Unassisted Evasion Considerations
Paramilitary partisan operations, whether area security patrols or offensive combat operations in defense of the community, will generally not be limited to just the immediate area of the survival retreat/guerrilla base area. A projection of force into surrounding areas will help to ensure the security of the immediate area. Whether operational patrolling is conducted as a projection-of-force demonstration, rapport-building with the local civilian populace in order to attain auxiliary support and intelligence information, or even just the initial attempt to “bug-out” to a safe haven, during the conduct of irregular small-unit operations, personnel will constantly be at great risk of becoming separated from the rest of their element, leaving them isolated and “on-the-run,” possibly in hostile-controlled or denied areas.
Groups and individuals who are in deadly earnest about their training for preparedness will incorporate and emphasize evasion-survival training into their overall training program regularly. It’s great to have a plan, and know what to do when the plan goes right (as that very famous “SF” officer was fond of saying, “I love it when a plan comes together….”). It’s even better to know what to do when a plan goes to shit.
Realistically, individuals should be trained and prepared to survive and evade for extended periods of time (72-96 hours at an absolute minimum, depending on METT-TC considerations), over long distances, depending on how well developed their networks are, in order to reach a location where they can be recovered by specially-trained CSAR (Combat Search-and-Rescue) operational cells within their network. It may even be necessary for individual evaders to make their own way to a known friendly-controlled area without outside assistance. It is absolutely critical to consider unassisted evasion recovery as a contingency during ANY unconventional warfare planning. Failure to do so is hubris and overconfidence at best. At worst, it’s just flat fucking stupid.
(While the stories published by Andy McNab and Chris Ryan of the British SAS, concerning the “misadventures” of patrol Bravo Two Zero during the Gulf War are often contradictory-and both actually contradict the official AARs each man provided the British Army, according to some sources within the Ministry of Defence-Ryan’s account, “The One That Got Away,” may be an outstanding look at what unassisted evasion could be like. I have probably two dozen evasion memoirs in my personal library, going back to World War Two, and every single one shares one common theme: unassisted evasion sucks goat’s ass.)
Any serious survivalist should expect to take responsibility to assist in his own recovery to the maximum extent possible. The Ranger Creed mantra of “never leave a fallen comrade…” is ideal, and even irregular elements should strive to live it, but the odds are stacked in such a way as to make it necessary for any individual to be ready to fend for himself.
Successful evasion survival is, and always will be, predicated on mindset, effective training, and preparation. Specific areas of training should include evasion and survival fieldcraft skills such as foraging for sustenance, shelter construction and protection from the elements, counter-tracking, organization and network-specific TTPs for evasion recovery (including initial actions to take, such as attempting to reach the last designated en route rally point and wait X number of hours before moving into your evasion plan-of-action/EPA, signal, communications, and link-up TTPs, such as HAM or FRS/GMRS frequencies that will be monitored, codes, individual and team call signs, signaling device protocols, etc), environmental and health hazards of consideration in the operational area, network-specific unconventional assisted recovery TTPs, and any evasion-specific intelligence information available for the operation area (what threats are known to exist, what threats are likely to exist, the identities or cover identities of auxiliary points-of-contact within the evasion network of the area, etc).
EPA and ISOPREP
Every organization and network should consider the development of “recovery cards.” Doctrinally, theses are a DoD form called an ISOPREP card, and are used to facilitate recovery of isolated personnel. Without going into unnecessary detail, the information on an ISOPREP card enables recovery personnel to authenticate the evader when the recovery personnel may not know the individual evader personally (for the benefit of any readers who are concerned that I may be divulging OPSEC secrets on an open network, as of 2003 at least, DD Form 1833 is not classified until it is filled out, and then it’s only classified confidential. If anyone at the schoolhouse wants to email me and let me know otherwise, with documentation to that effect, I’ll remove any reference to it from the article….–J.M.).
