We move slowly through the dense morning fog, for all appearances simply dark shadows slipping silently through the forest. Each man constantly scans his area of responsibility around the patrol while also keeping track of each others disposition. Foot placement is carefully considered to avoid snapping twigs or rustling brush. Slippery moss-covered stones and logs are stepped over or around to avoid injury due to the burden of our heavy kit or leaving any sign of our passing. Branches in the way are lightly grasped with gloved hands, slowly moved to the side or up to allow for better vision and ease of movement. After passing they are slowly returned to their former position to avoid quick movement or noise when released and to avoid tell-tale breakage.
The predominant sound in the woods is the steady dripping of the mist from the trees which, along with the thoroughly soaked and rotting leaves covering the forest floor, helps to mask our footfalls. With experience from extensive time spent in the back country, we all understand that while this weather is not the best for a stroll in the woods, it is great for patrolling. The untrained eye of the casual observer traveling through the area would be hard pressed to notice our passage along our route-of-march.
Quite frequently while walking point, Andy stops and slowly drops to a knee, using a nearby tree or boulder for concealment, to thoroughly scan under the low branches in and around our path. He looks though the brush and beyond the trees and foliage surrounding us for movement and anything that does not belong or look natural. Some patrol leaders let the point man set the pace. However, this method can cause members of the patrol to lose contact with one another or move like an accordion through the woods. Our method is to let the last man in the patrol set the pace. If I felt we were moving along too fast, when the man in front of me would turn and notice I was lagging behind, he would then stop until I caught up. We have worked together long enough that this was not a problem we encounter very often.
We trekked just below the ridge top along the northern side of the spur heading west on an azimuth of roughly 260 degrees magnetic. As the trees thinned and the terrain opened, we automatically spread out into a diamond formation, still just within visual contact of one another. Jim, the second or even-numbered man in the file, now moves to the right, and Al, the third or odd-numbered man moves to the left. Each man would still be responsible for watching their sector, right and left respectively. I, being the last man in the file, stay roughly aligned with Andy in the front. This makes communications between members of the team tricky. Now, the lead man needs to ensure both men behind him see his hand-and-arm signals. A signal from one of the men on the flanks would need to be seen by the man on the other flank. The diamond movement formation is our primary formation used during a 4 man patrol since it allows 75% of the teams firepower to be concentrated any direction. While the file formation is very easy to control, it only allows a small percentage of the patrols total firepower to be projected to the front or rear of the formation, in our case 25% or one man. At least until the even and odd-numbered men step out to the right and left flanks, respectively, in relation to the point man. Then they must each move forward until they are in a line abreast in order to avoid fratricide. This is not a simple battle drill, especially at night, and requires extensive rehearsal.
Soon Jim’s pace count indicates we are below the saddle in the ridge above and he passes the halt signal up and down the patrol. After the patrol halts and everyone has taken a knee, he touches his support hand to the heel of his left boot (pace count) then bumps his support fist once on his carbine and held up 5 fingers bumps it again, and holds up 4 for a total of 900 meters traveled. He then points to the top of the ridge. We all give Jim a thumbs up to indicate we understand. Andy and I both check our route cards against our memory, then set the next azimuth, 225 magnetic, into our compasses and the patrol moves out along the new azimuth.
Due to the thick fog, Andy can’t see the two hilltops at the top of the ridge to verify we are in the saddle. He does recognize that the ground on both sides is now rising and that the pace count is positive we were nearing the top of the saddle. Before crossing the saddle, Andy sends back the hand-and-arm signal “Rally Point”, indicating the saddle as our next en-route rally point. That would activate the last en-route point, the RON. In order to minimize his profile and to avoid silhouetting the patrol when crossing the ridge line in the saddle, Andy now drops on all fours and began a modified high crawl. We fall back into the file and follow suit. As I cross I momentarily let my head and shoulders drop to rest my arms on my elbows and am quickly rewarded when my ruck suddenly slides forward and slams my face into the ground. Spitting leaves and dirt out of my mouth, I roll onto my back in order to get the ruck off of my head then roll again back on all fours. Looking up ahead, I notice Al has crossed over the ridge line and is almost out of sight. I began moving forward again, ignoring my aching shoulders and arms.
