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5 Principles of Patrolling, an Introduction

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Patrolling at it’s very base is the art of moving from one place to another as an individual or an element. There are a variety of reasons one might go on a patrol and a variety of considerations depending on the situation. Regardless of the reason, one constant through out history has been the need for troops to move from one location to another. By understanding the basics of patrolling and how to apply them to your environment, you will understand how, when and why to maneuver on the battlefield. Today, we will be breaking down patrolling and some of it’s basic concepts to give you an working understanding of how to apply it to your area of operations and mission set. Patrolling is dictated by 5 universal principles. These are: Planning, Reconnaissance, Security, Control and Common Sense.


Before a Patrol ever takes place, certain steps must be taken to insure a successful patrol. On the individual level, equipment must be laid out, inspected, replenished, checked for function and prepped prior to. Important considerations for equipment on a patrol is to consider sound, snag hazards, retention, hot spots, and function. Put on all your equipment you plan to carry on the patrol and jump in place, jog back and forth and get up and down from the prone and kneeling. Listen for metal to metal contact, water jostling, or loud items rattling in your equipment. Buckles can be taped, canteens filled and items wrapped in socks, skivvy shirts or snivel gear to cut down on noise. Snag hazards are an important overlooked part of gear. Tape up all excess straps on the rucksack and your 2nd line kit. Insure all laces, blousing bands, straps, bungees are all tucked in, trimmed or taped. Make sure all items secured to the outside of ruck or kit are kept as compressed as possible and attempt to eliminate sharp edges and items protruding from your kit as it will catch on branches. Retention goes along with this concept. Insure that all pockets are buttoned, pouches are snapped and secured and that your gear is properly stowed and does not displace during movement. For this reason, I predominantly run closed to pouches on most of my kits I plan on using in a woodland environment. By putting on your gear and moving during the planning phase, you can insure your gear all fits together without jabbing or rubbing into your hips or back. Check that your ruck isn’t all tangled in your kit and that you can ditch it easily. When donning kit, I prefer to put on my chest rig, then my rifle sling and my ruck on top in that order. The reason I wear my rifle under my ruck is so if the element takes contact, you can ditch your ruck quickly and retain your weapon. It’s no fun having your 80lbs ruck choke you by your rifle sling as you’re trying to return fire and get to cover. Regardless of status, I replace all my batteries in optics, NVGs, flashlights, etc. prior to stepping off for a mission. Put your batteries in and check the devices for function. As a team leader, it is your responsibility to have your men conduct a lay out and inspect the equipment. By doing so, you can insure that they are carrying all necessary gear and eliminate necessary weight. In the even you are solo, I still recommend laying out gear prior to packing. Stay organized.

Now that you have your equipment squared away you can move on to planning. In the military we utilize a process known as an OPORDER. That topic deserves an article on it’s own however, it is made up of 5 paragraphs: Situation, Mission, Execution, Sustainment, Command and Signal. The important thing to note on the OPORD is you are covering all aspects of the mission at hand from available information, logistics, route planning, communication, command structure, SOPs and various contingency plans. We can utilize the OPORD style of planning in our own lives. When going on a trip to the woods, I often do a mini version. Consider all the information you have at hand, write everything down following the guide lines and you can plan appropriately to be prepared for a variety of situations you may encounter on your patrol.


Recon is a topic that has already been covered on this site, however if you are interested in further information I suggested consulting FM 3-55.93 The Long Range Surveillance Unit Operations hand book. When it comes to patrolling, I always suggest doing a map recon prior to stepping off and heading to your AO. Personally, I utilize the app ONX. It’s a GPS hunting app that allows you to do a lot of custom work with your waypoints. The same can be accomplished with a topographic map. If possible, go to your AO prior to patrolling. Make your own maps. Mark waypoints on your GPS and learn the terrain both during the day and night. Note places where water is located, where trails and roads are, notable ridges or areas of high elevation and any other key terrain that could prove useful. By looking at a map, I often have several places in mind to set up a patrol base or area where I wish to remain over night prior to stepping foot in the woods. It’s also a good idea to plan several tentative routes and record the distance and azimuths in the even plans change on the ground. For our purposes, Recon involves gathering information to better aid you in maneuvering around your AO. Recon could even be the purpose of a patrol.


