The classic foot patrol has been a staple of modern and historical combat. Patrols are troops walking around with a purpose. That’s the easiest way to describe what a patrol does. Patrols vary in numerous ways, but today we are going to focus on the context of survival in a situation where the world’s gone dark. These skills can translate into any situation in which you are going at it all alone. For the article, we are taking it the farthest we can to teach you the necessary skills for all extremes. You can tailor these skills and disciplines to any situation.
Patrols and movements are different things. Movements are an action in which you are making a significant, possibly permanent change of location. A patrol is a temporary action with a set objective within the area of your permanent site, be it a home, community, or camp.
Patrols have to have a purpose, and three most common, from a military perspective, are:
- Security – A routine patrol around your area to ensure no movement of unknown people in your area. It allows you to hold an area effectively.
- Recon – You need to find something out, so you go investigating. It could be within your area of control, or outside of it.
- Combat – You are going to kick someone’s ass.
Of these three, the most common for survivalists would be security and recon. These allow you to stay abreast of the world around you and control your area.
The Pre-Skills Check
There are several skills your team should have that could have an entire article written about them. We won’t cover them here, but these are necessary for successful patrolling.
- Compass and map navigation skills
- Pace count for navigation man
- Range estimation
- How to pack for a patrol
Every patrol needs to have a plan and a purpose. The plan should include the goal, as well as the primary route there, a way back, and an alternative route. The patrol plan should dictate the responsibilities of the team members. The plan on how to deal with hostile forces, medical needs, supplies to be carried, and the estimated length of the patrol. The plan should be briefed thoroughly to every member of the patrol, as well as members that remain behind. The plan should be dynamic and formed for every patrol.
The leader of the patrol should conduct a last-minute inspection of the members of the patrol. The leader should at a minimum ensure:
- Individual troops have the right amount of water, food, and proper gear (i.e., ammo, armor, comms, batteries, and any specialized equipment.)
- Ensure the squad or team understands the plan and the route.
- Their role in the patrol
- The objective of the patrol
- Weaponry is maintained and ready
Light and Noise Discipline
In a patrol, you typically want to be as quiet and as careful as you can. This prevents you from being attacked an ensures you can remain stealthy and undetected during your patrol. The element of surprise is always an advantage.
Light discipline is designed for night movements. Proper light discipline means the members of your patrol are avoiding the use and creation of light. No one is smoking or using a headlamp to lead the way. If a light has to be used, it should be done under a blanket or tarp and should use a red filter. White light should be avoided at all costs.
Noise discipline is evident. Avoid shouting, yelling, or generally talking loud during a patrol. However, there are a few things you should do to reduce your overall noise profile.
First and foremost, you have to identify what on your gear makes noise. Do you have a lanyard banging on your Kydex holster? Is water sloshing in canteens? Are magazines rattling together in their pouches? Does the sling keeper rattle against your handguard?
All of that should be silenced. If possible, replaced with noise-free gear. For a lot of things, electrical tape can be your best friend. Tape around the bottom of magazines is a must to keep them from banging together. Also, polymer magazines tend to bump around less than metal magazines.
You can also use tape to silence rattling slings and gear that bounces around as you walk and move. It’s a process that takes time to master. Water sloshing is tricky. Since you are prepping now, take a look at modern military one and two-quart canteens that are made from a flexible polymer. As you drink from them, you squeeze them to eliminate air and to prevent sloshing.
If this isn’t an option for whatever reason, one old trick is for the patrol to pass around a single canteen during halts, and everyone takes a long swig. This drains the canteen and prevents sloshing. Another trick is to drink water, and then fit a condom over the top of the canteen and fill it with air. Then tie it off. This keeps the water from sloshing by occupying the space.
How to Move
Part of a foot patrol is careful movement. You want it to be focused and purposeful. First and foremost, no foot-dragging. Ensure your men are lifting their feet as they walk. Also, practice squad movements and exercise cat walking. This is the method in which one fella walks in the footprints of the soldier in front of him. This allows for every step to be sure and helps conceal the number of your patrol to observers.
Dispersion is the distance between each person in your patrol. This distance varies depending on terrain, but a good rule of thumb is that 10 yards between each person are a good starting point.
Your squad or team should also move in a formation. Formations ensure easy to control, consistent speed, and maximum troop accountability. There are lots of formations available, but two of the most common and most valuable for survivalists are the ranger file and the column.
A ranger file is nothing more than a straight line. It’s easy to use, quick to move in, and allows for minimal environmental disruption. The downside is that fire is limited in the front and rear sections.
The column is a simple technique that uses a staggered formation with two lines of troops. A quick example of an eight-person column formation would look like this.
This offers fire in most directions and also allows relatively easy control and consistent movement. While it’s a broader formation, it is shorter.
Bounding While Patrolling
Bounding is an incredibly useful technique for crossing areas that have a higher level of danger. This can be roads, open fields, or most parts of urban environments. Bounding ensures one team is providing covering while one is moving.
One team sets in as a base of fire and as rear security. The second team moves past the first to a preset location. This distance is typically defined by the terrain. You want to move from cover to cover. Once the 2nd team reaches cover, they set in as a base of fire, and the first team moves. They walk past the second team to a covered location and become the base again to allow the 2nd team to move.
These halts are essential. They allow you to check maps, give the troops a break, and will enable you to take a moment to gather situational awareness. You and every person in the patrol should always execute an SLLS when stopped.
SLLS stands for
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Look Around
- Listen to your surrounding
- Smell your environment.
Use your senses to take in your environment and become more aware of it.
Every member of the patrol should have a task while on patrol. These can be specialized like navigation man, point man, medic, etc. These are determined by mission needs and troop skills. There are other constant responsibilities that every member of the patrol should practice. These include:
- Always be paying attention. Situational awareness saves lives.
- Practicing absolute noise and light discipline.
- Ensure that you and the rest of the patrol aren’t lagging behind. Occasional rear checks are a must for every member of the patrol.
- If you see something, say something. Pass information up and back as quickly as possible.
- Pay attention to the man ahead of you for signals to stop, to move, to listen, etc.
Lines of Drift
Lines of drift are wonderful to the trooper that’s marching but terrible for leaders. A line of drift is a path over terrain that offers the least resistance. Deer paths, cattle trails, roads, and more are lines of drift. They have numerous benefits.
- Faster movement
- Easy to navigate
- Improves troop morale
The downside is that they are the best area to set in for an ambush. They are predictable, and if you wanted to jump someone, you’d wait on a line of drift and get them into a kill zone. You should use lines of drift responsibly. If you own the area and are conducting a security patrol, it’s wise to take lines of drift occasionally. If speed is critical, then take a line of drift. If visibility is limited, a line of drift is a safer means to move.
Never set up a rallying point or a rest location on a line of drift. Never use lines of drift in terrain you do not know. Avoid them in areas with high danger and take the less beaten path.
Patrolling and You
Patrolling is a dynamic subject and technique that’s easy on the outside but intricate on the inside. Foot patrols are an excellent means to learn about your operational environment, to maintain control over an area, and to feed into the bigger overall picture. Patrolling skills are something only learned through experience and should be practiced well before the figurative feces hits the metaphorical fan. Get out there, train, and be ready.