Basic Patrolling: Concepts & Principles – Part 1

The following series of posts provides the basic academic information necessary to learn the art and science of patrolling.  It does NOT, however, take the place of training under the guidance of a skilled instructor.  So, if you don’t know what to do, get yourself registered for a patrolling course.  No matter where you are, there are good men out there ready to train you properly.  Yes, it will cost you some money.  You get what you pay for…..just sayin’.

Patrolling 1

During a WRoL or SHTF situation, keeping your area secure will, by necessity, involve patrolling.  You need to know how to do it, and do it well.  If you just set in your home, waiting for the ‘zombies’ to come, they will, and as you are static, they will have the initiative.  They will be able to attack at their leisure, and burn your house to the ground, taking from the ashes what they will.

So, if you choose not to let that happen, read on.

Let me first credit the various quotes, statements and facts that I’ll use in this repetition of a many times written about subject to the many US Army and Air Force training manuals which provide the lion’s share of source documentation, my personal experience, cross training in the field with various US Army, Marine, and Air Force units over the span of an active duty career that provides the “fill in” information from which I constructed this piece.  Additionally, more recent articles by soldiers, airmen and marines have flavored it with a touch of “modernization” to tried and true methodology.  Lastly, H. John Poole, author of “The Last Hundred Yards” and “The Tiger’s Way”, among others, has lent his perspective of Maneuver Warfare (MW) to the mix.  The reader should note that no matter the terminology or source, five basic principles of successful warfare have never really changed from time immemorial and never have been more essential to the execution of a successful patrol:  Speed, Surprise, Deception, Violence of Action, and Decisive Leadership.  These principles, when used to govern every aspect of a patrol’s preparation, execution, and follow up activity, go a long, long way in determining the probability of its success for the men on the patrol.  That out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the subject,

The first thing we need to do for this discourse is define the term, “Patrol”. What is a patrol?  The textbook definition answers the question well:  “A patrol is a detachment sent out by a larger unit to perform an assigned mission of reconnaissance, combat, or a combination of both.  A patrol may be as small as a buddy team (two people) or as large as a company (150 or more men)”.

Size notwithstanding, a patrol, like any other organization, not only has a purpose but also has an organizational structure.   Somebody has to be in charge.  It’s decidedly not a committee.  Additionally, unlike many other organizations, each member of a patrol must know his place in the hierarchy for mission continuation.  No matter the size of the patrol, the last man in the chain of command must know that if there are only two men left from the original patrol, the other guy is in charge and will make the command decision regarding continuing the mission.  Now, that may seem to be a facetious statement, but nevertheless it’s true.  Take a step back for a moment and think about the implications of trying to survive without organization.  Your chances go way, way down.  So, here’s the basic command structure of a patrol:

  • Patrol Leader (PL)
  • Assistant Patrol Leader (APL)
  • Assigned Support Team Leader  (STL)
  • Assigned Team Leaders by Seniority (FTL)
  • Rifleman by Seniority (RM)

You may only have a PL and you.  Or, if you’re the PL, you have you and the RM.  As you grow the patrol in size, the various teams, by necessity and purpose of the mission, will come into play.

The PL is really the key to a successful patrol, even if it entails only a couple hundred yard walk to check out a seemingly innocuous event.   He will be the one to set the standard of behavior and coordinate the actions of the patrol when contact occurs (the term, ‘coordinate’ is used rather than ‘control’ purposely, because a team or group trained in MW does not need more than general ‘control’ when contact occurs).  A good PL will also ensure his APL (which might be the only other patrol member) has the same information he does so that if the PL is taken out of action, the APL will “Charlie Mike” or continue the mission demonstrating the principle that “nobody is indispensable”.

To be an effective PL, the first thing you must understand (and this goes for the novice and serves as a reminder to the professional as well) even if you’re familiar with and can recite chapter and verse of FM 7-8 or 21-75 or the Ranger Handbook or whichever source you’d care to cite, is that apathy is ruthless and can seep into your operational habits if you’re not careful.  Once apathy takes hold, your probability of success and survival is reduced in direct proportion to the amount of apathy within your patrol or your own mind.  Just remember, a patrol is never “routine” nor should it be treated that way.  Every patrol, no matter how simple it may seem at first glance must be treated as a “movement to contact”.  To do otherwise is to invite disaster.  Therefore, the first concept that must be understood is that of the “Winning Mindset”.  The patrol leader must have this mindset to ensure the success of the mission and to minimize casualties.  Once this mindset is achieved, the patrol leader will believe in himself, his men, his available weapons, his unit, mission, and most of all, his will to win!

With a winning mindset in his possession, the PL now needs to get the following information from his unit so that he knows:

