If you haven’t seen it here’s the link to a pretty good comms primer from the folks over at AmRRON.
Archive for July, 2015
Tex recently posted a question regarding Thermal Imaging (TI). He asked if the use of a thermal monocular would have been appropriate for the situation described in Chapter 6 of “The Patrol”.
Good point. It might have. The effectiveness of TI depends on a few variables but it is not the all-seeing Eye-of-Mordor most folks think it is. The proper use of cover/concealment will usually degrade the effectiveness of TI. Put something substantial between you and it and you should be good to go.
TI is greatly affected by the ambient temperature (emitted infrared radiation level) of the mass surrounding the object being targeted. On a hot, sunny day when the surrounding mass has absorbed and is now emitting a lot of that heat, TI is nearly useless, unless your body and gear is quite a bit cooler. In which case you then appear as a human-shaped, dark object. Unless you are using cover properly. For example, if I were in the prone behind a log that completely masks my body from your view, with the exception of that tiny space just large enough for me to surveil my sector, which you are currently standing in, then, depending on the range separating us, you might see that tiny dark spot (or light spot) that is the exposed portion of my face. But most likely not. We have used them pretty extensively during the day and have found ourselves chasing after small forest critters and birds perched on low limbs. More often than not, the tree trunks and limbs in our thickly forested AO create so much vertical heat clutter that we are better off relying on our normal vision.
The same concept applies when dealing with the aerial TI threat. If you are in a heavily forested area and have thick overhead concealment, than the aerial TI threat is also degraded. Max Velocity uses the TI defeating angle of concealment in the construction of his “Thermal Shield”.
Other environmental factors that can degrade its effectiveness include: Rain, fog, snow, sleet, dust and smoke.
Also, thermal imagers are completely useless when looking at glass such as a windshield or window. The glass will reflect the emitted IR image of the person using the device.
We have also tested our imagers through open doors and windows of various building in order to determine if a building is occupied. Again, everything hinges on the amount of heat that has been absorbed by the interior of the building and the use of concealment by the person occupying the building.
A word to the wise: Unless concealment is very thick, moving targets are easily tracked by TI, day or night.
So, in answer to your question Tex, yes, a TI might have been effectively used in the story against the bad guys laying in the shadows if they weren’t using cover and/or concealment properly. Especially since this portion of the story takes place on a cold day. However, was the falling sleet thick enough to interfere with the imager? Dunno, have to wait until next winter to test it.
P.S. Thermal Imagers are like ‘scopes: not all are created equal. Do your due-diligence and op for the highest resolution screen you can afford. If the options include display in both gray-scale and color, that’s a plus.
Jim slowly slides back out from under the thick brush that conceals our position overlooking the homestead. He joins me at a spot deeper in the forest roughly centered between Andy and Al, who are still providing security to our flanks and rear. It’s time to move on, but first I take advantage of the break to rearrange our order of march. Walking point requires a constant, intense mental focus and Andy needs a break. If left at that position too long even the most experienced soldier will eventually loose concentration and begin making mental errors which can lead to disaster. I also want to give Jim something else to occupy his mind other the carnage that we are leaving behind. I signal Jim to take point, with Andy behind him where he will take up pace count duties. Al stays in the number 3 slot, manning the receiver, while I stay in the slack position at the rear of the patrol.
We don’t waste time discussing what we’ve seen. We’ve all experienced much worse in the last few years and if we feel like we need to talk about it, we’ll have time for that later. Andy had gotten a good look when he initially came up on the site while walking point. While Jim and Andy are occupied verifying our present location on their maps and going over the next leg of our journey, Al and I provide security.
Soon Jim and Andy agree on the route, give me the thumbs up, and we resume our trek on azimuth to the west. The temperature continues to drop as the wind increases out of the northwest. Low gun-metal gray clouds scud by and the rain changes to a fine, hard sleet that bites at the exposed skin of our faces. The sound of the wind blowing through the bare tree limbs and the sleet rattling on the dead leaves combine to mask the noise of our footfalls.
