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The Realities of Applied Combat Marksmanship (Or, Why Basic Marksmanship Training is Just Not Enough)

September 23, 2013

“…demonstrates one of the essential qualities required by a marksman. More than just the practical ability to shoot accurately, he needed the special gift of self-control, to be able to act and react automatically, even in situations that seemed hopeless. Though the ability to seek and take perfect single shots was essential, fast and precise handling of his weapon during a typical infantry fight was even more important. Because of this, good marksmen were more often experienced men than soldiers who were merely well-trained in the technical and theoretical aspects of their role…” (emphasis added–J.M.)


–from “A Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight’s Cross” by Albrecht Wacker



The importance of precise, well-aimed rifle fire in small-unit combat cannot, and should not, be underestimated. The rifle, as the fighting tool it has evolved to be, is the ultimate expression of the individual ability to project force. A well-trained, well-disciplined, and experienced rifleman can, all on his own, wreak a great deal of havoc and discord all by his self. That fact should not be open to question nor debate.


The Truth however, is far from that simple. A single rifleman, no matter how highly skilled, will eventually be destroyed by even a small team, if that team works in expert coordination. While undoubtedly some readers will point to the legendary exploits of expert military snipers such as the late-Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, to argue against this premise, there several crucial issues with this:

  • Even “White Feather” called for air support, artillery, and supporting infantry elements for help on more than one occasion.
  • GySgt Hathcock worked with a spotter, thereby facilitating buddy team level fire-and-maneuver when necessary.
  • While the Gunny could still be considered the exception that proves my rule, I had the privilege of meeting him on a couple of occasions, shortly before his death, and you, to borrow a phrase, are no Carlos Hathcock.


Individuals do not win battles. Individual valor and physical courage are certainly necessary, but only in the context of allowing individual members of a team to perform the necessary tasks that allows the team to accomplish its goals. Units and teams, rather than individuals, win battles.


The ultimate goal of any team-level tactical training should be to develop the professional knowledge, instinctual responses, and necessary coordination of each individual to the point where the team can work together as a single, individual entity. That means each individual rifleman must be able to project individual force in pursuit of the team’s goal–defeat of the enemy in the defense of families, homes, and communities.


Since the beginning of inter-tribal conflict, men of valor and simple experience, have sought methods to impart the practical knowledge of combat survival to the inexperienced. This is, ultimately, the reason for the existence of library shelves full of training guides and field manuals. Unfortunately, as a participant in a recent class pointed out to me, regarding the level of detail in many of my articles, sometimes the amount of important information can be overwhelmingly daunting.


As the late LTG James Gavin (USA) once wrote though, “The first hours of combat are the most important in a soldier’s life. If he survives those first hours, he is then a veteran and very likely will have a high probability of later survival.” The purpose of any preparatory tactical training, from basic marksmanship and gun-handling, to patrolling and battle drills, is legitimate only if it is predicated on LTG Gavin’s goal of aiding your initial combat survival.


If we accept my previous assertion that the rifle is in fact, the ultimate expression of the individual ability to project force, then it can arguably be stated that the coordination of fires between individual riflemen through fire-and-maneuver, is the penultimate expression of that ability. As such, the primary aim of training in fire-and-maneuver, is to ensure aggressive, coordinated action of fighting units to achieve success. To the individual rifleman in a fight, success and survival are synonymous. That will be achieved only through coordinate effort of action.


Each of us is, or should be, intimately familiar with the artistic and historic sketches of the finest of the Imperial British Army being defeated in combat by colonial marksmen who took superior advantage of terrain and foliage to mask their movements and leverage the effectiveness of their accurate rifle fire. Notably however, it was not individual riflemen who accomplished these feats. It was individual riflemen, working in concerted coordination.


The only crucial difference–and make no mistake, it IS crucial–between modern small-unit combat and that of the Revolutionary era, is that unlike those men, most of whom grew up in the rough-and-tumble, hard-scrabble existence that was frontier life, fighting Indians, bandits, each other, and even Mother Nature, you must be trained and hardened, physically, mentally, and spiritually, to the nature of the task. When you are huddled behind rocks and trees, or brick walls and rusted out, burning car hulks; when your friends are screaming and dying; when everyone present is frightened down to the core of their souls; you need to know not just WHAT to do, but HOW to do it, and that doesn’t come from book learning.


That is not to say that the methods we used in SF or the Ranger Regiment, or the methods I teach today, are in conflict with the doctrinal training publications. Rather, they are refinements of the existing doctrine, based on the mitigation of a lack of support echelons in the form of artillery and close-air support and large, heli-borne quick-reaction forces (QRF).


