A Practical Guide to the Recon Patrol, by TMC

Okay, the stuff has hit the fan, you have made it to your retreat, and you are geared up, stocked up and ready to survive. Inner security has been established, with LP/OPs located at likely avenues of approach. You at some point will start to wonder what else is out there, how far away it is, and what it means for your group. You might want to start implementing the recon patrol. While I could write what may very well be a small manual on the subject, I will just put out the basics that will point you in the right direction to successfully run a patrol. As most retreats will not be in the desert, I am using the normal type terrain expected in a well selected retreat. Your mileage may vary. I will also not go into detail on certain subjects that can easily be researched. If I did, I would surely exceed any limit on how large a document on the subject should be. Rather I will concentrate on things learned in the field, not in any manual.

What exactly is a recon patrol?
Field reconnaissance is the gathering of information of your surroundings in a stealthy manner. You will use this information to determine the safety of your current position and it will most likely be a determining factor for your daily operations planning. Information gathered can give you an idea of opposing force (OPFOR) strength, intentions, direction they are traveling and the likelihood of them coming in contact with your base element.

While much of the doctrine is the same a standard patrol, the recon patrol is a bit different than a regular patrol. The recon patrol is to gather information on your surroundings without making contact with other elements. That being said, I have on occasion been ordered to use harassing techniques to slow down or try to change the course of an element, which I will touch upon later.

Patrol Size
The size of a recon patrol is going to be smaller than the standard squad patrol. You are trying to be invisible and the more boots you have on the ground the more noise you will make. In my experience, a four person team is the size limit which I would recommend. Three is the optimal number, and two being the least that should go out. This is in comparison with the standard squad patrol size of nine (if you are lucky enough to have that many in your squad. [Even active duty military units are often short of manpower versus their authorized strength under their table of organization.]).

Patrol Equipment
Travel light, flee the fight. Unless you come across a solo element, you will most likely be outnumbered and if compromised you will need to hastily retreat. The preferred engagement ratio is 3:1, so bear that in mind.

Take light carbines such as the M4 or Mini-14. I choose the AK-47 for myself as I believe it has a lot to offer for this type of mission. Should you get compromised, you will need to lay down a furious wall of fire to make the enemy think they just encountered a platoon or a least squad sized element so semi-auto is in my opinion a bare minimum. Larger weapons such as the M1 Garand or long barreled assault rifles will slow you down as they are heavy and cumbersome, but if that is what you have you will have to make do. Even though I sometimes carried a sidearm, it would be better just to take a couple of extra mags for your primary. This is much better added value weight. You should pack two reloads for your combat load just in case you keep getting paralleled by OPFOR and have time to refresh magazines.

The “light” part seems to be getting to be a stretch with this type prep, which is why I stress lighter ammo such as 5.56 or 7.62×39. The 7.62 NATO ammo gets pretty heavy with this type of packing and does not add much value in a reconnaissance mission. If you do have a mule in your team (a human one) and he has skills with a sniper rifle, you may want to consider taking it along in an appropriate style carrier as a target of opportunity may come up that may be just way too good to pass up. This does violate the “no contact” premise of the recon patrol, but proper escape route planning can be implemented to help with this scenario. Just a thought and should only be done by experienced personnel.

Optics such as binoculars or [spotting] scope are pretty much necessities. The further that you can stand off and observe your objective the better off you are. Binoculars with some type of “flash kill” device are recommended. Also make these quality optics that you are comfortable using. I don’t mean you have to buy a $1,000 pair of Steiners. For under $40 at WalMart you can get Bushnell’s 10×42 hunting binoculars that are clear as a bell and very rugged. You can use a sheer sniper veil over them as a kill flash. Rifle scopes are okay, but require that you expose yourself a little more than with binoculars. Generally, you also have a better field of view with binoculars. In my opinion binoculars are a better choice.

You need to travel light, so try to keep this to a minimum. A recon patrol should be fairly short, a day or two probably at most. If it is going to be extended,then pack 2-1/2 times the food you think you will need. Utilizing light foods like jerky that you can carry a lot of will go a long way. I learned that one the hard way. When a two day patrol turns into six days that extra little bit of “Pogey bait” is worth it and can be rationed. Also learn what is edible in your surroundings as this can help sustain your mission without being a burden on your supplies. Take foods that need little or no preparation. Jerky, trail mix, MREs and foods of that nature are recommended.

Try to avoid foods that are particularly aromatic, such as curry, onion, garlic, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I have found an OPFOR element’s area of operations (AO) just by smell. While in Korea, I could find Korean [troop] elements by their body odor due to their diet of kimchi sometimes up to 400 meters away, depending on the wind and how long they had been out. This odor discipline also includes cigarettes, No smoking! Obviously colognes and other “smelly goods” have no place on a recon patrol.

Radios should be carried but utilized only when absolutely necessary. Chances are your patrol might take you out of radio communication reception distance especially if you don’t have high power equipment. This is risky, but sometimes necessary. You need to know the operating limitations of your comms equipment and operate accordingly. Designate times and places to transmit from if you cannot [continuous] maintain radio contact during the patrol.

Camoflage should go without saying. The type will obviously be determinate on your terrain and season. Burlap with proper color spray paint is a great way to make cheap [outline] breakup for weapons. It can be manipulated to just about any terrain out there. You can use [burlap strips] to throw off scent-detecting animals such as dogs by using fox urine or other types of masking scents. A very useful item indeed.