Any and every irregular war-fighter element should develop an EPA as a standard annex to an operations order (if you think you’re not going to need an operations order, you’ve never conducted a patrol for real. “Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.”). Neither “We’ll fight to the death! No retreat!” nor “We’ll just run like scared bitches and make it up as we go!” is acceptable, nor will either be effective in the real world, regardless of your best Walter Mitty imaginative hallucinations
While the doctrinal format for the EPA annex is too long to include within this article, the purpose of the EPA is to provide the potential evader with a means to communicate his detailed intentions, in the event of isolation, to the rest of the element, as well as any available CSAR/recovery elements. If both the evader and the recovery element know that the evader plans to move to point A, then point B, then point C, and will always try to remain within X kilometers of movement axis Y, then as soon as they know the evader is on the run, CSAR cells can move to one of those points and attempt to intercept the evader and affect a link-up and recovery, instead of having to blunder around, beating the bush, when the evader may be past them already, or even in an entirely different area.
Affected personnel must know (and should be able to articulate during an OPORD brief-back), the intended course-of-action of the EPA. Since the EPA will likely be the only reliable means of communication between the evader and recovery assets, it is crucial that the evader make every attempt to follow the EPA as exactly as possible. The EPA provides a measure of predictability to an otherwise completely fucked-up situation, and exponentially increases the chances of the evader being successfully recovered.
Irregular force personnel should plan for extended evasions. Extended evasions can differ drastically from short-range evasions. Planning and preparing for long-term evasion however, ensures that short-range evasion is far simpler and less painful (note that I did not claim it would be either painless or enjoyable –J.M.), while planning only for short-range evasion leaves you fucked if you are forced into an extended evasion. Considerations in developing extended evasion tentative courses-of-action may include the nauseating realization that the distance to a safe location may be hundreds of miles that you have to travel on foot. While lots of survivalists fantasize about living “off-the-land,” out of their bug-out bags, for weeks on end, while hiking to their retreat, facing the ugly reality of doing so may be considerably disheartening to an overweight, chain-smoking, forty-two year old computer programmer with a six package a day Twinkies habit, who’s only outdoors experience was freezing his ass off in a deer stand when he was twelve. Rambo meets reality where the will-to-win, sheer perseverance, and practiced knowledge of survival fieldcraft becomes critical. The evader must consider the implications of natural and man-made travel control restrictions. TSA “Viper” checkpoints and DUI roadblocks are obvious, but flooded tunnels off a hurricane-ravaged island (seriously, what fucking idiot chooses to live on a god-damned island? –J.M.), or earthquake destroyed bridges over a river or bay, can just as critically impact your evasion plan to walk out, or to utilize an owned, borrowed, or stolen (…errrrr….”requisitioned…..”) vehicle for travel.
Evaders must plan for and practice, supply economy when on the run. He will have to determine what gear to keep, as well as how and where to cache the remainder for (hopefully) later recovery. In order to determine this, he needs to realistically and objectively look at the assets available, as well as how far he has to travel, and how long, worst-case scenario, it will take him to arrive, as well as taking a harsh, unyielding look at his own fieldcraft abilities, or lack thereof. Most critical of all, the evader must internalize the understanding that the most fundamental goal of evasion is….evading capture….even if it means deviating from your EPA, or dumping all of your gear, so you can run a little faster.
Whenever operational elements know that they will be operating outside of friendly-controlled areas, or in areas that are subject to being overrun by hostiles, they need to consider pre-positioning re-supply and evasion caches, or having them pre-positioned by the auxiliary. During specific operational planning, the locations of relevant caches, as well as contact information for auxiliary contact personnel, should be made available to potential evaders, as part of their EPA planning considerations, when that information is relevant. Anyone considering extended evasion to reach a “bug-out location” survival retreat (and if it would take you longer than 24 hours to hike that distance, under good conditions, it WILL end up being an extended evasion under real-world conditions), should already have pre-positioned caches along likely travel corridors (primary, secondary, and tertiary, at a minimum), in addition to their “bug-out bags.”
Key Word SURVIVAL
Historically, one of the training tasks for SERE has been to “Employ the Key Word SURVIVAL,” as a mnemonic aid to assist the evader in avoiding capture, the maintenance of health, and recovery to friendly control. Considered properly, it can form the foundation of a quality evasion-survival training program.