I have been accused of being of the mindset that, unless you are a combat hardened SOF veteran, you don’t have a rat’s ass chance in a feline Devil’s hell of surviving a fight in the coming social upheavals. That is demonstrably false on multiple levels. Too frequently however, combat veterans have made the claims that “You won’t know what to do until the first shot rings out,” or, as Mike Tyson so eloquently phrased it, “Everybody’s got a plan, ’til they get hit in the mouth.


The reality is, while you can never be completely, 100% readied mentally and physically, for the realities that are a gunfight, you can be taught and trained to survive. Repetitive, constant drilling in how to coordinate your efforts with those of the men around you will allow you to move and fight, even under the stress of the fight, with the knowledge of what your companions are doing, and how your performance, tied to theirs, will allow your success and survival.


While the needs of the small-unit irregular force mandate the primacy of the basic “Break Contact” battle drill in training, it must be noted that ultimately, to victory can never lie in retreat. The need for speed and aggressiveness in closing with and destroying the enemy should not over-emphasized, but it is also absolutely critical to understand that, as long as even one man is crawling or running forward, you are moving towards defeating the enemy, whomever that enemy may be. So long as forward movement continues, no matter how slowly, victory is certain. Even in actual military conflict, with the supposed support of CAS and indirect-fire weapons, in many situations, even today, the individual infantryman’s only available supporting fires are from other rifles. That fact should, in an objective mind, demonstrate that all is not hopeless, even if all you have is a rifle and some friends to defend your community against a numberless, faceless horde of cannibalistic San Franciscans. Through developed instinct, developed by the application of repeated training drills and practice, you can learn to do exactly what is expected of you under combat conditions.


Your Basic Mission

The basic mission of the community defense group is to destroy the enemy’s ability to cause damage to the people and/or property of his community. At the practical level, this means to kill, capture, or run off the enemy, with the sustainment of minimal casualties to your own side.


The Fundamentals of Battle Drill Training

Anyone who can read FM 7-8 or SH 21-75 Ranger Handbook knows that battle drills are the foundational skill set of small-unit tactics. Those manuals even provide step-by-step instructions in how to carry out those battle drills. If you’ve never done this before though, the dry, generalized instructions in the doctrinal publications won’t help you as much as you think they will. They are intended more as a reminder or checklist, for men who have performed it before, when teaching these skills to novices. Our job, as trainers and educators, is to provide you with a frame-of-reference to understand the critical importance of each step. When those performance steps are laid out in print, they invariably appear to be rather simple (and in a way, they really are). Recognition of the full import of each detail is seldom apparent until you’re staring that detail in the face, down the barrels of enemy guns.


Accurate Fire and Movement

Anyone who hangs around gun shops or ranges knows the importance of accurate rifle fire, or thinks they do. The ability to deliver accurate, lethal fires with the individual rifle is the most important fundamental of individual combat training. That’s why it’s the first of the Four Pillars of Individual Combat Effectiveness. Unfortunately, as we’ve discussed previously, sometimes what passes as marksmanship in this “nation of riflemen” is anything but marksmanship. “I got my deer last year!” is not a measure of marksmanship. Hell, I’ve known guys who dumped an entire magazine from their Winchester 94 into a white tail to kill it, leaving maybe three mouthfuls of edible meat, and claim they were “expert” field marksmen, because, by God, “I got my deer!”


When it comes to performing battle drills, as part of a small-unit element, marksmanship is about more than just hitting a big target at known distances, on a flat, level range. It’s about combat weaponscraft. Can you hit a target that you’re not even entirely sure you can see? Is that a dude’s head you’re shooting at, or just a rock or a clump of bushes? If you run dry, can you perform a reload before the enemy returns fire on you and kills you? Can you transition from one target to another, as they become available? Can you move from one position to another to facilitate a different view of the battlefield, and possibly expose more enemy positions to your fire? Can you shoot accurately, while moving, at a moving target, with non-combatants interspersed?


The second important aspect of individual training in battle drills is the use of correct, effective individual movement. Most people instinctively seek cover when accurate, aimed fire is inbound. Whether they succeed or not is largely predicated on their understanding of the definition of cover, as well as on their ability to perceive where the fire is coming from. Trying to teach or train people to NOT seek cover is futile, at best. When the enemy cannot be seen and the inclination of every sane soul is to remain hidden, any type of cover, natural or man-made, will suffice for most people. Trained, conditioned use of that cover to facilitate forward movement will allow you and your team to overcome the natural human urge to dig to China with your teeth.