Security is a vital to an element or individual being able to move on the battlefield. Security should be your number 1 priority at all times. For this reason, security is always emplaced first when setting up ambushes, raids, patrol bases and remains the number one priority of work in patrol base operations. Security is key especially when operating as a small element. Each individual in a team will have their own sector of responsibility. When in doubt of where to watch, think of the battle space as a clock and cover the 10 to the 2 between the men on either side of you. Look for work. You should be looking for any movement, shadow, difference in coloration, vegetation that’s disturbed or out of place, unnatural sounds, man made items, foot prints and any other indicators of possible enemy activity. While moving, it is imperative to keep your head on a swivel, eyes up scanning, ears open listening, and smelling for anything out of the ordinary. Think of patrolling like driving on a highway. Every few steps I try to check my mirrors. Scan your sector from left to right, look at your team leader or soldiers in your team, and check your rear. Look for any hand signals or changes in body language from members of your element that could be an indicator of possible need to modify your behavior. If you start to get distracted, picture the enemy behind every tree. It will help you focus. If you’re always looking for movement, you will catch it much quicker. Trust your gut. If you think you saw a flash of movement, halt the element and investigate. SLLS halts should be conducted throughout the patrol. SLLS stands for Stop, Look, Listen and Smell. When I first enter a new environment, I take a SLLS halt for ten minutes to get a feel for what is natural. Stop frequently. Security can only be maintained if the element is moving cohesively and observing the environment around them. Every step reveals new terrain. The slower you move, the quieter and better you’ll be able to maneuver and observe your environment. There are times where slow is not always best but often, security is sacrificed while moving rapidly. Bottom line, when in doubt, face out and pull security. Every halt you should take a knee, face out and pick up a sector. If you are stopped longer than 30 seconds, gently crouch down to the prone and move off the trail behind cover. If you are in the prone longer than a minute or 2, it doesn’t hurt to ease your ruck off and maintain a low profile. While patrolling, constantly assess your terrain and consider where you will take cover if you are fired upon in that moment. Every step you should be subconsciously thinking of where to go if rounds start flying. Make it a habit.


We touched on several elements of control in the previous paragraph. It is imperative that you maintain spacing, pace, security, concealment, communication, the proper azimuth, stealth and accountability during a patrol. The responsibility for control is on every individual soldier, not just leadership. During your scanning, constantly assess your teammates and adjust your movement, spacing or position to maintain a clear field of fire, or proper separation considering the terrain. It is important that you don’t bunch up together and maintain at least a 5 to 10 meter separation if possible considering how thick the terrain is. When crossing an open field or more open woods, the spacing may grow immensely. It is important not to spread out to an extent where communication via hand signals becomes impractical but also not too close where it is possible to be taken out by a hand grenade. Good communication is essential for a patrol to be successful. Each member must be aware of possible obstacles, halts, crossings, map checks, moving out, contact, changes in direction, hitting phase lines or rally points and possible hazards. These things are most often communicated via hand signals. At night, IR flashes can be utilized, however this is risky against a near peer threat. With proper night vision training and good spacing, hand signals and cat eyes can effectively be utilized at night. I will explore hand and arm signals in a further detail in another post.


Lastly, common sense. In the absence of orders, apply your knowledge and understanding of woodsman ship, individual tactics and skills you’ve cultivated through your training and education to make good decisions. Patrolling, while often a team event comes down to the individual level to be successful. It requires staunch discipline applied to security, communicating with your team, maneuvering properly as part of an element, moving quietly through the woods and maintaining accountability over your equipment.

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