Archive for December, 2014

Why land navigation?

Posted: 12/14/2014 in Land Navigation

I’ve recently noted several comments on different blogs asking why all the emphasis on land navigation. Why not just learn your Area of Operations/Area of Interest (AO/AI) like the back of your hand, because you will most likely never venture out of it during WROL anyway. Well, Pilgrim, my best short answer is; land navigation is a valuable skill, that is easily learned and mastered with practice, over time. And like any skill, it makes you a more well-rounded and valuable asset to any team. Why do I need to become familiar with the AK/SKS/Mini-14/FN-FAL/HK systems and every sidearm/shotgun I can get my hands on since I only have an AR-15 ? You never know what you might pick up off of the battlefield.

My best long answer; it is very difficult, even for folks experienced in land nav. to navigate at night, in bad weather, with little or no illumination over broken terrain.  Add to that; while humping ruck, tired and hungry. Let’s look at some scenarios.

Scenario 1:  Your retreat four man R&S patrol is patrolling the ridges surrounding the outside of your AO when they are forced to deviate from their planned route by the unexpected presence of a large group of armed men. They radio in a SALUTE report to back to your group. The OPFOR group’s size, movement formation and route forces your patrol to evade into an area they are unfamiliar with during the night. Come first light, they find themselves in a heavily wooded area surrounded by low mountains. They must now determine their present location and plan a route of return to your retreat. If they can patrol to one of the mountain peaks, they can orient their map to grid north and either terrain associate or re-section their present location and then plan their route back.

Scenario 2:  Your groups ability to make trips to the local barter market have been disrupted by the presence of vehicle mounted harassment/shakedown patrols by groups of local thugs that have recently escalated to include the murder and kidnapping of folks from adjacent groups. After surveilling their operation along different routes for several weeks you determine enough information about them to conduct an early morning ambush of their largest group along a road. This mission will be conducted by several groups with your providing leadership.

Without land nav skills, how will you do your leaders recon of the ambush site, as per SH 21-76 (my favorite, the 1992 version), emplace your security element with eyes-on the objective and find your way back through the release point and then back 300 meters to the ORP at 0200 in the morning, in the rain, and fog, with zero illumination? Or, if you choose to stay on the objective, and send a subordinate leader back to the ORP whereupon he must then lead the rest of the patrol back through the release point to the ambush site, how does he find his way back to the ORP and then subsequently return to the release point? If you’ve not taught him the fundamentals of night land nav he will either A; go off course trying to find the ORP and then decide to sit tight until daylight ruining the ambush opportunity or stumbles up to the ORP off the expected azimuth, whereupon the patrol fires him up and you have a blue-on-blue catastrophe. Or B; he manages to find the ORP and then leads the patrol off course to the ambush site and they stumble upon the road at a different location ruining the ambush and subjecting them to compromise by a vehicle mounted OPFOR patrol.

Scenario 3:  You are asked over your pre-established radio net by the folks in a neighboring community to provide mutual assistance in order to deal with the Leroy Jenkins Gang (thanks Sam) by conducting a raid on their compound. The gang has been ravaging the general area, but has left your group alone due to the severe ass-kicking they took the first time they ventured into your AO. You are going to meet up with your neighbors in the middle of the night at a particular farm outside of your AO. They, being somewhat familiar with land navigation give you the 10 digit grid coordinate to that location. Using maps of the area outside of your AO, which your group ordered and stored well ahead of time, you must now plan a route of march, through unfamiliar territory, to your link up and after the mission is complete, in keeping with good tactics, you must have planned a different route of return to your retreat. Then you must execute that movement under cover of darkness, through heavily wooded terrain in order to mask your movement for two reasons; you do not want the gang to realize part of your force is absent from your retreat thus making it vulnerable, they have their snitches in the area you know, and you don’t want the gang to realize something is afoot making them wary. Surprise is an important combat multiplier.

So, three scenarios regarding the importance of land navigation. I apologize that they all involve combat patrols, but that’s my frame-of-reference. I’m sure with some thought you can come up with other reasons. I would suggest looking around online for land navigation sites to include the land nav primer at Max Velocity’s site. Then go out and take a land nav class or join an orienteering club for some hands-on experience.

Have fun boys and girls.

The Base Defense Operations Center or BDOC (pronounced “b-doc”)is defined by the Army as “A command and control facility established by the base commander to serve as the focal point for base security and defense. It plans, directs, integrates, coordinates, and controls all base defense efforts and coordinates and integrates into area security operations with the rear area operations center/rear tactical operations center”.

