission essential tasks and operational necessity, but this should be minimized. Considering the considerable disadvantage individual groups will face in dealing with large numbers of potentially well-equipped hostile forces, maintaining the mental equilibrium of individual shooters and leaders should be a critical element of planning and logistics. Don’t skimp on sleep gear and dry clothes in an attempt to “be hard.” There’s a fine line between hard and stupid.
  2. Always, always, ALWAYS possess and display confidence in front of your people. If you are confident, they will feed off that confidence. False bravado is not the same thing as confidence. Confidence in the tactical arena only comes through realistic, effective training. You can’t fake it. Train.
  3. Never lose your temper in the field. Not with your own personnel, not with the enemy, and certainly not with life. A temper tantrum, or rage, will have a deleterious effect on your judgment and lead to rash decisions. Plan for contingencies, and keep them in mind when shit seems to be going wrong. Don’t be afraid to take solid advice from subordinates. It does NOT make you less competent.
  4. Team work is the crucial element in tactical success. It only comes through constant practice and training. You MUST practice your collective training tasks and battle drills as an element. “Chalk talks” and walk-through rehearsals have their place, but should never replace realistic field-training (including live-fire iterations!)
  5. All other considerations aside, a good PT program will lead to less health issues arising in the field. A healthy, athletic body, under combat stress WILL end up sick. An unhealthy, unathletic body, under combat stress will not have a fully functioning immune system to help resist those illnesses. Historically, illness and disease has killed and otherwise made combat-ineffective, legions more warfighters than enemy fire has.
  6. Hydration is critical, but do not overlook the replacement of electrolytes in the system. Today, under normal circumstances, the average American diet contains FAR more than enough salt and electrolytes, without supplementation. Field rations, under austere, combat conditions will require supplementation.
  7. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing, suitable to the environment, for field operations. This does not necessarily mean the latest cool-guy ACUs in multi-cam. It does mean clothing specific to outdoor athletic activities (I’ve gone to the field in Levi’s. I don’t recommend it), whether mil-spec or outdoor sports such as mountaineering or backpacking. Tight-fitting clothes will restrict movement, and more often than not, tear at inopportune times, in inopportune places.
  8. Develop a system of pre-mission checklists to facilitate your pre-combat inspections, in order to ensure that no patrol member is forgetting anything. Whether built around a team SOP, or specifically developed for a given operation, this will help alleviate showing up at a breach point on a structure and going, “Who the fuck left the breaching shotgun at home?”
  9. If you need to criticize a member of your team/element/unit/crew, use tact and common courtesy when doing so. Take the man aside and do it in private (especially if he has ANY leadership authority), in order to allow him to save face and thus react positively to the criticism.
  10. Regardless of what type of radio communications devices you utilize (FRS/GMRS/Marine Band/HAM/etc), pre-set frequencies so that you can change channels in the dark, on the run.

