Basic Patrolling: Concepts & Principles – Part II

Patrolling 2


In Part I, we covered the definition of what a patrol is, its missions, organization, responsibilities of the PL, APL, supporting teams, its members, command and control, and how the patrol is organized to provide the best chance of mission success no matter the changes in the field situation.   Our focus will now move to the tasks to be accomplished before the patrol can go on its way.

The key ingredients to the success of any patrol are thorough planning, reconnaissance, rehearsals, preparation, and effective leadership once deployed.  Every patrol member must direct his efforts toward accomplishing the mission.  Simply put:  Mission first, everything else is lower priority.  Once you’ve committed yourself as part of a patrol, everything you do must be focused on making that patrol a success.  The lives of everyone on the patrol will depend on how well everyone else on the patrol is doing their job.

So, to get started, once the PL is selected (and it shouldn’t be someone who’s never done it before if at all possible), the first thing the PL should do is issue the necessary instructions to subordinate leaders (or individual members if the patrol is small) so that the patrol will be better able accomplish its assignment.  A wise PL will match the complexity of the instructions given to the level of command the individual or team has in the patrol.  A good rule of thumb is this:  Individual riflemen only need to know their specific duties as they relate to the overall mission.  He does not need to know the why’s, wherefores, and other incidentals that the patrol leader may have knowledge of from command briefings to be successful.  Don’t weigh your patrol down with non-essential information.  Keep it simple, direct, and to the point while at the same time ensuring each member has enough information to be successful.  Pulling this off requires the kind of PL’s that can turn a mission execution, alerting, or warning order into action supporting the overall plan of the command.

Typically a patrol has little time to prepare for combat operations.  They must be ready to execute a new mission in a matter of minutes, or at most, a few hours.  Efficient use of available time to adequately prepare is vital!  PL’s can respond to new mission requirements and direct or redirect their patrols quickly if they have mastered the following troop leading procedures and follow them instinctively.  These steps are common, by the way, at all levels of command, up and down the chain.  The reader should note that while these steps are very important, they are not rigid.   The PL should follow them instinctively, modifying them as necessary to fit the current mission, situation, and available time.  (Remember, these steps may be condensed as time and mission dictate, do not fall into the trap of rigidity.)  These steps are:

  • Receive the mission – Unless you’re the HMFIC in your Neighborhood Protection Group, there’s going to be someone that suggests or tells you what needs to be done.  So, you’re going to have to receive that mission.  If the word, ‘mission’ doesn’t set well with you, ‘job’ will suffice.  In any case, someone’s going to give you something to do in either a written or oral form.  In the military, this comes as either an operations order (OPORD) or fragmentary order (FRAGO).  The patrol’s mission will usually be stated in terms that are specific as to who, what, when, where, and how.  For a Neighborhood Protection Team, the same format (WWWWH) can be used because it works.  Once the PL receives the order, he analyzes his mission to be absolutely sure he understands what is to be done and plans the use of available time.  Time is typically the most critical resource the PL has at his disposal, especially time measured in available daylight hours for preparation.  The PL must never waste time which should be used by subordinate leaders or patrol members for reconnaissance and planning or personal preparations of their own, if required.  A good rule of thumb is to use no more than 1/3 of the available time for planning and leave 2/3 for the subordinate leaders’ use.  So, if a PL is given 6 hours to prepare for a mission, he uses no more than 2 hours and provides at least 4 hours for his subordinates.  One of the best tools available to assist the PL in maximizing the use of available time is the “Backwards Planning Schedule”.  For those not familiar with backwards planning, it’s fairly simple, but extremely effective.  The PL makes a time schedule starting with execute time/day of the patrol’s debriefing and works backwards to the current time/day, allotting necessary time for each milestone on the patrol  Here’s an example:

TIME                                         TASK

0230                                      Debriefing

0200                                      Return to friendly area

2330 – 0200                        Movement enroute

2300 – 2330                        Accomplish mission – reorganize

2230 – 2300                        Leader’s Recon

2000 – 2230                        Movement Enroute

1945 – 2000                         Movement in friendly area

1930 – 1945                          Final Inspection

1845 – 1930                          Night Rehearsals

1800 – 1845                          Rest

1745 – 1800                          Inspection

1700 – 1745                          Meal

1515 – 1700                          Subordinate Leader planning

1400 – 1445                         Complete detailed planning

1315 – 1400                         Conduct Recon

1300 – 1315                         Issue Warning Order

1100 – 1300                        Receive Mission/Planning Time

  • Make a tentative plan – The PL needs to determine his concept of operations.  How are you going to accomplish your mission?  The complexity of the tentative plan is determined by the complexity of the mission and the amount of available time for planning.  When given a mission once deployed in the field, the PL will know as much about the known or potential enemy as he can under current circumstances, knows his overall mission and what it requires, and add all of this to the terrain his patrol will encounter within his mission AO.  From this knowledge, he develops his tentative plan and it becomes the basis for coordination, patrol movement, organization, and reconnaissance.
  • Issue the Warning Order – The Warning Order is ‘militarese’ for ‘Heads up, we’ve got a job to do’.  The PL should issue his Warning Order as early as possible – typically upon receipt his own Warning Order or immediately following the receipt of an order from those running the show.  How does he issue his Warning Order?  Usually it is orally given to the assembled men, and informs them of:
      • The Situation
      • The Mission
      • General and Specific Instructions

