Scout Training Complete: Real World Lessons?
It is said that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. However, the Houston Unit of the Texas State Militia also learned on their scouting mission that no simulation survives first contact with the weather.
The Militia Scouting and Patrolling Training was to culminate in a well-organized simulation of real-world scouting mission conditions and challenges. As the training date approached, so did a massive winter front that dumped almost 5 inches of rain on the southeast Texas piney woods. The mission was severely compromised, as flooding of the area local to the planned operating area sat under water, and near freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, weeks of planning centered around an AO of roughly 300 acres had to be scrapped.
Militia Shows Dedication to the Training
Not to be deterred, command, trainers, and trainees alike stepped up to the plate to find a new location, build new maps, a new mission, and schedule, all in a 24hr window. The new location available was roughly one third the area of the previous training grounds. The boundaries of the training area were long and narrow, with choke points, barbed wire barriers, and dozens of unmapped trails and normally dry creeks that were now full. This unforeseen situation presented an unintended aspect to the scout training: how to put together a mission on short notice, in unknown, unmapped territory. It doesn’t get more real world than that.
Remarkably, even though the training location was nearly twice as far away as the original location, nearly every member still attended. That’s not to say that confidence was high. The shifting of location and scout mission parameters made the squad uneasy. No one knew where they were setting up the patrol base or where the opposition force was going to be located. No one knew if we were going to be camping in tents, or sleeping under the stars.
The plan seemed simple enough: an unknown militia force was encamped at the far end of the property. They had been observed running heavy patrols of the area. The opposition force size was heavy presence, their resources were unknown, and scout squad (designated Bishop) was to gather as much information on the force as they could. They would need to use their training to determine what information was relevant and report back to command. However, fate had strong lessons to teach the squad even as they stepped off.
It seemed everywhere we turned, there was an enemy patrol route staring us in the face…
– Bishop Actual, Texas State Militia
Obstacle after obstacle, SNAFU
From the beginning, Bishop began experiencing cramped conditions in the area. Bishop would set a heading and begin quietly slinking through the thick forest, only to find themselves slowly squeezed between a barbed wire fence and an unmapped trail with active enemy patrols. Trails are considered dangerous crossings. They represent an avenue of approach where enemy patrols maybe traversing, LO/OPs or crew served weapons may be placed. Dangerous crossings should be treated with the upmost respect and handled with care, lest the team be seen and endangered. These are things Bishop has been trained to handle, but they were not ready for what was to come.
As planned, they would reset their direction, wait until the patrol moved on, and cross the trail with security and clandestine character. However, once back on track they would immediately find another unmapped trail with an active enemy patrol. Over and over again, navigation was hindered by unforeseen obstacles. Checkpoint after checkpoint Bishop was consumed with navigating safely through the spider web of trails. Quickly seeing they were constantly getting squeezed between trails, the squad realized they were too many. A squad with 12 members getting sandwiched between two parallel trails 50 meters apart was a bad scenario. Unfortunately, there is little concealment in a 50m area than can hide 12 men with packs and rifles. They needed to get out of this area quickly but were forced to deal with the current situation as best they could. Bishop decided to cross new trails more slowly and in smaller teams.
Finally arrived, but…
As Bishop Squad approached the designated area for patrol base Caesar, they realized that Caesar was right in the middle of one of these trail sandwiches! Bishop Actual ordered a small reconnoiter of the area and quickly located a more suitable location for Caesar. The relative coordinates were radioed in to command. With command’s approval, the squad took a brief rest, grabbed some water and food, and prepared to begin the observation team rotation for reconnaissance operations.
The realization then came that all of these challenges had slowed the team down to a snail’s pace. What was intended to take 2 hours from wire to Caesar, had instead taken 4.5 hours! There was little time remaining for observation and information gathering. Feeling the heat, two observation teams (instead of one) were simultaneously activated. They went to their designated coordinates and quickly found suitable OPs from which they could observe the unknown military encampment. They radioed in their coded coordinates and began reporting their information.
What they found was that the opposition was well secured and encamped, although severely exposed out in an open field. They had vehicles, small arms, and only 9 men. This had forced each of them to patrol more actively with little rest, giving them the appearance of a much larger force. They were low on resources, and relatively relaxed when in the camp. Very valuable information to command.
A tense moment…
I could have spit on the enemy commander as he walked by.– Observation Team 1 Leader, Bishop Squad
At 1600 communication was lost with observation team 1. As Bishop was nearing the end of its operation, the order was given for team 2 to investigate and report on team 1’s situation. It was a tense few moments for Bishop Actual, as he faced the possibility of team 1 being captured. However, as team 2 was approaching team 1, team 1 radioed in that they had been on radio silence to avoided imminent detection. A member of the opposition patrol had walked within 5 meters of their position, but didn’t see them! Bad ass work team 1!
Head for the wire
With the end of the mission upon Bishop, the observation teams were recalled, the squad rallied, and they began the trip back to FOB. The trip home was made without incident, the team was debriefed. Finally, everyone could then relax.
More could not have gone wrong with this operation. From the beginning it seemed that challenges continued to stack up, from having to quickly put together the mission with little time to plan, to operating in a virtual spider web of trails, paths, and roads. Through it all, the team remained focused on completing their objectives.
- When concealment is the primary goal, tailor the size of your squad to the size of the operating area.
- Scout/Patrol Base should be placed farther away from the objective.
- You cannot rely on pre-planned mission parameters to stay the same. Things change and you need to adapt.
- When the team stops, all members need to find concealment immediately.
Texas State Militia runs these scouting missions and other trainings as part of our normal curriculum. All members are volunteer, trainings are free, and membership is $20 per year. Thank you for your attention.