(Originally published on the old site, March 2012–J.M.)
(I have often lamented the disturbing proclivity of “survivalists” and other patriots for wearing the latest camouflage patterned uniforms. Whether the latest multi-cam or A-TACs, or some bizarre foreign pattern, from British DPM to the newly available Russian Spetsnaz patterns, the idea of decking one’s self out, head-to-toe in camouflage utilities, in an apparent need to pretend you are some sort of high-speed, low-drag Tier One JSOC Jedi, is—to put it bluntly—fucking retarded. Further, it’s really pretty gay. –J.M.)
The ability to conceal one’s self and equipment from enemy observation, during daylight or night-time operations, is an obvious, basic critical tactical task for the resistance/guerrilla fighter. Camouflage is one of the most basic historical weapons of small-unit warfare. For irregular forces, the ability to effectively apply camouflage techniques may very well mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield. For lightly-armed, poorly-equipped irregular forces, camouflage is critical since the team cannot afford to be detected at any time while infiltrating an objective area, or while operating from an assault position/MSS/hide site. Just as marksmanship training teaches the guerrilla how to kill the enemy, knowing how and when to apply camouflage teaches the guerrilla how to avoid being killed by the enemy. The guerrilla element must remain camouflage-conscious from the time he departs the guerrilla base or underground safe-house, until he returns. Detailed attention to the fundamentals of camouflage and concealment is one mark of a well-trained guerrilla band.
When determining camouflage needs, the war-fighter must adhere to critical fundamentals, recognizing that the camouflage pattern of his clothing is the single least important aspect of the total package (in point of fact, simple earth-toned clothing is better, in many ways, than any engineered camouflage pattern). These fundamentals include taking advantage of any and all natural concealment such as trees, brush and grass, the natural lay of the land (folds in the terrain), man-made structures, and shadows. The guerrilla must recognize the need to camouflage himself and his equipment against both terrestrial and airborne observation (it’s pretty embarrassing to sit in on an AAR of a training exercise only to discover that the OPFOR walked directly to your hide site because the air support elements spotted you laying in a ditch in the open…ask me how I know….). The shape, shadows, textures, and colors of man-made objects and equipment must be altered to blend into the surrounding environment. It is equally critical however, for the guerrilla to recognize that even in crossing a short distance, the vegetation may change color and consistency numerous times in a given operational area.
For these reasons, the guerrilla must learn to practice and master camouflage discipline. He will change his camouflage to match the terrain patterns and foliage as he moves, as well as when it dries up and wilts. The natural foliage utilized to augment camouflage must look natural at all times.
The guerrilla force should constantly work to develop an eye for terrain, in order to observe terrain and vegetation changes, allowing them to select the the most concealed routes of advance and to ensure that their camouflage fits the selected routes (in his book “Phantom Soldiers” on east Asian guerrilla methods, John Poole describes a fight wherein a USMC unit spotted the NVA infiltrators because they were camouflaged as bushes…while crossing a rice paddy dike…). This allows the guerrilla to use shadows caused by vegetation, terrain changes, and man-made features, in order to remain invisible to enemy observation
According Special Forces sniper course doctrine, there are three basic techniques to accomplish this: hiding, blending, and deceiving.
Hiding enables the guerrilla to completely conceal his body and equipment from enemy observation. This may be accomplished by lying in growths of thick vegetation, burrowing under fallen leaves, or even simply digging in and “burying” one’s self and equipment underground (this last method offers the additional benefit of creating thermal mass overhead, helping to absorb any thermal emissions…thus aiding the guerrilla force in hiding from thermal imaging from airborne assets). Hiding may be used if the guerrilla force suddenly finds themselves in need of concealment to evade an encountered enemy patrol, or to develop a hide-site/MSS to lay-up during daylight, and wait for darkness.
Blending is simply the perfection of camouflage so that the guerrilla war-fighter is indistinguishable from his surrounding environment. A well-constructed ghillie suit, suitable augmented with local natural vegetation, is an obvious form of blending. A well-camouflaged guerrilla should not be recognized through optical aids such as spotting scope or binoculars, nor with the unaided eye. The enemy must be able to look directly at the guerrilla and not see him. This takes a great deal of practice, knowledge, and experience.
Deceiving is the act of tricking the enemy into believing the guerrilla is somewhere other than where he actually is. This is generally accomplished through leaving false clues, such as ammunition debris (empty bandoleers, stripper clips, spent brass, etc), food containers (empty MRE packaging, used food cans, etc), tracks and spoor, or other subtle, but intriguing clues that the enemy will be unable to ignore as potential signs of the guerrilla force’s presence. Using deception operations to mislead the enemy is one ideal method for decoying the enemy into a target area suitable for the execution of an ambush, sniper attack, or other interdiction-type assault. Another doctrinal example might be severing enemy communications wires, then ambushing the repair crews sent to fix the cuts.