The format follows this outline:

      • Situation
      • Mission
      • General Instructions
        • Chain of Command
        • Organization
        • Common uniform/clothing (if appropriate) and equipment
        • Weapons & ammo requirements with any special equipment needs
        • Time Schedule (Backward Planning Model)
        • Time, place, uniform and equipment for receiving the Patrol Order
        • Times and places of inspections and rehearsals
      • Specific Instructions


  •  Coordinate – This is continuous throughout the planning and preparation phases of the patrol.  Some items may be pre-coordinated for the PL through or by a higher command, such as the initial coordination passage out of and into friendly areas (such as other Neighborhood Protection Group AO’s.  Other items will most likely be left for the PL to coordinate; as much as possible should be accomplished at the location the PL receives his OPORD.  Typically this location is NPG command areas because communications may be better at these locations and there are key personnel present to help the PL.  Sometimes, if the patrol is large enough, to save time, the PL may assign various coordination tasks to his subordinate leaders who are required to report back to him the results of their activities.  Here’s a list of some of the routine tasks/items to be coordinated for a patrol (the reader should note that this is aimed at neighborhood protection groups, therefore, some items such as fire support are left out as they will most likely not apply in today’s world:


      • Intelligence  requirements that include:
        • Patrol ID
        • Changes in the known enemy situation
        • Weather, sunrise & sunset times
        • Special equipment requirements
        • Other NPG activity in the AO
        • Essential elements of information (EEI)
      • Operations requirements that include:
        • Changes in the friendly situation
        • Route selection, insertion/extraction points
        • Friendly unit link up procedure
        • Transportation availability & type
        • Re-supply availability & procedure
        • Signal plan (flares (if any), smoke, etc)
        • Departure & re-entry of friendly area (when/where/how)
        • Adjacent NPGs operating in the AO
        • Rehearsal areas
      • Forward unit coordination (if applicable – if not, these items may already be dealt with under Operations Requirements) units may include:
        • Patrol         ID & size
        • Times         & places of departure and return
        • General         AO
        • Terrain/Vegetation/Urban Structure/Street Grid information
        • Known or suspected enemy positions/obstacles
        • Possible enemy ambush sites
        • Latest enemy activity
        • Relevant details on friendly positions
        • Any support that can be furnished (sometimes you’re going to be on your own – no cavalry will be coming….)
        • Availability of guides (Always an ‘ace in the hole’ if you can get one for the area you’re going into…)
        • Communications
        • Available reaction force (the cavalry, if you will)
        • Call signs & operating frequencies
        • Challenge and password
        • Emergency signals/code words
      • Rehearsal        Coordination tasks may include:
        • Patrol ID & mission
        • Available terrain similar to objective site
        • Availability of aggressors/role players (if time permits)
        • Time the area is available
        • Coordination with other patrols who may be using the area
      • Vehicular Movement Coordination tasks may include;
        • Patrol ID & supporting unit ID
        • Number and type of vehicles available (in NPG operations, be prepared for a LOT of walking!).  As an example, the ubiquitous ‘mini-van’ is ideally suited for transporting a small patrol to an insert point or picking up one from a pre-planned extraction point.
        • Embarkation point
        • Load/Departure time
        • Preparation of vehicles for movement (fortifying if applicable)
        • Driver responsibilities
        • Patrol responsibilities
        • Availability of vehicles for rehearsals (getting in and out of a vehicle should have a set plan and purpose, as well.)
        • Routes (primary/alternate)
        • Check points
        • Disembarkation points (primary/alternate)
        • Vehicle interval & speed  (remember, the more vehicles you have in train, the more attention you will gather from potential or real enemies looking for you – it would be better suited to have multiple vehicle transports take individual routes to the insertion points and have the patrol link up)
        • Rendezvous points & signals if separated
        • Communications & signals
        • Emergency procedures  (Remember ‘Murphy’….)


  • Conduct Reconnaissance – For the PL to make the best use of his available men and maximize the effects of his available weapons, the PL must study the terrain he will be operating in extensively!  During this reconnaissance, the PL will either confirm or modify his tentative plan.  Ideally, the PL should make an on-the-ground recon of the AO, but this is not usually feasible for most patrolling missions, and the PL will have to resort to aerial photography, topographical maps, other’s knowledge of the area, or if he’s really fortunate, an actual aerial reconnaissance so that he has the most information about his target area as possible.  In these days of technological advances, a NPG with its own drone capability would be golden!


  • Complete the plan – Once the PL has issued his Warning Order, conducted his reconnaissance, and while his patrol members are preparing themselves and their equipment, the PL completes his plan.  Based on all the gathered information and coordination task results, he may or may not modify his plan.  His main focus will be on the actions at the objective and he will carefully assign his subordinate leaders specific tasks for all phases of the patrol, making sure that all actions fit together seamlessly and effectively.


