Pre- and Post-SHTF Vehicle Operations and Preparation, By C.C.K.

Ask yourself this question: How will you get to your retreat when the SHTF? Do you imagine it will be easy? Even if you live at your retreat, there is still a good chance you work away from home. What about you city dwellers planning to jet out hundreds of miles away to a safer place? While getting there now may not be to difficult, this can all change in a heartbeat. Are you even prepared to deal with a simple breakdown, getting stranded, or a roadside medical emergency? Chances are that your pre- and post-SHTF travel plans aren’t as squared away as you may think. This is the reason I am writing this piece. I would like to share some words of wisdom and food for thought on vehicle-based travel, from a preparedness standpoint.

Let me begin by giving a short explanation of my credentials. I’m a driver! That’s what I’ve always done, and I’m quite good at it. It sounds boring, I know, but let me explain a bit. I started driving around my family farm at about age thirteen, in support of our family farm operation, hauling fuel, baler twine, tools, and whatnot out to the fields. I then graduated to semi trucks at age sixteen. A couple years later, I joined the United States Marine Corps. When my recruiter stopped by one day to see me at work, he witnessed me backing a truck into what he thought was a tight spot. I guess he was impressed, because he asked if I wanted to drive trucks for the Marines. That’s when I became a 3531 Motor Transport Operator. In this capacity I have done basically anything you can think of in terms of tactical vehicle operation. I’ve driven HMMWV’s (Humvees), 7-Tons, Dumps, and the 10-wheeled LVSR. I’ve served in the capacity of convoy commander and security/machine gunner, among other things. While you may be thinking that this is over the top to the average driver, there are many things done in military convoys that can easily relate to the average driver. So let me begin!

Basic Vehicle Preparedness

First, let me begin with the basics. You want a vehicle that you feel will undoubtedly get you where you need to go. I’m not just talking about dependability but also capability. I know this sounds obvious, but think for a minute. If you live in the city and plan on bugging out into the sticks, your daily driver Dodge Neon might not get you there. Be realistic in what conditions you may face on your journey and determine what vehicle will suit your needs. For example, I live in rural Michigan. Anyone that knows anything about my beloved home state knows that our winters are BRUTAL!!! That being said, I refuse to own a vehicle without 4×4 capability. That’s what I feel I need in my particular environment. You should make the same assessment for your area.

Make sure your vehicle is well maintained. Oil changes, tire pressure, air filter, belts, brakes….everything! I would recommend checking over basic things weekly. It only takes a few minutes, and you may notice something that could snowball into something major down the road. One personal experience that I endured was a blown tire in a rough part of Detroit on my way home from a Tigers game. Upon crawling under my vehicle to dismount my spare I found it was rusted on, and I couldn’t get it off! I ended up limping on the rim for three miles to a tire shop to get it fixed. Now I oil the assembly under my SUV weekly to ensure it can and will come loose next time. It was a crisis that could have easily been averted, and I learned the hard way. Don’t overlook the basics!

Basic Vehicle Gear

You might have heard this on the radio as a public service announcement. I don’t want to dive too hard into this because it’s been covered so many times. I do, however, want to cover more in-depth and serious gear for SHTF voyages as we go on. So, here are some of the basics:

  • High quality first aid kit with trauma support
  • Flashlights
  • Road flares or triangles
  • Basic tools (Screwdrivers, Pliers, et cetera)
  • Tire changing tools
  • Spare tire(s) (I suggest full-sized and two tires, if you can accommodate them)
  • Extra clothes to include warming layers
  • Food
  • Water
  • Shovel or E-Tool
  • Jumper cables and/or jump starter
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Tow rope/strap/chain
  • Phone charger

There’s plenty more, but I would rather spend your time preparing you for the more serious things.

Planning for That Dreaded Day

This is where we will get more serious. The above is advice for Average Joe’s daily commute, but we’re here to get ready for the big one, right? I’m talking shut down roadways, government checkpoints, ambushes, and a complete disregard for traffic laws. Anything that could be between you and your safe haven in a post-collapse society. Don’t worry, my friends! I want to help you all get there safely.

First of all, time is of the essence. If you’re planning a pilgrimage to your retreat, plan all of your before ops procedures ahead of time. Devise a load plan for anything you may be taking with you. Don’t wait until the day of only to find out that your MRE’s or ammunition won’t all fit. Practice loading your vehicles quickly and efficiently. Also, try to have your belongings staged in a manner that will allow you to snatch them up and go. Doing this in conjunction with a solid load plan will save precious time.

When it comes to hauling your equipment in this situation I cannot recommend using a trailer. As good as you may think you are at backing one up, try doing it under extreme stress and danger– say, for instance, an ambush accompanied by gunfire. This could make what some consider an easy maneuver very difficult. Or even worse, in a panic you could forget you’re even pulling a trailer and jackknife! Now you’re in trouble. Instead, I would recommend a hitch-mounted carrier or roof-mounted carrier. These can offer surprising amounts of extra space and will not affect your handling in a measurable way.