Rifle/Carbine Specific Tips

  1. Tape or otherwise cover the muzzle of your weapon in rural/wilderness environments, to keep out water, dirt, and other debris. Condoms are, of course, a popular mainstay for this, and there are plastic caps available for AR-15 platform muzzle devices (I’ve always used 100-mph tape, and never had a problem. –J.M.). You can shoot through the cover when needed, with no deleterious effects on combat accuracy.
  2. If you are the only guy in your element running NODs, alternate tracer and ball ammunition in your magazines (I run a 4:1 ratio of ball:tracer. –J.M.). This will allow you to identify targets for your technologically-impaired compatriots to focus their firing on (I never bother with the whole “last three rounds are tracer” concept, because when I did, I never noticed I was dumping tracers before I hit bolt-lock anyway –J.M.).
  3. Sleep with your weapon locked and loaded, safety engaged, in case you are awakened by hostile fire and need to engage bad guys, right-the-fuck-now! In the morning, if you haven’t fire it, always replace the round in the chamber (quietly, if it needs to be said…). Condensation in the chamber, combined with powder residue CAN lead to stuck cases. Further, if you are dumb enough or cheap enough to run a non-chrome-lined barrel, this will lead to a pitted chamber that will result in you dying with a fucking cleaning rod jammed down the barrel of your weapon, even with non-corrosive powder.
  4. Lube your weapon thoroughly, every day in the field. A wet weapon is a happy weapon (they’re like women that way). A dry weapon WILL fucking choke.. Carry a bottle of lube on your fighting load-out. The choice of lube doesn’t matter in the long run. (Yes, CLP sucks. We all know it. Yet, I used CLP exclusively for almost 20 years and have NEVER had a problem, because I oil the ever-loving-shit out of them. I currently run motor oil…yes, motor oil, and have had absolutely no problems, whatsoever.).
  5. Keep your fucking safety selector switch on “safe” unless you’re killing someone. It will NOT make you any faster to have it already on “fire,” but you WILL end up shooting your buddy, or dumping a round in the dirt on a patrol, leading to a compromise and the whole fucking element getting killed. A negligent discharge is ground for dismissal from the Ranger Regiment. I firmly believe a negligent discharge in the field should be a fucking hanging offense.
  6. Slings are to rifles what holsters are to pistols, but don’t treat your sling like some sort of irreplaceable sensitive item. Outside of vehicle-based operations and MOUT, most of the time, you ought not have the fucking thing slung anyway. An M4 weighs less than seven pounds, until you start adding shit to it. If you can’t carry that, all day, without a sling, do more PT.
  7. Keep your weapon as slick as possible. A light is a necessity. An optic is not a necessity, but is useful enough it ought to be considered one for most applications. A sling is generally a necessity. If you are running NODs, an IR laser is a necessity. Nothing else is a necessity. Run your gun as slick as feasible. Your first magazine change should be a speed-reload. Do not worry about retaining or retrieval until after the fight is over. Focus on getting rounds downrange to occupy the enemy and disrupt his OODA loop. Other than that, the only time a speed reload is necessitated in a gunfight is a) when you are providing suppressive fire to protect a buddy who is still exposed to enemy fire when your rifle runs dry, or b) shooting while moving from one position of cover to the next and your weapon runs dry. B) should seldom occur, because you should be conducting reloads-with-retention while in a covered/concealed position if you know or believe you are close to running dry. C) should NEVER occur, for the same reason, and because when moving from one position of cover to the next, you should be moving fast enough that it’s faster to get to cover than it is to perform a speed reload.
  8. Inspect and test all magazines before conducting an operation. Ensure they feed properly and inspect for bent/damaged feed lips, weak springs, etc. Mark every magazine you own and if one fails to perform in training or inspection, throw the motherfucker away. DO NOT PUT IT UP FOR SALE ON TOP OF YOUR GUNSHOW TABLE. If you do, you’re a fucking scumbag, and I hope you die a slow, painful death that involves anal rape with a sharpened implement, you fucking douchebag.
  9. Never assume your weapon is clean enough on an operation. While an IG-level cleaning may lead to premature wear on some parts (still open for debate in my mind), at a minimum, wipe down the bolt-carrier group, and run a patch down the barrel.
  10. It should be self-evident, but place your magazines in the mag pouch with the feed lips pointed down, to prevent loose rounds from falling out on the ground.
  11. These rules apply, regardless of what type of weapon you carry. We all “know” AKs are impervious to abuse, can be run over by a fucking Abrams tank and still function flawlessly (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little…), but humor the Gods of War, and maintain them any-fucking-way.
  12. Forget about shooting center-of-mass on a standard silhouette and for CQB. Yes, you should still shoot for the center of the largest piece of a concealed enemy that shows, but if you can see the torso, aim for the hips and the head. Bad guys (of all persuasions) wear body armor and rifle plates. A hip shot, contrary to what some instructors were once teaching, is not a fight-ender. A few rounds to the hips WILL put a dude on his ass however, severely limiting his mobility. This makes it MUCH easier to make head shots that will end the fight, right-the-fuck-now. “Hips and heads, kids. Hips and heads.” Instructors that are not teaching this need to re-think their paradigms.
  13. Paint your fucking weapons! Black items stick out in pretty much every single operational environment I’ve ever experienced. It’s not a financial investment. If it is, you’re a fucking moron and have your head in the sand. It’s a fighting tool designed to help you kill bad people more efficiently (as a retired LEO said to me recently, “God created guns, because we suck at throwing bullets!”). So, let it help you kill them more efficiently by reducing the chances that it will be the thing that gets you killed. You can Dura-Coat it, or whatever. It really doesn’t matter. I use Krylon. It costs a whopping $4-5 at China-Mart, and I generally use most of two cans to completely paint a rifle (I use a base coat of tan, with highlights of green, since I live in the high-desert. If I lived in a more densely forested region, I’d probably reverse that….maybe….updated to add, “Nope, same pattern still works in a more densely forested region…)
  14. Practice shooting while you are moving. This is an issue subject to a lot of disagreement amongst seriously professional and extremely experienced gunfighters. My take is: Inside of twenty meters with a rifle, and inside ten meters with a handgun, it is possible to get solid, well-placed aimed shots to the vital targeting areas of a moving hostile (I can make solid hits at 100+meters while moving, on a stationary, so….). If you’re that close to a guy who is shooting at you, and not solidly behind cover, you BETTER be fucking moving! Past that, pause for the half-step moment it takes to plant a solid hit on the dude, then keep on moving. In the meantime though, master the ability to make solid hits to the vitals (“Hips and heads, kids! Hips and heads!”), while you are sprinting from cover to cover.