I think to myself, “Got to do more push-ups and chin-ups when we get back home.”
After we cross over the ridge and have moved a few meters down the spur, the danger of silhouetting ourselves against the skyline has passed. We stand, fall back into the diamond formation and continue toward the road ahead. I soon call a rest halt where we drop into the prone, rest, hydrate, and set the next azimuth into our compasses. As usual, security is paramount, so we are each in the prone behind and under cover or at least concealment and are each scanning our sector. While resting the fog begins to switch over to a light rain. I glance over at Jim who was giving me one of his infamous “This is starting to suck” looks. I shrug and pull my snivel gear from the top section of my ruck. He watches as I put on the light Gortex MossyOak jacket and pants and then one-at-a-time each man follows suit. Even though the rustling sound of the rain gear can be noisy, the sound of the falling rain will counter-act it and the gear will protect us from hypothermia in the chilly spring air.
Soon we start back down the south face of a spur falling away from the ridge above. After about 20 minutes, and a pace count of 400 meters, we all know that we are within 100 meters of the road and the bench mark pillar. Suddenly Al stops short, calls a halt, then puts his hand over his ear (since he is monitoring the scanner through the ear bud in his ear, this is our team signal indicating he is picking something up) and takes a knee. We all go into the prone. I watch Al for a few seconds as he is writing intently in his storm pad, then shift my position to monitor his sector as well as mine. After few minutes he motions me over to his location. I rise to a low crouch and move slowly to his side and drop into the prone next to him, now both watching our separate sectors. Al hands me his open pad where I quickly read the following:
030835RMAR20 GRID 01206545
1. SS8* 462.5625M/FM**
0835** Voice 1: “Lewis, this is Wade’?” (Male, nasally)
0837 Voice 1: “Lewis, you there?”
2. SS3 Freq Same
0837 Voice 2: “Yeah, whats up!?” (Male, gravelly baritone, sounds angry, loud, over-driven mic )
3. SS8 Voice 1: “Lewis, were at the end of the hard road at the top of the mountain. There’s nothin’ up here but a foot trail that follows the ridge. We’re turnin’ back. (Voice 1 drops gs at the end of words, southern accent)
4. SS2 Voice 2: “No houses at all above those two we hit already?”
5. SS8 Voice 1: “None so far. We took another side road through the woods comin’ up. We’ll check the rest of the hard road down to those houses on the way down.”
6. SS1 Voice 2: “What’s on the other side of the mountain at the top?” (Lots of static, signal popping in and out).
7. SS8 Voice 1: “Can’t tell, fogs too thick, we can smell smoke though. Somebody’s burnin’ wood down there”.
8. SS1 Voice2: “All right, that’s good to know. Get on back, I’ve got other work for you.”
9. SS8 Voice 1: “On the way”. Sound of engine starting in the background.
* (SS is signal strength 1 to 10, a rough, subjective indication of range of the emitter from the communications receiver due to the signal strength bar display on the receiver) **(Time of transmission with time zone indicator, in this case Romeo time zone)
*** (F is the Frequency of the Emitter, in this case 462.5625 Mhz channel 1 FRS / FM – Type of modulation
**** (End Of Transmission)
I nod to Al, “Good work man. I’ll pass it on to Jim and Andy. Sit tight”.
I move to Jim’s position. “Sounds like we have some company using a FRS HT (Handy-Talky or hand held radio) nearby checking for houses along the road. The other end was weak, probably not close by. Heard a vehicle on the radio also. Might be using the road up ahead.”
Jim just nods his head and continues to peer toward the road through the light rain. I leave him to his thoughts and move on to Andrew’s position at point. When I give the news to Andy, he grimaces slightly and whispers “OK.”
“Keep your head on a swivel, that first signal was pretty close. Let’s get a move on.”, I reply.
“Not that it is necessary to tell him that”, I think to myself. Andy’s got eyes like an eagle, which gives him the uncanny ability to spot anything out-of-place.
I motion us up and forward. As the patrol makes its way down the east side of the small spur just below its ridge line, and passes my position where I had been with Andy, I take up my position at the rear. We only move about 50 meters when Jim holds up a tight fist “Freeze”. He was facing downhill but now has turned his head to the east. After a few seconds of listening, he touches his ear with his support hand, indicating he has heard something unusual, makes the hand-and-arm signal for vehicle, a “V” formed with the index and middle finger of his support hand palm facing toward himself and then points to the east using the same hand, all fingers and thumb extended.
Looking quickly at the terrain around us, I decide I want us on-line, parallel to and facing down the slope toward the road below us as quickly as possible. I signal for a”Hasty Ambush”, my index finger pointed skyward and the thumb parallel to the ground forming an “L” with the remaining fingers folded to the palm. I then sweep the same hand one time from left to right parallel to the road. This is not our first rodeo and it shows: everyone immediately moves to concealed positions. We had rehearsed this battle drill many times prior to leaving on our patrol. Also, in the past couple of years as times had gotten hard, and then even harder, some seriously evil human predators have descended on our little valley, as well as on our neighboring communities, giving us the opportunity to defend our home turf and to conduct several real world hasty and prepared ambushes.
As I move forward to the left flank, I pass Al who has already set up in a small depression behind Andy’s position and now faces to the rear providing security in that direction. I set up behind a large stone to the left of Jim, facing about 45 degrees off axis of the road providing left flank security. Jim is now in the prone providing security on the right flank facing 45 degrees in the opposite direction while Andy has set up in the center facing the road. We are now in a rough line, parallel to the road below, spaced out about 20 feet apart. This would be the same hasty ambush battle drill for a large combat patrol, but for our small unit this was now our defensive position battle drill. Because we are a 4 man R&S patrol, we have no intention of conducting an ambush. We’re merely using the drill to get us into a well protected, hidden position with 360 degree security in the event we are compromised and need to break contact. We are set up about 35 yards above a narrow paved road named Ben Creek Road on the map. Directly in front of Jim’s position a small tree has fallen across the road, blocking it totally.
Soon we all hear the faint sound of a small diesel engine approaching from the east, or up the road, moving toward our position. Now I pick out the movement of a large green 4 door all-terrain vehicle with yellow wheels making its way down the road. From my position, using my binoculars while laying in the prone, I can just make out the face of a man behind the wheel as the single small wiper sweeps quickly across the windshield. The UTV comes to a slow stop just outside of my peripheral vision in front of the tree blocking the road. I catch myself trying to shrink even closer into the ground as my breathing becomes shallow. I am looking for any target of opportunity.
Before the vehicle pulled up, Jim had already retrieved his binoculars from the exterior pocket of the ruck he was laying next to. The old fallen tree stump in front of him provides good concealment.
“Now it’s time to put all the “Kim’s Game” stuff that Dan had us practice to use.” Jim thought to himself as he was adjusting the pair of small binos. “What was it he always said?…… KIM means Keep-In-Mind. Yeah, another of the bazillion acronyms the Army used.”
Glassing the vehicle with his binos, Jim is amazed at its size. 4 wheels in the back under the bed and two at the front. Green and yellow: “John Deere” he whispers to no one in particular. Jim is able to read the sign on the door. Under the picture of a fish the lettering reads “Kyle Trout Farm”. Jim vaguely remembers a visit to the trout farm a few years back when things were normal. It was a Mom and Pop operation run by a pretty good fellow with a nice family. He is trying to make out the occupants behind the fogged up side windows when the noisy little diesel shuts down, the doors swing open, and four men step out into the rain. Jim watches them intently as they stand gazing at the tree blocking their path. The tree had fallen in such a way, suspended about 2 feet above the road bed due to the high banks on both sides, that the group would not be able to drive the UTV over it. The trees and brush on both sides of the road are too thick and the banks are too steep to allow them to circumnavigate.
