Do Marines Know How to Patrol?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

From Tom Ricks’ blog concerning one Marine NCO’s view of patrolling:

We have to get back our patrolling capabilities.  Ninety percent of everything we do is patrolling but we aren’t good at it.  The Iraq experience has done some good things for our Corps but it has diminished our patrolling capabilities.  Our NCOs’ experience in Iraq has fostered a sure knowledge that the double column is the preferred formation and moving along roads is acceptable, which are exactly the wrong things to do.  Right now we operate at an acceptable level but with some focused training we can limit our casualties, while killing more of the enemy.  Everyone can spout 5-3-5 rules but few know what it is and even fewer practice it.

A)   Each patrol needs a viable mission that accomplishes a needed task.  Going here because we went over there yesterday is beyond stupid and you are failing as a leader with that reasoning.

B) Go through the orders process in its entirety when able.  At a minimum do route planning and brief an order covering Situation (past 24 or 48 hours and other patrols) Mission (what, where and purpose), Execution (intent, where you expect to make contact or find IEDs and actions when that happens, IA drills for contact, IED strike, Medevac, and cover formation types – where you will satellite/guardian angel, wedge echelon etc).

C) Do a confirmation brief with the platoon commander.

D) Conduct Initial and Final Inspections.

E) Use an Initial Rally Point inside the wire to conduct your final inspection, do last minute rehearsals or rehearsal of concept drills, final com checks, get in your initial combat formation and be counted out of the wire by the APL – use your APL, most of the Marines now days don’t even know what that is.

F) Point men need to be trained along with flanks.  Use a dual point system – one guy looking close for IED threat and one far scanning tree lines.  Walk at a pace that facilitates your mission, not which gets you back to the patrol base quicker.

G) Take security halts and observe your surroundings frequently.  Have one of your patrol elements set up in observation covertly while the other element moves into the village.  Watch the actions the locals do.  Want atmospherics, see if there are runners or people move towards the patrol to greet them.  If something happens, this observation team is already set as a base of fire.

H) Investigate what is happening.  Marines often see locals doing routine tasks, like pumping water or kids playing, when if they investigated vice just continuing to patrol on by, they would see the hole perfectly shaped for an IED amongst the playing children dug by the guy with a pick axe being shielded by the pretty kids playing in the road.  The Taliban are masters at using the obvious to deploy IEDs right under your nose.

I) Use deception.  Send out two patrols at a time in different directions, and then have one circle back.  All too often we rotate patrols in and out.  The Taliban quickly figure out that if the patrol just went west, he has complete freedom of movement to the East.

J) Use Satellites, traveling and bounding over watch and a variety of formations to match the threat.

K) Do not set patterns.

L) Stay the fuck off of roads and trails.  I believe that every casualty our battalion has taken from IEDs, with the exception of two incidents, has been on a road or trail and it has been at times when the Marines were not required to be on the road or trail as part of a sweep/clearance mission.

M) Use rally points.

N) Use the appropriate formation to be in the most advantageous position to immediately gain the initiative and kill the enemy.  We are very lacking in this area and a lot of our squad leaders just don’t get it.  Use TDGs and a variety of training scenarios to get them up to speed and understand a variety of terrain and tactical based scenarios.

O) Crossing Linear Danger areas is a lost art, especially when a patrol will walk three hundred meters along a canal to find a foot bridge to cross it – terrible at setting patterns, just walk through the water but set up near and far side security first and use a variety of techniques so you don’t set patterns.

I’ll leave it to the reader to finish the diatribe at Tom’s blog.  Every boot learns from the experienced Marines before him, and so on the process goes.  Many of the Marines with Iraq experience have since left the Corps, and thus many Marines deploying to Afghanistan have no combat experience.  But neither did the Marines who deployed to the Anbar Province the first time.

Patrolling in Anbar took on the characteristics that it needed in order to succeed.  Patrolling in the Helmand Province will do likewise, retaining some characteristics that have been learned from Iraq and jettisoning others, while modifying the skill set to adapt to the environs.

Satellite patrolling has been around for a while and will continue as a useful tactic.  This NCO doesn’t need to tell Marines what a satellite patrol is – they already know, and they know how to do it.  But if standard two by two cover formation along roads isn’t appropriate for Helmand because of IEDs and canals are safer and more productive, the Marines will pick it up and adapt quickly.

This NCO is exaggerating about the Marines’ need to learn patrolling.  Not everyone who screams that we don’t know how to do counterinsurgency has the most objective view of things or deserves to have his views cast as representing the entire service.  Something that should be taught to young Marines by his superiors isn’t necessarily the same thing as tactical incompetence on the part of the entire force.

  • Todd8541

    It’s discouraging to read this post. I was in from ’87 to ’91. I can still remember our pre patrol requirements and small unit patrol / action tactics as if I was taught yesterday. They were and are essential to survival and mission success. If one person violated any of these, regardless if it was during training or actual contact with the enemy, they would get their ass chewed from anyone in the unit.
    My question is when and how did our patrol and small unit leaders allow the basics to be relaxed, forgotten or ignored? This is a leadership issue that should never exist and boggles my mind how in a time of war it was allowed to happen. It’s the sort of thing you would expect to see in peacetime as inexperienced leadership replaces the experienced.

You are currently reading "Do Marines Know How to Patrol?", entry #4350 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Marine Corps,Patrolling,Satellite Patrols and was published December 28th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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