Load-Bearing Equipment Tips

(My preference for modern, MOLLE/PALS-based LBE is no secret. This version of the “Tips” will focus on that system. –J.M.)

  1. Be certain that all velcro closures are closed before leaving the patrol base. Ensure all fastex buckles are snapped. Let’s be real. Velcro is far from a perfect method of closure for gear that needs to be silent. However, it beats the living shit out of the old snaps that always seemed to quit staying closed about the time you exited a MC-130 at 800′ AGL, at 0330, over some god-awful DZ, and then refused to work again until you went to DX the item at the Central Issue Facility (CIF). If you can’t figure out how to be quiet while using velcro in the field, have a seamstress or equipment manufacturer replace all your velcro with fastex buckles somehow.
  2. Make sure you can get your magazines out, in a hurry. If you can’t, either replace your mag pouches with something more user-friendly, modify them by cutting the edge down, or fucking train more.
  3. Tie off EVERYTHING attached to your LBE. Snaps fail. I’ve yet to have any of my MOLLE gear fall off in the field, but I’ve seen it happen. Forgo the expense and inconvenience, and tie everything off with an end-of-the-line bowline knot of 550 cord (honestly? This SOP used to annoy the shit out of me as a private. Everything had to be tied off, in accordance with the RSOP at Regiment. Then I lost some equipment that I hadn’t tied off properly, and paid for it. Fuck that. Tie your shit off. I’ve NEVER lost a piece of equipment that was tied off properly).
  4. Always carry some type of knife on patrols. Quit worrying about what a bad-ass man-killing piece of weaponry it is, and focus on a functional field tool. It’s one hell of a lot easier to kill a guy with a goddamned Swiss Army knife than it is to cut aiming stakes at 0200 with a fucking Gerber MKII daggerToo many guys focus on edged weapons instead of cutting tools (seriously, I started out carrying a Gerber MKII as a private at Regiment. Then I went to an Ek Commando dagger. Then I went to a Ka-Bar for a LONG time. Then I went to a push-dagger. Finally, I figured out a small, 4-5 inch blade knife was more than adequate for a combat-utility knife.).
  5. (A lot of guys ask me about machetes and hatchets and tomahawks. Here’s my two cents: machetes are great in the jungle. That makes sense, they were designed for that environment. Hatchets generally suck. If I need a hatchet, I probably really need an axe, which is far too large to carry on my ruck. Updated to add: Not true. Since we moved to a forested alpine region, I picked up a Gransfor Bruchs “Swedish Forest Axe.” It fits perfectly, tucked into the space between my ALICE ruck and its frame. I have carried a tomahawk, and still have a soft spot in my heart for them. It’s the whole Roger’s Rangers thing. If a guy in my crew showed up to train with a ‘hawk on his LBE, I’d ask him what it was for. “Bushcraft” would be an acceptable answer. “Breaching” would be a semi-acceptable answer, since I prefer other tools for breaching. “Killing the enemy” would get his ass kicked. “Bushcraft/Breaching with killing the enemy as a secondary purpose” would get him a snicker and a pat on the head for being a motivated little guerrilla. I recognize that a lot of “bushcraft” experts badmouth the tomahawk for field chores. I greatly prefer it over a hatchet though).
  6. Keep some sort of “pogey-bait” in your pockets as emergency SERE rations. Even a couple of bouillon cubes, dissolved in some water, will provide a motivated evader energy for a day or two. A couple of MRE entrees, taped together in a cargo pocket will provide a much better caloric boost, with marginal weight, while reducing the amount of effort you will need to expend gathering food when you should be running.
  7. As much as we want grenades, and as useful as they are, most of us are not going to have them, at least initially, with the possible exception of smoke grenades. Smoke grenades should be carried in your ruck, rather than on your LBE. You don’t fight with smokes, and 99% of the time, if you need one, you will have time to get it out of your ruck.
  8. Every member of a patrol should carry at least one ground signaling flare, if you cannot access or manufacture thermite grenades. These will burn hot enough to allow you to functionally destroy equipment that you cannot remove from the battlefield, whether the enemy’s or your own. While battlefield recovery should always be your first option, when it’s not possible, at least try to fuck the enemy by not letting them use it.
  9. If you are going to carry a patrol radio, besides a small FRS/GMRS type walkie-talkie, sew or have sewn, an antennae pocket on the outside of your ruck to allow easy access to the long-whip antenna.
  10. Bug dope leaks and spills easily, and the good stuff will flat destroy any synthetics. Separate it from all other gear in your ruck, wrap it in its own plastic bags, and check it daily.
  11. In most environments, including alpine winter environments, a poncho, poncho liner, and casualty blanket, with some long underwear and maybe a fleece jacket, will be sufficient for sleeping comfortably. In deep snow, you always have the option of a snow trench or cave if necessary, to hold more body heat.
  12. Keep field glasses, cameras (for surveillance and reconnaissance operations), and other mission-essential items, in external pouches or pockets on your ruck, as possible, to facilitate easy access without having to dump your whole fucking ruck in the ORP.
  13. Always use the water from the Camelback on your ruck before using the water on your LBE. This ensures you will still have water if you have to dump your ruck and run.
  14. Check and double-check the shoulder straps on your ruck before a mission. Carry extra 550 cord on patrols (you should anyway) to facilitate repairs if they break (as cool as it is to carry your daypack over one shoulder around town, in the field, with a 40-80lb ruck, it gets old in about two steps).
  15. Use a waterproof bag (I still use the USGI version, but whitewater rafting wetbags are good too) to protect the items in your ruck on patrol. It sucks to hit a remain-overnight (RON) site and dig out your poncho liner, only to discover that it is a sodden mess.