Size Up the Situation
While you initially may have to run like a raped ape to avoid immediate capture, as soon as possible, you should find a short-term hide site in a covered and concealed location that will allow you to “stop and catch your breath.” Security takes precedence, and stealth is security. Ensure that you are well-camouflaged. Paint your hands and face if appropriate, and add some local foliage to break up your shape and silhouette.
Take stock and evaluate your physical condition. Are you wounded or injured? Apply necessary self-aid. Drink some water and eat a snack, if possible. Are you so physically and mentally exhausted that you may make critical mistakes? Take a fucking nap. Conduct an inventory of your equipment. Do you have just your fighting load, or did you manage to recover your rucksack as well? Did you have to dump your fighting load so you just have your weapon and belt? How much ammunition do you have? How much food and water? Can you ditch some of your gear and come back for it later, in order to reduce your load and facilitate faster movement? If you ditch ALL of your gear except your sidearm, could you steal a car and come back for the rest?
Take a look at your surroundings and your map. Determine where you are in relation to your EPA and your planned evasion corridors. Plan your next move BEFORE you move. Will the terrain and your training, allow you to move at night (if not, you fucked up in training)? Do you have NODs? Do you have to stick with moving in daylight to avoid breaking your leg?
Undue Haste Makes Waste
As Type A alpha males, special operations soldiers tend to live and preach the proverb that “the wrong action now beats the right action an hour from now!” In a gunfight, and many other situations, there’s a lot of truth to that. In an evasion-survival situation, action simply for the sake of action will get you killed or captured. If you act in haste, without planning ahead, you will lose or forget equipment, end up disoriented (and forget to account for the declination between true north and magnetic north….anyway…..), and even run headfirst into an OPFOR patrol that’s hunting you (yeah, anyway….). “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”
There is certainly a time and a place, when the enemy is close by and almost up your ass, to move quickly to avoid capture, when you need to pull the raped ape act, but even then, if you’ve been planning your movements, and following your EPA, you can move with a purpose. The mnemonic is not “haste makes waste.” It’s undue haste that kills.
Remember Where You Are
Whether you are the patrol leader, or the newest, most junior “gumby” on the team, keep tabs on where you are. Know the planned route, and pay attention to where you are, as well as where the en route rally points are. This can be difficult to really internalize the importance of, until you have an experience that really develops your frame of reference. As a young Ranger, I “knew” the reason for en route rally points on a patrol. It never really sank in however, until I got separated from my platoon on a night patrol once. It’s pretty tough to maintain your self-image as a bad-ass Airborne Ranger when you’re floundering around in the woods at night, it’s darker than three feet up a bull’s ass, and you have no fucking clue where you are, where anyone else is, or where the last en route rally point was.
It’s even harder to maintain that self-imagined bad-assery, when you get “rescued” by the douchebag legs from Range Control after you stumble out of the treeline into the road, in front of their pick-up at 0300, when they were called out after your company got on line and swept the training area for your dumb ass, before calling out a quarter of the personnel on post to conduct a missing persons search, and people have been looking for you for the last six hours, because your stupid ass managed to stumble somewhere in the vicinity of eight very roundabout, wandering miles in the dark…(ask me how I know…)
Whether you are in a patrol base, guerrilla base/FOB, or the MSS on the objective, at a minimum, you should always try to find out your location, the direction to the last en route rally point, the locations of friendly-controlled areas and nearby units, and known, suspected, or likely enemy positions in the area.
Vanquish Fear and Panic
Abject terror and rectum-clenching panic are far more dangerous enemies in an evasion-survival situation than any human adversary. They are not unusual emotions. It doesn’t matter how much of a rough-and-tumble, bad-ass, armed-to-the-teeth survivalist you are, when you’re alone, on the run, being hunted by angry men with guns, you’re either scared shitless…or you’re a fucking liar. End of story, full stop. That’s okay though, because the way to beat the evil enemies of fear and panic is to own them and control them. Instead of running in blind panic off a fucking bluff and breaking both legs, the best way to control fear–the only way to control fear–is through good training and practiced, experiential knowledge. If you know the necessary evasion and fieldcraft, and you have practiced confidence in them, you’ll be able to focus your mental imagery there, instead of on panic-inducing hallucinations of being eaten by those primordial, tropical rain-forest dwelling, black polar bears!