Planned, Coordinated Movement

Although battle drills are theoretically designed to not require much, if any leader commands and guidance, the reality is, if men are not entirely sure where the enemy is, they’re not going to move. They won’t know what cover will protect them, so they’re going to follow their natural human instinct to stay in the safety of the metaphorical womb. Calling out a basic fire command, in the most basic form of distance, direction, and type (“Contact front! 200 meters! Troops in the Open!“) will give them the ability to begin countering the natural urge to stay put. It is impossible of course, to say when each individual should move, within a team, except that, the leader should adhere to the leadership method of “Follow me and do as I do!” Who follows next is largely determined by conditions of cover and the relative positions of individuals within the team. Normally, the fighter furthest to the rear should move next, bringing the team onto some semblance of a line, allowing for maximum fires to be brought to bear on the enemy position.


Regardless of who is moving however, the key to coordination within the relationship of the team, is the same key to coordinated effort in any relationship: communications. Team members must communicate with their Ranger buddy, and the team leader must communicate with his subordinates, providing them guidance on where he wants them to go.


If it’s obvious however, that an individual is being specifically targeted by enemy fire, and if he moves, he’s going to catch the next one with his dentures, then it might just be prudent to let someone else move first, to distract the enemy from him. Regardless however, the cohesion of the team is crucial to individual safety. You are never justified in hiding out in a covered position while your buddies are carrying the weight of your assault. Not only does that place an unnecessary burden on them, it actually puts you more at risk, by lengthening the time needed to win the fight, or even preventing victory altogether, resulting in you dying as the enemy mops up after the fact.


The most critical aspect of fire-and-maneuver however, is the importance of coordination between the fires and the movement. Since at least the Korean War, there have been two basic principles that men have understood when closing with the enemy through fire-and-maneuver:

  • Only a minimum number of men should expose themselves to enemy fire at the same time, and,
  • Maximum available, aimed rifle fire must be directed at the enemy to protect advancing men. The best cover on the battlefield is accurate, outgoing fire.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the USMC conducted some research into these principles, using historical anecdotes of what worked and what didn’t, and tested the resulting theories using Force-on-Force training with MILES gear (for whatever limited value THAT training “tool” actually offered). The conclusions they reached were that ideally, a 2:1 ration was needed of men laying down suppressive fire to men moving, to increase the odds of survival for all involved. In other words, no more than 1/3 of your element should be moving at any given time, with the remaining men directing well-aimed, precision fire, in high volume, at known, suspected, or likely positions of enemy cover and concealment. This ratio can be changed to a 1:1 ratio, with some degree of success, but reversing the ratio to 1:2 is almost invariably a recipe for disaster.


Through the coordinate, planned, and directed movement of members of an assault element, using fire-and-maneuver in this manner, you have the greatest chance of success and survival in a small-unit gunfight environment. This doesn’t invalidate the importance of your marksmanship training. On the contrary, it makes such training far more important, because you’re using it not just to kill bad people, but to protect the lives of your companions.


The Impact of Terrain

The final fundamental aspect of basic battle drill training is the use of terrain to support the efforts of the team. Any jack-ass whose read a book or two about guerrilla warfare can cite the importance of terrain in the small-unit fight, but I’ve yet to see anyone, outside of combat arms vets, who can explain how we analyze terrain for tactical purposes. This is actually too bad, because it’s not rocket science. There really is nothing complicated about evaluating the terrain immediately to your front, in relation to your position, the enemy’s position, and your ability to traverse it effectively, under fire. Any yahoo with the will to look can tell which side of a ridge provides cover from the enemy’s fire; where ditches will provide safety and shadows will mask movement; where an impassable cliff prevents your advance forward, or a raging river prevents your escape. Every piece of terrain offers some impact tactically. Even the smallest little depression in the ground will hide enough of your body, under the confusion and limited visibility of a fight, to make you more difficult, or even impossible, to shoot. Yet, if you can’t even describe it beyond, “well, cover is what stops bullets!” you’re not going to be able to analyze it effectively when those bullets are screaming past your head. Having the ability to analyze and read terrain however, especially under the pressure of necessary speed, will allow you to move forward aggressively, with the confidence that your buddies are protecting you, so you can in turn, protect them.


The goal of training your security patrol team in the basic battle drills and tactics should be to instill individual confidence, predicated on a trained, proven knowledge of what the rest of the team is going to do, in order to build a more aggressive unit.