Be sure to have fuel storage on hand to top off vehicles and to have even more, so you can handle your own refueling, along the way. Don’t expect to be able to pull into a service station, but keep cash, not plastic, handy in case you can. If you drive a pickup, it may be a good idea to invest in a bed mounted fuel transfer tank. These allow you to carry lots of extra fuel (I have seen up to 90 gallons) and can be used to fuel other vehicles, if you are traveling in a convoy. Along with fuel be sure to bring extra fluids with you. I’m talking about coolant, transmission fluid, engine oil, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, and plenty of water. While not really necessary to keep with you daily, they may now be hard to get, and you won’t be going far without them. Also be sure to bring any spare parts you feel your vehicle could have trouble with. It could be belts, alternator, radiator hose, or battery cables. Some vehicles have a reputation for certain issues, so do a little research and plan for that.

When it comes to where you are going, have as many routes planned as you can. Also, be sure to have checkpoints and rendezvous points, in case anyone is separated. Determine any viable locations to make a planned halt for things, like refueling or bathroom breaks (if you must stop for that). Stay off the beaten path, and try to avoid areas with stop lights in the event that the grid is down. Go over your routes with everyone in your group, and memorize them as best you can. Get some road maps of your area, highlight anything you deem necessary, and study them. If you can, get your travel party together and do a dry run of some of your routes.

Convoy Operations

This is where we will talk about how exactly your convoy will function. It could be anywhere from one vehicle to a dozen, but this will give you an idea of how you can travel in a collective and tactical manner.

Just like on your retreat, there needs to be a division of labor. In the Marine Corps, we call these billets. Within your convoy, everyone should be assigned a billet. To start, you need a convoy commander, or CC. This person should not drive, if manpower allows. They need to be able to concentrate on keeping the convoy on track and making decisions on any situation that may arise. From here, you can assign an assistant convoy commander, or ACC. This person should also not drive, if possible, and can head up convoy security and obviously take over as CC, if the need arises. From here you could have many billets, but do the best you can to keep the focus on their specific job. These may include.

  • Security
  • Mechanic
  • Medic
  • Logistics (keeping track of fuel and other supplies for the trip)
  • Driver
  • Assistant Driver (helps keep the driver awake and alert and takes over when necessary)

Keep in mind that one person can assume multiple billets or even all of them, if you’re all alone. The point is to divide the workload as much as possible. Many hands make light work.

Before departure, the CC should give a quick run down on the movement, including going over the route, the order in which you want your vehicles, your planned convoy speed, and estimated travel time. Take a minute to go over any concerns and address them, if you can. You want the people in your group to feel confident and ready.

Have a solid plan, detailing how your convoy will communicate, along with a tiered plan of communication. For instance, it could be radios first, then cell phones, then horns/lights. Be sure to radio check periodically. This keeps comm up, while also waking up groggy drivers. Keep drivers off of comm! Also, keep your dash radio off, unless you’re using it for news/traffic/weather– no unnecessary distractions. Keep your weapons stored in a safe but accessible manner. You’re on the defensive side of the field, so you must be ready to act fast.

Issues with Convoys and How to Address Them

In my experience, the biggest issues are security and breakdowns. My prediction is that the main security threat post-SHTF will be ambushes from the front and roadblocks. In combat, the enemy simply wants to kill you, destroy your equipment, disrupt your supply lines, and so forth. I don’t predict this as being the case in a collapse. They will want your supplies. That will more than likely be the motive. It doesn’t pay to set off an IED on a truck that might have some stuff you want. They’re going to want to stop you and separate you from your gear. It could be making you stop and drawing you out into a firefight. It could be blowing your tires out. So how do we handle this?

Rule #1: Don’t stop!

If you hit any kind of threat, pick up the pace and push through it if you can. Being in a vehicle puts you at a tactical disadvantage of basically being in a highly visible target. As long as all vehicles can still move, keep moving. Once you feel you are beyond the threat, make a quick halt, post security, and regroup and address any issues.

Rule #2: Practice dismounting your vehicle!

If you have to exit your vehicle in an emergency, you want to have a plan. Practice getting out of your vehicle with your weapon, ready to engage. Get an idea of how you would move, if there was contact to your front vs. rear, or left vs. right. Also factor in how the vehicles in your convoy should form up when faced with a threat.

This is also a good time to state the obvious– place you’re most seasoned, competent, and level headed individuals in the lead vehicle. These are not only the people leading the way but the ones who will be laying down initial fire on any frontal engagement. Basically, much of the convoy’s fate rests with them. Make sure these people are up to the task.

When it comes to breakdowns, you want no more people than necessary out of the vehicles. This applies to all stops, in reality. There should always be someone behind the wheel ready to roll. The last thing anyone needs is a dozen people tripping over each other and trying to pile into their vehicles over a compromised tire change. Leave any issues up to the most qualified in your group, and stay in your vehicle while you post security.

Finally, when coming up with a security plan for your convoy or even yourself as an individual, look at yourself through the eyes of your aggressor. Ask yourself one more question, and think hard about it: If I was going to attack me, how would I do it? This can help to give yourself an honest assessment on your weak points and how to strengthen them.

Last but not least, I would like to close with a couple of pointers as to how many Marines get through long, boring convoys. These aren’t really suggestions but just a tongue in cheek look at how we do it, so take them for what they are worth.

  • Skoal
  • Grizzly
  • Copenhagen
  • Diapers, Bottles, or MRE bags
  • Monster or Red Bull
  • Skittles
  • Beef Jerky
  • Lots of water
  • Complaining

All kidding aside, I hope I have left you all with some useful information on how to get to where you want to go safely. I would be a fool to think that I could make you an expert in this field with my short essay, but ultimately I hope to leave you with food for thought. Stay vigilant and keep prepping, my friends!