“This ain’t rocket surgery guys, ” Jim thinks to himself, “Your going to have to move it or go back the way you came.”
Jim studies the men closely making mental notes to transcribe later in his SALUTE report. They are a rough-looking group. All four are deeply tanned indicating a recent life in the outdoors and only one looks old enough to be called an adult. The other three appear to be older teenagers. The older man, who had been riding shotgun, is dressed in filthy blue jeans, muddy cowboy boots and an old faded woodland pattern BDU shirt with a military patch on the right sleeve.
“Looks like the head of a black bird screaming at the sky on the patch.” Jim thinks. “Have to ask Dan what that stands for.”
The man has long stringy, unwashed dirty blonde hair falling out from under his tan ball cap. The hair matches his thin beard. His sleeves are partly rolled up and his exposed arms, hands and fingers are covered with tattoos as is his neck. Jim also notices when he moves that the right side of his shirt is tucked behind a holstered sidearm.
“Looks like a semi-automatic pistol in a black fabric holster. One of those cheap clip-over-the-belt types. Maybe a spare mag in the pocket attached to the front of it.” Jim notes to himself.
He is carrying, slung over his right shoulder, muzzle up, what appears to be an AR-15, with the collapsible stock retracted completely, and iron sights. A magazine is inserted, the bolt is locked to the rear, dust cover open and there is mud smeared on the butt plate.
“Doesn’t appear like he’s too worried about running that weapon in a hurry. And so much for weapons maintenance” Jim concludes.
He can see no outright evidence of him carrying additional magazines except for the bulge in the lower right pocket of his BDU shirt. But then he notices the bent, short black whip of an HT radio sticking out of his right back pocket.
“Bingo.” Jim says to himself. “Wade with the whinny voice is right-handed.”
The skinny driver has long greasy black hair under an old blue ball cap, a scruffy beard and lots of piercings. Ears and nose. He also wears bent wire framed glasses. As he moves to the front of the vehicle next to Wade, Jim notes he was wearing dirty black pants, with the left knee torn out, which are tucked at the bottom into old scuffed black combat boots. He is also wearing a fairly new, brown denim jacket about three sizes to big. More importantly, in his left hand he is carrying a beat up wooden stocked SKS without a sling. No optics, only iron sights. As he appears to be talking to Wade, he gestures and points at the fallen tree with the carbine.
“Wonder were Skinny Man is carrying his extra ammo?” He thinks, “Maybe in his jacket pocket? And where did he come across that clean jacket? It doesn’t match the other dirty clothes he’s wearing. No sling, watch him set that SKS down and walk away from it. Wonder if he can use those iron sights with those dirty glasses? Wonder if its even BZO’d?” Jim remembered Dan requesting Martin to authorize extra ammo for the patrol to Battlesite Zero our weapons before leaving the retreat.
Jim now watches Wade talking to the others and motioning toward the tree. They were too far away to make out what was being said, but it appeared that he is giving orders to the others.
“So, Wades the boss of this crew” Jim makes another mental note.
Another stooped over scrawny teen with long brown hair is carrying a bolt-action hunting rifle with a wood stock in his right hand. It also has no sling and by the diameter of the barrel it appears to be a .22. He is wearing filthy green pants, a gray hoodie type sweater and muddy black boots.
The last man is a short, stocky fellow with dark features, with his long dark hair tied into a pony tail. He walks with a noticeable limp, and is carrying a rusty AKM, with the standard brown stock, slung upside down over his back, magazine inserted. Again, no optics. The sling appears to be made of rope. When Shorty turns his back him, Jim can see that the bolt is forward and the safety selector is in the “fire” position.
