No man is an Island.
There’s a popular meme that’s repeated over and over- the Lone Cowboy, the Lone Mountain Man, the Lone Sniper, etc, etc. That’s all hollywood fluff. If you want to survive in a non permissive(READ: very hostile) environment, it takes a team. Sure, Jack Hinson may have done some damage…but in the big scheme of things he did little to affect anything by picking off Company-level Officers. Frank and Jesse James- team. Quantrill- team. Even Jim Bridger, contrary to popular belief, worked in a larger team with other trappers and Scouts. Let’s take a look on how to structure an effective team.
A little bit of history
In the historical context of the work, the Scout is an irregular force. He and his team works as a spy, finding the lines, recording their numbers, and effectively reporting their findings to a larger, more capable force. In addition, his team can conduct surprise raids when the time’s right, and melt back into the terrain as quickly as whence they struck. From the earliest stages of warfare through around the Spanish American War, this role did not change much. In many ways the skills developed were unique to former British Colonial Areas; definitely in American History but also very much in Australia and African nations, notably South Africa and Rhodesia.
During the American Civil War, the role of the Scout often included what we now call Asymmetric Warfare. That’s simply a 360deg battlefield versus the traditional European linear warfare model. Many of these skills were carried on from the American Revolution, which were an evolution of lessons learned from the French and Indian War. MAJ Robert Rogers is perhaps the best example, and his Journal and Rules for Ranging are required reading for this line of work. They scouted and fought as the natives did; and changed warfare in the New World.
Let’s bring it forward to the near-present. Scouts in the traditional role were once again developed to fill the gap presented by conventional warfare. Vietnam is perhaps the most familiar example; with the development of the Long Range Recon Patrol Units, Long Range Patrol(now known as LRS), and finally, the Recondo school, Scouts and Irregular Warfare was back en vogue. It’s successes, coupled with skills inherent to life in the African Bush led to the highly successful Rhodesian Selous Scouts. Why does the role of the Scout have such an endurance throughout history? Because he works, that’s why. And the most essential lesson of it all, as any veteran of one of these units will attest, is that in addition to superior small unit skills, partnering with locals from the area of operation is just as critical today as it was in 1756.
In the coming times, the building and development of small Scout units local to their areas of operation(AO) will not only be critical to success of Liberty’s mission but will also work as tremendous force multipliers. And we’re going to need all we can get.
Today’s Recon Team doctrine comes from lessons learned in Vietnam. Anyone who’s read Larry Chambers’ LRRP series(which I highly recommend) will be familiar with this. The basic structure is Six men in order of March(how they walk while on patrol); The Senior Scout(SSO), Team Leader(TL), Radio Telephone Operator(RTO), his Assistant(ARTO…guy carrying a lot of batteries), a Scout Observer(SO…junior guy carrying a lot of extra equipment), and the Assistant Team Leader(ATL…in the rear covering the tracks and keeping accountability).
Six men makes for a low profile, while still carrying enough equipment to exist for a good long time unsupported while snooping and pooping. Contrary to what many may assume, Teams are trained to operate nearly indefinitely provided they have the batteries to do so. That’s right- batteries are the linch-pin to mission success- because believe it or not, a Scout is a high speed radio dude with a rifle in this day and age. Six well trained, seasoned men can do a lot of damage…but are far from invincible; watch Bravo Two Zero or Lone Survivor if you want a realistic picture of what happens to a Scout Patrol when Commo goes bad. Those two failures are directly attributed to poor radio skills and even worse contingency planning, among two of the most elite units on the planet. Now that I’ve drove home that point…we’ll move on.
It’s important to remember the whole “unsupported” thing. Even the Teams get resupply for long missions. You may not; it all depends on what you do or fail to do now. Consider that. You may not have another team on standby for a hasty extraction; an air drop unit for resupply; and medevac unit; indirect fires; and so on and so forth. Act accordingly.
Interestingly enough, another couple of groups worked in a similar manner; the Selous Scouts and certain units of the Chechen Mujahidden. Both groups worked within these realities, and while they had a certain amount of support it was a far cry from what I experienced. Their organization reflected this. Both groups, from the lack of manpower coupled with the lack of intrinsic macro-level support, broke their teams down further. The Selous Scouts took what we think of as the traditional Scout team and broke it in half; a Team Leader, an RTO and what can be considered a SSO; in their terms a Sapper. The Chechen Resistance roles were much more defined upon firepower roles; with a Marksman serving as TL, a PKM gunner, and a third man carrying an RPG variant. This lower profile team breakdown proved quite effective at the small unit level. While the express purpose of each unit was a bit different, their roles on the battlefield can be considered basically the same, and the lessons gained from both should certainly be heeded.