A target indicator is anything the guerrilla does or does not do that may reveal his position to enemy observation. In order to prevent compromising his own position, as well as aiding him in detecting enemy presence, the guerrilla must know and understand typical target indicators. There are four general types of target indicators: olfactory, tactile, auditory, and visual.
Olfactory indicators are obviously those which the enemy smells. Cooking foods, fires and woodsmoke, cigarette smoke, aftershave/deodorant/scented soaps. And insect repellents are all olfactory target indicators. In Vietnam, it was well-established that the NVA/VC were often able to smell US servicemen in the jungle, just as some Americans developed the ability to smell the enemy due to their regular consumption of nuoc man, a fermented fish sauce used on rice (I hope I spelled the Anglicization correctly). In Afghanistan, there were often times we could smell the enemy simply because of his overwhelming body odor.
In order to hide his own olfactory target indicators, the guerrilla fighter must refrain from consuming spicy, highly-seasoned foods, excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking in the field, or in field uniforms (on my ODA, the only two smokers were even prohibited from smoking in the ISOFAC–Isolation Facility, where a team goes into isolation in order to maintain operational security while preparing for a mission–during final mission-planning. This was not only because the rest of us tended to be anti-smoking health nuts—despite the fact most of us chewed Copenhagen—but also because it gave some time for the stench of stale cigarette smoke to leach its way out of their systems). Burying human waste, including urine, will also help reduce the olfactory target indicators that may alert the enemy to the presence of guerrilla forces in the area.
Tactile target indicators are those the enemy can touch. These may include trip wires on early-warning devices, or deserted hide positions. In the tracking/counter-tracking world, we would refer to these as spoor. Tactile indicators are defeated through awareness of altered vegetation left in the wake of movement, expert tactical prowess (trip wires for EWDs should always be in a position from which the enemy will be seen if he bypasses them), and simple good field-craft, including light, litter, and noise discipline.
Auditory indicators are those the enemy can hear. These may be created by the guerrilla force moving, such as equipment rattling (this should have been negated during pre-combat inspections by key leaders, including the “bounce test.”), breaking twigs and brush underfoot, couching, talking/whispering, dropping weapons or other equipment, or simply moving through noisy vegetation. Auditory indicators are the most obvious during night-time periods, when the enemy realizes he cannot trust his vision, as he will during daylight hours. It is absolutely critical that the guerrilla force learn, practice, and master, the ability to function, at night, without NODs/NVGs, in absolute silence.
Visual indicators are the most important, since as humans we tend to trust our vision above all other senses. There are some basic sub-categories of visual target indicators that can help the guerrilla understand better how to avoid being compromised by the enemy. These include the detection of anything that is out-of-place in a given location. Vegetation appearing out-of-place, a bundle of vegetation where there was none earlier (such as ghillie-suited sniper or guerrilla trying to cross an open pasture or meadow), or unnatural terrain patterns may all be examples of obvious visual target indicators. Additionally, obviously man-made shapes (such as perfectly straight lines, or the half-circle of a helmet—geometric shapes in nature are man-made), out-of-place shadows, silhouettes that are easily recognized as all or parts of a human body, or military equipment, the shine of light reflecting off even moderately reflective surfaces not only instantly draws the eye, but can often be seen at ridiculously long distances. The final, and generally the visual indicator that fucks everyone at some point, is movement. A fighter can be perfectly camouflaged, without a single target anywhere causing the enemy to believe the guerrilla is anywhere within 50 miles, and one sudden, mis-timed movement will compromise him completely. The movement may not even be the guerrilla’s. Animals suddenly frightened or startled into movement may draw the enemy’s attention to the vicinity, or a piece of brush or other vegetation moving unnaturally, may be all it takes for the enemy to focus in on one area and lead to detection of the camouflaged guerrilla.
Fundamentally, there are two basic types of material that the war-fighter uses to camouflage himself and his equipment. These are natural and artificial. Each type may offer specific benefits that the guerrilla may find useful under different circumstances.
Natural camouflage however, should always be the priority choice of the guerrilla. Natural camouflage materials are vegetation and other materials indigenous to the specific operational environment. Whatever other methods are used, the guerrilla should always augment his camouflage with at least some local natural camouflage materials, but the fighter must remain alert to the hazards of it wilting and ensure he replaces any natural materials before that occurs.