Patrolling Operational Tips

(Regardless of what your SHTF scenario predictions are, the need to conduct patrolling operations, from retreat defense security reconnaissance patrols, to raiding and ambush combat patrols, will be a necessity. Thinking otherwise is foolish.)

  1. When conducting any type of foot-borne patrol, always identify and communicate to all patrol members, suitable en-route rally points. In the event the patrol is scattered, due to enemy action or simple bad luck (losing contact with the guy in front of you on a night patrol sucks), these provide a way for the members of the patrol to re-establish physical contact and continue the mission or return to friendly secured areas.
  2. Minimize the amount of map you carry by cutting off the un-necessary portions outside of your patrol zone, but don’t get too carried away with it. Leave a couple of grid squares around the edges of your AOR as “running room” in case you need to move outside the boundaries of your patrol zone to escape a contact without drawing the enemy straight back to the house (Yes, we should all know every square foot of the ground around our area. Realistically though, most of us have jobs, families, and other responsibilities that preclude being able to spend adequate time learning the country as well as we would like. Then there’s that old inconvenience of private property belonging to others who dislike you trespassing on it…Carry the fucking maps.)
  3. Base the amount of water carried per man on the environment. A guy in hot weather in the mountains needs more than a guy in temperate forest in the upper midwest in the autumn. A guy moving through the jungle-like wetlands of the Deep South will need more than a dude moving through the moderate farmlands of New England. Plan water re-supply points into your patrol planning. Carrying some method of water purification for day two and onward is a lot less inhibiting than carrying enough water to last a six-day patrol.
  4. Inspect patrol member’s pockets as part of pre-combat inspections, to ensure no one is carrying anything that would lead a hostile force back to the house. If you get over-run, let’s not make it easy for the bad guys to find out where you came from, so they can go “visit” your wife and daughters. If you are conducting vehicle-based patrol operations, strip the rig before you start running missions in it. Pull the registration, insurance, bills-of-sale, titles, and anything else that will provide even a slightly astute hostile the information to ruin your family’s life.
  5. Carry a notebook and pencils, in a pocket, in a waterproof container. I don’t care how cool you are with your IPad-thingy-ma-bobby, write it down in pencil too. Batteries die. Write shit down! You will forget, by day four, important details you observed on day two. Write it down, so it can get disseminated through intel networks to other friendly force elements. Use pencils instead of pens. Ink will smear and run when wet. Graphite? Not so much.
  6. Ensure that your team medic carries cough medicine and anti-histamines in the aid bag. Don’t die because you couldn’t stop coughing, or had to sneeze from hay fever, while you were trying to hide from pursuers.
  7. Keep a basic SERE kit in your pockets, separate from your first-line fighting load-out. It doesn’t need to be a “kit” per se, but have a fire-starter method, some 550 cord for shelter construction, a flashlight, a knife, and some way to purify and carry water if you end up having to ditch everything in an evasion scenario (I walk around with a SERE kit in my pockets even now. If I ever have to get home without the use of the roads, I want to be healthy and able to protect my family when I do arrive). Use dummy cord to retain your critical survival gear.
  8. While the introduction of the MOLLE system has made it realistic for guys to carry every piece of gear where it suits them best, on an individual level, some items should have SOP positions on your load-bearing equipment, in your pockets, etc. Everyone on a patrol should have at least one tourniquet in the same place (I try and standardize people having one tourniquet externally attached to the war belt, and one 100-mph taped to the stock of the rifle), maps should all be carried in the same place, and any signals operating instructions (SOI) should be carried in the same place by all personnel that are carrying them. This will allow any other member of the team to get at them in a hurry, if the original carrier is dead and the element is about to be overrun.
  9. Don’t smoke in the field, even during daylight. Tobacco smoke is easily identifiable, and can be smelled from much further than you would realize. Further, even when not smoking, smokers (ask any non-smoker) emit a very distinct, easily recognizable odor. Really, you shouldn’t use smokeless tobacco in the field either (I chew Copenhagen snuff, FYI. Want an easy way to make me like you right off the bat? Show up at a class and hand me a roll of Copenhagen snuff….), since a well-trained and experienced tracker will use your spit stains on foliage and rocks as tracking spoor.
  10. Keep your signal mirror and patrol whistle where they can be utilized for combat communications, on the first-line fighting load. Dummy cord them (have I beat the deceased equine adequately yet?) so you don’t lose them.
  11. Everyone carries a high-end SureFire or other high-output combat light, but everyone should keep a low-powered, colored lens flashlight and/or headlamp on their kit too. There will be times where a light is necessary, and spotlighting with a 200 lumen SF light is a great target indicator for hostiles (incidentally, medics need white lights instead of red or blue lens lights. Know why?).
  12. When you are on a patrol, move like you are still-hunting, because you are. Stop moving and look and listen more than you move. Don’t be predictable though. Instead of “walk fifty meters, stop for twenty seconds, walk for fifty meters, stop for twenty seconds,” break it up randomly.
  13. Do NOT break limbs or branches on trees and bushes. Don’t go bulling through brush either. Gently move foliage out of your way with your hand, step past, and replace it. Reduce the amount of spoor you create to help frustrate tracking teams.