You can have the greatest survival kit ever devised by the mortal mind of man, full of the latest and greatest, “Delta/SEAL/SWAT/Ninja/cool-guy/CDI” gear you could find on Ebay, and you’ll still find evasion-survival situations that your kit won’t cover. Or, you may find yourself evading capture in an unfamiliar environment, where your favorite “go-to” techniques won’t work so well. You have to be able to adapt what you have, and what you know, to fit the situation. As the saying goes, “Semper Gumby.” Thiw is why we emphasize the software vs. hardware approach. While it’s pretty difficult to operate a software program without some hardware tools, it’s a lot easier to build your own computer than it is to write your own code…..
(Shortly after I moved to the PNW the first time, I was cruising back roads and logging trails way up high in the Washington Cascades, in the spring, when I managed to blow out two tires simultaneously–they were very bald tires. It was less than an hour until nightfall, and I was hell-and-gone deep, way back in the middle of “who the fuck knows where.” There wasn’t anything in that forest that wasn’t bone-deep wet. Even breaking open old, down trees to get at the rotten punk inside was useless. It was going to be a nasty, miserable night, with the rain already starting to freeze, and no sleeping bag in the truck. Then I improvised. I cut open the seat of the truck and pulled a couple of big handfuls of stuffing out–it was an OLD truck–and probably some mouse turds, ten minutes later, I was contentedly munching on a can of hot Spaghetti-Os in front of a warm campfire, under an old deadfall. Not because I’m super-duper Special Forces bad-ass, but because I was willing to think so far outside the box that the fucking box no longer existed. Improvise!)
Your indomitable will to survive will help you overcome mind-numbing odds and mental despair. Some people find that will-to-win through the desire to make it back to the wife and kids. Others look to the history and esprit de corps of their unit and don’t want to disappoint their forebears. I’ve met some who swore they just wanted another crack at killing the enemy. Personally?
I just enjoy being a pain-in-the-ass of far too many people to ever go willingly.
Often overlooked as an aspect of “value living,” is the ability to maintain your sense of humor. I can’t speak authoritatively for anyone else, but for me at least, my well-honed ability to find humor in any situation, especially my own follies and foibles (and anyone who has ever met me will tell you, I’ll make fun of myself any day of the week, and twice on Sundays), has been the determining factor in getting me through a lot of shitty situations (if you ever meet me in person, ask me about the dumbass who fell off the mountain while sleep-walking during Mountain Phase of Ranger School…)
Act Like the Natives
THis doesn’t mean drink too much Thunderbird and piss in the casino parking lot (unless your evading on the Rez, or in Portland, Oregon)! Look at how the aboriginal people of your area traditionally lived and survived. They and the local fauna (for the white-trash, illiterate hillbilly, white supremacists reading this, since you fucking morons can’t take a hint and quit reading…that’s a fancy word for wildlife…err….supper?) are the best teachers on how to adapt to the environment. If you live and operate in an urban area, well….try drinking too much Thunderbird and piss on sidewalks…or just cut the hearts out of your enemies on the roof of the tallest building around….
Learn Fundamental Skills
The time to learn and master basic survival skills is now, not after the shit goes south. Use and practice survival skills during your training drills and field exercises. Don’t confuse survival skills with adventure or “nice-to-have” skills. Knowing Paiute basket-weaving techniques from Southern utah might be cool as hell (I’m not much of a basket-weaver type), but the harsh reality is, if you cannot procure water in the desert, your evasion will last approximately 48 hours after you drain your last canteen. Sleeping in your tent might be “hard,” or “roughing it” compared to “camping” in a 40ft RV, but it you’ve never built an expedient shelter, then started a fire to heat it, in a blizzard, with nothing more than 550 cord and a pocket knife, don’t waste your breath, or my time, telling me what a bad-ass survivalist you are.