Training the Basic Battle Drill

The 1992 edition of FM7-8 listed twelve basic battle drills:

  • Battle Drill 1. Conduct Platoon Attack.
  • Battle Drill 1A. Conduct Squad Attack.
  • Battle Drill 2. React to Contact (Platoon/Squad)
  • Battle Drill 3. Break Contact (Platoon/Squad)
  • Battle Drill 4. React to Ambush (Platoon/Squad)
  • Battle Drill 5. Knock Out Bunkers (Platoon)
  • Battle Drill 5A. Knock Out a Bunker (Squad)
  • Battle Drill 6. Enter and Clear a Building (Platoon)
  • Battle Drill 6A. Enter a Building and Clear a Room (Squad)
  • Battle Drill 7. Enter/Clear a Trench (Platoon)
  • Battle Drill 7A. Enter/Clear a Trench (Squad)
  • Battle Drill 8. Conduct Initial Breach of a Mined Wire Obstacle.


Obviously, for the basic irregular force, many of these are inappropriate. While if you miraculously do have the ability to work with a platoon-sized element, for most of us, in a community defense situation, we’re going to be working with fire team and squad-sized elements at best, at least initially. That functionally leaves us with numbers 1A, 2, 3, 4, 5A, 6A, 7A, and 8. to worry about…Still eight individual battle drills. Even the Ranger Regiment, in the mid-1990s, decided we really needed to only focus on four, in order to really master those, and we had the highest training operations tempo in the U.S. military at the time. How’s a group of regular dudes, with jobs, wives, ex-wives, kids, and maybe even grandkids, going to develop the ability to perform eight different battle drills, plus all the supporting individual and collective tasks, at a proficient level? Short answer, you’re not.


Here’s the closest thing to a secret I will ever claim to reveal to you: I can teach you two basic battle drills that will cover most of your needs. Those two basic drills are “squad attack” and “break contact.” No, you’re not going to be using “squad attack” to enter and clear buildings, although it will get you to the breach point at the front door. The uses of “break contact” are pretty fucking apparent, I would hope. As the Team Sergeant pointed out in West Virginia, for a small-unit irregular force, break contact is the single most important battle drill for you to learn, because it should be the default go-to battle drill in most cases. As a guerrilla force, you are only going to choose to fight when you get to pick the fight. Any other time, you’re automatic response should be to break contact and run like a raped ape.


On the other hand however, squad attack, even modified into “team attack,” will actually cover most of the others, as well as some other important tactical skills. “Squad attack” will also allow you to react to an ambush, if executed properly. It will allow you to knock out bunkers, or to clear a trench. It will allow you to conduct a raid, or an ambush.


The “secret” you see, is that this shit really isn’t that complicated. There are really very few maneuvers available to a small combat unit once they come under rifle and machine gun fire. You can move straight backwards, as in a break contact, you can move straight forward, or you can maneuver left or right. Which one you choose will be predicated on METT-TC, but regardless of the particular circumstances, whichever direction you choose to move, the fundamental principles of fire-and-maneuver, applied through either the movement mechanics of “squad attack” or “break contact” will allow you to carry out movement in that direction successfully.


The Basic Battle Drill (other than Break Contact, of course), is the Squad Attack. It’s not a particularly difficult drill to perform, although it can be complicated, and it’s certainly physically and mentally demanding. I’m not going to provide a step-by-step description of the doctrinal solution to it, because well, I just don’t give a shit. Instead, I’m going to describe how you can execute it with a small, irregular-force community defense group unit.


I am going to use the normal Task-Conditions-Standards format of course, because as I’ve stated time and time again, I believe that’s a perfect way to help you begin to understand the step-by-step process.


(Critical Note to the “experts” who read and memorize the FMs…THIS IS NOT A RECITATION OF THE FM!!!!!!!)


Task: Conduct a Squad Attack

Conditions: An irregular-force rifle-squad, composed of two four-man teams, is conducting a security patrol and makes contact with a hostile element. The hostiles may or may not have automatic weapons and/or indirect-fire weapons.