In layman’s terms, the BDOC is the central area you designate to run all aspects of your retreat defense. From the BDOC you will command and control (with your communications devices) your perimeter guards, your LP/OPs, your QRF (Quick Reaction Force), your R&S teams and any patrols in your AO/AI. The definition above stated that you would coordinate and integrate with the Tactical Operations Center TOC (pronounced “tawk”). Our BDOC and TOC will be fully integrated in one room. The ACE is also part of the BDOC in our situation.

I will chiefly address the communications aspect of the BDOC.

We will have a dedicated person designated to run our retreat BDOC communications. He is the old guy (or could be a gal) that has the bum knee and can’t hump a ruck but is sharp as a tack. He’s the fellow that got his amateur radio license back before SHTF. In our case the BDOC facility is pretty high-speed; an old table, overloaded with radios, scanners, fieldphones, a couple of twelve volt batteries hooked to solar panels, with maps of the AO on a nearby wall, set up in a backroom in our retreat. It’s away from the sleeping areas because it’s manned 24/7. There the old guy writes our SOIs, guard duty rosters for the perimeter bunkers, LP/OP, radio watch roster, and mans the SITMAP. SITMAP, what’s a SITMAP you say? To which I say “Get you happy ass over to Sam’s guerrillamerica site and study up”. The SITMAP is usually in the TOC, but again, ours is combined. The old guy is also responsible to train our other folks on the use of the comms equipment. Remember, the BDOC is manned 24/7 and he can’t do it alone.

On those radios (yes I said “radios”, as in plural) we monitor the following: deployed R&S team nets and the QRF net if either has been deployed, the communications receivers (scanners) for “Bubba” on the CB, Marine, GMRS/FRS bands, emergency services freqs. and the HF net with other like-minded groups in our area. We also man a field phone network running to each of two manned bunkers. One bunker covers the high-speed avenue of approach (road) into the area of our retreat. The other covers a rear, less accessible foot path. A few yards in advance of our bunkers and at various other areas around our retreat perimeter we will have established hide sites for two-man LP/OP positions.


As listed in the SOI, our retreat has two bunkers and two LP/OPs (Listening Posts/Observation Posts – the LP/OP’s are not heavily fortified positions, they are instead well camouflaged positions that provide early warning of approaching forces. Listening at night, observation in the day.

The primary comms to our bunkers from the BDOC consists of two sets of field phones. One set to each occupied bunker. The same for each occupied LP/OP. The east LP/OP phone is connected directly to the BDOC. The other LP/OP is about 100 yards north of the north bunker and that LP/OP phone is connected directly to another north bunker phone.

So we have a total of 3 phones at the BDOC. One to each of 2 bunkers and one to the east LP/OP. The north bunker has 2 phones, 1 to the BDOC and another to the North LP/OP. For a grand total of 7 phones. You could eliminate 3 phones at the BDOC is you could manage to scrape up an old SB-22 switch board.The SB-22 has its own headset and mic in place of a phone.

We use one spool of standard army WD-1 wire on a 1/4 mile DR-8 spool for each circuit. When running each circuit, a stake is driven into the ground to loosely tie the wire to. Enough slack is left at the stake to run the free end of the wire into the BDOC. The wire is then spooled out from the BDOC to each position, where it is again wrapped around a stake. The extra wire and the spool is left at the position to allow personnel manning the position to quickly spool the wire back up toward the BDOC.  If the position is not manned the phones are disconnected and returned to the BDOC while the wire is left in place. I have used tied down comms wire to find my way to a position at night with no illumination. It’s probably a good idea to call and give the guards on duty in the position a heads up prior to using that trick. Once a day the wire is physically checked for taps, cut wire and attached booby traps.  Each time a phone is attached to the wire a test call is made to the BDOC. A unique colored plastic wire tag is attached to each set of wires running from the comms room to the individual positions. While tags can be attached to each end of the wire if you have multiple phones at each position, in our example we will only tag the BDOC room end. The tags are colored as per the SOI below.

