Perspectives on Patrolling- Part 4, by J.M.

We are looking at patrolling in a post-SHTF scenario. In parts 1, 2 and 3, I reviewed the definition of “patrol” and objectives of patrolling as well as planning, dress and kit, navigation, movement, and now the subject of dealing with contacts while out on patrol. I have provided some pointers on handling contact situations, and there is still a considerable amount to cover on this subject. Let’s continue.

Contact (continued)

Document Each Contact

Once the contact is complete and you’ve departed the immediate area, you should stop and document the contact while the information is still fresh. This should include names and descriptions of the people in the contact group along with any information they provided you. You should also attempt to assign a confidence level to the information you collected. This is an indication of how accurate and up-to-date you believe the information is.

Exchange of Gunfire

While your primary focus should be on reconnaissance and contacting people for the purpose of collecting intelligence, there will be contact situations that either start out with or devolve into an exchange of gunfire. This could be a planned ambush, an attack by a hostile group that encounters your patrol, or a contact situation that results in shots being fired.

In most cases your primary goal should be to break contact with the hostile forces as quickly and as cleanly as possible. In any scenario involving gunfire, the members of patrol with the best lines of sight to the hostile contact should initially take cover and return fire, while other members of the patrol watch the sides and rear to ensure additional hostiles aren’t trying to sneak up on them. The members in contact should communicate with the patrol leader to provide the number of hostiles and their position, movements, and types of weapons.

Methods for Disengaging Exchange of Gunfire

If the patrol leader makes the decision to disengage, there are several methods for doing so. I will share several below.

Leapfrog Disengagement

In leapfrog disengagement, the patrol leader provides the command and a direction, usually in the opposite direction of the contact. For example, they may shout “Disengage cover west”, if the enemy is shooting from the east, although local terrain and the availability of cover and concealment may determine which direction is best. The patrol members in contact should stop shooting and use cover and concealment to move back through the rest of the patrol, who begins firing on the enemy once the first group has passed by.

When the first group has reached the rear of the patrol, they take positions to cover the rest of the team. Then, the next group closest to the enemy disengages and moves to the rear, with the rest of the patrol covering them. This leapfrogging continues until the patrol has successfully disengaged or the patrol leader calls for another action.


If there’s no viable option available for retreat or the enemy has surrounded the patrol, the leader can call for the team to gather in a central location and assume defensive positions. This allows the team to consolidate their firepower and take advantage of any available cover to hold off the hostile force.


If the situation is too chaotic and the patrol is in danger of being overwhelmed, that patrol leader may order the team to scatter and regroup at a defined rally point.

Hostile Situations

There are obviously an infinite number of possible hostile situations and circumstances you may encounter while patrolling. It’s impossible to cover all of them in this article. However, there are a few recommendations that may improve your odds of surviving a hostile contact below.

Constantly Think About Possible Scenarios and Responses

One of the jobs of the patrol leader is to constantly think about possible scenarios and responses for the current environment while out on patrol. This is especially important in any area that offers an increased possibility of ambush or hostile encounter, such as heavily wooded terrain, urban areas, et cetera. Also, this is why it’s critical for the patrol leader to constantly be aware of their location and surrounding terrain.

Train For Common Types of Maneuvers

While it’s impossible to train for every possible type of encounter, your patrol group should train for some of the common types of maneuvers. One good way to do this is to rent a field or find some available terrain that matches what you’ll be patrolling, buy or rent some paintball gear, and spend some time practicing different hostile engagement and disengagement drills.

Have a Drag Handle and IFAK on Everyone’s Load-Bearing Gear

Make sure everyone has a “drag handle” on their load-bearing gear and an individual first-aid kit (IFAK) located at a standard place on their gear. This is necessary in case they get injured and need to be pulled to safety for some quick treatment. Patrol members should also practice picking up and using a fireman’s carry to get an injured teammate out of danger.

Each Member Carry a Smoke Grenade

Tossing a smoke grenade so that the smoke deploys between you and the hostiles can potentially help you disengage. Each patrol member should carry at least one.

Simple Communications

Firefights tend to be noisy and panic-inducing, so clear and simple communications are going to be critical. As I mentioned earlier, having an earpiece for each team member’s walkie-talkie will help them be able to hear commands clearly. You should also develop a simple system of whistle commands that can serve as a backup for chaotic situations.

Wear A Common Color and/or Camo Pattern to Avoid Friendly Fire

Another potentially huge concern in firefights is “friendly fire”, which is the biggest oxymoron there ever was. Patrol members need to be trained to discern between fellow team members and potential enemies. Having a common camouflage pattern for all team members can help, as anyone not wearing that pattern can be assumed to not be part of the patrol. You can also do something like have all of the patrol members wear a certain color bandana on the shoulder of their web gear or vest to further identify themselves.

Moral Dilemma Contacts

One item that you should think about is what I refer to as “moral dilemma contacts”. These are contacts where you encounter a situation that your moral code demands you do something about but doing so may put some or all of your patrol at significant risk.

For example, say you’re out with a four-person patrol and come across a group of a dozen armed assailants holding a group of unarmed refugees at gunpoint. Do you engage the armed group and attempt to protect the refugees? Do you monitor the situation from cover and wait to see what develops? What if you see the group of refugees includes some children and you decide to immediately engage the armed assailants but later find out that the refugees stole a bunch of food and the “assailants” had tracked them down to get it back? One recommendation I will make is that if you do determine lethal force is justified and decide to engage, do so quickly and overwhelmingly.