“Holy Crap, what a cluster this bunch is. I’m surprised any of them have lived long enough for their weapons to rust.”
Shorty is wearing a dark rain jacket, black pants, low-cut black leather shoes and a dark green boonie style hat with a wide brim. Jim sees he has a wooden revolver handle protruding from an old leather holster and a large, wooden handled knife in a leather sheath, both on his right hip. Again, no sign of spare magazines or ammo. Jim makes a mental note of the fact that Shorty also has several long fresh bloody scratches down his right cheek and neck.
“How did they get the UTV and diesel to run it with?” he wonders to himself. He doesn’t remember the trout farm being big enough for the owners to have any employees working for them.
Jim watches as the three move to the tree. Then Skinny leans his SKS against the vehicle, while Hoodie lays his on the road.
“Yep, that figures.” thinks Jim.
The three squat under the tree and attempt to pick it up and move it. After a few minutes of playing with the hand-held radio while leaning against the hood, Wade walks up behind them, slaps Hoodie on the back of the head and points to the winch mounted on the front of the UTV. After a few minutes of discussion, they have the cable played out and are hooking it around the tree. While the three stooges are working on the cable and tree, Jim watches as Wade walks back around to the passenger side of the UTV, drop his pants, squats and defecates on the road.
“Wonderful.” Jim thinks. “Just what I wanted to see today.”
Now Jim can read the tags sewn on Wades shirt just above the pockets: “CONNER” on the left and “US ARMY” on the right. When Wade finishes, he stands, pulls up and fastens his pants, then walks around to the driver’s side. He yells something at the group, opens the driver’s door and climbs in. He promptly starts the UTV, puts it in reverse and pulling the cable taught, with the help of the trio pushing on the opposite side of the tree, tugs the crown end of the tree far enough into the center of the road to open a space that the UTV can now pass through. Wade then shuts down the vehicle, opens the door, leans out and shouts at the group. While the trio works in the rain unhooking and retrieving the cable, Wade slides back over to the passenger side and appears to be eating something with his hands from a large glass jar. Soon the others have disconnected and reeled in the cable, loaded up and are passing the downed tree that is now out of their way. Wade tosses the empty glass jar out of the window into the grass beside the pavement. Soon they disappear down the road to the west and the sound of the little diesel fades away.
After waiting silently for 5 minutes, Andy wonders “What are we waiting for?”
He finally turns in Jim’s direction with a questioning look and gives him the “What?” signal, both palms facing up and raised simultaneously a few inches. Jim looks back at him, then points to the road directly in front of his position. On the road, partially hidden under the repositioned tree, lies Hoodie’s .22 bolt gun. Andy sends Jim the “OK/I acknowledge” sign: a thumbs up.
Sure enough, within a few minutes, Jim gets our attention and signals “enemy approaching” from his flank, using the “L” shape, thumb pointing toward the ground, index finger facing the direction of the “enemy”. Shortly we see a lone, wet, miserable looking Hoodie come into view slowly running up the road toward the fallen tree, where he stops and sits down on it, sides heaving, with his head between his knees.
“So much for the Buddy Team concept.” Thinks Jim. “If we were a combat patrol we could snatch this lone guy, easy, and no one would notice. Probably would spill his guts in a heartbeat.”
After a few minutes to get his breath back, Hoodie stands, looks around and sees his rifle under the tree, retrieves it, and while turning to leave, promptly steps in Wade’s pile of feces on the road. When he looks down and realizes what he’s stepped in, he shouts and throws the rifle to the pavement, breaking the wooden stock into 2 pieces. Suddenly realizing what he’s done, Hoodie stops and stares silently at the broken rifle for a few seconds, picks up the broken pieces and shuffles down the road, head down and soon disappears out of sight.
“Ah, why so sad Hoodie?”, Jim chuckles silently in his head. “A little duct tape and it’ll be good as new. Wade probably wont even notice”.