Skip to content

“OH SHIT!” Battle Drills 101: An Unconventional Approach

May 31, 2013

(A couple of really experienced guys, namely American Mercenary and Ryan from TSLR, have both recently done articles on battle drills. I don’t have a beef with what either man wrote, and even if I did, I’m not really in the practice of responding to other blogger’s articles in that manner. This one has been in the queue for awhile now, and since I haven’t posted fuck-all in a month, as was pointed out to me in a class on Memorial Day weekend, I figured, what the fuck? –J.M.)


A battle drill, doctrinally speaking, is “a collective action rapidly executed without applying a deliberate decision-making process…” FM7-8 Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, 22APR1992, claims that characteristics of a battle drill include:

  • they require minimal leader orders to accomplish and one are standard throughout the Army (yeah……anyway…..the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital ain’t performing any battle drill to the same standards as the Ranger Regiment….see what I did there?).
  • sequential actions are vital to success in combat or critical to preserving life.
  • apply to platoon and smaller units.
  • they are trained responses to enemy actions or leader’s orders.
  • they represent mental steps followed for offensive and defensive actions in training and combat.


A fight is a fight. It doesn’t matter if it is a back alley brawl behind a bar (something I’ve NEVER experienced……), a small-unit engagement in South Camelistan, or the Armies of Good and Evil clashing on the plains of Meggido. A fight is a fight. The numbers can change. The armaments can change. The underlying principles that result in success do not: Speed, surprise, and violence of action.

Just like the barroom brawler’s ability to eat a punch and roll with it, coming back with an overwhelming barrage of left-right-left-right-pool cue to the brain determines his success, a unit’s ability to accomplish it’s mission depends on on the individual fighters’ abilities to conduct key actions quickly, without waiting for specific instructions. Well-trained, disciplined fighters who have mastered the individual and collective tasks inherent in battle drills have the ability to pull success out of the maws of obvious defeat, because they have to ability to (figuratively speaking), throat punch the other dude’s OODA loop. Nathan Bedford Forrest famously said that victory went to the dude that got there “the fustest with the mostest.” I’d argue that he Nate was only partially correct. The dude who hits the hardest, soonest, where it counts, and keeps up the pressure, wins (of course, his other famous quote suits me much better: “No damn man kills me and lives,” or, even better, “Never stand and take a charge….charge them too!”)

Hick’s Law (or, more properly, the Hick-Hyman Law), describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision based on the number of possible responses he has to choose from. Without turning this into a fucking Algebra or Trigonometry lesson (let’s stick to “triggernometry” shall we?), at it’s practical level, the more possible responses you have to choose from, the longer it’s going to take you to do anything at all. So, to avoid getting into a lengthy discussion of the aforementioned mathematics, or the neurophysiology of Colonel Boyd’s OODA loop (of which I’ve needed to pen an article for a long time), the fewer choices you have to sort through in response to certain critical stimuli, the faster you’ll do something useful, instead of standing around with your head up your ass.

Battle Drills are the foundation of small-unit tactics. They are the “Oh shit!” response to lethal threats that require instantaneous violent response, so they must be mastered to the point where they are executed instinctively, without conscious thought about “let’s try this technique!” It’s the collective version of going “Oh shit!” and covering your head with your left arm to protect it from the drunk frat boy throwing a haymaker at your head, as your right is already driving forward into his Adam’s Apple.

FM 7-8 listed eight battle drills:


1) Platoon Attack

1A) Squad Attack

2) React-to-Contact

3) Break Contact

4) React-to-Ambush

5)Knock Out Bunkers

6) Enter a Building/Clear a Room

7) Conduct Initial Breach of a Mined/Wire Obstacle


In the new version, FM 3-21.8, March 2007, not only can I not find a listing in the Table of Contents for Battle Drills, it’s not even listed in the index…..Fucking New Army….

In my small-unit patrolling classes, I teach two: React-to-Contact and Break Contact. I teach these two for a very simple reason. They are the same fucking battle drill, in reverse, and they are the foundation of every other battle drill, and tactical task. Period. Full-stop. End of story.