  • The Threat:  The PL planning the patrol must assume that any/all patrols will be opposed by enemies who may vary from local people with relatively primitive weapons when compared to the patrol to highly trained troops equipped with sophisticated weapons and support equipment.  The enemy of your patrol may have the following capabilities:
    • Detect any movement into their Area of Operations (AO).
    • Cover gaps in their manned defensive locations with Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Night Observation (including thermal imagery) (STANO) devices.
    • React quickly to discovered intrusions with stand off weapons, air, and armored forces.
    • Locate, by detection devices, your patrol moving within his AO
    • Disrupt patrol communications through radio jamming.  Don’t plan on having comm. with your base unit.
  • The Situation:  PL’s must analyze currently known enemy capabilities that will jeopardize the mission success probability and choose, then effectively employ patrolling techniques that counter those techniques.
  • The Patrol Category:  There are two:  Reconnaissance and Combat.  It must further be noted that all patrols, no matter their purpose, are reconnaissance patrols.  All information gained must be brought back to the friendly area for further use.
    • Reconnaissance Patrol (Point, Area, or Zone):  Collect information or confirm or disprove the accuracy of information previously gained.
    • Combat Patrol (Ambush, Raid, or Security):  Provide security and harass, destroy, or capture enemy troops, equipment and installations.  The also collect and report information, whether related to their mission or not.  You may find that the most often used patrol in a WRoL/SHTF situation is the Security Patrol, in that this patrol is what might dissuade an enemy from attacking.
  • The Mission:  Patrols are only given one primary mission, but may have one or more secondary missions.  For example, a patrol may have a primary mission of destroying an enemy position, with a secondary mission of destroying or capturing a particular target of opportunity such as a high ranking officer or leader found in the position attacked.
    • The mission must be clearly stated, thoroughly understood by not only the PL, but all members of the patrol, and within the capabilities of the unit assigned.
    • It must include information about Who, What, When, Why, and Where.  A typical patrol mission might state:  “Your patrol (who) will conduct a reconnaissance (what) on or about 15 October but not later than 2400, 17 October (when) to confirm the presence of the Zombie Leader (why) at the heretofore abandoned train station located at grid 45128765 (where).
    • The PL prepares his instructions to his patrol by referring to a standard 5 paragraph operations order (OPORD).  The PL will prepare a Patrol Warning Order and a Patrol Order, both will be issued orally to his patrol members.  (More information on constructing a patrol order later…)

So, where does the PL get his mission from?  The command element (could be the elected leader of the Neighborhood Protection League) that is dispatching the patrol is responsible for formulating the mission, giving the necessary orders to the PL, debriefing the PL at the conclusion of the mission, control measures to be employed, and disseminating any information gained by the patrol.  Once the mission and orders are received, the PL is responsible for the following:

  • Detailed planning and preparation.
  • Conducting the patrol and accomplishing the mission.
  • Prompt and accurate reporting of mission results.

The patrol isn’t something that only the unit commander and PL deal with:  there are many levels of coordination that are required to get the patrol past initial concept to effective execution.  Command support from the unit staff (beans, bullets & intelligence) which includes control measures the local command element & PL can and want to use, such as:

  • Time of departure and return.
  • Phase lines
  • Check points
  • Routes
  • The communication plan
  • Objectives

Support and coordination for a patrol also includes the provision of a rehearsal area as well as any specialized personnel or equipment that the unit may have at its disposal that will enhance the performance of the patrol.  Now, in a WRoL/SHTF situation, your basement might be that area, but even so, rehearse and discuss the mission as much as possible to ensure success and a return alive from the mission.  Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS) also come into play.  Standard uniform and items carried by each patrol member (which is why you should be organizing, equipping, stockpiling and training now) as well as conducting common patrolling tasks will also heavily impact a patrol’s preparation.

One of the most important preparatory items that should never be forgotten is to plan for the emergency assumption of command at any time during the patrol.  This is where the chain of command comes into play—from the squad leader down to the most junior member of the patrol.  Every patrol member knows who is in charge when the person in command is wounded in action/killed in action (WIA/KIA).  As coarse as it might be, that plan might be to abandon those categories if retrieving puts mission success in jeopardy.  When assuming command, the patrol member doing so must:

  • Establish Security—This depends on enemy activity and proximity to enemy weapons balanced against the location, disposition, and activity of the patrol as well as the terrain they are operating in.
  • Re-establish the Chain of Command—Take a count of who is still effective and make adjustments as necessary including redistributing the manning of key weapons (this also underscores the necessity of weapons cross training within the patrol).
  • Confirm the Patrol’s Location—Check the map and confirm your position with other patrol members, and send out a small reconnaissance patrol to verify your position against terrain features, contact with your unit, or any combination of these that provide the required information.
  • Get the PL’s Equipment—Take anything and everything that is useful from the previous PL to do the PL’s job.  These items could include any or all of the following:
    • Map
    • Notebook
    • Flashlight
    • Flares
    • Whistle
    • Mirror
  • Meet with Subordinate Leaders—If the situation makes it inadvisable to meet with every remaining patrol member, meet with key subordinates and tell them you have assumed command.  Then, orient them to any mission changes or modifications, and instruct them on maintaining security.  Issue a FRAG order based on Mission, Enemy, Terrain, weather, and Troops (METT) available.  If feasible, move the patrol to a more secure location, establish a patrol base, and then plan in more detail.  If you can move, your initial FRAG order will be for movement to this location. And lastly, allow time, once your FRAG is issued, for your subordinate leaders to issue instructions to their team members.

Finally, note that all preparation for the patrol is planned and supervised by three tiers of command:  Command, the PL, and support staff, each of which ensures their participation starts and stops at appropriate areas.  Micromanaging patrol preparation will set a bad precedent and will not help the patrol be successful—it will have the opposite affect.  Each patrol member, from the PL to the most junior member of the patrol has a distinct and important function to perform—it is wisdom to let them do their jobs with as little interference as possible.

Next time, we’ll cover getting the patrol ready to go out.


4 thoughts on “Basic Patrolling: Concepts & Principles – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Basic Patrolling: Concepts & Principles – Part I | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. Pingback: DTG: Basic Patrolling Concepts & Principles, Parts II-IV | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  3. Pingback: DTG: Basic Patrolling Concepts & Principles, Parts II-IV | Woody Creek Farmer

  4. Pingback: Got the Winter Doldrums? Use the down time to your advantage…. | The Defensive Training Group

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