  • The squad is not fixed in their position by enemy suppressive fires.
  • Squad members locate and engage known or suspected enemy positions with well-aimed fire.
  • The squad kills, captures, or forces the withdrawal of the hostiles and is capable of continuing it’s patrol, or pursuing the withdrawn hostile


Performance/Training Steps:

  • Actions on Contact.
  1. Since you were using traveling overwatch or bounding overwatch as your movement technique, only one of the two fire teams will be receiving direct enemy fire. All members of the squad immediately move to the nearest positions of cover and/or concealment. Members of the in-contact fire team however, also need to immediately return fire. This requires a snap decision on their part. If they can move to cover and then return fire in less than three seconds, then they should do so. If they cannot, they may need to return fire and then move to cover. This may be facilitated by simply dropping to the lowest possible firing position (ideally, the prone) and firing on the enemy.
  2. The in-contact team will return a high volume of suppressive fire to fix the enemy in their positions. Remember, the John Mosby definition of suppressive fire? “Suppressive fire is fire that keeps the enemy more concerned with not getting shot than he is with shooting at you or moving.” This means you should be burning through your first magazine as fast as you are physically capable of achieving aimed fire on known, suspected, or likely positions of enemy cover and/or concealment. This may require you to bound (3-5 second rush) or crawl forward to a position from which you can engage the enemy, by allowing you to have observation, a field of fire, cover, and concealment. At that point, the team continues to fire and report any known or suspected enemy positions to the team leader.
  3. Meanwhile, the team leader should be directing the fire of his subordinates through the use of tracers, IR lasers (if applicable), and standard fire commands. He should YELL out the fire commands, and they should be repeated, loudly, by all members of his team. This is to help ensure that the trail team is able to figure out where the contact is. If the distances are too great, intra-team radios (see the next article by MSG Dan Morgan for some great recommendations!) are necessary to communicate to the trail team where the enemy position is.
  4. The team leader, rather than waiting for the doctrinal squad leader to arrive and make those determinations (since we’re predicating this on two separate teams being forced to work together), must make the report to the other team leader, and make the determination whether he believes the squad can prosecute the fight effectively or not. If not, he’ll immediately call for a “break contact.” In this case, since we’re specifically discussing a “squad attack,” we’ll say he’s decided they can prosecute the fight. As such, he is giving the trail team leader the information on the enemy direction, distance, and composition, as well as which way the trail element should bound, since he has a far better view of the battlefield to their front than the trail team leader (“Two, this is one. Contact front, 200 meters, infantry in the tree line. Bound to my left, behind the buildings!”)
  • Suppress the Enemy.
  1. Since the trail team (hereafter referred to as the “maneuver team”) is going to bound around to the side of the enemy position, the team in contact (hereafter referred to as the “support-by-fire team”), must suppress the enemy until the maneuver team can get to a dominant position.
  2. The fire team fires on to destroy or effectively suppress any crew-served or automatic weapons first.
  3. The team leader will continue to control and guide the fires of his subordinates, with tracers or fire commands. This can be as simple as, “Bob, you and Jimmy shoot at anybody in those trees on the left side of the trail. George, you and I will shoot into the rocks on the right side of the tent!” It can also be a well-developed and established SOP, that each man will shoot at anything within his specific sector, which is 45 degrees to his front. Since the team should be roughly on-line, this allows for inter-locking fields of fire, and will provide maximum effective fires across the entire front of the team.
  4. Fires must be sustained and continue without noticeable lulls that would allow the enemy to recover and counter (so much for the 5-shot bolt-action rifle idea, huh?). Buddy teams should fire their weapons to avoid reloading both weapons at the same time.
  5. If there is adequate cover and/or concealment to the front, the support-by-fire team can continue to apply pressure to the enemy by moving forward, by buddy team bounds, one man at a time. “Bob, you and Jimmy bound up!” When they have both moved up, “George, cover me while I move!” “George, I’m in position! Move!
  • Attack the Enemy.
  1. While the support-by-fire team suppresses the enemy and continues to advance forward (remember in the beginning of this article when we discussed the idea that, as long as someone is moving forward, no matter how slowly, you’ve still got a chance of winning?), the maneuver team leader moves to “flank” around the enemy position.
  2. The maneuver element leader communicates with the support-by-fire team leader to let him know which direction they are moving. Ideally, this would be in the direction that the lead team leader indicated was superior, but it’s ultimately up to the maneuver team leader. The team leader selects the route that seems to offer the best cover and concealment along his chosen route (I’ve done this or seen it done using everything from running around a copse of thick timber, to running around a ridge, to running over three blocks and up four blocks….remember that part earlier about being able to read terrain?). The team leader then leads his men, in a shallow wedge (almost a line abreast, but sometimes it will turn into damned near a file), around. During the bound around, speed is of the essence. Unless the terrain considerations mandate it, you are not doing your bound around by buddy team bounds. At this point, once you’re clear of the enemy’s primary line of fire, it’s a foot-race. This is why I’m such an advocate of sprint drills for PT.