Due to his extensive experience on previous patrols, Jim instinctively uses the noise of the wind through the trees and underbrush along with the subsequent increase in the ambient noise level as an invitation to pick up the pace. With the probable exception of a cold rain, this is the best weather for patrolling. He knows that if anyone else is out in this weather, they will most likely keep their heads down. But we don’t have that luxury and so we keep up our guard, using all of our senses to continually scan for threats.
We’ve only traveled about 300 meters when Jim suddenly detects the slight smell of wood smoke mixed in the bitter wind. He stops the patrol, takes a knee, turns to Andy, and touches his support hand to his nose, then points in the direction of the wind, indicating he smells something unusual. Andy gives him the thumbs up and passes the signal. Standing slowly, Jim turns back in the direction of movement and stepping out cautiously, begins to intently look for the source. Jim suspects it is wood smoke coming from the chimneys of the homes he noted earlier during his map and photo recon. Soon he spies the obvious horizontal ridge line of a roof ahead about 75 meters through the trees. Jim calls a halt, signals for me to come forward and waits in the prone while I move slowly in a low crouch to his location. After dropping silently beside his prone position, he points toward the roof. I nod. He then points to me, touches his thumb to his chest, touches his eye with his hand and then to a clump of evergreen trees a few meters ahead. I nod again and after sending the “provide security” signal back, I follow him as we low crawl about 15 meters and then push under and through the lush low branches of a massive hemlock tree.
Laying side-by-side, hidden under the branches that are so low they touch the ground, we survey the scene below us. Per our surveillance SOP, one observer will conduct a hasty scan, looking for threats and threat indicators with the unaided eye, while the other conducts a deliberate scan of the area before us. Once those scans are completed, usually taking no more than a few minutes, one will then conduct a detailed scan with optics while the other either sketches the scene or provides security. Jim, who has better eyesight, starts the hasty scan after seeing me retrieve my binos. He is looking at the overall scene trying to spot obvious threats. I quickly scan the same area concentrating on specific spots that are more likely to conceal a threat but might be missed by the naked eye. Starting directly in front of our position, we each scan in an arc from right to left from 0 out to 50 meters, looking for threats that would be an immediate danger to our patrol. Then we enlarge the area out to 100 meters and repeat the scans. We continue to enlarge each subsequent scan area by 50 meters until we are finally observing the area to the far tree line and can see no further into it. Next, I repeat the cycle using my binoculars for a slower or detailed scan paying extra attention by lingering over areas that would conceal someone, such as areas in the shadows and on the right-hand side of any cover and/or concealment since most folks are right-handed. As a rule-of-thumb, I look at the areas that I would normally take up a position in. I also look for any observable indicators that would betray their presence.
Two building clusters stand slightly off our path in a large clearing to the right, down the mountain side, well below our current position. The closest house, which is about 60 meters from our location, sits on our side of the paved road. It is a two-story wood frame affair with a metal roof that has been twisted, blackened and warped by fire. The nearest side of the slightly smoldering structure has been mostly consumed by flames which leave it partially collapsed over a gaping black opening cluttered with burned, darkened timbers and other blackened debris.
Neatly mown lawns are a thing of the past due to the shortage of gasoline and as usual, the ubiquitous, well-worn foot paths wind through the tall grass and weeds between the outlying structures and the main house. The weeds and grass in the yard on the damaged side of the house have been burned away in a strange semi-circular pattern and several broken and blackened glass containers lay among the ashes. Someone has used the containers as Molotov cocktails to start the blaze, most likely to force the residents out of the structure.
The root cellar, and the small greenhouse have both been looted and the very large early spring garden has been trampled and ruined, the cold weather produce having been pulled up by the roots. Next to the greenhouse there is a long wooden building that was most likely used as a chicken house. The wooden door to the house as well as the chicken wire door to the run are both standing open. Random feathers are scattered on the ground around this building but no birds are to be seen. I make out 2 sacks, which appear to be pillow cases taken from inside the house, trampled in the mud at the coop entrance.