Artificial camouflage, on the other hand, is comprised of any man-made substances that the guerrilla uses to alter his appearance and blend into the environment. This may range from camouflage face paint and spray-painting clothing or equipment to break up its appearance, to a full-blown ghillie suit (contrary to popular mythology, mud should seldom, if ever, be used to camouflage bare skin. Not only does it dry out and lose its effectiveness too quickly to be of value, but it may also contain dangerous parasites that may render a fighter combat-ineffective due to infection/disease).
The guerrilla fighter must also camouflage all of the equipment he will carry in combat. It is critical however (and more than a little disturbing that it even needs to be mentioned) that the camouflage applied to equipment not interfere with the actual function of any equipment.
The guerrilla’s rifle should be camouflaged. If you own a “safe queen,” you’re not a guerrilla, you’re a dilettante and a douchebag. The mark of a well-trained and motivated war-fighter is a weapon that has the scars to prove its been used in hard, realistic training. It’s not a toy, it’s a tool, and the war-fighter recognizes that. If you’re afraid to camouflage your weapon with a little Krylon treatment, then it’s not a fighting weapon. Your weapon will, undoubtedly end up painted, stripped of paint, and re-painted many times over, in order to change the pattern to fit different operational areas (although for those of us in the northern Rockies, I can attest, a tan base coat, with a few strips of green will generally work in almost any terrain you are likely to encounter). Do not be afraid of spray-painting your weapon. There is very little pure black in nature, and fewer things yet in nature are constructed with as many straight lines as a modern fighting rifle. You need to break those images up, as much as possible (for the artistic minded, I’d like to point out that a human being with 20/20 vision can only see approximately 1 MOA, so getting all high-speed with digital patterns and netting overlays for your painting stencils is a little bit of overkill, not to mention an assinine waste of time. Any pattern consisting of images smaller than one-inch will generally just coalesce into a solid image anyway, rendering your avant-garde masterpiece of camouflage into the visual image of….a fucking painted rifle!). Your optics should also be camouflaged, although (obviously) you need to cover the lenses with either lens caps or tape before painting them. Covering the lenses themselves with a section of your wife’s pantyhose will also help to prevent a visual target indicator to the enemy by reducing the possibility of shine reflection off the lenses. While it is critical to avoid binding the rifle barrel itself, and thus disturbing the barrel harmonics, the addition of burlap camouflage or natural materials to the weapon and optics will further help to break up the outline and reduce the visual signature of the weapon.
Rucksacks should be thoroughly camouflaged as well. From spray-painting a few stripes to break up the outline of solid-colored packs, to adding some strips of burlap to further the effort, the use of paints, dyes, netting, garnish, and natural camouflage materials will all help to ensure the survivability of the guerrilla fighter through good camouflage discipline.
Camouflage Considerations During Guerrilla Operations in Urban Environments
To survive in combat in built-up areas, the guerrilla must take into consideration to the impact of previous combat operations on the immediate environmental area, as well as the specific nature of on-going operations. For instance, if there is little or no damage to buildings, such as in surgical MOUT operations (the IRA in Ireland, as an example), he will not make loopholes for firing and will use only the minimal materials needed to conceal himself.
Buildings naturally offer numerous concealed positions to fire or observe from. Additionally, thick masonry, stone, or concrete walls often offer ideal protection from enemy fire, as well as hiding the visual (and thermal) signature of the guerrilla.
During urban/built-up area operations, the guerrilla will generally operate from one of two types of hides, either hasty or deliberate, with hasty hides being the most commonly utilized. While the fundamental concepts of camouflage remain the same from rural to urban operations, the selection of hasty hide sites in urban terrain differ dramatically from rural operations. Typical urban hasty hide sites include:
Engaging the enemy from the corners of buildings. The corner of a stout building provides cover and concealment for a hasty engagement by the guerrilla. In order to maximize these advantages, the guerrilla must be able to accurately fire his weapon from either shoulder, in order to maximize the protection offered by the building, and should never fire from the standing position (this is the place the enemy would expect fire to come from, and makes it easier for him to identify where you are. Drop to the kneeling or prone, or stand on something to get higher up than expected).
Firing from behind walls. Whenever the guerrilla engages the enemy from behind a solid wall that provides cover and concealment, he should strive to fire from around the sides, or through naturally occurring loopholes, rather than over the wall, in order to reduce his visual signal, concealing his location for as long as possible.