  3. One the team reaches a point somewhere along the flank of the enemy position (really, while 90 degrees is probably optimal, anywhere from 45-degrees to 120 degrees is acceptable, although 120-degrees is less than ideal, due to the potential for ricochets off enemy cover from the support-by-fire element causing fratricide), the team leader reforms his men into a shallow wedge or on-line, in a position of cover and concealment, and begins maneuvering them forward by buddy team bounds.
  4. As the maneuver team assaults forward, they MUST pick up the rate of fire and gain fire superiority. To quote the manual (actually ARTEP 7-8-Drill is the manual on my desk at the moment), “Handover of responsibility for direct fires from the supporting fire team to the assaulting fire team is critical.” At this point, the enemy is in a no-win situation. They can’t shoot at the support-by-fire team, so they have to hide from them. If they’re hidden from the support-by-fire team though, they’re exposed to the maneuver team’s fires. If they’re hidden from the maneuver team’s fires, they’re exposed to the support-by-fire team.
  5. After the maneuver element has begun to assault forward, they will reach a point where it is no longer safe to move forward, due to the risk of fratricide from the support-by-fire team’s fires. At that point, the maneuver team leader uses a prearranged signal to the support-by-fire team leader to lift or shift fires (for the record, in my classes, for safety, I generally just have the support-by-fire team LIFT fires, rather than shift fires and risk an errant ricochet causing a catastrophe). If the maneuver team hasn’t picked up their rate of fire by this point, they’re going to be in a world of trouble shortly.
  6. The maneuver team continues to maneuver forward, using buddy team bounds to effect fire-and-maneuver, as they close on the enemy positions. At some point however, they will reach a point where it is no longer possible to find cover from possible enemy return fire, simply due to proximity. At that point, the team leader orders the element to assault through, and he leads the way as the team sweeps across the enemy position. This entails ensuring that no one on the objective remains a possible threat (Why, yes, Virginia, that does mean you might have to shoot while moving, and you might even have to shoot people at contact distances….). The maneuver team continues to sweep all the way across the objective, and take up covered, concealed positions, facing forward, to repel a possible counter-attack by anyone pushed off the objective by their assault through.
  • Consolidate and Re-Organize.
  1. Once the maneuver element has seized the objective, the team leader signals the support-by-fire team to move up to the objective. He points out the positions of his team, and directs the support-by-fire team leader where to deploy his men.
  2. The senior team leader (acting as the squad leader, and established during the operations order and planning process for the patrol) directs the men in the re-organization process:
  • If necessary, wounded or killed key leaders are replaced and a CoC is re-established (if either team leader is killed or rendered ineffective due to wounds, his next senior man in his team would take over, presumably, but could be modified by organizational SOP)
  • Team leaders conduct a LACE report to establish the quantities of Liquids (water), Ammunition, Casualties, and Equipment. Ammunition is re-distributed to make sure everyone has enough (this is NOT the place for silly “I paid for my ammo!” arguments. I carry twelve mags on my fighting load, and another twelve in my rucksack. I guarantee you, I might be pissed that some jackass was only carrying four mags, but if it’ll keep me alive in case we get hit again, I’ll damned sure give him four of my mags!).
  • If critical equipment was lost or damaged, replacements or alternates should be redistributed as needed (again, I paid for my PVS-14s, but if a more experienced team leader had his fucked up, I’d happily hand mine over for his use in the near term, since it serves to keep me alive as well).
  • Casualties should be treated by any team or squad medic, or by their buddies, to the Tactical Field Care level of care. If they die later, or have to have a fucking leg amputated, that sucks, but at least they have a chance of surviving.
  • EPW search teams meanwhile (two-man team. One to search, the other to cover him) search the dead and secure, search, and silence any living detainees. How to deal with them afterward would be METT-TC dependent on organizational SOPs (but I’m NEVER going to advocate killing them, so if your tough-guy self thinks that’s the only solution, have a very nice, steaming hot cup of fuck-off and keep it to yourself. I’m a lot of things, few of them good, but I’m not a murderer, and don’t intend to become one.)
  • Search teams consolidate all captured equipment and information into one location, so the team leaders can distribute it, as necessary, for carry out. If it’s ammunition or weapons (especially crew-served automatic weapons…If it’s a SAW, give it to me!), they may be integrated into the patrol’s immediate planning, if you have people qualified to operate that particular weapon, and adequate ammunition is available.