On the far side of the house away from our location stands a medium-sized 2 story wooden barn. It appears to be intact. The doors on the front facing the house have been slid open exposing the front of a small blue tractor parked inside. It is too dark inside the barn to make out any further detail. On the nearest side of the barn, the long wooden gate to the fenced-in corral is standing open also. Since the hay bunker in the corral holds fresh hay, I assume that whatever livestock that may have been kept fenced in has been stolen. A second pen near the first appears to have held pigs. The lot is muddy and a wooden feeding trough is next to the fence on the ground. It’s gate also stands open.
A man’s nude body is laying curled up in the center of the road that bisects the two homes. I swap out the binos for the teams more powerful spotting telescope kept in the long outside pocket on the back of my ruck, which Jim retrieves for me. Looking back at the scene I can see the man’s hands have been bound behind his back and he has been shot in the back of the head. His skin has taken on that very light gray, almost porcelain shade of the recent dead. From this distance it’s hard to tell how long he has lain there. The weather has been cool lately. I spot the shine of a single piece of sidearm brass not far from his body. He has been executed, probably for the benefit of anyone watching from the house across the road.
The second, smaller, single story, wood frame home across the road has been severely damaged by gunfire. All of the windows within our view are shattered and the exterior walls surrounding them are riddled with bullet holes. The area around the front door shows the heaviest gunshot damage. A quick study of the amount and placement of the gunshot damage indicates a lack of fire discipline as well as the type of weapons used. Bullet holes ring the tops, bottoms and both sides of the windows as well as the top and both sides of the front door. Random holes appear along the length of the exterior walls. An experienced soldier understands that most folks are right-handed and will tend to post up behind cover on the left-hand side facing out. Usually only trained shooters can easily transition to the left shoulder to take advantage of right-hand cover. The more experienced also understand that wooden structures offer very little cover to small arms fire and wood exterior walls are easily penetrated unless properly hardened with sandbags. They will then concentrate their fire below windows and on the right hand side of openings from their perspective. When faced with a concrete or stone structure they will concentrate their fire on the lower right hand or left hand corner of windows and doors.
Laying face-up, just outside the front door on the porch, is the body of another man. From our vantage, it appears he has taken a shotgun blast to the upper chest, neck and face at a very close range while attempting to gain entrance at the doorway and subsequently died in place. Through the ‘scope I can see that he is barefoot and his pants pockets have been turned inside out.
Discarded items apparently looted from the house and garage are scattered between the front porch steps and across the overgrown front yard to the paved road. The tall grass around the house has been trampled flat in numerous paths from the road and the woods surrounding it. The doors are standing open on a pickup and small car parked on the circular drive in front of the house. From the looks of the dust-covered vehicles, they haven’t been moved in months. Both have flat tires, while the body of the truck is pock-marked with bullet holes and it’s windows shattered. There is a large, ominous brown stain on the concrete drive on the road side of the truck. Expended rifle and pistol brass of various calibers and a few shotgun shell casings are scattered around the scene, but are mostly grouped behind the truck and car near the large stain. This is curious since most folks now-a-days save even the smallest caliber brass for possible future reloading. Obviously, the raiders tended to cluster in groups behind what they thought was good cover but had to cross large open areas along natural lines-of-drift to get to it. Both are signs of arrogance, laziness, and lack of experience. Hopefully for us and others in this valley, they won’t learn from their experience and adjust their tactics.
Still scanning with the spotting scope, I notice a large, bright piece of cloth at the edge of the overgrown yard next to the road. Adjusting the focus, I make out a ripped woman’s print dress laying discarded in the weeds. Lying near the torn dress there is a single small shoe and torn undergarments. A coldness creeps up my spine and when I lower the scope and close my eyes I see the faces of my wife and both daughters-in-law back at home. I suddenly get the feeling in my gut that we should be back at the retreat protecting them. Jim notices that I have lowered my face and closed my eyes. He bumps his boot against mine to get my attention.