Firing from windows. In any built-up area, windows and doors provide readily-made firing loopholes. It is critical to learn and remember to never allow the muzzle to protrude outside of the portal however. It is a readily observable indicator of where the fire is coming from. This is especially true at night or in reduced-light environments, when muzzle flash becomes a key target indicator. Instead, get as far back into the room as possible, while still maintaining the necessary field-of-view to fire. Always strive to fire from a supported position, using furnishings such as chairs, tables, or even bookcases, as firing rests. Be cautious not to allow muzzle blast to disturb curtains or drapes, providing an easily recognized target indicator.
Firing from the peak of a roof. These positions offer a key terrain feature dominance of the battle-space, increasing the range at which the guerrilla can engage the enemy, as well as increasing his field-of-view of the battlefield. Any architectural features that protrude from the roof of the building, such as chimneys, smoke-stacks, HVAC installations, or other features, can provide cover and/or concealment, and should be utilized by the guerrilla.
Further urban concealment and camouflage “tricks of the trade” may include:
avoid any unnecessary movement at all during daylight hours. When movement is required, during daylight or night, slow down and be deliberate. Plan every single leg of any movement.
During movements through buildings, remain alert to the principles of camouflage. Do not allow “being inside” to lull you into a sense of complacency.
Stay in the shadows. Match your clothing to blend in with the room or attire within the operational area (i.e. don’t wear multi-cam when you’re running a clandestine operation in a suburban neighborhood. You’ll look like a fucking moron, AND stand out like a whore in church).
Don’t shoot from the only open window in a climate-controlled building. Use existing curtains and leave windows intact. To create a shooting loophole, remove one pane, or a small corner of a window.
Blend into the activities of the local area as you infiltrate. Dress like a maintenance crew, or wear street clothes and carry civilian luggage (stay away from guitar cases and baseball bat cases…both are tired cliches and will make you look like a tool).
Choose a position that is naturally in the shadows in a room. If that is not possible, create a “shadow cave” by hanging dark cloth (ponchos or poncho liners may work is set back far enough into the room). Avoid background light, such as doors opening behind you.
Maintain a way to silently neutralize threats to your security, without compromising your position. Killing non-combatants is always a bad idea, but restraining them long enough to allow yourself to exfiltrate the area should be considered as an option, as long as restraining them will not result in their death (flex-cuffing a kid to a chair in an unheated building in January, in Denver, will likely result in his death from exposure before he is found. You’re better off, from a PSYOPs standpoint, and thus ultimate success of the resistance, to just let the kid go, and get the fuck out of Dodge in a hurry, even if it means dumping your gear and losing it). On the other hand, a member of the regime security forces accosting you as a suspicious person during your infiltration may require the use of a suppressed weapon, a knife, or empty-hand attacks, to restrain or kill, followed by disposal of the body in a secure location, in order to allow you to continue and accomplish your mission.
Some brief notes on the legendary ghillie suit….
Easily recognized as a staple piece of equipment for snipers, the ghillie suit offers numerous benefits for other small-unit irregular forces as well. Even in the U.S. Army, LRSU and reconnaissance elements often make use of ghillie suits. While the method of construction of a ghillie is not particularly complex, it is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, a few minor observations on the ghillie suit as it applies to the guerrilla:
The ghillie should be constructed to match the operational area as much as possible. Do no fall victim to the typical novice urge of putting too much garnish on the ghillie suit however. Doing so creates a specific silhouette that is in itself identifiable and generally not seen in nature. Additionally, too much garnish acts as insulation and can overheat the fighter when infiltrating during periods of even moderately warm weather.
The full ghillie suit is an unnecessary extravagance for most guerrilla applications, outside of surveillance/reconnaissance teams and sniper teams, as well as being ridiculously bulky and difficult to transport in a rucksack without drastically reducing the mobility of the guerrilla fighter. A ghillie sniper veil is a much more economical tool for the guerrilla, covering the head and shoulders, and part of the upper torso.
The ghillie suit, whether full, or veil-type, must be augmented with local natural camouflage material in order to be effective. Additionally, the colors of burlap garnish used in its construction must be consistent with the operational area’s vegetation.
Critical Individual Tactical Task: Camouflage Self and Equipment
Conditions: Given individual combat equipment, including three-line load-bearing equipment (LBE), individual weapons, local natural camouflage materials, assorted artificial camouflage materials, including burlap garnish, camouflage face-paint, and camouflage colors spray paint. The fighter will be wearing earth-toned outdoor/work wear.
Standards: Camouflage yourself and your equipment in order to prevent detection by visual, auditory, olfactory, or other detection methods.