It doesn’t matter if you’re conducting a security patrol in an urban or suburban neighborhood or a rural/wilderness retreat location; or if you’re moving to your bug-out location at the onset of a total breakdown, if you encounter a violent ballistic, physical collision with another armed party, one of these two drills will keep you alive. They are the “oh shit!” response. Consider them the seatbelts of small-unit combat, if you will. The underlying concepts apply, regardless of the operational environment.

At a more “advanced” level, those same concepts apply to the platoon and squad attack (unless you’re an acolyte of the “hey diddle, diddle, straight up the middle, fix bayonets and forward at the double time!” school), react-to-ambush, knocking out bunkers, approaching a bunker, building, or mined wire obstacle to breach it. The coolest part is that the underlying principles are inherent in one of the most basic collective tasks we teach: fire-and-movement while executing buddy team bounds. One guy is protecting his buddy while his buddy is moving to a more advantageous position, and vice versa.

I’m a fan of John Poole’s work, despite his apparent homo-erotic fascination with ninjas. My biggest beef with him with him is that he apparently doesn’t realize that any evolution has occurred in American military theory and practice since he was in Vietnam. I don’t know what things are like in Big Green (Army or Marine Corps), but in my experience, most of the bitches he was trying to address in the late 1990s and since had been addressed in my communities by at least the early 1990s. Amongst those complaints is the rigidity of textbook approaches to TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) such as battle drills. Here’s the rub though: the battle drills are ALWAYS adapted to the situation. If you’re not adapting them as you go, you’re fucking doing them wrong!

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to describe these two battle drills as I teach them, based on an eight-man “squad” comprised of two four-man “teams.” The numbers are simply what they are though. They can be larger or smaller (within reason) and the concepts and techniques still apply. It’s the FUCKING CONCEPTS THAT ARE IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!

Task: React-to-Contact

Conditions: While conducting a foot-mobile patrol, a small-unit partisan element makes sudden, unexpected contact with a hostile enemy force. Either the partisan patrol or the enemy force may initiate the action with individual or crew-served small-arms fire.

Performance Steps:

1) Soldiers immediately take up the nearest covered positions and return fire in the direction of contact.

2) Team/squad leaders locate and engage known or suspected enemy positions with well-aimed fire, and pass information to the squad/platoon leader.

3) Fire team leaders control fire using standard fire commands (initial and supplemental) containing the following elements:

  • alert
  • direction
  • description of target
  • range
  • method of fire
  • command to commence firing



So, here’s the deal, as I’ve experienced it. The old school answer was, if you could move to cover in less than three seconds, move to cover, and then return fire. If it would take longer than three seconds, return fire and then move to cover. Now, I’m no Annie-Fucking-Oakley. I’m not going to get surgical headshots at 100M, or even 25M, at a dead sprint, while moving to cover. I can damned sure dump three or four rounds at a muzzle flash at those distances and if I don’t get a hit, they’ll at least be close enough that the motherfucker IS going to duck for a second or two. Absolute worst case scenario, for me, it’ll disturb his aim enough that he won’t hit my Carl Lewis impersonating self, as I move to cover. My way ain’t the only way, but it’s worked for me.

Others would point out that this seems to contradict my previous statements about being accountable for every shot you fire and not accidentally killing the neighbor’s kid, or a non-combatant bystander. Nonsense. I KNOW where my rounds were intended to go. I wasn’t firing blindly. I was deliberately placing rounds in a manner to protect my life. I know where my rounds are impacting. I’m not going to fire an “oh shit!” burst if Ali Baba has three toddlers crawling up his legs. It’s going to be modified by the situation, without any need for real thought. It’s a general response. My way ain’t the only way. It’s just a way that’s worked for me.

If the bad guys are far enough away that I can’t get a quick burst into their position of cover, I’m not going to bother shooting. I’m going to move to cover, then shoot. Or, if they’re not accurately targeting me, I’m going to dump a couple of well-aimed shots into them, and then move to cover.

