This is something of a back to basics; this is the meat and potatoes of modern infantry techniques, the humble patrol. Whether it’s a stealthy reconnaissance patrol or a Vietnam era US combat patrol (walk around tooled up until you bump into something and then shoot it a lot) if a game isn't a direct assault then chances are it will involve an element of this.
As ever this isn't meant to be a definitive military manual explanation of patrolling just a few tips and ideas that will hopefully help you do it to the other guy before he does it to you.
- What are you objectives? Reconnaissance? Fighting (to locate and take out enemy)? Is it a Standing Patrol (more commonly known as an OP or Observation Post)? Or a Clearing Patrol (basically to make sure the area in question is secure)? It is worth bearing in mind that if your intention is to attack an area and hold it then that is an attack or an assault and involves different techniques.
- It may sound silly, it may sound obvious but decide what purpose your patrol has (yes this is different from the first point). Is it recon? Then go light, make sure everything is tied down and as quiet as possible, that you've got good camouflage, etc. Search & Destroy? Go heavy, make sure you've got what you need and try and check your intelligence first there’s nothing worse than going out loaded for bear only to find the bad guys haven’t had the common decency to show up and get shot. Going out at night? Got night vision? The list goes on.
- Make sure everyone knows the Rules of Engagement whether that be fire only if fired upon, avoid contact at all costs (occasionally this is the ROE for Standing Patrols or Recon) or even just slaughter everyone you see combatant or not.
- The Briefing: It would be possible to write an entire article on how to brief properly. Stick to the same format each time: Situation, Mission, Execution, Service & Support, Command and Signal is a reasonable format. If need be take notes during the briefing but keep the questions until afterwards otherwise you’ll never get through it. It’s best to do this sober.
- Keep it small. Don’t alienate any of your team but if it’s much bigger than eight people then you’re not patrolling you’re out on manoeuvres. In theory a patrol can be anything up to a platoon but unless your team is particularly good then a platoon strength patrol is just going to make you a huge target for all the gun ninjas out there. They will hear you coming a mile off and there are not that many sites that could accommodate such a large patrol. If you’ve got a bigger group then just have more patrols but make sure that the different patrols know where they are and what they’re about to avoid blue-on-blue incidents.
- Assign tasks within the patrol. Scout, demo (if need be), navigation, security overwatch (Clue: this should be the team member with the weapon capable of the most sustained fire) etc. Now the temptation is to assign the people best capable of these tasks to them, however it can be worthwhile assigning people not quite so good so they learn and everybody gets a chance to try different roles, at the end of the day it is just a game. It depends on the situation and whether or not individual team members are up for it.
- How long are you out for? In the real world patrols can last for weeks, I'm hoping none of you out there are playing that hard. However you should always have an idea of how long the patrol is going to go on and plan accordingly. You need to rest, you need to eat, you need to re-hydrate (or drink water as I prefer to call it) and eventually you’ll need to take care of business, make sure that you are equipped accordingly. If you are insane and have forgotten that this is a game you may want to sleep out in the field, make sure that this is within the game/site parameters first but make sure you've got at least some gear to do so. Also the longer you’re out the more ammo you’ll need.
- Use standing orders and contingencies. Rally points if you get split up, what to do upon contact, if you get ambushed etc. This saves valuable time faffing. Also nothing surprises the other guys more than when you've been ambushed you respond with overwhelming fire power and advance on their position (mind you that does mean they've not ambushed you properly). The simpler these plans are then the faster your patrol will be able to act on them.
- In any mobile patrol it is worth the patrol leader or a delegated member of the patrol (point man or possibly the scout though they should be too busy with other duties) frequently designating fall-back areas in case of contact. This can be as simple as pointing and making a circular motion with your hand at a likely area as you walk past it.
- Make sure you have an agreed upon comms discipline both with individual patrol members and the HQ element if there is one and you have comms ability.
- Plan your route make sure you know where you are going. Where possible also plan an alternative route. If you are generally patrolling an area, for example in a Clearing Patrol, then plan your sweep pattern. This doesn't have to be a laborious planning session after all first and foremost you’re there to have fun, but spending a couple of minutes discussing it can save a lot of grief and aimless ambling. If you are repeatedly patrolling the same area then change your pattern each time to make it more difficult for an enemy to second-guess your movements.
- As much as possible familiarise yourself with the area. If you have a map then take some time to study it. If you are already familiar then work out where the good defensive positions are, choke points, likely ambush sites etc. If other friendly forces have intelligence on the area then speak to them.
- If the purpose of the patrol is to gather information and you don’t have perfect recall then take something along to aid with that, I would recommend paper and a pencil. Make notes, make maps, amend your own maps. If you have binoculars they could be useful as well and if you fancy risking it then a digital camera could also be useful.
- Have an agreed upon method for returning to friendly lines, especially at night. There’s nothing worse than having gone out and completed a difficult patrol only to get shot by your own side upon return. Actually there is it’s when you let the returning patrol in only to find it’s the oppositions’ patrol, that’s more embarrassing. Such embarrassment can easily be avoided by the use of simple password (Like: “Thunder” to be answered: “Flash”). However the password should be changed regularly to avoid the bad guys from learning it. It’s also quite important that everyone on your side know the password. If someone forgets the password or the correct response then don’t be afraid to open up on them because it’s their own silly fault and you’ll be helping them to remember the next time (and it’s not a real war).
- If there are other friendly units in the area make sure you know what they look like and have an agreed upon link up procedure (passwords) to avoid the shame and embarrassment of Blue-on-Blue.
- When crossing danger areas, such as known enemy positions, open areas, roads, streams etc. Designate rally points on either side of the danger area, establish overwatch to secure the nearside, send the first group over, establish overwatch on the far side of the danger area, then move the patrol across smartly undercover with the nearside overwatch group/person being the last over.
- Contact: The following are US Battle Drills for contact, they work well for Airsoft Games because of their simplicity
- Freeze: If you have seen the other guy but they haven’t seen you then remain still. Going to cover may work but remember more often than not it is movement that gives away your position. Hold until the team leader gives another order or the situation changes.
- Hasty Ambush: If you have seen the other guy and have time to do something then set up a Hasty Ambush. The patrol takes up concealed positions ideally in a line. Depending on objective of the patrol and ROE you can either let the other patrol pass or open fire. If your intent is to let them pass and they spot you then you are in a better position to deal with them. This is an ideal time to use Thunder Flashes and Thermobarics for distraction and Grenades for damage
- Immediate Assault: This happens if both yourself and the bad guys see each other at the same time. The patrol members nearest the enemy shout “Contact!” and then the direction of the Contact. The patrol should move swiftly into the assault. Only stop the assault if the enemy withdraws and breaks contact. If they don’t then carry the assault through the enemy and continue movement until the enemy is destroyed or contact is broken.
- Clock System: If you encounter an overwhelming enemy force and you are compromised this is how to runaway properly. Whatever is left of the chain of command shouts a clock direction (remember 12 o'clock is always the way the patrol is moving), preferably away from the enemy and a distance, the patrol then runs away, sorry withdraws in that direction to that distance. Bricking yourself is optional. Keep doing this until contact is broken or you’re all dead. If you get separated, well that’s what your rally points are for. If you have the time then laying down smoke grenades between yourself and the enemy could be very useful.
- If you have the time and the inclination then these drills are well worth practising.