Sometime in the future, in a post-TEOTWAWKI environment, your retreat group may decide to send out small teams to conduct either reconnaissance or security patrols. They may want to collect information on what is happening at the nearest town or confirm/ disprove the accuracy of any information (rumors) previously attained. Whatever the mission, these teams must function as a cohesive unit every time. Their success or failure will depend on everyone’s ability to operate during darkness or periods of reduced and/ or limited visibility (to include rain, fog, snow, etc.) even if they do not have the aid of night vision devices because of expense, loss, and/or damage.
The inability to see well in darkness leads to doubt and increases apprehension. Darkness always brings out an individual’s weakness, especially in lethal situations. It has been demonstrated many times in both military and police situations that if a team member is confused, frightened, or operating in a diminished capacity, the entire team will suffer. This could lead to over-caution, which might make an individual a better target due to slowness or additional time spent being backlighted or silhouetted. The team’s ability to function (and fight) at night is directly related to confidence in individual skills, unit teamwork, and confidence in leaders.
At night, objects or shadows can appear “real”, exaggerated to the untrained mind. These illusions can come from the over-active imagination (and viewing too many horror type movies; which, due to darkness, the imagination cannot separate fact from fantasy. Illusions may also come from:
– Confusion due to an error of the senses: hearing, smell, and sight
– A mistaken impression in the mind (a low tree with no leaves on its branches is a man standing with a rifle, etc.).
– A confused mind and personal fears or phobias (a piece of rope is a snake; a clothesline full of cloths is a group of people, etc.).
As stress increases, individuals may also imagine dangers, causing fear or even panic. Fear can cause uncertainty, which could cloud an individual’s decision-making capability. This is true in all untrained or marginally experienced people. Training will diminish this dilemma (however, to some extent it will always be there); confident in their abilities, individuals and teams will be better prepared for what they may encounter
Just as darkness affects the mind, it also affects the senses. Maximizing the capabilities of the senses will enhance an individuals ability to move and fight at night. Improving the senses of hearing and smelling requires training; vision is maximized by understanding how the eye operates differently at day and night and how to efficiently use its capabilities.
Hearing: At night, hearing becomes more acute. Several factors contribute to this: increased concentration; sound travels farther in cooler, moist air, and less background noise. Practice and training will help overcome an individual’s fear in what they hear at night. Training enables individuals to discriminate multiple sounds, faint sounds, and sound source directions. Below are some examples of sounds that you might encounter and the distances the normal human ear can hear at night:
– Normal Footsteps (20 – 30 meters)
– Footsteps over leaves and branches (60 – 80 m)
– Normal conversation (90 – 100 m)
– Conservation in low voice (35 – 45 m)
– Coughing (55 – 65 m)
– Cocking / loading a weapon (400 – 500 m)
– Motor vehicle movement on a dirt road / highway (500 m / 1,000 m)
– Screams (1,500 m)
– Single rifle shot (2,000 – 3,000 m)
– Automatic weapons fire (3,000 – 4,000 m)
Remember sharp sounds carry much farther, and unnatural sounds are much more easily identified. When patrolling, whenever possible, try to use natural or normal sounds to mask your movement. Move quickly as possible when these sounds can be used to your advantage (e.g., a car drives by, a gust of wind through the trees, etc).