Don’t fire “in the direction of the contact.” Every swinging Richard in the in-contact element should be using well-aimed fire to engage known or suspected enemy positions. Every swinging Richard should be communicating, to his buddies, and to his team leader (TL), where and what the contact is:

“Contact! Front (or left, or right, or 1:45PM, etc…..what-fucking-ever verbiage works for you.)! 150 meters! (If possible, you can be more specific with your communications: “troops in the treeline!” “There’s a fucking TANK!” “Machine gun in that window on the left, second floor up!:)

4) Soldiers maintain contact with the soldiers on their left and right.

5) Soldiers maintain contact with their team leader and report the location of enemy positions.

6) Leaders check the status of their personnel.

7) The team/squad leaders maintain contact with the squad/platoon leader (next higher element).

Yeah, none of this is bad dope, but in a small-unit situation, like we’re discussing, it’s going to be a lot more fluid than this…

You should ALWAYS be maintaining contact with the guy to your left and to your right. That’s why we teach to stay as far away from your buddy as you can, and still maintain visual contact with him. When the first round goes out, every man in the in-contact element should return well-aimed fire at known or suspected enemy positions, as quickly as he can shoot accurately, for an entire magazine (or whatever your team SOP or the situation calls for…honestly, at 200 meters, I probably don’t need an entire magazine to develop fire superiority when engaging most bad guys armed with small arms and light machine guns….I know how to shoot accurately, and they generally don’t….at least not on a collective level). If the TL decides his guys need to slow down their rate of fire to sustain ammunition, he can give that command, “Hey shithead! Slow it the fuck down! Take your time and aim your fucking shots!”

8) The squad/platoon leader–

a. moves up to the fire team/squad in contact and links up with its leader.

b. determines whether or not his squad/platoon must move out of an engagement area.

c. determines whether or not he can gain and maintain suppressive fire with his element already in contact (based on the volume and accuracy of enemy fires against the element in contact).

d. Makes an assessment of the situation. he identifies–

  • the location of the enemy position and obstacles.
  • the size of the enemy force (the number of enemy automatic weapons, the presence of any vehicles, and the employment of indirect fires are indicators of the enemy strength)
  • vulnerable flanks
  • covered and concealed flanking routes to the enemy position.

e. determines the next course of action (for example, fire and movement, assault, breach, knock-out bunker, enter and clear a building or trench).

The TL, in our situation is the senior man with a relatively accurate context of the fight at this point. He’s going to communicate with the follow-on TL, what the situation is. This may be via radio, voice commands, or hand-and-arm signals. With my emphasis on speed, surprise, and violence of action, I’m a fan of developing the SOP that the in-contact TL simply turns and makes eye contact with the follow-on TL and signals which way he thinks the follow-on team should maneuver, based on what he can see of the battlefield (left or right), as well as verbally communicating the situation again (“Contact front! 150 meters! Troops in the treeline!” And he punches his fist, left or right, indicating which direction he believes will provide the maneuver element the most covered, concealed, or otherwise protected route of movement. This hand-and-arm signal, for “Action! left or right!” can be given or the radio also).

I have three problems with waiting for the fucking PL to show up to make determinations that a team leader should be smart enough to figure out.

a) while I’m waiting for a fucking lieutenant to show up (admittedly, the lieutenants I served under in the Ranger Regiment were squared away motherfuckers…but they’re still lieutenants….), the enemy may already be maneuvering. If I’m experienced enough to lead men in combat, I ought to be experienced enough to know if the element I’ve got backing me up can deal with the situation or not.

b) SPEED, surprise, and violence of action. I want to hit the motherfucker in the throat before he even realize what kind of fight he’s in. There are numerous stories of six man SOG recon teams in Vietnam assaulting all the way through NVA company and battalion sized elements because the enemy couldn’t catch their decision-making matrix up to the audacity the SOG guys demonstrated.

c) we aren’t going to have the time or infrastructure to wait for help if we get pinned down waiting for a decision. The lead team leader has about ten fucking seconds to make the decision….can we take them, or can’t we. If he can, we move straight into fire-and-maneuver. If we can’t, we move straight into a break contact. Simple, binary decision-making context. The only way we could be faster would be to either a) always assume we’re going to pull a Monty Python and “run away! run away!” or b) we’re going to make like British cavalrymen following Lord Cardigan into the Russian guns….(“Charge of the Light Brigade,” for the culturally challenged….).

