Setting the Standard – Patrolling is not Combat Shooting!

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Why can’t they see the enemy?

As an Observer Trainer shadowing the lead section, I could see the enemy up ahead. As usual, there was an open invite on display from an invincible enemy and their almost white (DPDU) enemy cams stood out plainly from the motley blend of greens and browns in the Singleton Training Area. 

So, if I could see them, some 200 meters away, why couldn’t the rest of the patrol? Surely the scouts (yes, we still have scouts) had a bead on them? Nope. After a few hours of patrolling, the only thing being observed was the ground. As we edged closer to contact, my frustration grew. It wasn’t just the lead section walking into the trap; the entire platoon had their heads down, with weapons also pointed at the ground, with no clue as to what was about to unfold. As the lead section unknowingly walked into the enemy’s killing ground, the barrage of enemy fire from 100 meters out would have had a few of them – the enemy had surprise and the initiative. We had just lost the first of many engagements undertaken that week. That’s where I got my first inkling that something wasn’t quite right.

Fast forward to later in the same year, same training area, but now running a Live Fire Sneaker Lane as part of the unit LFX. The scenario was simple: you are patrolling down a path, you need to cover your arcs between 10 and 2, and engage targets as they present themselves. Easy enough right? So why again did I see trained soldiers patrolling past targets, completely missing an opportunity to engage? A reoccurring theme was emerging here: weapons were pointed low to the ground and their head and eyes were in the opposite direction of their weapon.

The penny dropped

On return from the LFX I launched into the After Action Review; whereby, the training shortfalls were analysed and dissected to identify the core issue. I sought the baseline doctrine that would support my argument, but this is where the penny dropped.

I couldn’t find doctrine on individual patrolling techniques. 

Now I’ll bet that as a reader you are thinking you know better, and that you’re sure it’s in Dismounted Minor Tactics, no wait, Patrolling – surely, it’s in there. Ok, so it’s not in there, it must be in the All Corps Individual Soldier Skills pam. Or maybe that old Recon Pam has it? I’ve checked them all, including Infantry Minor Tactics 1941, Fieldcraft and Target Detection 1967 and Infantry Battalion Lessons from Vietnam by LTCOL Ron Grey in 1972 to name a few. My thinking was that if I couldn’t find any reference to individual patrolling in contemporary doctrine, perhaps somewhere it had been lost to history. To my surprise, I could not and still cannot find any doctrine on individual patrolling. Like me at the time, you may be assuming that methods of movement, searching techniques and scanning techniques fit the purpose. Those techniques have been captured in many pams over the last five decades; however, we have nothing that links them all together at the individual level that would equate to the “individual patrolling technique”. 

What we have done well, however, is maintain the corporate knowledge from our forefathers; those that slogged through the hills of Korea taught the standards to those young men patrolling the jungles of Borneo and then Vietnam and they again passed the knowledge onto the Army of the ‘70s and ‘80s. This standard was not lost there – I was taught patrolling standards from my section commanders in the 1st Battalion in the mid ‘90s. Everyone knew the standard and was held accountable when the standard wasn’t applied – you didn’t want to be the weak link in the patrol.

Standards – they’re kind of important

For the purpose of this discussion, I want to set the standard around the “individual patrolling technique”. This sees the individual, patrolling in rural terrain, weapon close to the body, parallel to the ground with the head and eyes locked onto the same axis as the barrel; where the barrel points, the head and eyes follow. 

For some readers, this will be nothing new. For some, this has always been the way and those that apply this technique also know that this tried and true patrolling technique is mentally and physically draining. Patrolling is not walking through the bush with your head and eyes down; this is a meticulous and painstaking task. But for a light-hearted approach, let’s refer to this as ‘game’ – let’s call it ‘observe the enemy before they observe you so you don’t die!’ Unfortunately, if you consider this as the standard, you’re becoming ‘obsolete’. You are not a part of the ‘new wave’ approach to patrolling where the weapon is pointed toward the ground in a low or high ready posture, ready to engage at a moment’s notice. 

The issue we have, and this is the real discussion here, is the ‘game’ has never been about how quickly one can engage a threat. The difference is that when patrolling we are trying to see the enemy before they see us. That allows us to choose the time to fight, to pull back and observe, to reinforce our flanks, to warn out indirect fire assets, to develop a plan, to apply surprise, etc. In seeing the enemy first, we apply the considerations of the assault to best effect. 

The reality of your approach

If you are someone that applies the Combat Shooting methodology to your patrolling technique, you are unlikely to be seeking to close with the enemy, to kill or capture. On the contrary, you are going to look down at the ground or away from where your weapon is directed. You will, however, be quick to tell the likes of me that you are going to ‘react quickly and accurately’ from the low or high ready position when the enemy fires on you first, and that your combat training and mindset will support your drills when required. Now for a lesson in humility: when you are poised to ‘react to the enemy’, in reality, you are welcoming the enemy to achieve surprise on the ground of their choosing. In other words, the enemy engages your patrol first and you are scrambling toward a mate who is screaming in agony from a gunshot wound because you and the other members in the patrol didn’t see the enemy first. That person could have been you. The enemy won… is this sinking in yet?

How to apply the individual patrolling standard

Seeing the enemy before they see you sets the conditions for success. Observing the close, middle and far ground, scanning right-to-left and left-to-right within your arcs, burning through the foliage for any sign of the enemy as you move is how it is achieved. But how do we get from ‘walking’ through the bush to patrolling effectively? This is the balance of training and setting the standard; the application of battle preparation (having your kit squared away), applying camouflage and concealment coupled with movement and scanning techniques. But first, let’s break down how an individual should move whilst patrolling: 

  1. From a static location, visually determine the next bound along the ground, taking note of any minor obstacles or areas to avoid. The route should be short and, depending on terrain, may not exceed 10-20 paces (as you become proficient in this and begin to trust your peripheral vision, the bound is likely to increase substantially). Also, the path need not be a straight line – move along the path of least resistance;
  2. Once the route has been confirmed, look up, advance whilst scanning arcs – right-to-left, left-to-right – close, middle and far ground. The inclination to look down will remain until such time as you become familiar with this action;
  3. Move quietly through the vegetation. Avoid areas that are likely to raise enemy awareness e.g. dry ground vegetation, or pushing against/through vegetation. Stick to the shadows wherever possible;
  4. Take care when traversing/crossing small obstacles so that the body is balanced and poised to engage if required; and 
  5. Once the bound has been taken, visually determine the next bound and continue to apply the same technique. 

So that gets us from point A to B, but we need to be able to apply this method of moving with weapon in hand. Now we are going to look at tying together movement with weapon carriage, observation and maintenance of situational awareness across the entire patrol:

  1. Weapons are carried parallel to the ground whilst patrolling (this is not to confuse high/low ready postures when contact is imminent). This includes the F89, Maximi, and MAG 58;
  2. The weapon is held across the body, close against the torso and does not extend out unnaturally from the body. The weapon may rest on or along pouches when wearing armour or a form of chest webbing. Your head, eyes and muzzle are aligned at all times. There must be effort made to maintain this alignment throughout the patrol. To break the alignment may well result in identification of the enemy, without being able to achieve instinctive engagement before the enemy;
  3. When traversing along sloping terrain, the weapon remains parallel to the ground being transited; and
  4. Maintenance of situational awareness is vital. Once your arc has been covered, look to the nearest patrol member for receipt of a field signal. Whilst this is not likely to occur on every instance, the maintenance of awareness will be achieved if all individuals look for visual signs from other members of the patrol. A simple nod of the head may be all that is required to ensure the team is synchronised. Secondly, observation to the section commander and 2IC are also vital and must occur at regular intervals.

The Patrol Alert Status

During the patrol, this method is likely to be constant; however, our posture does not remain the same throughout the patrol. We change spacing and formations to suit the terrain and to respond to the threat. For example, when approaching a possible enemy position, we may adopt arrowhead and continue to patrol over the feature, then resume the original formation. Individuals and commanders need to understand the difference between searching/looking for the enemy versus adopting a more aggressive posture when contact is likely, or imminent. 

In a discussion about patrolling standards with a former RSM of SASR, the Patrol Alert concept was born out of the need to delineate the approach required when a threat is imminent (either perceived or actual). We discussed the application of a coloured approach; whereby, green represented the ‘standard’ approach to patrolling, amber status for a potential threat and red for contact. 

To ensure that the correct posture is applied, the Patrol Alert Status was developed:


Whilst I may have been pushing this issue for the last five years, my observation of patrolling standards degrading over the last ten years is not the result of the application of combat shooting alone. The non-existence of a doctrinal basis to allow us to refer to the baseline standard is one of the most influential factors at play here and is coupled with a decline in the corporate knowledge that was once held. 

The perception that patrolling is equivalent to a reaction to contact needs to be addressed first and foremost. We need to see the enemy first and to allow your team, large or small, to be in control of the decision making process. 

Next time you are out in the field, look up and observe what everyone else is doing. Hopefully the penny drops you for as well.

About the Author: Warrant Officer Class Two Brandon Carey is currently a Company Sergeant Major in the 1st/19th Battalion, the Royal New South Wales Regiment. He was previously posted to the Royal Military College- Duntroon and the School of Infantry as a tactics instructor in the Reconnaissance and Sniper Team.