SOI 1 in effect 0500Z26OCT13 until 0500Z27OCT13

1. Organization call signs:
C/S Suffix
Retreat BDOC R5T
Cdr 6
R&S 1 – 1
R&S 2 – 2
1SL 11, 21 or 31
2SL 21, 22 or 32
3SL 31, 32 or 33

HF Net
Primary Freq 40 M 7.615.5Mhz USB data
Secondary Freq 80 M 3.136Mhz USB data
HF Net C/S
Us  B2P
Group 1 R2B
Group 2 U6M

2. R&S to Base communications:
Primary: Radio 1 primary 144.250MHz alternate 223.750MHz
Alternate: Radio 2 primary 151.820 MHz alternate 154.600Mhz
Contingency: Pin Flares IAW SOP
Emergency: Visual Signal-17 Panel IAW SOP
R&S will contact Base at route waypoints 1 through 4 on mapsheet XXXXXXXXXX or at 6 hour intervals from 0500Z26OCT13.

3. Inter patrol communications:
Pri: Hand and arm signals per SOP
Alt: Radio 2 primary 151.880MHz alternate 154.600MHz
Con: Voice commands
Emr: Whistle per SOP

4. Telephone Circuit:
Location C/S Wire Tag
Base Base
North Bunker 1 Blue
West Bunker 2 Red
North LP/OP LP1 Green
East LP/OP LP2 Yellow
Base shall make a net call with all occupied positions every half hour. Net call failure by any occupied position will initiate the QRF to that location.

5. Visual signals: as indicated

6. Recognition signals:
Pri: VS-17 Panels – 1 Orange 1 Magenta
Alt: Blue Smoke
Con: 2 red pin flares 30 seconds apart
Emg: sign / countersign

Pri: Red lens flashlight – 3 flashes.
Alt: 2 red pin flares
Con: 2 whistle blasts
Emg: letter number combination

QRF response to occupied positions:
Primary: Field Phone
Alternate: Radio on guard frequency
Contingency: 3 blasts on air horn
Emergency: Runner

7. Challenge and password: Linebacker/Screwdriver
Running password: Indian
Number combination: 13

8. Authentication word:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

As you can see, I took the SOI from a previous post and modified it. The SOI is a tool to ensure that everyone concerned is on the same sheet of music. You might be surprised by the amount of people involved in our retreat. If you think you are going to get by with just you and the missus, you might want to re-evaluate your situation. Something to consider that’s been said here before; when you pick up nearby scanner traffic of “Bubba” in your AO and he intends to do you harm, you only have four three options:

1.  Call in an airstrike and drop a 2000 lb JDAMS on his position to be followed up by a few passes from an AC-130 Gunship.

2.  Un-ass your AO to your secondary retreat (if you’ve planned one) and hope he doesn’t follow you.

3.  Call in a FRAGO to the deployed R&S team and change their mission into a combat patrol, whereupon they spring a well-rehearsed ambush and eliminate “Bubba. This requires proper tactical training on your part before the event.

4.  Do nothing and die-in-place.

I recently noticed a WRSA posting regarding Daniel Beard’s Book “Camp-Lore”, and an article from regarding his recent backpacking trip into the Appalachian mountains. The author explains the trips purpose was skill building, primarily land navigation.  Others in the community should be outdoors doing just what these fellows are doing; Getting intimately familiar with your AO, developing outdoors skills and working with your team. Nothing builds a functioning team like adversity and challenge. He then uses a lessons-learned format to highlight several problems that he encountered during the event. And while he gives solutions to the problems encountered, they seemed to address fixes appropriate to a civilian backpack expedition.  For my readers, I would like ensure they have a firm understanding of the differences between woodcraft and camping skills that a prepper might find useful in a survival situation and similar field craft and tactical skills needed to operate in an unconventional warfare environment while conducting small unit operations. I will limit this post to cover situations he encountered during his expedition. If my readers want more detailed information regarding gear, tips and techniques, I will follow-up with more non-comms posts. While reading my post, keep in mind that when you spend a lot of years in SF you develop a high threshold to suck, so what doesn’t bother me might not be appropriate for you.

Equipment: A couple of fundamental rules.

Ounces are pounds. It doesn’t matter if you’re an 11B in the 10th Mountain Division or civilian backpacker. 100 lbs. of light weight equipment in your ruck weighs….100 lbs. The more stuff you put in your ruck, the heavier it gets. A large part of my gear comes from the local backpacking store where I seem to spend an inappropriate amount of time lusting after equipment and talking to the folks coming off the AT about what works for them and what to avoid. When in SF, most of the guys on the teams were always looking for ways to lighten their loads, and so naturally gravitated to commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) gear.  COTS backpacking gear is almost always lighter than military issue which is usually heavy due to the requirement to be “Private Proof” indestructible. Keep in mind camouflage when choosing the color of your gear. Stick with the earth tones appropriate to your area and remember; Black is not an earth tone color.

Every piece of gear should be multifunctional if possible.  For example, my primary compass (notice I said “primary”. I always carry two.) is a Sunto with a mirrored cover. Primary use as a compass and inclinometer, secondary uses include using the mirror as a signaling device, to shave with, to do tick checks in places your Ranger Buddy won’t check, and lastly, it has an integral magnifying glass that I have started survival fires with. Bottom line; don’t be afraid to augment your military surplus gear with high quality civilian gear. Take what you need to accomplish the mission, but no more. Be ruthless in your assessment and leave the nice to have stuff for camping trips.

Tents – As advanced and lightweight as the newest civilian backpacking tents are, tents have absolutely no place in tactical, small unit operations. A tent takes up space in your ruck better reserved for more ammo, food, clothing or water. They are slow to get out of when you are in a deep sleep on a pitch dark night and your RON site is suddenly being overran by the bad guys. A better answer is the poncho “hooch”. The military poncho (or “cho”) is light and compact and has a dual use as a rain poncho or shelter. Now, I admit if you’ve ever had to use one as rain gear, they pretty much suck. As a shelter to keep you out of the wind and dry, it does a pretty good job when constructed properly, you can roll out from under one in any direction in the blink of an eye and they have a very low profile. For another use, we keep a poncho in the top of our rucks to access quickly when we have to do a map check at night. Pull it out, throw it over your head, map and red-lensed flashlight while laying on the ground. That’s why military maps are labeled “red light readable”. The hooch is constructed by closing and tieing the hood off with its attached draw string. Stake the four corners off with stakes in the corner grommets into the ground or use a piece of 550 or bungee from the grommet into each stake to give you a raised opening at any side. If a convenient small tree or bush trunk is available, use it instead of the stake. If you have a prevailing wind, then stake that side directly to the ground. Last, suspend the tied-off hood into a peak using more 550 cord or a bungie to an overhanging branch to form a low peak. In order to maintain a low profile, the hooch should be just high enough off the ground so that you can just slide underneath without touching the top. Dont forget to break up the strait outlines with a little fresh local vegetation and to check out your handiwork from a distance. We each carry a military poncho with five very light tent stakes and five very light green bungie cords. OD 550 cord can be substituted for the bungie cords. If you prefer a hammock, then suspend your poncho over the top at the ridgeline with one piece of 550 cord. Keep your hammock and poncho combination low, where it barely clears the ground. You won’t see as much condensation on the bottom of the poncho as you will a tent, but you are at the mercy of insects and other critters in the summer so bug spray is in order, or if you don’t like the odor of bug spray, carry a small piece of OD green mosquito netting to drape from the inside of the poncho over your head or entire body. My choice of poncho is either the woodland pattern or MARPAT version.  Stay away from the Army digital ACU pattern unless your AO is in a gravel pit. Do not buy the cheap Chinese versions on the internet, the grommets will rip out. If you can’t find a military woodland pattern poncho (they are no longer issued) then go with the MARPAT (Marine Camouflage Pattern) version. Or go to Old Grouches Military Surplus online. He has a source for newly manufactured Woodland or Multicam ponchos that are superior to the original issue version and usually stocks the MARPAT. Max Velocity has a thermal sensor resistant version on his website. I have found backpackers that speak highly of the Hyperlight Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp. While it is highly rated, very light and durable, and can be had in green, I would probably be pretty tore up if I had to bug out of my RON in a hurry and leave it behind. Cost is approx. $300.00 vs. my poncho at around $39.00. Do the math.

Ground Pads – Since I’m getting long-in-the-tooth I usually carry a ground pad to keep my body off of the cold ground and as a barrier to the ever-present rocks in these mountains. This is one of the few pieces of comfort or “snivel” gear I hump in my ruck. If you go with the old military pad you might want to trim it down as small as possible. We were also issued “Thermorest” pads in SF and I still have a couple, but in order to save space and weight I now use the Klymit Static V Recon Sleeping Pad. The pad came highly recommended. Although it is inflatable I haven’t been able to poke a hole in the thing yet. It is quiet, rolls up very small and light.