The problem with a squad attack, of course, is two-fold: a) as a simple matter of numbers, you’re going to be seriously lacking in personnel to affect all the necessary tasks during consolidation and re-organization, and b) if you do get counter-attacked, you’re going to have to turn it immediately into a “break contact” drill.


Here’s the cool bit of historical trivia for you though. During Vietnam, SOG Recon Teams reportedly managed to pull this off, with six-man teams, more than once, on significantly larger enemy forces. Now, obviously, I wasn’t there (I was barely a glimmer in my daddy’s eye at that point), so if any SF, Ranger, or SOG veterans want to pipe in and tell me I’m full of shit, feel free. On the other hand, while I’m not a SOG Recon guy, and neither are you probably, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn this drill with your team, and practice it to a level of expertise sufficient to allow you to overcome a larger group of cannibalistic San Franciscans, if the need arises…after you’ve mastered the “break contact” drill of course, since that’s your “Oh shit!” failure response, when you bite off more than you can chew.

I have seen and participated in this drill being accomplished, successfully, by a 12-man ODA on significantly larger opposing forces.


Applying it Elsewhere

The basic squad attack, utilized this way is the epitome of the application of individual marksmanship in the form of fire-and-maneuver. The use of a support-by-fire element and a maneuver element to coordinate fires from different directions and angles, onto a single enemy position, is the foundational lodestone of small-unit tactics. It can be used to react to an ambush (the team caught in the KZ of the ambush becomes the support-by-fire element, while the other team becomes the maneuver team), to knock out a bunker (here, the final assault is conducted by tossing satchel charges or improvised hand grenades into the bunker), or any of the other basic battle drills.


This is the single best application of a hasty ambush I was ever taught. If you see the enemy coming, and can intercept his route with one element (support-by-fire element), the maneuver element can bound around to set up an L-shaped ambush. If the SBF team makes contact with the enemy before the maneuver team is in place, then your L-shaped ambush simply becomes the last portion of a squad attack. If they get in place first, you’ve got pretty much a perfectly executed L-shaped ambush.



I’m not particularly old, as my 20-something wife likes to remind me when I start bitching about the aches and pains of my FAG life history, but I’m also no wet-behind the ears youngster. I’ve made a point of the last thirty years (remember, I started judo when I was eight or so) of studying interpersonal conflict at all levels. One of the key lessons I’ve learned over the course of those studies is that the guys who are really, really, really good at causing havoc and despair, at any level, are also really good at distilling complicated shit like combat, down to it’s simplest essence. At the team combat level, fire-and-maneuver is as basic as it gets. The basic battle drills, Squad Attack, is the distillation of fire-and-maneuver, down to it’s essence. If your group can master THAT, you can use that mastery to master any of the other key fighting tasks you might be called upon to execute as part of providing security for your community in a WROL or grid-down situation.


That is why, even with all the other things taught in the Security Patrolling class, in the end, it boils down to being able to perform this drill, daylight or dark, regardless of weather conditions.



John Mosby

American Redoubt



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  1. Excellent information to be passed on. When I was a trainer down at Benning, many of the recruits were from the inner cities of America. I would adjust doctrine to comparing a Fire n Manuever tactic to street gang warfare(as I grew up several blocks of east of 7 Mile Rd and Gratiot Ave in the D). Always have a supporting element to back up the boys in the thick of things. I would see light bulbs light up above their heads. From there they would figure things out rather quickly.

    • Nice. I grew up in the McNichols / Gratiot area.

      • I went to Denby and my dad forced me to box on weekends at Finney. Life is hard and cheap in the D.

    • I went to Finney. That was where I learned about concealed carry in a non-permissive environment. From my Sophmore year on, I carried a cheap, Pakistani, knock-off of a Buck 110 ($5 at any Party Store owned by Chaldeans), kept it sharp, and carried it in my pocket EVERYWHERE. Fortunately, I never had to use it, and only had to pull it once.

  2. Good stuff and thanks for forcing thought on this subject. Not entirely sure that the ratio of troop movement viz. the USMC is correct for all situations and circumstances. For instance, consider squad rushes. The SAW gunner runs forward, riflement are laying down supporting fires, SAW gunner falls prone and lays down fires. At that time the three others in the fire team run forward, and so on. The Marines didn’t have much of a chance to do that in Iraq with its MOUT, but they did actually do that in Afghanistan. So at any one time in Squad rushes, either one man 1:3 or three men 3:1 are on the move, depending.

    At any rate, this may be a nuance to the point you’re making and may be a throwaway to the overall thrust of the article.

  3. Yes. I have an H identifier. Hard to believe with that spelling and punctuation huh? Anyway,I would continue on with reaction to incoming, or flares, or break contact. Comparing it to the PO PO rolling up, or a chopper overhead with a spotlight, and having to get the fuk out of there fast,and re-group at the rally point(an alley behind the Waffle House) and do a headcount. It worked very well. Oh by the way, Havoc is my real street name. Just go into the DMZ-Detroit Murder Zone, and ask.