Performance and Training Steps:
Identify critical camouflage concerns, including specific target indicators to avoid.
a) movement: Movement draws attention and reduced-light/no-light conditions do not prevent observation. Minimize movement, and slow down any necessary movement. Time is on the side of the guerrilla.
b) shape: Use natural and artificial camouflage materials to disrupt easily recognizable shapes and silhouettes of man-made objects/equipment. Stay in the shadows when moving, whenever possible.
c) shine/reflection: Avoid the distinctive and easily recognized visual signatures created by reflected light by covering (or removing, if possible), mirrors, eyeglass lenses (including sunglasses/safety glasses), watch faces, pressed and starched clothing/uniforms, sun/wind/dust protective goggles, weapons-mounted optical lenses and flashlight lenses.
d) color: Blend individual camouflage into the color scheme of local environmental foliage, and ensure that nothing on your person or your equipment contrasts with your background as viewed from the enemy perspective. Change camouflage as often as needed when moving from one area to another.
Camouflage your exposed skin.
a) wear gloves. Not only does this help camouflage your exposed skin on your hands, they provide protection from rough, rocky terrain, as well as dangerously hot, freshly fire weapon barrels, and other battlefield hazards.
b) when camouflaging your face, use the appropriate color combinations for your local environmental area, and remember to use the lighter color in the shadowed, recessed areas of your face, and the darker color on the raised, high-lighted areas of your face. Do not forget to camouflage, your neck (front and back), your ears (including the backs), and for those with white walled, “high-and-tight” hairstyles, or shaved heads, the back of your skull (and for those with high-and-tights, let your fucking hair grow out already. Even the Ranger Regiment no longer mandates high-and-tights!)
Camouflage your clothing and LBE.
a) wear long-sleeved, earth-tone shirts, and roll your sleeves down.
b) attach leaves, grass, small branches, and burlap strips to your clothing and LBE. These will assist in distorting shapes and blending colors with the natural background of the environmental area.
c) cover or remove any shiny items on your personal equipment. If necessary, use black or green spray paint to re-cover tarnished items that may reflect light, thus serving as a target indicator.
d) secure items, using 100-mph tape, rubber bands, or 550 cord, that rattle or make noise when moved or worn.
Training Exercise for Camouflage and Concealment
Task Description: The guerrilla buddy team will conceal themselves within 200 yards (100 yards if in broken or heavily-vegetated terrain) of an observer. The observer will use 10X binoculars to try and locate the guerrilla buddy team. The guerrilla element must be able to engage the observer with blank rifle fire (live ammunition may be used if it can be done in a thoroughly safe manner that precludes any change of accidental injury or death to the observer, only if blank ammunition is completely unavailable). The guerrilla element must remain unseen by the observer throughout the duration of the exercise.
(In order to maximize the effectiveness of this exercise, it should be conducted at different times, in different terrain environments. For instance, it may be conducted in a fairly open area, once along a wood-line, once in a heavily-vegetated area, and once in broken, rough terrain. It may also be conducted in a built-up area if the local operational area demands it.)
Conduct of the Exercise: The trainer assigns the guerrilla buddy team a specified area with boundaries in which to camouflage itself properly. The observer turns his back to the exercise area and allows the guerrilla team 5 minutes (during initial training, longer periods may be allowed, to provide for unhurried practice) in which to camouflage itself. At the end of 5 minutes, the observer turns and begins his search for the concealed guerrilla element. The observation may last up to ½ hour. If at the end of 30 minutes, the observer has not successfully identified the location of the concealed guerrilla buddy team, he will radio and instruct one of his assistants to move within 10 yards of the concealed team. If the observer can still not locate the team, the team will fire one round (the observer is looking for visual target indicators of the shot, including muzzle blast, vegetation flying from the muzzle blast, movement of the members of the guerrilla buddy-team, etc). If the team can still not be seen, the walker will point in the general direction of the buddy-team. If the team is still unseen, the walker will place his hand above the head of one member of the buddy-team. If the team passes all of these tests without observation, the observer will hold up a sign with a number or letter on it that the team must correctly identify.
(This is a fairly basic, standard camouflage and concealment exercise during military sniper courses, from the U.S. Army Basic Sniper Course at Ft. Benning, GA, and USMC Scout-Sniper Course at Camp Lejeune, CA, to the Special Forces Sniper Course (formerly Special Operations Target Interdiction Course) at Ft. Bragg, NC. As impossibly challenging as it seems, this exercise must be passed to graduate from any of those courses. It is a prime example of the mastery of camouflage that the guerrilla must possess in order to be combat-effective against numerically- and technologically-superior enemy forces.)
In order to create and maintain interest in this exercise, as well as providing practice in observational skills for other members of the guerrilla force, one-half of the class may be positioned with the observer so that they can profit from the mistakes of others. Once a buddy team fails the exercise, they move directly to the observation point to observe.
Somewhere in the mountains