Sleeping bags – AKA “The Fart Sack”. I still use the Military Modular Sleep System. While most backpackers would turn their nose up at it, I’ve used them for years and not been disappointed yet. It comes with two sleeping bags, a woodland camo Gortex bivy and a compression bag. They can be had fairly cheap. Pack the parts you think you’ll need according to MET-TC. I usually get by with the green patrol bag in the winter but I use a Thermolite Reacter Extreme Liner in my bag. It gives an extra 25 degrees to the bag and only weighs 14 oz. It also keeps my bag clean. Rules for sleeping bags in the field: 1.  Always sleep with your clothes on. It does you no good to have to roll out of the sack in the middle of that fire-fight when your buck naked. I have slept with all my clothes and even with my ECWS jacket and pants. That includes boots  (though we did have a Team Sergeant that would let us sleep with tennis shoes or TEVA sandals on. You should hump a minumum of one spare pair of dry clothes in a dry bag in your ruck. When you stop for the night you put on the dry set and stow your wet set in your ruck. Next morning, stow your dry set and put on the wet set. If you are humping a ruck the dry set would be wet in a few minutes anyway.  2. Never zip your bag, use the snaps. If you have to un-ass your bag during the aforementioned assault on your RON, you won’t have time to look for zippers in the dark. That’s why the military specs snaps on issue bags. 3. During cold weather, instead of burying your head in your fart sack, wear your knit cap (snookie) to keep you head warm while sleeping. If you bury your head in your fart sack, you won’t hear as well and will wake up with a wet bag. If your really playing the game, since either you or your Ranger Buddy will be up pulling security (50% security), you can save a lot of weight and “hot rack” or share a bag. No homo, not at the same time, your buddy’s on security while you sleep, remember. I once pulled a mission where equipment requirements were so intense that four of us shared one bag (75% security). 4. In warmer weather, substitute a military camo poncho liner (woobie) for the fart sack. The Marines have issued an oversize MARPAT version with a full length zipper sewn in (what’d I just tell you about that zipper?) that is sized for 7′ men. Old Grouch has them, I carry one and it’s the cat’s ass.

Base layer clothing – If you’re not layering your wrong. You really can’t go wrong with poly pro. Don’t get me wrong, I like wool. I tend to use a mix of wool and poly pro. I wear Darn Tough Merino boot length socks. They are expensive but have a lifetime warranty. I’ve used them daily for a few years and still haven’t worn a pair out. I still have and use the Army button up wool sweaters, however, most of my base layer items are poly pro.

Why not cotton? Cotton kills. Clothing insulates by trapping warm air against your body in small cells. When cotton gets wet, it absorbs and holds water and sweat against your skin while loosing all insulation ability. In cool weather you are miserable, in cold weather you die slowly from hypothermia. One of the commentors after the article suggested wearing a cotton t-shirt under the wool shirt to avoid the itch from the wool. WTF.

Other cotton fabrics to avoid; corduroy, denim, flannel and duck as well as 50/50 cotton polyester blends and silk. Also stay away from modal, rayon, viscose, tencel and lyocell. They are made from cellulose which absorbs moisture faster than cotton. Wool still absorbs about 36% of its weight in moisture but does not lose its insulation ability. Synthetics use capillary action to wick moisture from wet areas, your skin, to dry areas, the fabric surface. Yes, poly pro can stink because it collects bacteria on the surface over time and wool is naturally anti-bacterial. To avoid the stink I thoroughly wash all my field clothing when I get home. Use a hunter’s detergent like Scent-A-Way. It has no UV brighteners and no odor. Also avoid fabric softeners and dryer pads. They are usually perfumed and also have brighteners.

Ivymike spoke about issues with poly pro underwear and fire. He was right-on regarding its flammability and yes ,wool doesn’t melt to your skin. However, poly pro should be used only as a base layer under your field clothing. More importantly, in a tactical situation, fires are not used because of the light and smoke produced. Get used to a cold camp and eat your food cold. Or use an MRE heater if there is no danger from the smell compromising your mission. If for some reason during a tactical mission (I cannot fathom the reason) you believe you must have a fire, pack a small backpacking stove like the Jetboil Sol. You could dig a Dakota Hole, but you still run the risk of smoke and leaving more spoor for trackers.  Keep in mind that flames can be seen at night so use that stove only during daylight.

That pretty much covers the Ivymikes article regarding equipment and clothing. Another issue in his article concerned the forgotten compass. This would be addressed before the patrol or mission with the conduct of the pre-patrol personnel and equipment inspection. This is done by your Ranger Buddy under the supervision of the patrol leader. Ask my guys or students in my SUT classes how it works.

Remember, camping skills do not necessarily work in a tactical environment.