If we can take them, let’s fucking take them, and be done with it. If we can’t, let’s break contact and run, then set up an ambush down the road, for them to chase us into…..


Here’s the follow on…..


So, TL decides we can kick their asses (and ignore that old conventional adage about 3:1 odds. Train your guys so you can reverse those odds if necessary…), and signals the follow-on TL to maneuver left, because there’s a slight draw there with some brush in it (or an irrigation ditch, a small ridge, whatever….).

At this point, we assume that the enemy is using the same playbook, so we go back to Forrest, and we get there the “fustest with the mostest.” The follow-on team will become our maneuver element and will move out, as rapidly as possible, along that protected route, towards the flank of the enemy position. It’s a fucking foot race!

The team leader goes as fast as he can, keeping his guys together in cohesive unit (generally at a dead run at this point), ready for a collision en route, but trying to get into position before the enemy element can send out a maneuver element at all.

Now it becomes a matter of mathematics…geometry specifically, with angles and shit….If you imagine the enemy position and the support element position to be connected along an axis, (see illustration




(well, apparently I can’t include the illustration. I’ll try and fix that…..)






























for the numeral 1, representing the suppressive fires), then the maneuver element, represented as T-2, will move from it’s trail position, T-2 #1, around the green represented ridgeline, to a position somewhere between 45 and 120 degrees off that axis, to T-2 #2. 90 degrees is probably the ideal blend of security and safety, but the fight will be what the fight will be.

We have now managed to catch the enemy force in the quintessential “flanking maneuver.” If he is successfully hiding behind cover from the fires of Team One, he’s probably exposed to the fires of Team Two. If he’s hiding from Team Two, he’s exposed to Team One.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some poor motherfucker is still going to have to assault through, in order to ensure that no one is hiding there, in a position that neither team can see. It most cases, it’s going to be Team Two. They will begin to assault forward, using fire-and-movement, by buddy teams, until they get close enough that the incoming fire from Team One begins to become a threat, at which point they signal a lift fire (for the doctrine Nazis, I know it’s supposed to be a “shift fire.” You wanna explain that, in print, to a bunch of untrained G’s?). They continue to assault all the way through the objective, killing anyone who resists, and securing anyone who doesn’t, before the whole element consolidates and re-organizes on the objective.

That’s React-to-Contact, in a real-world nutshell…..With a little bit of conceptual thinking, you can see how it applies to a deliberate attack…a raid (the support element doesn’t begin shooting until it becomes absolutely necessary)….knocking out a bunker (in which case Team Two would be carrying hand grenades or satchel charges….)….or approaching a building.




Alright, I fibbed. It’s 0400 local, so I’m going to bed, without having finished the break contact portion of the article. So solly Chollie.


I apologize for having been gone for a month. I’ve taught something like six classes in the last two months, all over the West, and am getting ready to drive my happy ass to the East Coast. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my day job (I’m afraid to call in and find out….), and my wife is getting very impatient about getting a fucking house built….So, I’ll try and get back to posting more regularly, as well as getting all the other shit going that’s been slacking.



John Mosby

SFOB-Rifleman’s Ridge

From → Uncategorized

  1. rolf permalink

    Thanks again Mos. Always God stuff.

  2. Good read. K.I.S.S. Our guys meet about once a month and the basics are taught even more basic than this. Fight or flight bitches, now gittr done!

  3. Drew permalink

    “There’s a fucking TANK!”…….Priceless!!

  4. RobRoySimmons permalink

    You got a mention at freerepublic

  5. Castor Pollux permalink

    As usual, you’ve written an outstanding lesson.

    How’s the book coming along?

  6. Thank you for posting this. I think I’m catching what your throwing having read through it several times. Seems very logical to me…

  7. Mud Duck permalink

    Thanks again for another good lesson. God Speed. Mud Duck

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mosby: Battle Drills 101 – An Unconventional Approach | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  2. “OH SHIT!” Battle Drills 101: An Unconventional Approach |
  3. Upcoming Classes | MountainGuerrilla

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: