Fundamentals of Fieldcraft for Unconventional Warfare, Part One
(I posted a short piece on the old site a couple of weeks ago, about a shortcoming in my gear-planning. The issue was that, when forced to camp out unexpectedly while traveling, I didn’t have shelter outside of the vehicle for HH6 and TMO, and HH6 decided that camping without a tent was out of the question. The responses to that article, both positive and negative, are the reason for this article. –J.M.)
Unconventional warfare warfighters possess a significantly different set of fieldcraft skills requirements than their conventional force cousins. This is a direct result of the difference in organization, equipment, and mission parameters of these different elements. While the conventional force element generally has the organic capacity to overcome any potential threat, or the ability to callat on inorganic supporting elements, the UW force will, in many operational settings, not have that ability, due to METT-TC considerations.
Whether a SF ODA, a LRS patrol, or a Force Recon team, the small-unit UW element has to rely on stealth (a subject I’ve beaten to death previously on this blog) to avoid unwanted contacts that would result in the team being either over-run or forced to call for distant supporting elements for help. The foundation of all my fieldcraft and outdoors recreation, from long-distance backpacking, horse packing trips, to simple camping out with the family in tight spots during travel, is predicated on that background.
The following notes are based on the essential individual skills common to 18-series (Special Forces) soldiers, that are relevant to the fieldcraft in this paradigm.
Task: Identify Factors Unique to the Operational Environment
I live in the alpine regions of the Western United States. These areas typically include three major environmental factors: alpine, cold-weather, and desert. The trained survivor will consider all three of these when planning operations in these regions (since I live here, and winter is just around the corner, we’re going to use the cold-weather environment for our example).
Conditions: Given the requirement to conduct an operation in a cold-weather environment.
Standards: Describe the environmental hazards and factors unique to cold-weather environments and the impact of these factors on survival IAW the performance measures.
- Identify the hazards common to these environments.
- Identify mitigations for these hazards that will not preclude operational success.
- The combination of wind and low temperatures creates the threat of windchill. In windchill conditions, the danger of freezing exposed skin is rapidly accelerated versus the threat posed by the actual ambient temperature.
- Protect the human body to keep it functional. Keep clean, dry, and as reasonably warm as feasible. Rest and nourishment are critical. Basic personal care rules to remember when operating in a cold-weather environment include: hydrate often (eating snow is not the answer. Melt the snow first. Eating snow or ice will lead to lowered internal core body temperature), eat as often as possible (see below) to maintain fitness and energy levels, avoid overheating by removing clothing as needed, or at least opening zippers/buttons at the neck, wrists, front, armpits, etc, maintain a positive attitude (see below), pay special attention to the normal care you take for your feet and and hands (wear gloves. Wear dry socks, change them often, and keep your feet powdered and dry), Keep your head covered (everyone remembers their mother telling them that 90% of your body heat escapes through your head, right?)
- Consider the effects of the cold-weather environment on weapons and equipment, and determine methods to mitigate them, without negatively impacting the mission: Thoroughly clean the weapon and remove all lubricants (especially oil-based compounds such as CLP, etc.). Re-lubricate the weapon with dry, graphite-based type lubricants, cover the muzzle of the weapon and keep the dust cover closed to prevent snow and ice reaching the working parts of the weapon (snow and ice packed into a muzzle can create a devastating barrel obstruction, regardless of what weapon platform), cover any metal portions of the weapon with tape or cloth, to protect from touching it with bare skin, as bare flesh will stick to metal in cold climates (don’t be fucking stupid. Obviously, you should ensure that doing this does not impact the operation of the weapon), don’t bring cold weapons into heated shelters, or you risk the weapon “sweating.” When you move it back outside, the condensation will re-freeze and can negatively impact function of the weapon.
- Consider cold-weather caused injuries and the potentially disabling effects of cold weather, and take steps to counter/prevent them. Frostbite sucks and will cripple you permanently, depending on the degree of injury (ask me how I know). To protect yourself from frostbite, wear comfortably loose clothing that does not restrict circulation to the extremities, know and recognize the signs and symptoms of frostbite, use the buddy system to identify potential casualties, and avoid overheating, which leads to increased respiration and subsequent freezing of the sweat. Ironically, as HH6 discovered during a pistol class she watched me conduct a few years ago (my skin is so fucked up that I don’t even bother wearing sunscreen anymore. I also tend to wear clothing that protects me from the sun. She wasn’t as accustomed to the sun on her face, and ended up with severe sunburn on the face that left her face swollen to the point she could barely open her eyes), sunburn can occur more readily in cold climates than hot, and tends to be extremely severe. This is a result of the UV rays reflecting upwards off the snow and ice. Use sunscreen, and lip balm (and wear sunglasses/tinted protective glasses to prevent snow blindness). Heavy breathing (like that induced by exercise/physical effort) in temperatures below freezing, or at high altitudes, can cause irritation of the tracheo-bronchial tree, resulting in difficulty breathing that closely resembles the symptoms of asthma. It may result in bloody sputum being coughed up as well. To preclude this, use face masks or scarves to warm air before it is inhaled. This can also help prevent hypothermia, since it reduces the amount of cold air entering the body. Finally, as strange as it sometimes seems in a world of frozen water, dehydration is extremely common in cold-weather. Sweating and urinating don’t get as noticed in cold-weather environments, since you never feel particularly hot. Hydrate or die, to borrow the old Camelback logo.
- Hypothermia is the term used to describe the general lowering of body temperature due to the loss of body heat faster than it can be produced. To prevent hypothermia, avoid any activity/hazard that might cause rapid, uncontrolled loss of body heat. Consider the principles of keeping warm, described in the military by the mnemonic C-O-L-D: wear Clean clothing and keep it as clean as possible. Avoid Overheating, since sweat refreezes and will kill you dead. Wear Loose/Layered clothing that provides adequate insulation but doesn’t restrict circulation to the extremities. Keep your clothing Dry.
- Consider the importance of food procurement and the means of doing so. Food is essential for survival in extremely cold climates (I often go a day or two or three without eating anything at all, and I once went two full weeks–14 days–without eating or drinking anything but water, and while developing the ability to do so is certainly useful, I don’t recommend it). The colder the weather, the more rapidly heat is dissipated. A person requires more calories to perform normal daily activities in a cold climate than in a warm climate. In most cold-weather environments, fat is going to be the single best source of dietary caloric intake (On a month-long deployment once, north of the Arctic Circle, traveling cross-country on snowshoes and living in snow trenches and snow caves with the indigenous Army’s special operations unit, I managed to supplement my MRE diet with 1/4-pound of butter daily. I literally ate it like a candy bar, my body was craving the fat so badly). When procuring indigenous food sources, the consideration should be given not just to the amount of the food procured, but also the amount of fat available from the would-be prey. While a moose, or elk, or mule deer may provide a lot of meat for a single survivor, or even a small-unit patrol, it lacks adequate adipose tissue to facilitate long-term survival (seriously, it’s called “rabbit starvation.” Look it up). I highly recommend a look at Mors Kochianski’s seminal work Bushcraft for further information on this subject (actually for ALL information on cold-weather living considerations).
- Identified the effect of wind chill on the human body?
- Identified cold-weather injuries and methods of their prevention?
- Identified the basic rules for personal care in cold weather?
- Identified methods for ensuring the function of weapons in cold climates?
Develop a similar framework of critical task training specific to your own operational environment, and determine how it will influence your fieldcraft training and operations.
Task: Conduct a Short-Range Evasion
Whether you are conducting a solo evasion mission to escape enemy pursuit/compromise, or you are part of a small-unit element trying to evade larger hostile forces, the skill sets required to conduct a tactically-sound evasion of hostiles is critically important.
Conditions: Placed in a situation that requires you to traverse a given area with the requirement to avoid any/all contact.
Standards: Demonstrate the proper techniques for evading interpersonal contact in a hostile area, either as an individual or a small-unit element, IAW the performance measures.
- Conduct a thorough area study and/or map study of the area to be traversed, BEFORE the need to conduct an evasion occurs. Locate any obstacles, natural or man-made, in the line of travel. Include a study/analysis of any mines, flares, or other early warning devices that might be present in the area. Study civilian and/or military structures/installations and movement patterns in the area. Identify patterns in movement that can be leveraged to decrease the possibility of chance contacts with other people.