  14. Move at night and in the early morning hours. Hole up in the daylight, but be cautious about moving at night, since NVGs are cheap and common. Even POS kiddie toy NVGs you can buy at Wal-Mart for $50 will allow a bad guy to see you before you see him if you are not using NVGs (and those really are pieces of shit. Imagine how effective a $10,000 pair of AN/PVS-23s are…).
  15. Use terrain association more than your compass when possible. Have a point man and a compass man as two separate individuals. When you have to shoot an azimuth and run it, change direction frequently, to avoid setting up an enemy ambush for yourself.
  16. Never ditch your LBE in the field, day or night, unless it’s to move faster or more silently (ditching a plate carrier in the ORP so you can move more quietly during a clandestine infiltration is viable and realistic. Ditching it to run faster to evade capture is VERY realistic). If you need to put on snivel gear, have no more than 25% of your patrol changing at any given time. Do NOT wear snivel gear when moving under a load. You WILL overheat. If the patrol leader tells you to ditch your snivel gear, do so. He’s probably got a better idea of the physical demands of the coming tasks than you do, no matter how well read in you are.
  17. If you have to change socks (and you should, frequently), try and wait until you are in a hide site, and NEVER take off both boots at the same time. No more than 25% of the patrol should be taking care of these needs at a time, and they should never have more than one boot off.
  18. Wear gloves. Cheap mechanics’ gloves from Home Depot can be sufficient, and are inexpensive, but consider investing in Nomex flame-retardent gloves, especially if you are performing vehicle-based operations at all. Pulling an injured team member out of a burning vehicle with normal synthetic gloves on is a surefire way to ensure there are two combat-ineffective casualties for the patrol to deal with.
  19. Do not discard your batteries on patrol. Keep them with you and re-charge or dispose of them in the “rear” in a secured location. It’s all about the spoor leavings.
  20. Avoid overconfidence, apathy, and laziness. Just because you haven’t seen any sign of hostiles in 3-4 days of patrolling doesn’t mean he’s not there. He may be watching you walk into his ambush kill zone at any time. Maintain good tactical movement and security. A large percentage of small-unit patrols historically have been compromised due to a lack of proper noise discipline.
  21. Camouflage your face and exposed skin at any breaks during rural/wilderness patrols.
  22. When you stop to occupy a temporary patrol base, even for just twenty or thirty minutes, perform a security check for 50-100 meters all around the perimeter, METT-TC dependent (in much of the west, this may be necessary for out to 1000 meters or more).
  23. Avoid cooking as much as possible on small-unit patrols. In the case of a serious weather event, such as a blizzard or torrential rains, it may be possible (or even necessary if you have cold-weather casualties), to get away with it, but cook fire smoke and the odors from cooking food travel a long way and will lead the bad guys right to you. If you do have to cook, and don’t have the cover of inclement weather to mask the smells, you need to move immediately after eating, before establishing a longer-term patrol base.
  24. Whether you are operating at night or during daylight, urban or rural/wilderness, every man is responsible for maintaining visual and communications contact with the man to his front and rear, and ensuring that he can receive hand-and-arm signals from the patrol leader. Watch your sector of responsibility, but watch your patrol leader just as much. He should not need to wave frantically and hiss at you to get your attention. WAKE THE FUCK UP AND PAY ATTENTION!!!!
  25. Unless it is pissing rain, do not urinate on rocks, leaves, or bare dirt. Rather, dig a small hole, or look for a crevice. Wet spots, or dried up wet spots are easily identifiable, even for non-tracker personnel, and the stench of your piss travels farther if its out in the open.
  26. Master your “cross a linear danger area” battle drill! Hell, it bears repeating: Master ALL your battle drills!
  27. Don’t overburden yourself with extra clothes in your ruck on patrols. One dry pair of clothes to sleep in, and two spare pairs of socks is adequate.
  28. When halting for short rest periods, do not ditch your ruck. Do the rucksack flop. Sit back and lean against the ruck, unless you are getting in the prone. Don’t toss your trash on the ground. Shove it in your pocket to dispose of properly later. When moving into a RON site or ORP/MSS (Mission Support Site), don’t ditch your ruck until a security sweep has been completed.
  29. While on patrol, if you hear someone speaking, try and slip close enough to understand what they are saying. Take notes as soon as it is safe to do so. The reasoning should be obvious.
  30. When conducting surveillance missions, establish your ORP/MSS a MINIMUM of one terrain feature away from the OBJ (a fucking irrigation ditch is not a god-damned terrain feature people. Hills, mountains, cliffs, and valleys are terrain features!), and let your R&S buddy teams move to the actual observation points from there. While entire six-man teams have managed to avoid enemy detection despite being within 20 meters, in flat, middle eastern deserts, two guys, ghillied up, are a lot easier to hide from roving security patrols than a full-on hide site with four or more guys, rucksacks, and everything else.
  31. Switch out your R&S teams as frequently as feasible, IAW METT-TC constraints. Sitting in a hide and looking through a spotting scope or field glasses is far more exhausting than the inexperienced would surmise. An exhausted observer will miss critical details.
  32. While on patrol, never take the obvious course of action, and don’t set a pattern in your actions, such as always turning left when button-hooking back to lay a hasty ambush on your own back trail.
  33. A dead hostile’s pocket contents and pack/load-bearing equipment will typically be as valuable, or more so, than his rifle. Unless the dude is packing an M-320 (grenade launcher currently replacing the M203), or a fucking Carl Gustav, don’t worry about his weapon until you’ve got all his other gear disposed of/dispersed for recovery.