Check team members and equipment for objects, which can make noise. Have member’s jump-shuffle before moving out. Some things to be aware of:
– Loose change or keys in pockets
– Hand guards or sling on weapons
– Loose boot laces
– Loosely attached items, such as flashlights
– Items that “flop” forward when you stoop or bend over
– Water sloshing in a half-full canteen
Smell: Of all the senses, smell is used the least and often ignored. In the movie “Uncommon Valor”, Col. Rhodes (Gene Hackman) tells the team “…we will be eating nothing but Vietnamese food from now on. We don’t want to be tromping through the jungle smelling like Americans”. This was because different diets produce different characteristic human odors. With some training, individuals should be able to easily detect and differentiate between different odors. Additional clues like exhaust from fuel-burning engines, cooking odors, campfire, tobacco and aftershave can linger long enough to signal an individual/ team of possible contact. Below are some examples of odors that you might encounter and the distances the normal human nose can detect them at night:
– Cigarette smoke (150 m)
– Heat tab (300 m)
– Diesel fuel (500 m)
Vision: Vision at night is different from vision during the day. At night, eyes cannot differentiate color, and easily blinded when exposed to light. The color receptors are clustered near the center of the retina, creates a central blind spot, which causes larger objects to be missed as distances increase. Below are some examples of light sources that you might encounter and the distances at which these light sources could be seen at night with the naked eye:
– Lighted cigarette (500 – 800 m)
– Lighted match (1,500 m)
– Muzzle flashes from small-arms weapons (1,500 – 2,000 m)
– Flashlight (2,000 m)
– Vehicle headlights (4,000 – 8,000 m)
While at the retreat, members know that during the hours of darkness, everyone must observe strict blackout rules. Windows, entrances, and other openings through which light can shine must be covered with shutters, screens, curtains, and other special opaque materials to prevent light from escaping. The same is true while out on patrol (e.g. if you need to review a map, use a tactical red lens flashlight (with cardboard filter cutout – to create a smaller beam); be on the ground and under a poncho). If members are lucky enough to have night vision devices, be aware that they can throw off a retro-reflective glow commonly know by soldiers as “cat-eyes” reflection. This glow could be seen by others also using night vision devices. Members should always assume that others, not in the group, have just as much or even more technology as they do.
Relation of Vision to Light and Shadows:
– When light, such as the low full moon is faced vision is decreased.
– When light, such as the high full moon, is behind, vision is increased.
– When light is straight overhead, the effect is neutral. To the patrol looking for a target, both are easily seen when moving, and hard to see when in the shadows or stationary.
– Direct lighting will ruin your night vision.
– It is easy to see looking from darkness into light, but nearly impossible when looking from a lighted area into darkness. (e.g. standing near a campfire).
– When holding a light, you become a long-range target, while you can only see your immediate surroundings.
– Silhouetting an object with light from its rear will clearly define it.
– Camouflaged individuals in the shadows are extremely hard to see, even when moving.
– The smaller the object, the further away it will look. The bigger the object, the nearer it will appear making range estimation difficult.
– Bright objects will seem closer, obscured or dark objects will seem farther away, again making range estimation difficult.
Improving Night Abilities
Awareness: Become in tuned with your surroundings – be able to differentiate between what is normal, and what is not (or being able to notice the absence of normal sights, sounds, objects, or activities). It is also being able to subconsciously catalog the various sounds and have a mental alarm when something is not right. Being aware is something that can be developed through training. Remember, you do not always have to be in camouflage, with weapons or on patrol to conduct training. Some examples of exercises that individuals or a team can practice (day and night) are:
– In either an urban environment or at the retreat, sit quietly and carefully, listen to each and every sound, identify and cataloging each individually, rather than incorporating it into the overall drone creating by the mass of sounds. Be aware of what is natural, or normal, and when the sounds should be heard (e.g., birds singing during the day and not at night). Lock the sound into your subconscious so that you will be able to take warning when their absence is inappropriate, as well as when their presence is normal. When doing these exercises, simply relax, breathe deeply and focus your mind.
– Practice on smelling techniques. Face into the wind, nose at a 45-degree angle, relax, breath normally; then take sharp sniffs, concentrate and think about specific odor.
– Practice moving at night or with a blindfold, becoming aware of texture and feel.
– Practice moving through various terrains, during different times of the day and the year; and in various weather conditions.
– Sit around a moderately normal area, such as dry, short grass (not knee-deep dry leaves) with everyone’s eyes tightly closes, head down. While everyone is concentrating on listening, have one team member try to move toward someone else and try to touch them, without being detected; or place someone in a designated area, and try to move the team to the position without being detected. With practice, members will be surprised not only at how well they can now move more quietly; but also, how good they have become at detecting sounds.
Dark Adaptation: Is the process by which the eyes increase their sensitivity to low levels of light. Individuals adapt to the darkness at varying degrees and rates. During the first 30 minutes in a dark environment, the eye sensitivity increases roughly 10,000 times, but not much further after that time. [JWR Adds: A good diet that has plentiful Retinol (the animal form of Vitamin A) is also important. Just keep in mind that because Vitamin A is fat-soluble, you should not over-dose on Vitamin A. Remember the standard KADE rule for dosing vitamins that are not water soluble!]
