Basic Patrolling: Concepts & Priniples – Part III

Lawson Piece

Foot Movement – Section A

In Part II, we reviewed in depth how a patrol prepares to execute its mission from start to finish.  We learned it takes a lot of team work as well as focused effort from the PL through basic riflemen assigned to the patrol.   This installment moves our focus forward to how the patrol moves while executing its mission from the time it departs friendly area until it reaches the objective area.  Foot Movement is the primary method with which a patrol doe its job—sometimes, on occasion, vehicles can be used to get the patrol to an insertion point.  But that’s about all vehicles are good for when it comes to patrolling in a WRoL/SHTF situation.  There are other methods used, namely air and water insertion or extractions, they are normally not available due to cost and complexity and therefore will not be covered in-depth if at all.  Depending on the region of the country you live in, you may have the assets available, and in so having, will need to determine if they can, in fact, be effective in helping your patrol succeed.

There are three primary principles a PL must adhere to when moving a patrol on foot to be successful in the mission.  They are:

  • Have People Who Can Navigate:  Without these, all the planning and preparation previously conducted is worthless if your patrol can’t find its objective, or worse yet, stumbles onto it because of poor navigation, or worst of all, becomes hopelessly lost (not to worry, however, your enemies will find and destroy it, eventually).  If at all possible, have two competent compass men and pace men per patrol.  If it’s a two man patrol, both should have a compass and protractor and know how to use them (DTG is conducting a Land Nav Course in March:  Remember the old adage, “Two is one and one is none”.  Additionally, consider using any aid to navigation that is currently available to cross reference your tried and true method of map and compass navigation such as GPS.  Remember, GPS units are great, but they are susceptible to blackouts, battery drain, and breakage; they are a superb back up, but should never be used as your primary navigation tool on a patrol.  To do so is to gamble your patrol’s survival chances in unfamiliar territory.


  • Avoid Detection:  The patrol must move by stealth and exploit all available cover and concealment of the terrain it is operating in.  Moving when visibility is reduced by darkness, rain, fog, haze, or any condition that helps the patrol move just a tad more silently and makes the patrol just a bit more difficult to detect.  Swampy, rough, or heavily vegetated terrain will help the PL hide the patrol from enemy observation.  If operating in an urban environment, exploit unlit or ‘blighted’ areas.  Exploit any known weaknesses in the enemy’s detection capabilities and plan your movements to coincide with any other operation that may be diverting his attention—however, for a NPG(s), this may not be something that is feasible, which makes the basic tenets of patrol movement even more important.  If you’re caught in a WRoL/SHTF scenario, you will most likely end up the the people in the photo below.


  • Maintain Constant Security:  Even with well thought out plans for movement, the PL must ensure that both active and passive security measures are employed at all times.  Give men and sub-units responsibility for security en route, at danger areas, at clandestine patrol bases (which could end up being you and your RM sitting back to back while concealed), and most importantly, in the objective area.

Patrols are very vulnerable while moving on foot in enemy controlled areas, and to do so successfully, it must use effective movement techniques and employ security measures constantly to avoid unplanned enemy contact.   The following foot movement techniques or movement considerations must be dealt with by the PL on every patrol taken out.

  • Technique of Movement for Small Units:  Patrols use conventional movement techniques based upon the terrain and situation as well as the size of the patrol.
    • Formations:  The best all around ‘formation’ for a small patrol from 2 to 13 people is a file formation moving in and out of their objective area and most likely throughout the course of the patrol, especially if at night.  Terrain and situaiton dependendent, a PL may choose to use wedge formations and the techniques of traveling, traveling overwatch, or bounding overwatch.  Remember, though, the more       complex you make your formations, the greater the use of control methods become, the slower your patrol will move, and the great the chance you have of a patrol member becoming ‘lost’.  In  any case, no matter the formation, every member of the patrol must be aware of his interval between other patrol members and be highly sensitive of the area he has been assigned to observe.

Remember, the PL may place positions where he sees the need at any time.  Interval is determined by terrain and other tactical considerations.  Positions can be added, modified, or deleted from the patrol as needed.  (Various tasks within the patrol require members to where more than one ‘hat’ the smaller the patrol size.  So, with only 2 people, you’ve got a lot to do and will be multi-tasking your ass off.)  Areas of responsibility are assigned and the patrol members concentrate on that area.  In my own experience, it was found that the ‘old school’ method requiring patrol members to vary their weapons to cover an area of responsibility made those members less able to bring their weapons to bear when needed when they were carried on the weak side as opposed to carrying strong side and observing an area of responsibility.  It may look good in a photograph, but unless the PL has an even amount of right and left handed or ambidextrous patrol members, it’s not too practical.  Some will choose to continue the practice – old habits are hard to break.  (Bottom line is this:  Whatever a patrol member has as an area of responsibility, it’s up to him to cover it effectively.  The RM will see what’s out in his area better than you can, because you’re watching your own.  Remember that.)