  • Issue the complete OPORD or Patrol Order – The order is issued in standard Patrol Order format.  As much as possible, the PL should use terrain models, sketches, and chalk/white boards to illustrate the plan and highlight important details such as:


      • Routes
      • Any planned targets of opportunity (after accomplishment of the primary        mission)
      • Actions at the objective
      • Actions at danger areas

Sketches to show planned actions can also be drawn in the sand, dirt, or snow.  Remember, this doesn’t have to be fancy; it only must effectively communicate the information each patrol member needs to do the job successfully.

  • Inspect, Rehearse & Supervise – The importance of these tasks cannot be understated:  they reveal the patrol members’ physical and mental state of readiness.  A member who is not mentally or physically ready to go on the mission should not be taken as the results could be disastrous!  This is also where the patrol members must subordinate their personal preferences to the dictates of the mission and the need to do everything possible to increase the probability of success and returning alive from the mission.  The PL should not be flexible at all when it comes to ensuring the patrol members are properly prepared to go on the hike.  When inspecting your patrol members, check for the following:
      • Shine on equipment
      • Tie down & rattles
      • Miscellaneous  noise (canteen sloshing, magazine ‘clinking’, etc)
      • Special equipment required is present and functional (this could be a digital camera, for example)
      • Properly applied camouflage paint
      • All weapons are clean and serviceable (if appropriate, test fired)
      • Applicable amount of ammo is present and magazines are loaded
      • Randomly question patrol members on their knowledge of:
        • The patrol plan
        • What his job is and when he does it
        • What others are to do as far as their actions concern him
        • Challenge & passwords, codes, call signs, frequencies, report times and other relevant information

Make sure you have one final inspection just prior to departure to ensure any discrepancy found during the initial inspection has been corrected.  Don’t be surprised in the field!

When conducting your rehearsals, remember that they are designed to ensure proficiency in assigned tasks.  Rehearsals should be thought through, well directed, and realistic so that your patrol members become thoroughly familiar with their actions during the patrol.  If your patrol is going out at night, rehearse in both daylight and at night.  Rehearsing actions at the objective is the most essential task to perform during rehearsals!!  Always rehearse this portion of your patrol without fail!

A good way to rehearse is for the PL to talk the patrol through each phase of the patrol describing the actions of each element and of each man in the patrol and then have the teams and men perform those actions as a “dry run”.  Another method is the “talk-through/brief back”.  The PL talks the patrol through and then has the subordinate team leaders and members brief the PL on their responsibilities and tasks.  Lastly, if there is no time for rehearsal, the minimum requirement is for the PL to conduct a talk-through.  After enough practice, with a well trained group, a talk-through may be all your patrol needs, depending on the mission.  Just remember, shortcuts don’t cut it all the time, and apathy is a ruthless bitch and will kill you the first chance it gets!

The PL and subordinate leaders must supervise all facets of the operation whether during planning, rehearsing, or executing the mission.  Remember, effective supervision does not mean being a tyrant or micromanager!  Let your people do their job, step in to help when you need to, and always always always lead by example!

Remember to safeguard all your information to prevent mission compromise.  Mission compromise can occur no matter who you are working with.  NPG’s, by definition, are indigenous, so it should be a way of life, and it probably will be, later on after SHTF.  But remember, not everyone is a dependable as the next guy.  If the chance exists that you have an informer in your group, only give out information on a need to know basis, and only that information that is absolutely essential.  Always think Operations Security (OPSEC) and Communications Security (COMSEC)!  Consider conducting rehearsals as far away from the operational AO as possible—the hills, fields, trees and buildings may have eyes and ears!  In addition, ensure your patrol members know not to discuss the specifics with their families.  ‘Somebody talked’ is a poor consolation for a destroyed patrol.  A NPG’s ability to recruit is not going to provide a line of endless replacements.

Lastly, be flexible as you may also be involved in a patrol that is required by the situation to plan actions at the objective from information gained while moving to the objective area.  You may have to set up your Objective Rallying Point (ORP) and perform a reconnaissance of the objective and situation to determine the correct execution method for your mission.  If this occurs, and it is very feasible that it could, as much as possible, follow the troop leading procedures outlined at the beginning of this installment.  Organize as you need to, but attempt to keep your organizational changes to the original patrol organization to an absolute minimum to maximize the use of already established lines of command and communication within the patrol.

There you have it.  That’s all you have to do to take out a patrol.  Next time we’ll talk about the patrol’s movement in the field.

3 thoughts on “Basic Patrolling: Concepts & Principles – Part II

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

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

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

Feel free to comment! Debates are welcome, so long as they add to the discussion. Ad hominem attacks, accusations, uncontrolled vitriol, thread hijacks, personal threats, or any comment that otherwise detracts from DTG's stated mission will not be approved or posted. Repeat violators will be banned.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s