Evasion Kits Aids and Survival Kits
The elements, terrain, hostile security forces, and even a hostile local civilian populace, can all challenge evaders. To overcome these and be successful, evaders must receive adequate training, information, and equipment, before commencing operation. Whenever possible, evaders will have all of their sustainment load for survival gear during an evasion. Unfortunately, since the event that causes their isolation will, by definition, probably be sudden and unexpected, evaders may find themselves quickly separated from much of their gear, or space considerations and clothing configurations (I really do realize that not everyone can get away with wearing cargo pants and hiking boots, with a rucksack and fighting load no more than the truck from where they are, 24/7/365…) may limit what evasion aids can be carried. Fortunately, the most important part of your evasion-survival kit is your brain. Training and “software” are absolutely more critical than hardware.
Nevertheless, even great software works best when it is leveraged with appropriate hardware (ever tried to run Linux or Windoze on a typewriter?), and so survival kits with evasion aids may be constructed. The unfortunate reality of survival kits however, is that the vast majority of people don’t understand how they’re supposed to be utilized, nor how to put one together for themselves.
The first step in developing a functional evasion-survival kit is considering your own level of knowledge and expertise. Unfortunately, most people, especially American men who consider themselves “survivalists.” grossly over-estimate their own abilities with even the most basic survival skills. You know how to build a fire? Great. In a torrential downpour? With no matches? In 60mph winds and blinding snow? Do you “know” how to do it under those conditions, or have you DONE it under those conditions. The two are not synonymous.
You “know” how to hunt and fish and trap food? Cool. So by hunt, do you mean you stumble to a deer stand in the pre-dawn darkness, then sip coffee from a Thermos until Bambi traipses through the cornfield, twenty feet in front of you, so you blow him away with your .900SuperAtomic rifle? By trap, do you mean you’ve run a successful, productive trapline, using snares, or do you mean you built a figure-4 deadfall, and a spring-pole snare, once, in Boy Scouts, twenty years ago, in the Scout Master’s back yard?
Don’t bother getting defensive, because I don’t give a shit. After assessing your individual expertise (or lack thereof), you need to develop an estimate of the situation. Consider the known/intended, likely, or suspected missions your group will perform. Simple security patrols in the immediate area of your retreat neighborhood, or interstate raiding combat patrols on regime security outposts? Consider the environmental conditions of the operational area and seasons. Western Wyoming has considerably different weather and climate than the Idaho panhandle, and both are vastly different than Southern Arizona or eastern Tennessee. Consider likely and possible modes of travel and organic equipment. Consider your normal load-out as part of your tiered evasion-survival kit. If I carry a shelter in my ruck, I damned sure don’t need to carry a plastic “bivouac tent” in “survival kit” that also rides in my rucksack. Do I need a dedicated “survival” knife, if I keep a folding knife in my pocket, a fixed-blade utility knife on my fighting load, and an axe or machete in my rucksack?
Consider the ability to perform multiple functions with one tool. I can make a bow-drill fire starter kit, cordage and shelter, and eating/cooking utensils with a pocket knife, if I absolutely had to, but why? If I replace my boot laces with 550 cord, and carry a poncho anyway, I’ve got most of those covered, not to mention that the poncho can also serve as a litter, or garment, or be used for carrying water, in a pinch….
Utilize a tiered-approach to the construction of your evasion-survival kit. Everything up to and including your ruck is your primary/general kit. If you have yo drop your ruck, you’ve still got enough secondary gear to function and survive, albeit not as comfortably. Finally, if you dump your load-bearing equipment or plate carrier, what you have in your pockets should be your tertiary gear. It’s sure as shit not going to be comfortable, but a fire-starter and some tinder shoved in your pocket is hell-for-easier to warm yourself with than finding the materials to build an effective bow-drill set on the fly.
Finally, if all else is lost, if you can keep a hold of your pocket knife, you’ve got a last-ditch survival tool that can replace most of the others. I’ve knapped flint, so technically, I could “replace” the knife with a sharpened edge of obsidian or flint or even glass, but how primitive do we need to take this example…..?
(The next installment of the Escape-and-Evasion Article series will focus on the development of Unconventional Assisted Recovery Elements and Operations).
Somewhere in the mountains