“What?” he mouths, looking in my direction.
“Nothing” I shake my head, not looking his way. I slowly bring the scope back to an eye and gaze back at the house, careful to avoid looking toward the dress. I keep the my thoughts to myself for the time being. Jim has a wife and small granddaughter at home.
Nothing at the scene is moving except the torn curtains in the shattered windows. The only sound is the wind blowing through the trees and the clattering of the sleet on old leaves. No one is alive here.
Jim touches my boot again and points over his carbine in the direction of a line of neatly stacked cord wood under a long, low shed about 50 feet to the right of the smaller house. There, unwittingly thinking the split wood would provide adequate cover, sprawls the body of another man. The top of his head is missing as well as his shoes, trousers and weapon. He still has a glass container with a rag stuffed in the top clutched in his left hand. The fire-bomber got his reward.
“Looks like he was peeking over the top of his “cover” and caught one in the melon,” Jim thinks to himself. “Stupid mistake that you can’t take back. If you’ gotta’ look, look around the side of your cover. Didn’t help that he’s bald as an egg and his head could have used a little camo or at least a hat to cover that bright white dome. Split cord wood’s not good for cover anyway.”
I continue to study the scene for a few more minutes when Jim suddenly leans toward my ear and remarks so quietly I almost miss his words over the wind, “I’d say these raiders don’t give a rats-ass about their dead. They stripped everything useful off them and left ’em for the buzzards, just like their victims.
“Yeah,” I whisper back, “Great for morale, I’m sure.”
As I continue to take in the scene, it appears to me that the bad guys didn’t catch whoever was in the small house by surprise and the homesteaders gave as good as they got. But the final result was still the same; they lost. Probably it all came down to numbers. More of the bad guys, less of the good. I still don’t understand why folks think they need to defend their homes from inside. It didn’t work at Masada, Yorktown, the Alamo, the Maginot Line or Waco. As a defensive tactic, it really limits your options. Let the bad guys have it and take it back when you decide and on your terms. If your going to go on the defense, make sure it’s a defense-in-depth using terrain and maneuver to your advantage. Know the terrain in your AO like the back of your hand and make them pay for every inch of ground prior to the house and then make them pay even more to keep it. And most importantly, get them before they are in your front yard.
At least now I’ve answered my earlier question; why no one buried the dead at the first house we came upon. There’s no one left. Their neighbors/family have either been killed, taken or ran away. By the looks of the smoldering embers at the burned house, this happened a few days ago.”
While thinking about all this Jim suddenly exclaims, “Sons-a-bitches” a little too loud for my comfort. I look sharply his way, about to give him a quiet dressing down when I see that he has his binos out and has seen the dress in the grass. His lips are tightly pursed and his hand are clenched around his glasses so tightly that his hands are shaking. This time I tap his boot. He turns to look at me and I see that same far-away look clouded in black.
“Get a grip” I whisper quietly while looking him straight in the eye. He blinks a few times and then his eyes regain their focus.
“Yeah… yeah, okay man” he whispers back before he turns back to the scene.
“You sons-a-bitches, that’s two” he whispers again, this time, full of venom.
Studying him for a moment, I’m wondering how this is going to play out and if we can keep him under control when the time comes. I find myself thinking of the Norse Ulfhedinn and how Jim always carries that big-assed black Osogrande combat kukri knife on his kit.
I’m thinking,“This is really gonna’ suck for someone” when my closest friend turns back to face me, gives me that quizzical look I’ve seen many times before and shrugs. He’s seen enough and so have I. Time to go.
I give him a quick nod while I’m thinking to myself. “Yeah, it’s really gonna’ suck.