The Selous Scouts were what’s known as “pseudo-operators” or rather, infiltrators posing as insurgents causing chaos among the insurgents. They’d go into rebel controlled areas, paint up and act like the rebels from a distance, then compromise lines of resupply from neighboring countries and cause fratricide incidents among rebel forces(sounds awfully familiar in the III% community…doesn’t it?). It worked; Political intervention from the outside lost Rhodesia, not failings of COL Reid-Daly’s men.
The Chechens, on the other hand, built teams based around what worked against the Russians. Keeping a low profile and recognizing that the Russians were loathe to dismount from their vehicles(a lot like conventional Army units in Afghanistan) they could “hug” forces inside of danger-close air and artillery support range(inside of 300M according to their own accounts)and light up the OPFOR before they could react. The ambush tactics were effective, and their weapons reflected this paradigm as well. Frequently the infamous SVD rifle would be seen not with it’s PSO scope, but rather fitted with a red-dot for improved speed. It’s important to note that every part of the team supported the marksman, and the marksman served as the TL. It was his judgement call on where and when to strike, with the PKM serving as suppressing fires for ground troops and the RPG taking care of the BMP armor before they had time to react. This is what we call…inside the OODA loop.
Another important note is that the units were not rigid; they could “stack” or bring more units together as the mission dictated. Situations are always fluid and flexibility is what wins the day. There are several accounts of shockingly effective raids conducted by larger forces of Selous Scouts as there are of Chechens defending terrain against Russian Armor(most notably the first defense of Grozny). Flexibilty wins the day.
Scout Team Structure
Both of the former examples consisted of highly trained, well seasoned men selected from the line units. They’ve trained, ate, slept, partied and cried together. In the field they know how each other thinks and can communicate without talking. No book or blog can teach these skills but rather give pointers on how to reinforce and foster them. That being said, the rule of three seems to work.
The very first lesson that sinks in for any recruit is that two is one, one is none. Nobody goes anywhere without their buddy. Two sets of eyes are better than one. Two rifles on target are better than one. You get the point. In the standard Light Infantry Squad, two Buddy Teams comprise a Four Man fire team. Two Fire Teams comprise a Line Squad, and two Gun Teams(M240) comprise the Weapons squad. Conventionally this works pretty well, but it also carries a high signature; meaning you hear this herd from a mile away. Not effective for any prospective guerilla force, especially not one concerned with Scouting.
The Scout Team breakdown, as previously discussed, renders a much lower profile. It still makes noise- after all, it’s six guys in the bush. Cutting this in half, we cut the signature down. Most importantly, there’s three guys to rotate the sleep and security plan in a hide site. The three man team is as small as it can go without making serious compromises to the safety and security of the team. This gives us three roles needing to be filled as well- the TL, the RTO, and the SSO.
Each Scout needs to be a self starter and well rounded in a diverse set of skills; the more the better. From your prospective pool, who bowhunts? A bowhunter’s skillset lends itself well to the Scout mission; benchrest shooters, not so much. The guy who participates in SOTA(summits on the air- get involved if you’re not already) or other QRP enthusiast would make a great RTO. And a former Combat Arms NCO would be a great candidate for a TL. Just saying. Geardos and excuse-makers need not apply.
Land Navigation is the bread and butter. Learn how to read a Topo map and use a compass; join a SAR group at the local fire department if you don’t know how. Do you hunt? Why not? Hunting teaches a lot, but most notably it’s a great teacher of silent movement and tracking skills. Ground hunt. Make mandrives with a couple buddies. It builds the appropriate correlating skills.(MOVE)
HF communication is the heart of the RTO. Each team member at the very least must know how to set up and operate the equipment. If you want reliable, beyond line of sight communications, NVIS is the only answer. In the Teams TACSAT has replaced this…but there’s a reason every LRS RTO is taught a primer on HF. For the III% mission, we don’t have TACSAT and anyone who brings it up is a mental midget and should be written off. They don’t want to learn or expand their skills, and don’t have the experience level to recognize the folly of their misgivings. (COMMUNICATE)
All of your teammates should shoot on a regular basis. That’s a given…but can they make accurate, repeatable hits at 300m or further(preferably out to 600m)? A gun nut who likes to clutch weapons is not suitable…nor is a bench rest guy. They have knowledge that can be useful for sure…but frequently these types like to put the cart before the horse. Accurate. Repeatable. Hits. At distance. Under stress. When you’re cold, tired and wet. The weapon doesn’t matter nearly as much as being able to accurately use it, resupply it, and have it standardized among your team. Yes, every team member needs to have the same weapon system. It makes things easier when you haven’t slept in a couple days and suddenly find yourself in a hasty break contact. (SHOOT)
Notice what I did here? Instead of Shoot, Move Communicate…I made it MOVE, COMMUNICATE, SHOOT. Because realistically, that’s the order of importance for the Scout team.
We’ve established a historical primer on Scout Team purpose and structure. We’re not the first at anything; and it’s important to read and heed lessons of the past. From my own experience, flexibility and intelligence of the mind rules the day. And the only way to get it done is to go out and build these skills.
It’s about Skills, not Gear.