Helmets and body armor are optional, but I do not recommend them on a recon patrol. The body armor is heavy and can impede your quick getaway. It merits are known factors in the safety of soldiers, but in this mission you need to be able to flat out run if compromised. The ballistic helmet is also heavy, but its main downfall is the fact that it masks your environment. It can impair your vision and it mostly covers your ears and keeps you from hearing sounds that may be the enemy. A boonie cap is the first choice, patrol cap is second for traditional headgear.

Plan the Route
Route planning is essential. Pick a route that will minimize danger area crossings and contact with high traffic areas. Do not use roads, rivers, trails or any other obvious routes of travel. You may skirt these areas to view them. Never plan a straight route. Use various patterns of travel such as zigzagging or button hooking. This keeps the enemy off guard as to where you came from. Also, should you think you are being trailed, do a wide 360 until you come back on your own tracks. If you encounter more tracks than yours, then you are being followed. React according to your [contact] SOPs.

Learn to use a compass and map. While GPS systems can be useful tools, they are not always reliable and in a Grid Down situation may not even function. Know this: the US Department of Defense owns all the GPS satellites and merely provides data to GPS companies like Garmin so their GPS devices will work. Should the government choose to, they can encrypt them at will and leave your commercial GPS worthless. Learning how to use a compass and map can be a fun experience for everyone. It can give kids and adults alike a great sense of accomplishment and help get you or keep you in shape. Map and compass skills can trump a GPS any day, and on many occasions I have been right on the mark while the guy using the GPS has been wandering around waiting for the satellites to give him a decent grid. Rely on basic navigation skills. Technology is a crutch for the weak.

Plan Actions
Make sure to plan out the time you are leaving, time to be on the objective, time you will transmit information if necessary, and time you expect to be back. Plan for contingencies, such as what to do if you make contact, where to meet if you get separated, and what frequencies to be on at what time of the day. Most of these will be dictated by your groups prior established SOPs. Follow them.

Preparing for the Patrol
If you follow proper procedure when you leave the base of ops you will conduct “stop, look, listen, and smell” (SLLS). This is to get you oriented to your environment. However, I have found that a short 10 minute halt like this is not nearly as effective as having the recon team acclimate [to the natural environment] over a day or so without distractions such as television, radio, or any other man-made devices that are not essential to ops. In a grid down situation this will most likely not be a problem. Your sense of smell, hearing, and vision get better the longer you are out. If possible, do this and you will be much more inclined to pick up on enemy positions and movement long before they pick you up.

Make sure all equipment gets inspected, including weapons and optics. Make sure all equipment is quiet and free of protruding gear or things that will snag on foliage. This includes weapons that have a multitude of “Mall Ninja” gear hanging off of them. While it may be value added in a MOUT situation, it is just more junk to hang up on vegetation and obstacles. Have each patrol member jump up and down and run in place with their gear on to identify anything noisy and use 100 m.p.h. [olive drab duck] tape or 550 [parachute] cord to lash it down. Make sure food and water are easily accessible as you may be eating on the fly. Check for proper and complete camouflage. Get ready to roll, get your mind right.

On the Patrol
Use your wits. Be aware of your environment, and anything that may not be right. Learn to use nature to warn you of potential danger. Have you ever been close to a squirrel’s nest in the woods? He will let you know you are too close by making a lot of noise. This type of natural warning device can serve you as well as hinder you. Be mindful of nature and learn to move in the woods as part of your surroundings rather than against it. This takes time, is a learned behavior, but can be done by just about anyone. Avoid sandy terrain where you will leave an obvious trail. Use rocks and other terrain to move while minimizing [leaving] sign and making noise. Be mindful of how loud your footsteps are. That is a common mistake I see soldiers make all the time. They don’t listen to how much noise they are making. Learn to roll your feet. This can be practiced around the house while doing chores. Just learn to walk quietly.

On the Objective
If you are doing an area recon, which is a specific area you want to check out, make sure you spend the time you need on the objective to properly gather intelligence. Walk a zigzag pattern to cover as much terrain as possible.
If you are doing a point recon, which is a recon of a specific target such as a house or a point on a road, lay your team in collect as much info as you can. Include info you would normally not consider important as later on down the road you may find it useful. Remember, you can never collect too much intel, but you can collect not enough. You can sort through what is important later on when you have time to analyze the intel.
While glassing your objective, make sure only one member of each buddy team is using binoculars, while the other keeps an eye out for anyone who may be using a clandestine approach to your location. Use a notebook to write down everything you see.

When the allotted time on the objective is complete, always leave the objective in a different direction [than from which you approached]. Pick up any trash or tell tale sign of you being there. Brush over where you were laying, cover any foliage cuts you might have made. Try to leave no sign at all that you were ever there. Maintain noise discipline on the way back just like you did on the way in. You are in just as much danger going home as you were going out. Don’t get complacent.

Well, there you have it. You can research the patrol by using military manuals and implement what I have written here for a successful mission. This will give you a heads up on what’s out there and give you an advantage over any element that may be inbound on your location. Knowledge is power, and if you have solid intel on your enemy and surroundings, then you have the tactical advantage. I hope this is of use to you.