The Four Pillars of Individual Proficiency, Part Five – Forward Observer Shop

The Four Pillars of Individual Proficiency, Part Five

The ultimate goal of realistic combat training should be to produce individuals and organizations that respond instantly and effectively to suspected enemy activity, and have the ability to successfully defeat hostile forces. Whether you are concerned about cannibalistic San Franciscans rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, or brigands roaming the countryside robbing, raping, and pillaging, simple mastery of marksmanship is not adequate. You must be able to leverage that marksmanship into combat effectiveness through the use of basic battle skills.

Doctrinally speaking, a battle drill is “a collective team action that is executed without the necessary application of a deliberate decision-making process.” The drill is initiated on a cue, such as an enemy action or a key leader’s command. It is a trained response, at both the individual and collective level, to the specific initiating cue(s).

ARTEP 7-8 Battle Drills for the Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, listed 13 specific battle drills for the conventional light infantry platoon and squad. The Ranger Regiment, looking at their Mission-Essential Task List (METL), chose to practice and master four of these, predicated on the belief that those four would allow subordinate units to prosecute any mission that they were likely to be tasked with. Those four were: “deliberate attack,” “react-to-contact,” “clear a mined/wired obstacle,” and “enter and clear a building/room.”

I agree that focusing on a few, very basic, shall we term them “generalized” battle drills, will allow partisans, regardless of their operational environment, to best leverage the available training time to their benefit. In my Small-Unit Security Patrolling Course, as my POI has evolved, I’ve streamlined down to teaching two basic battle drills at the four-man cell level, before moving on to teach how those two are modified to apply across the board to other tasks that a direct-action/security cell might find itself tasked to perform. Those two are the basic “hasty attack,” and “break contact.”

At first glance of course, there’s no way these two simple drills can in any way, shape, or form, cover all the potential situations an urban or rural cell may face. Once mastered however, if one is able to shift their paradigm away from “this is the way the manual says it HAS to be done,” it becomes readily apparent that those two basic drills can, in fact, be slightly modified to everything from deliberate assaults to ambushes.

The one thing common to all of the basic battle drills, after all, is fire-and-maneuver. If your team can fire-and-manuever at the buddy team level, or the fire team level, they can do anything. A “hasty attack” battle drill can be the obvious answer to a “move-to-contact”: a raid, a deliberate attack, a hasty or a deliberate ambush, or even a “react-to-ambush,” once you’ve grasped how to prosecute the “hasty attack” effectively. By looking at the skills and techniques needed for “hasty attack,” and distilling the skills and techniques of the other problems down, it works remarkably well.

The same applies to the basic “break contact” battle drill. Its most basic application, of course, is to solve a “move-to-contact,” when the force you end up in contact with is unexpectedly more powerful than anticipated. It may also be the battle drill of necessity for “react-to-ambush.” Finally, the basic “break contact” drill can be used to lure an opposing force into a deliberate or hasty ambush. This is true, regardless of your operational environment. “Move-to-contact,” “hasty attacks,” “break-contact,” and ambushes have all occurred in urban environments, even as noncombatants went about their business in the immediate area, as recently as Iraq.

It is the individual battle skills that make up the foundation of the battle drills that require constant attention in your training. Individual movement methods, from moving as part of a fire team, to moving under direct fire, must be taught and trained and practiced. The efficient methods that work well to keep you alive, do not occur naturally or instinctively. They must be practiced to mastery, under realistic conditions, including the incorporation of physical and mental stress.

Individual tactical movement training must incorporate normal static firing positions, as well as shooting over, under, and around obstacles and cover, and movement from one position of cover to another. The fundamental principles that must underpin any movement techniques you choose to train should include: validity (will it keep me from getting shot?), reliability (will it work under various environmental conditions?), and simplicity (can I remember this when I’m getting shot at?).

You may believe that your needs are not the same as the 75th Ranger Regiment’s. That is probably true, to an extent. However, the thing that makes the Ranger Regiment elite is not special, super-secret techniques. What makes the Ranger Regiment elite is the mastery of fundamental combat survival techniques, to the point of professionalism. As the saying goes, “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they cannot get it wrong.”

Anyone in a gunfight should know how to move using valid, reliable, and simple movement techniques. They should know how to use cover effectively. They should know how to provide fire-and-maneuver in concert with a partner or partners. Those aren’t “special operations” tasks. Those are basic combat tasks.

John Mosby is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier. He lives somewhere in the mountains.


  1. John,

    To say well done is fairly rhetorical by now… This is a question and a comment: (is it accurate to say) In order for the (team) Battle Drills to be effective, all of the individual battle skills must be executed properly. A few examples of individual battle skills are (that you didn’t list above): Camouflage, cover, and concealment, evaluate a casualty, individual/buddy first aid, land navigation, communication (verbal and non-verbal). And any critical individual failures have the potential to render the battle drill a failure (i.e. Snuffy fails to properly camouflage/conceal his position leads to enemy detection during hasty ambush).

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