Many of you will recognize this timeless quote. Its lesson is simple and profound: Every prepared individual should be acutely aware of his or her own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of opponents. Self-awareness can be earned through training and feedback from peers, but accurate intel on the enemy isn’t always so easy to come by, especially if that enemy is wise enough to play his cards close to the chest. This is why military strategists throughout history have placed such a heavy emphasis on reconnaissance — the search for information in unknown or hostile territory. Whether you’re fighting a war or simply trying to pass through a dangerous area safely, this information is absolutely critical to your survival and the success of your mission. Beyond combat zones, reconnaissance skills can help you observe, record, and share important details about your surroundings with your family or friends. This might include the most efficient routes of travel, alternate escape routes, potential danger areas, signs of recent human activity, and ideal observation points or camp sites.
Reconnaissance is frequently taught to members of the military and law enforcement, but the general public is rarely afforded glimpses into this valuable skill set, short of perusing books and field manuals on the topic. U.S. Army FM 3-98 Reconnaissance and Security Operations is a good place to start reading and can be found in PDF format via Google search. However, its tone is dry and academic, and many of the techniques within only apply to established military infrastructure. Most importantly, reading about a subject is never quite as effective as experiencing it firsthand — we wanted to get out into the wilderness and test ourselves.
In order to get some realistic training, we headed up into the White Mountains in eastern Arizona to take a two-day Rural Reconnaissance class with a training organization known as Guerrilla Mentor. As you might guess from the name, Guerrilla Mentor was established with the goal of teaching the principles of a somewhat controversial subject — asymmetric or “guerrilla” warfare — to American civilians, law enforcement, and military personnel. Founder and lead instructor Timothy Lacy has no shortage of experience with this subject. Lacy started out as a U.S. Army infantryman before being assigned to a scout platoon, where he was trained in reconnaissance by Ranger and Special Forces qualified noncommissioned officers. He also spent 16 years in law enforcement, where he applied those same reconnaissance principles to detect and track narcotics production and movement through rural areas. He also spent several years working overseas, including training and leading indigenous forces and working as part of a close protection team. He made it clear that he encourages patriots and prepared civilians to learn and understand these guerrilla tactics because, if America ever finds itself embroiled in a second civil war or “without rule of law” scenario, these are the very same tactics that’ll be employed, just as they’ve been in other conflicts around the world.
Simulating a Recon Patrol
The U.S. Army Ranger Handbook states, “Infantry platoons and squads primarily conduct two types of patrols: reconnaissance and combat.” It’s important to understand the difference between the two, since the goal of a recon mission is to observe the enemy and report back while avoiding conflict. If the mission goes awry and leads to a fight, you should have just enough firepower to break contact and retreat.
On the morning of the first day of the course, students met at a remote campsite among the tranquil pine trees, where we would remain for the next two days. Each student was required to bring a realistic gear loadout — a rifle or carbine with spare magazines, chest rig or load-bearing vest, individual first-aid kit, knife, binoculars, navigation tools, camouflage clothing and grease paint, and a patrol pack to carry it all. We brought our own trail food and water, and slept on the ground in bivvy sacks or under tarps (tents were forbidden).
The first day of the course was focused on teaching students the principles of reconnaissance patrolling; the second day would test those skills as the students set out on a simulated patrol to gather information on enemy forces, a role played by Guerrilla Mentor assistant instructors. Outside of actual hostile territory, this type of force-on-force training is the most true-to-life way to learn. Read on as we discuss each phase of a recon patrol and explain how it applied to our simulated mission during the class.
Planning & Preparation
Before setting foot in the field, gather all existing intel —in rural areas, this will include topographic maps and aerial photos; in urban areas, you might look at social media posts and Google Street View. Eyewitness reports can also provide valuable (but sometimes unreliable) intel. All of this should be combined to formulate a plan that outlines:
A patrol base or forward operating base (FOB) location, far enough from the objective to be relatively safe for a brief stay
Primary and secondary routes from the base to the objective
An objective rally point (ORP) location, which serves as a place for the patrol group to gather near the objective, and fall back to afterward
Potential rally and resupply points along the routes
Population centers, terrain features, and known enemy positions to avoid
Resources needed to accomplish the mission, such as food, water, gear, and vehicles
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