    • Visual Contact:  Each patrol member must also keep their eyes constantly moving so that any signal given by a member of the patrol will be seen and reacted to instantaneously by the other patrol      members.  Hand and arm signals are essential for silent operations, and should be developed and practiced so that they are second nature by the patrol prior to executing its mission.  If teams are separated because of terrain necessity or due to traveling or bounding techniques, the subordinate leaders must maintain visual contact with opposite teams and enough distance between teams so that if any team becomes engaged, the rest of the patrol can maneuver or execute pre-planned actions on enemy contact.
    • Navigation Security:  Depending on the size of the patrol, the lead team secures the front and is assigned the job of navigation.  The lead team should be the one best qualified to navigate and provide forward security of the patrol while en route.  For long movements, the PL should certainly consider rotating the duty to provide rest and varied duty based upon current situation factors.
    • Varying Movement Techniques:  The PL should constantly vary the techniques used to move the patrol based upon the terrain, weather, and current situation as it impacts the mission.  No schedule will work—this is where the PL’s judgment and experience become essential.  Danger area crossing, open terrain, and rapidly changing terrain (sharp increase/decrease of  hills or open areas in short distances or missing/burned out buildings) are a few examples of where the PL may need to vary the technique used.
    • Leader placement:  The PL, APL, and other subordinate leaders move in their formations where they can best coordinate and control their teams and do their job.  They can shift their men around to meet the current situation.  For example, a PL may  want a pace man to walk next to him so that he can get an accurate distance report quickly.
    • Movement to Contact:  When moving to contact, the PL needs to keep any specialized weapons with him for quick employment (in the case of a NPG, it might be a rifle with a drum magazine for use as a base of fire).  However, during movement of the patrol to the objective area, the PL may place them differently.

Leaving and Re-Entring Friendly Areas:  Every patrol always has an actual start and end, so remember that when you’re initiating and completing the patrol’s execution, the patrol will be required to depart and re-enter friendly areas.  This is accomplished by use of an Initial Rally Point (IRP) and a Reentry Rally Point (RRP).  The IRP is where the patrol conducts its final staging and awaits a guide to lead them through friendly positions, perimeter barriers, or enemy area denial traps.  It is important to remember that the patrol should not move without the guide.  Once crossing from a friendly position or perimeter into unsecured areas, and after the APL counts each man coming out of friendly positions to ensure everyone is accounted for, the PL will stop the patrol for a short time to allow each man to adjust to the new sights, sounds, and smells of the battle area.  This is also a good time to let everyone’s night vision become as enhanced as possible.  This halt is conducted well beyond the friendly area’s Final Protective Line (FPL).

The Patrol’s reentry of friendly area or perimeter is conducted in the following manner:

  • Establish and occupy the Patrol’s RRP.
  • Send designated personnel to locate and guide the patrol to the Entry Point.
  • Establish  and maintain RRP and Entry Point security.
  • Meet the guide at the reentry point and establish patrol ID through sign/countersign.
  • APL  counts each man reentering friendly area to preclude infiltration.
  • Provide spot report to friendly area command element on information that affects his area.

Choosing the Right Path:  The PL’s selection of the patrol’s route is an absolutely essential for successful mission execution–without it, the patrol is doomed to failure, meaning it may be destroyed.  When selecting routes, choose those that will avoid contact if at all possible with enemy forces, local inhabitants, built up areas (unless that’s your neighborhood) and natural lines of drift.  Unless your mission is to attack all targets of opportunity, route selection should be such that the patrol reaches the objective without being detected.  (Remember, you’re not a conventional or Spec-Ops unit:  You’re a Neighborhood Protection Group, and as such, you don’t want to engage unless you’re absolutely sure you can win.)  More importantly, once the objective is met, the patrol should reach friendly lines without detection.  Stealth is the name of the game here.  (Coming home with OPFOR on your ass is not a fun activity.  They will try to cut you off and destroy your patrol, and, if they want maximum psychological impact, all within sight and/or sound of your secure area.)  The following principles should be employed by the PL:

  • Make a terrain analysis:
    • Walk  the ground if at all possible (but NOT in the vicinity of the objective)
    • Study topographical maps and aerial photographs as available
    • Analyze the terrain for:
      • Observation & fields of fire – Both for chance contact and enemy positions
      • Cover & Concealment – Essential to avoiding contact
      • Obstacles to the patrol – Note any obstacles that the patrol can use to block enemy attack or pursuit
      • Key terrain – Expect the enemy to have it occupied or covered by fire
      • Avenues of Approach – Avoid the likely ones.  Choose the ones that you wouldn’t think an enemy would use to penetrate your area.
  • Tactical Considerations:
    • Nature of the mission, time limitations, or the size and type of patrol will influence the selection of the patrol’s routes.
    • Avoid all known and suspected enemy locations on the way to the objective as these will most likely compromise the patrol’s mission.
    • Do not choose a route parallel to enemy positions as this will increase the chance the patrol will be discovered.
    • Avoid roads and trails as they are danger areas that are wonderful ambush magnets.
    • Avoid all built up areas regardless of the  sympathies of the local inhabitants.  (Unless, of course, your mission is within that built up area as in the case of urban residents performing a security patrol.)
    • During daylight, use routes concealed by heavy vegetation to protect the patrol from enemy observation.  During darkness, use a route which affords silent movement.
    • Natural obstacles such as swampy areas or cliffs can hinder the speed of a patrol’s movement, but are wonderful tools that can help the patrol gain surprise at the objective if the enemy concentrates his defense on more likely avenues of approach.  Be aware that while the enemy may not have concentrated forces near obstacles such as this, they will most likely have a presence to one degree or another, which may cause the patrol to engage or avoid possible sentries if close enough to the objective depending on the situation.
    • Choose routes that will most likely avoid enemy sensory equipment (STANO).  Choose to execute the patrol in weather that will help defeat any STANO equipment (heavy fog, no moon, heavy rain, heavy cloud cover, etc).
  • Navigational      Considerations:  Prominent terrain features along the      route selected should be identified and their locations memorized by the      PL (and the patrol members once the route is finalized if time and the      situation permits, but minimally, by all subordinate leaders).  These features can be used as      checkpoints and help the PL divide the patrol route into legs that are      manageable—neither too long nor short.       The terrain expected to be encountered by the patrol is also a      major consideration when determining the length of a leg.  A leg only requires a terrain feature,      not necessarily an azimuth change.
  • Navigational Techniques:  Two helpful techniques the PL can use      when planning the patrol’s route to the objective are: 
    • The Offset Compass Method:  Also called, “Aiming Off” or “Deliberate Offset.”  This is a planned       deviation to the right or left of a straight azimuth to the patrol’s destination.  By using this technique, the PL will know whether he is to the right or left of his  destination as the patrol moves.  It is important to note that for each degree the PL offsets the patrols route, for every 1000 meters (klick) traveled, the patrol will be 17 meters right or left of the objective’s exact coordinate.  Example:  The PL plans a 3       degree right offset and the patrol must travel 8 klicks (approximately 5 miles) to reach the objective.        When the patrol reaches its ORP, it will be 408 meters (3 degrees X 17 meters X 8 klicks) to the right of their objective—an acceptable distance for the establishment of an ORP.   If the distance from the ORP to the objective seems too long or too close to the PL, he can always plot a deviation on one of the legs to bring him in a bit closer or take him farther away from the objective, depending on his requirements.
    • The Box-Method:  Not to be confused with the land navigation technique of ‘boxing’ an obstruction on a route such as a small lake or pond).  Boxing in this case is when the PL uses natural or  manmade features such as roads or streams which form boundaries for a route.  By referring to these boundaries, any large deviation from the planned route can be recognized and corrected while moving.
  • Route Selection in Different Types of Terrain:  The following considerations listed apply to the terrain found in the Michigan area—if operating in other areas, consult your friendly field manuals relating to patrolling for further information.
  • Mountains:  When traversing mountainous terrain, weigh the added security of ridges and cliffs against the disadvantage of tiring the patrol through the arduous task of climbing and descending steep terrain while carrying heavy packs.  The major disadvantage of operating in mountainous terrain is that natural lines of drift such as ridges, draws, and streams (all characteristic of the mountains) are difficult to avoid and will most likely be covered by enemy observation or fire.  The mountains in Michigan are basically foothills and are on the extreme Western edge of the Upper Peninsula.  This is included only because the IronMountains are, in fact, in Michigan.


  • Swamp:  Normally, a patrol must use dead reckoning in navigating a featureless swamp.  Plan the route to take advantage of “swamp islands” which can be used for clandestine patrol bases.  Cross rivers and streams at points below where branch streams join to avoid numerous crossings of the same stream.  Cross rivers and streams under the cover of darkness.