- Demonstrate proper techniques for avoiding interpersonal contacts in a hostile area: at hide site locations, the survivor/survivors selected a hide site IAW the standards established (see below).
- At the initial hide site, the individual or team leader, selects a second hide site a safe distance away, observes activity in the area, evaluates the situation, and forms a plan of action (all IAW the normal troop-leading procedures as possible IAW METT-TC). Installs security, planning, and rest plans to protect the health and mission-effectiveness of the patrol and/or individual.
- Plan primary and alternate routes of movement (and honestly? I’ve always been a plan of selecting tertiary routes as well. If “two is one, and one is none,” then anything else than three is insufficient, right?) through hostile areas. Consider the types of terrain to be traveled, the security implications of different possible routes, based on the conditioning/condition and training of evading personnel. Consider the availability of food and water procurement, and the amount of sustenance supplies that can be carried by the evading personnel (I can carry a significantly heavier load than most people, and certainly more than HH6 and still remain physically capable of accomplishing a mission, but there are still limits).
- In selecting hide sites, generally speaking (see below for more details on establishing hide sites), the evader(s) avoid abandoned houses, barns, caves, haystacks, and similar structures. Selects a secure area that appears to have an abundance of edible plants, game, water, and/or other securely procured food sources. It is critical to select a hide site in a spot not normally used by humans.
- When selecting routes of movement, the evader(s) identify natural and man-made obstacles to movement and select routes that either A) avoid those obstacles, or B) select routes that utilize those obstacles as barriers to hostile pursuit, assuming that the evading element has the training and equipment to accomplish this. When a man-made obstacle (buildings, bridges, roads, etc) must be breached, the evader(s) must: place the obstacle under direct observation for as long as the tactical situation allows, checks both sides of the obstacle before crossing, and does not destroy, damage, or otherwise disturb obstacles.
Task: Occupy a Hide Site
Conditions: Provided a situation that requires establishing and occupying a hide site in a survival/evasion situation.
Standards: Select an evasion hide site IAW the performance measures.
- Begin site selection for your hide-site/laying-up position (LUP) at least two hours before daylight (or nightfall in a non-tactical situation. In essence, start looking for your hide-site long before it is time to move into it.) Evaluate potential hide sites on the basis of whether or not it is in a flash-flood area, an avalanche chute, a well-drained site, large enough to allow the evader to lie down comfortably (and ideally, no larger). It should provide some level of protection against wild animals, and there should be no risk of rockfalls or falling dead trees. Select a site that is not likely to be stumbled upon by people passing by, whether security patrols or simple daily activities (I generally make it a habit to sleep in extremely unusual places in the outdoors. I’ve slept in the middle of a nasty, thick briar patch–that gave me ample warning of the approach of a skunk one night in Utah–and on the uphill side of a tree on the side of an extremely steep hillside. I never sleep where I have had a campfire, instead moving at least 500 meters away after the fire is extinguished, before bedding down. I’ve slept tied to a tree, sitting up in a swamp, so that I would not fall over in my sleep and drown. None of these is the type of location that facilitates pitching a tent. For me personally, camping is not about recreation. It is a training opportunity, and I revel in that opportunity).
- Consider the tactical situation. Place the intended site under observation, for as long as possible. Select approach and exit routes that provide cover and/or concealment from accidental or intentional observation by other people. Make sure the hide-site spot is not one that would normally be used by humans, whether in their day-to-day activities, or when searching for you. Look for signs of human occupation and/or use: tracks, spoor, and other sign, cut or broken branches, trash and other debris, etc (Fundamentally, your goal should be to hole up in the nastiest, foulest, most God-forsaken places possible. Look for the place where no one in their right mind would even consider trying to go, let alone rest, and that’s your hide site).
Good fieldcraft is the foundation skill set of evasion. From critical individual skills tasks such as camouflaging self and equipment, to moving tactically, occupy a hide site, and even planning operations, the truth is that good fieldcraft is what makes or breaks the ability to conduct tactical operations successfully in unconventional warfare, regardless of what operational environment you are functioning in, rural or urban. The fundamentals are fundamentals, because they just don’t change.
Further relevant fieldcraft skills will be forthcoming in Part Two.
Somewhere in the mountains