– Adaptation is affected by exposure to bright lights such as matches, flashlights, flares, and vehicle headlights; taking 30 – 45 minutes for full recovery.
– Night vision devices can impede dark adaptation; however, if an individual adapts to the dark before donning the device, they should regain full dark adaptation in about two minutes after removing them.
– Color perception decreases during darkness where light and dark colors distinguished depending on the intensity of the reflected light.
– Visual sharpness at night is one-seventh of what it is during the day, this is why individuals can only see large, bulky objects.
Protecting Night Vision: While working and performing tasks in daylight, the exposure to this light will directly affect night vision. Exposure to bright sunlight for two to five hours causes a definite decrease in visual sensitivity, which can also persist for equally as long. During this same time, the rate of dark adaptation and the degree of night vision capability will be decreased. These effects are cumulative and may persist for several days. Therefore, neutral density sunglasses or equivalent filter lenses should be used during daylight when night operations are anticipated.
Night Vision Scanning: Dark adaptation is only the first step toward maximizing the ability to see at night. Night vision scanning enables individuals to overcome many of the physiological limitations of their eyes and reduce the visual illusions that so often confuse them. The technique involves scanning from either right to left (or from left to right) using a slow, regular scanning movement. Although both day and night searches use scanning movements, at night individuals must avoid looking directly at a faintly visible object when trying to confirm its presence.
Off-Center Vision: Viewing an object using central vision during daylight poses no limitation, but this technique is ineffective at night. This is because the eye has a night blind spot that exists during low light. To compensate for this limitation, individuals use what is called “off-center vision”. This technique requires looking approximately 10 degrees above, below, or to either side of an object rather than directly at it. This allows the peripheral vision of the eye to remain in contact with an object. It must be noted that even when off-center viewing is practiced, the image of an object viewed longer than two to three seconds tends to bleach out and become one solid tone. As a result, the object is no longer visible and can produce a potentially unsafe operating condition. To overcome this condition, the individual must be aware of this phenomenon and avoid looking at an object longer than two to three seconds. By shifting their eyes from one off-center point to another, individuals can continue to pick up the object in his peripheral field of vision.
Training: While at the retreat, it is important to set up realistic training scenarios, using role players, and in the terrain, your team is most likely to encounter. Since night operations are a broad topic, covering a full spectrum of many necessary skills, the following minimum things should be evaluated:
– Discipline and teamwork.
– Proper use of cover and concealment (including react to flares – ground/ air)
– Selection of proper positions and routes (geographic study of the terrain to include potential obstacles, natural or man-made)
– Noise and light discipline.
– Team’s ability to follow its plan.
– Use of contingency plans.
– Employment of proper tactics.
– Proper undetected movement
– Traveling formations (file versus wedge)
– Good planning sequence.
– Stealth techniques (night walking, stalking)
– Proper use of camouflage.
– React to unplanned contact (immediate action drills – contact front/ rear; right/ left; ambush, etc.)
– Movement on ridges and hilltops (which lead to detection).
– Abort and rally point exercises.
– Crossing danger areas (roads or open areas).
In addition to the above, the follow areas should be evaluated for urban environments:
– Moving past windows (low and high).
– Moving through doors.
– Getting over walls and fences.
– Getting under chain linked fences.
– Observation and movement techniques.
Although, modern electronic night vision devices are available, not everyone will be able to afford them or know how to use them to their full capability. Remember that fancy equipment is in no way a substitute for complete, balanced, and specific training. Therefore, night training is a “must” requirement for all individuals/ teams at your retreat. It will allow everyone to become confident in their abilities (obtaining high morale and a mental offensive spirit) even without the aid of night vision devices.
The last piece of advice I will leave you with is: The only thing more difficult than training (or planning for an emergency) is having to explain why you didn’t train. Good-luck and God Bless!
FM 7-70 Light Infantry Platoon/Squad, Appendix D, Night Operations
FM 7-93 Long-Range Surveillance Unit Operations, Appendix K, Night Operations.
Brown, Tom, and Bolyn, Heather. “Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking”. Penguin Group Inc., New York, New York, 1986