  • Heavy Snow Areas:  As a rule in arctic like terrain, follow features which are easiest to walk.  Understand that walking in deep snow is extremely tiring, even with snow shoes, so the fitness of patrol members again comes into play.  Your patrol can fail by becoming a survival situation very, very easily.  That said, consider the following when selecting routes in heavy snow areas:
    • Open Terrain – When feasible, break trail along a tree line so shadows will help conceal the trail and the troops moving on it.  Rough ground will also provide usable shadows to conceal tracks and troops.  Remember, when you have a wood line, you most likely have traversable woods (even in farm lands that have “shelter belts” of trees surrounding fields) and if you have woods, you don’t have to be in open terrain!
    • Covered Terrain – Whenever possible, the PL should choose a route through wooded or covered terrain to provide protection against observation and mission compromise.  One thing to note, however, is that areas containing thickets and heavy windfall of trees are difficult and noisy to traverse and should be avoided.  (Also consider camouflage:  Most people will choose to wear white top covers and green/brown pants.  This is exactly reversed for effectiveness while moving in coniferous woods or mixed hardwood areas.  Have the overwhite pants on and brown/green coats.  Your people will blend in much better.)
    • Hilly Terrain – Valleys and frozen rivers most often provide the easiest route in snow covered areas.  If a valley cannot be used, the trail may be broken on the lee side (away from the wind) of a ridge line or hiss mass that dominates the valley.  Use gentle inclines (mostly what can expected to be encountered in Michigan) when climbing or descending.
    • Water Routes – Tree lined frozen lakes, rivers and creeks ease navigation and offer suitable routes in heavy snow covered areas.  For protection and concealment, the patrol should move close to the bank to permit quick movements into the wooded areas on shore.  Make sure to check the thickness of the ice before using any ice route.  The minimum thickness for one rifleman on skis or snowshoes is 2 inches; for a patrol in a single file on foot, it’s 4 inches.  Warm water springs, which can be encountered but are not prevalent in the Michigan area, may present unexpected hazards to patrol movement.
  • Alternate Route Selection:  As a rule, select one route to the objective, another different route to return to friendly areas to reduce the chance of ambush, and one alternate route which may be used either to or from the objective.  Doing this will add flexibility to meet a change in the tactical situation.  Use the alternate route when the patrol has had contact with the enemy on the primary route or when the PL knows or suspects that for some other reason the patrol has been detected.  Here are a few essentials for selecting alternate routes:
    • It must have the same tactical and navigational characteristics as the primary route.
    • It must be far enough away from the primary route so that movement on both routes cannot be detected from one position.
    • It must be coordinated the same way and time as the primary route.

Land Navigation:  The PL must be able to maintain his orientation on the ground to find his way to the objective and back again.  The PL is ultimately responsible for the successful navigation of the patrol while executing its mission.  He can use two methods:  The general azimuth method (combined with Terrain Association) and the dead reckoning method.

  • The General Azimuth Method:  To employ this method, the PL uses a means other than a straight line azimuth for maintaining the direction of movement.  The PL may pick terrain features such as a ridge, stream or the edge of a body of water to guide on during movement, associating the terrain seen with the terrain features  on the map.  However, the PL must keep the patrol oriented on the map and check his general direction frequently to ensure an unacceptable variance in the route has not been adopted.
    • Advantages – It speeds movement, avoids fatigue, and often simplifies navigation as the terrain feature followed is a constant checkpoint.
    • Disadvantages – Following known terrain features can be dangerous as doing so may put the patrol on a natural line of drift.  This is especially true between enemy and friendly lines or any place where the enemy has tight security.
  • The Dead Reckoning Method:  The PL should use this method to aid navigation when recognizable terrain feathers do not exist (as in a swampy or large flat areas such as farmland) or when they cannot be seen (as in heavy forest or heavy fog/rain/snow).  This method is used to move from one checkpoint to another or for an entire movement if checkpoints are not available.  This method consists of 3 parts:  an azimuth, a distance in meters, and a known starting point.  All that is required to employ this method is a working compass and a means of measuring distance such as a pace man who can use either home made or pre-manufactured pace count beads in determining distance traveled.  A map, however, is essential for confirming terrain.
    • The PL must make absolutely sure the starting point is pinpointed exactly.  A short reconnoiter may       be necessary to do this.
    • Distance traveled must be recorded.  Use of pace count beads and notes the distance traveled to the PL when requested.  Using two pace men and averaging their counts is also an efficient method of determining  distance traveled.
    • Control the direction traveled.   The lead  team (who has the compass man) is told the azimuth to follow and the direction of travel is validated by the compass man in the PL’s team.  The PL tightly controls the direction of travel to avoid even slight deviations in the azimuth that can lead to large problems over an extended distance (17 meters per degree per klick traveled).
    • Maximize the use of checkpoints as discussed earlier.
    • Compare the patrol’s exact position with the check point location when arriving  at each checkpoint.  Example:  A patrol using the dead reckoning method for 2 klicks on the first leg of its route intersects a trail.  The PL checks the direction of the trail and its contour against his map to determine if the patrol intersected it where they had planned. If not, he adjusts the route based on his known location.

As you can see, running an effective patrol takes quite a bit of coordination and planning, but if you follow the steps outlined in these installments, it’s not an overwhelming proposition.  Next installment will deal with control methods, crossing danger areas, and actions on enemy contact.


3 thoughts on “Basic Patrolling: Concepts & Priniples – Part III

  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