  4. Yankee Terrier permalink

    I think this is your best work to date..I am a slow learner so just the reading part will need to be reviewed over again afew times…But this one made me realize you should be compiling a book out of your blogs.

    • John Rourke permalink

      From a FAG, it ain’t a ‘one shot-one kill’ world out there, but it ain’t ‘spray and pray’ either.
      IMO its about going just slow enough to get good enough hits. Especially at sub 100 yards. Were any dork can get lucky. Speed Kills

    • Leatherneck556 permalink

      I agree that this is your best post to date. -USMC Capt from WV patrolling class

  5. Not to be pedantic, ok, very pedantic, penultimate means the thing that is next to but not moreso than the ultimate. If your goal is exit 100 on your northound journey, exit 99 would be penultimate to exit 100. Chapter 9 in a 10 chapter book. The fourth kid in a family of seven. Silver medal. You get the idea. I like your writing and how you strive for prescision of word and completeness of thought. But I think every good soldier needs an editor from time to time.

    • Thank you for the correction, sincerely. I’ll have to check my Webster’s. I thought the definitions were the other way around.

  6. Josh A. Kruschke permalink


  7. RobRoySimmons permalink

    IMO you wandered from marksmanship into SUT, not disagreeing with what you said.

    I think the intellectual case has been made, Americans as a whole suck at marksmanship, those who think square ranges are “IT” have been debunked and a general idea of the useful fighter is being fleshed out.

    So in short I think what is left is a better sales job that builds on what is there, such as Appleseed to Combat Rifle to Contact Drills to Patrol/Raid.

    • That was the point. Yes, marksmanship is critical. However, if it cannot be applied, as part of a small-unit element, then it’s a hypothetical skill set at best.

  8. j.l. hulme permalink

    “Fast is fine,but accuracy is final” Wyatt Earp 1848-1929

    • “Speed is fine, and accuracy is final…as long as it arrives in time.” Guys who have been in gunfights with more than one drunk, bad guy on the other end of the gun.

  9. 1LT 11x permalink

    Well written article. Brings back many memories both as a an 11B grunt RTO w/ a PRC77, and eventually as an LT.
    Bounding over-watch! great to hear mention of this again. This is often overlooked (or under-trained) in patrolling to facilitate covering more terrain, and ease of command and control before contact is made. However, this mode of movement BEFORE enemy contact is made deserves special mention of how the small unit leader deploys his squad or platoon size element.
    Each subordinate unit leader needs extensive practice knowing the key goals of selecting the over-watch position, how far, maintenance of visual contact with the maneuver element, etc. At first the group leader or trainer will have to “place” the over-watch group, then shuttle back to the maneuver group to advance them to the next over-watch position, which takes time from advancing, and leaves subordinate team members wondering WTF is all the hurry up and wait. But this movement training is key, it takes times for the subordinate leaders to develop a maneuver “rhythm” and many spot corrections of how far is too far, how not to move through likely ambush kill zones etc.
    Sand table simulations with the entire team observing this method will help everyone understand the goals and key points of the maneuver process; and it is essential that all team members also know how to assume the role of the leader in case one is lost, someone must be next to lead.
    I can recommend the book “Mustang” by Lt Col Averill, USMC; for real-time combat examples including those of leaders failing to lead, vs. those picking themselves up and inspiring others to perform their duty against the grim backdrop of Iwo Jima and Korea.
    For me its now 20 year distant memories of places like Benning, Riley, Campbell and McCoy, having never been exposed to real incoming, and just dubious experience with MILES as well.
    Either our esteemed author or another young buck with real time in the sand box could please provide a refresher to all of us on the proper aspect of bounding over-watch.
    Thanks for your article.

  10. h. in australia permalink

    firstly, thank you for writing these articles and giving us the opportunity to learn things that may save our lives in the future.

    how would you modify these tactics for people in a country where, for the most part, anything more than bolt action rifles are illegal?
    i know the obvious answer is to keep the tactics the same and just break the law, but i’m too pretty to go to jail πŸ˜€ .

    are there any basic rules on how to react if the opposing force has also read MG hence is trying to do a fire and maneuver attack at the same time as you?


    • Fire-and-maneuver cannot be beat, if it is conducted properly. Of course, in this context, properly means “better and faster than the other dude….”

      If all I had were bolt-action rifles, I’d still look at every non-precipitated contact as an immediate break contact, and I’d make sure all intentional contacts were long-range ambushes, with the idea of executing one volley, then running like a raped ape…..

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