Patrol Base Tips

  1. Practice proper patrol base procedures whenever your team is training, even if you are just on the rifle range. Take advantage of all training opportunities to build good habits.
  2. Select a tentative patrol base site, from a map reconnaissance, at least two hours before you need to move into it.
  3. Never move straight into a patrol base. Move past it, then button-hook out and back into the patrol base site from the off-side. Any pursuit/tracker forces will be forced to move past the patrol base, allowing you the opportunity to notice them before they’re crawling in your ass.
  4. Upon moving into a patrol base, the team should keep their equipment on and remain alert until a security sweep has been done and then should maintain 100% security for at least another 30 minutes, before going into patrol base activities, such as weapons maintenance, chow, or personal hygiene.
  5. When moving a small-unit UW element into a patrol base, place the designated “point man” on the side directly away from the enemy’s most likely avenue of approach. This will allow him to lead the movement out of the patrol base if it is necessary to move out in a hurry.
  6. Never transmit from a patrol base via radio. If you feel it necessary to relay to others where your location is, transmit while en route, and simply tell them you will RON 1000 meters to the north/south/east/etc, of a known landmark in the area that will not be recognizable to the enemy by that name.
  7. If you do have to transmit via radio from your patrol base, ensure that you are moving the fuck out, no less than 60 seconds later, to avoid being targeted due to RDF threats.
  8. The patrol leader should, as part of his patrol base activities, personally check on every man in the element. At that time, he should specify the primary and alternate rally points in case of a contact while in the patrol base. One half of the team should have their compasses set on the primary rally point and other half on the alternate. If the enemy comes from the direction of the primary rally point, the element with with his azimuth set to the alternate rally point can lead the way out of the patrol base.
  9. Ensure that ranger buddies are next to each other in the patrol base. In the event one is wounded, his buddy should be responsible for ensuring that he is evacuated with the patrol if it is necessary to exfil the patrol base in a hurry.
  10. Your ruck should be stashed with the shoulder straps “up” so it can be slipped on in a hurry. It is permissible to sleep with the plate carrier or chest harness off, but at a minimum, the first-line gear should remain on. If all else fails, and the patrol base is being overrun before the shooter has time to kit up, at least he will have a fighting load on his person to continue killing the enemy.
  11. If a person coughs or talks in his sleep, gag him. Seriously…
  12. Don’t bunch up, or sleep next to each other, but remain close enough that you can touch the other guy’s shoulder without moving your body. This will facilitate communications within the patrol base.
  13. If you are conducting vehicle-borne patrolling, the same basic fundamentals apply. Don’t sleep inside the vehicles, or under them. Move away from them a few meters. If the enemy hits the convoy in an attack, the vehicles will be the primary target. Leave a security team on the vehicles, but sleep away from them to avoid getting caught by the anti-vehicle weapons of the enemy.
  14. Develop your plan for the next operational phase before you rack out. Communicate it to key leaders, so they have time to develop their part of the plan.
  15. If you develop the ability to procure/manufacture early warning devices, such as tripwire-activated flares, they should be placed one at a time around the patrol base perimeter, by a two-man buddy team. One sets the device, while his buddy pulls security. Always emplace such devices where the patrol will be able to maintain visual contact with it. It doesn’t do you much good to have a tripwire-activated flare if you can’t shoot the dude who just walked into it.
  16. In the absence of fragmentation grenades, CS or other noxious gas grenades are your friend in patrol base security. If the team discovers an enemy patrol moving in on them, the enemy will normally be in a skirmish line type movement formation, since they don’t know the exact position of the team. If pre-designated members of the patrol can lob CS grenades in the direction of the enemy, when the gas disperses, the team can withdraw. If the enemy does not have protective masks, he will tend to move away and fire his weapon blindly in a “recon by fire.” If he does have a mask and puts it on, his field of vision is severely curtailed. In either case, his OODA loop is interrupted, confusion has been sown, and the team has a better than even chance of escaping.
  17. If you are in a patrol base overnight, stand-to should occur for at least 30 minutes before first light, and another security patrol should be made before early warning devices are recovered or the entire team withdraws from the patrol base.
  18. The assistant patrol leader should be the last man out of the patrol base and must make a thorough check of the site to ensure that no equipment or trash is left behind. The reason for not leaving equipment behind is obvious, but even innocuous trash like a candy bar wrapper can be of intelligence value to hostiles (let’s argue that you’re doing a post-SHTF security patrol and you negligently leave a Snickers bar wrapper in the patrol base. Along come some hungry, angry, armed Hells Angels types….Now they’ve got solid information that you have something of value–food–to make it worth their while to track you down and take your shit).
  19. Do not fall into the development of habits. Be unpredictable. Always moving into your RON site at 1945, always taking a noon break at 1230, or always moving out of the patrol base at 0600 is setting yourself up to be ambushed. Don’t be stupid.
  20. Most security patrolling should occur during daylight hours, unless specific tactical considerations make it necessary to conduct nocturnal patrolling. Daylight is when most amateur threats will be moving around, making them easier for the security patrol to locate and attack with a hasty ambush. If your biggest threat is regime security forces, then reverse that.

In 1988, following a lengthy series of jungle-based operations, 1/7th SFG(A) developed and wrote an update of the 1970 B-52 tips. These were entitled the B-720 Tips, and did not include some of the subjects that the B-52 Tips did, which had, by then, become doctrinal methods (such as PW snatches, and movement techniques when patrolling).


Most of all, the update was intended, like my own feeble attempt, to bring the old tips into accordance with then-current technology advances. I am including some of the relevant portions of that document with update comments, like above, that differ from the original B-52 Tips.

Uniform/Clothing Tips

  1. When conducting rural/wilderness operations/patrolling, wear camouflage utilities, or at least different colored clothing. When wet, solid colored dark clothing, such as olive green utilities (OG-107s) will appear solid black when viewed through NVGs. Camouflage patterns, while dark, will still disrupt your silhouette.
  2. Tuck your shirt into your trousers. You can’t use the lower pockets on a BDU-type blouse with LBE on anyway, and with the top tucked in, you can throw spent mags down the front of your shirt rather than fucking around with a “dump pouch” (this was doctrine at both the Ranger Regiment and Group by the time I arrived at those units. It is interesting to see that the Army finally figured the whole lower pocket thing out with the development of the ACU-pattern uniform. Too bad they fucked up the camouflage part).
  3. While luminous tape (“cat eyes”) have a valid function, they glow like a fucking flashlight through NVGs, so don’t become reliant on them in a world where the enemy may have even better NVGs than you do, unless you are using them specifically to allow overwatch elements to identify friend versus foe, and then be very judiscious.
  4. Sew a section of VS-17 signal panel into the inside of your patrol hat/boonie/baseball cap. While you probably won’t be using it to signal recovery air assets, it can be used for visual signaling purposes between patrol elements. Sewing a small square of IR “glint tape” in the center of it can facilitate intra-patrol signaling at night, with NVGs on.
  5. If you use a solid colored rucksack (ALICE pack, some of the newer MOLLE-compatible rucks in Coyote or Ranger Green, etc), break up the silhouette of the pack with some judiciously applied Krylon (for participants in classes, has anyone ever noticed that my coyote brown warbelt and plate carrier has large swathes of dark green spraypaint applied?). Obviously, this won’t necessarily apply to a covert infiltration pack, such as a civilian day pack, used in urban areas.



NVG Tips


(NVGs, or to use the older term with which I am far more comfortable, NODs, are a force multiplier of equal or greater value than two or three extra riflemen, when used properly. If you have six rifles of your own, but no NODs, you’re fucking yourself and your team. Remedy the situation.)

  1. Don’t try and wear your NODs 100% of the time when it’s dark out. US forces have come to depend too much on their NODs, leading to over-reliance. NODs result in horrid tunnel vision, and as humans we are more comfortable relying on our sense of sight than our other senses. People tend to ignore what their other senses are telling them, if the image in their NODs doesn’t say the same thing. Hiding from NODs is actually easier than hiding from naked vision in daylight, since it’s monochrome.
  2. People ask me in classes a lot, what I think of the importance of helmets in UW. I think they are necessary in three situations: 1) combat in built-up areas (I’ve seen guys get knocked flat the fuck out when they ran headfirst into a door jam they didn’t see. Hell, I’ve been the dumbass knocking himself out that way!), 2) performing mountaineering operations (I’ve caught more than one dislodged stone on my brain bucket when a climber above me kicked loose rocks. Without a helmet on, in several cases, I would have been dead, rather than just suffering from a bitch of a headache), and 3) when you’re going to be wearing NODs a lot. The old “skullcrusher” NOD mounts sucked, and got their nickname for a reason. It’s far more comfortable (which means you’ll use them more), to mount them on a well-engineered helmet. Either mount your NODs on a helmet mount (Protec makes relatively inexpensive, non-ballistic helmets specifically tailored for tactical use), or keep them in a easily accessible pouch on the front of your LBE where you can get at them easily and frequently (either way, fucking dummy cord those expensive cocksuckers. How pissed off would your wife be if you told her you lost a $3000-10,000 piece of critical gear because you were too fucking stupid to bother tying it off with a $0.05 piece of cord?).
  3. Use your NODs to observe when you are in the overwatch position of a team bounding overwatch movement. When you are actually bounding, flip the NODs up out of the way, or stash them in the pouch, and rely on your night vision and other senses. When you finish your bound and move into a position to overwatch the other element, use your NODs to make visual contact with the opposite team leader and signal him that you are in position and he can begin his bound.
  4. Only every other man (or even just the team leaders) should use their NODs when moving. The buddy team member running NODs and/or the team leader, should be running tracer and ball alternating in his magazines, to identify where the non-NOD equipped shooter should direct his fires (Why, yes, Jeeves, tracers do work both ways! No one is suggesting you sit on one fucking spot and engage the enemy with a stream of tracers, you fucking asshat. Shoot a short burst to get your buddy or subordinates bringing hate on that spot, while you move one way or the other and acquire a new target to light up and identify. Is it really that hard to figure out?).
  5. NODs and Thermal Imaging Sights function differently, in different light spectrums, but they can complement each other well. If most of your team/element/crew/group has PVS-7s or -14s, consider investing in a thermal sight instead to complement them on operations (again, we’re not getting into the application or counters to thermal imaging sights on an open blog on the internet. Get the fuck over it or quit reading).
  6. Do not mount your PVS-14 on your weapon unless you’re in a sniper-specific duty position. It will be far more useful on your fucking face. Instead, invest a few hundred bucks on an IR aiming laser device like the DBAL. Don’t just turn the IR laser and keep it on though. Instead, use it just like a white light device. Acquire a shooting position, with the weapon pointed at the enemy, flash the laser long enough to shoot the bad guy, turn the laser back off, and MOVE (see the above parenthetical comment about tracers. Lasers ARE tracers to NODs!).

3 thoughts on “Tricks of the Trade, A Contemporary Look

  1. Outstanding ! Brought back to the surface ,knowledge that faided to gray in my aging cav scout brain ! Everyone pay attention this man knows his stuff !

  2. Thanks, Paraclete.

    This is important stuff to post because a lot of us (like myself) have no military training, and info like this will make the difference between a lot of us dying quickly, or being around to help. (you could be eliminating a lot of grave-digging work here)

  3. Lots of good practical advice tucked in here, but remember, the successful minutemen of the revolution didn’t win by wholeheartedly adopting the T O & E, training, doctrine, and combat tactics of the British forces. Be careful of over-emulating the fellow who must lose for you to survive.

    Predictability is a death-sentence.

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