Another method of gathering intelligence while on a patrol is observation. This can range from simple observations of your surroundings while you’re moving to setting up a more formal observation post (OP). While patrolling generally tends to involves different activities and objectives than setting up a permanent or long-term observation post, it may make sense to set up a temporary one to monitor a busy or critical location. For example, the patrol leader may want to keep track of how many refugees are moving down a particular road. So, they may task two or three members of the patrol to remain behind and set up a concealed observation post while the rest of the patrol continues, with plans to return and pick up the OP team members on the return trip.

Observation Post Staffing

As a general rule, no observation post should ever be staffed by less than two people for a short-term OP, or three people for an OP that will be in place for more than 12 hours. The OP team should plan on having one person observing and the other on security. Then they switch roles every two or three hours. If it’s a long-term, three-person OP, the members should rotate between observing, security, and resting. Some recommendations for observing follow.

Every Team Member Carries Notebook

Every team member should carry at least one notebook for marking down observations. Use the larger 4 x 6 notebooks, since they provide a lot more space for writing. You should also stock up on pencils and pencil sharpeners, since they last forever (as opposed to pens, which always run out of ink at the work possible time).

High-Quality Optics for Each Patrol Team

Invest in at least one pair of high-quality optics for each patrol team, as well as smaller optics for each team member. My approach is to have a spotting scope for setting up an observation post, a good quality pair of binoculars for the team leader, and decent monoculars for each team member. Optics are available in a wide range of prices, sizes and features. My recommendation is to purchase the best ones you can afford.

Everyone Be Aware of Optic Glass Light Reflection

Make sure everyone is aware of the potential dangers of light reflecting off of the optic’s glass. Use flash kills or sun shades on all optics, or set up a sun shade before deploying them. Always be aware of the position of the sun and other light sources relative to the glass on your optics.

Location Selection and Camouflaging of Observation Post

Locating and camouflaging an observation post is critical to ensuring it’s not spotted. Higher locations tend to provide a wider view of the surrounding terrain. However, you don’t want to set one up on the top of a hill where the members can be silhouetted. If you live in a wooded area, the ability to climb trees can also provide some good elevation for an observation post. I have a set of tree-climbing spurs and a belt that I bought years ago that I can use to climb almost any tree. (Obligatory warning: Climbing trees is potentially dangerous. You should get some training and use the right gear before you attempt it.) I also carry 100’ of dyneema fiber rope and some rappelling gear so I can make a safe suspension harness as well as get down quickly in case I need to scoot.

A Periscope

It might seem frivolous, but I bought a good quality periscope a few years ago. It’s been incredibly useful for recon in all types of terrain during my paintball activities.

A Chair or Stool

If the terrain and circumstances permit, use a chair or stool while observing. There are some you can make that weigh nothing and can be deployed anywhere there are braches. (Here is one example and another example.) By the way, if you’re under the age of 30 and are laughing about this, please come back in 20 years or so and see if it’s still funny.

Tomorrow, we will be wrapping up this article series as we cover bivouacking, health and safety, and a few miscellaneous topics.

See Also:

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  1. Good article. Especially the uniformity of patrol members dress and equipment placement. First Aid Kits and Wound Dressings need to be in exactly the same place on every individual. Especially for night patrols. Withdrawal under pressure is one of the most difficult maneuvers for an Infantryman. Which means you should practice it regularly.

  2. When standing guard on an observation/security post at night an anpvs-14 night vision monocular mounted atop your AR-15 is a very useful piece of equipment. You can raise your rifle up and tilt the handle out sideways and rest the butt stock on top of your shoulder which will make it easy to look through your scope all while keeping your NV optic mounted on your rifle and ready to use in a moments notice. To use just pull the weapon to your shoulder and fire. However after about an hour of scanning your surrounding area you will probably develop eye strain so having your buddy set up with the same equipment works well. If it’s really dark (like out in the desert) make sure you don’t “sweep” your buddy while looking around.

    1. What lever are you talking about?

      Also, you shouldn’t be constantly scanning with NV, anyway. At an OP, You should only be looking through it for a minute-or-two at a time, depending on the situation. If you have NV where you can adjust the gain (like the 14’s), that helps a lot with eye strain. You shouldn’t use any more gain than you need. In a lot of environments (not all, of course), all NV does for you is to allow you to simply see what’s hiding in the shadows caused by any residual light (which of course is amplified through your NV), compared to your eye’s naturally adjusted night vision, hence modern military sticking with one-eye monoculars.

  3. Yes! Finally something that hasn’t been covered in a while. Great series.

    I like especially how it blows a hole in the “I’m gonna be a sheepdog (duh duh duh)” mentality. Unless you know exactly what’s going on through observation of a given situation, you don’t necessarily want to start pulling triggers.

    1. I never used the word LEVER in my comment so I don’t know how to reply about that. As far as my comment about “constantly scanning” I probably should have explained myself better. I realize that looking through a night optic constantly for one hour without stop would not be advisable but looking through it off and on for one hour is doable and I have done that quite a few times for various reasons. Even then it wears on one’s eyes.

  4. On this section …
    “Every Team Member Carries Notebook. Every team member should carry at least one notebook for marking down observations. Use the larger 4 x 6 notebooks, since they provide a lot more space for writing. You should also stock up on pencils and pencil sharpeners, since they last forever (as opposed to pens, which always run out of ink at the work possible time). ”

    I would also point out that ink tends to smear and run when wet. As well as, the “CLICK-CLICK” ball point is VERY LOUD when in the dead of night and you want to be quiet.

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