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

The Four Pillars of Individual Proficiency, Part Four

It should be no surprise to anyone, anywhere, by now, that combat is a physically and emotionally draining experience. Fat, out-of-shape people don’t do well in combat. Skinny, malnourished, half-dead people do somewhat better, but not by a wide margin, unless they are fighting fat, out-of-shape people.

Whether you are preparing for a total grid-down, or simply trying to survive the continuing decay of the Republic, studies and experiential evidence both conclusively demonstrate that the better your physical condition, the greater your chances of success. Good physical conditioning will help to protect you from injury, allow you to heal faster in the event you are injured, reduce the cognitive impact of the sleep deprivation common to stressful situations, and simply allow you to perform extremely exhausting physical tasks more efficiently and more effectively.

Quite simply, being fit makes you a better survivor.

Physical conditioning for survival is not bodybuilding in the classic, oiled skin and bikini briefs sense of the word, nor is it running a marathon. It is really closer to a combination of the two, combined with a healthy dose of getting punched in the face and choked out occasionally. During the revamp of training in the four pillars, the Ranger Regiment moved away from the traditional, daily, long-distance running and calisthenics-based PT programs of the past, to develop a modern, sports-conditioning, science-based program called the Ranger, Athlete-Warrior (RAW) program. Some of the philosophical statements at the foundation of this program offer a great deal of insight for the survivalist.

“The individual Ranger is the Regiment’s most lethal weapon.” Unlike the Ranger Regiment, we don’t have A-10s and mortars on call. We are, literally, our own most lethal weapon. The simple truth is, it doesn’t matter how many tricked-out custom guns you have, the fitter you are, the more lethal you are. Period.

“You don’t know how tough your next enemy will be. Assume he’ll be very tough.” Whatever you see your coming conflict as, don’t assume the foe will be a pushover. A cannibalistic San Franciscan may very well be a steriod-jacked ex-con with a stolen M240B. I can assure you, a federal SWAT cop or a foreign special operations soldier is going to be fit. Assume the enemy—whomever the enemy may prove to be—will be fitter than you are now, and keep trying to get stronger and tougher. There’ll be enough people and things trying to kill you, don’t let your own laziness do their work for them.

“You don’t know exactly what the physical requirements will be on your next mission. Assume it will be extremely demanding.” I am not—contrary to popular misconception—some sort of super athlete. I get tired of going out and lifting weights, running sprints, humping a ruck, and doing Crossfit-type WOD. I don’t believe only combat experienced, SOF veterans have a shot at survival. Too many of my friends have been killed by tenth century goat herders for me to believe that.

Here’s the deal though…If you’ve never even served in a combat arms unit, let alone if you’ve never been downrange, you legitimately have no idea, whatsoever, what the physical demands are in combat. There are lots of professional instructors, some of them with impeccable resumes, who will tell you that PT is important, but that you don’t have to be as fit as a 19 year old infantry private. They’re right, but they’re also feeding you a line of crap. If you think the standards I’m describing are tough, wait until you see what reality has in store for you when she smokes you in the kisser with a Louisville Slugger. The difference between me and most instructors?

I don’t give a crap if I never teach another class. I can go to work, making considerably more money than I do from teaching, and focus on my own community and tribe. I don’t have a mortgage payment to make on a range facility, and I didn’t take a second mortgage on my house to pay for my gun collection.

“Ranger missions require strength, endurance, and movement skill…excelling in only one or two leaves you vulnerable to poor performance and/or injuries.” As we get older, the demands of both combat and training leave us more susceptible to potential injury. I pulled a muscle in my back last week. Bad. To the point that I fell out of a chair and couldn’t get up without help. Not because I’m not fit, but because it happens. Being fit simply means I will heal faster so I can get back to lifting, running, and moving.

We don’t have to be 19-year-old infantry privates. We do need to meet—and exceed—the same standards of performance as we expect from anyone else in the same circumstances. There are no mulligans for age in combat, regardless of the battlefield.

“As an individual, a team, a squad, or a platoon, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Don’t have a weak link.” More importantly, don’t BE the weak link. Do not let your tribe down. Does it get old, doing two-a-day workouts, five days a week, and going to the range on Saturdays, week in and week out? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it’s the only way I’ve found to eliminate all of my weak links.

“Keep your head in the game.” Because I know what I’m training for—the lives and safety of my kith and kin—I am willing to make the sacrifices of working out twice a day, five days a week. In fact, training trips to teach classes actually cut into that training time, meaning I have to work even harder to make up for the lapses. My family and tribe are worth it to me.

Combat-focused PT MUST include strength training, but the traditional “show” muscles of the beachfront poseur are nearly useless. The strength developed in combat-focused PT must be functional strength (this does not, in any way, relate to the popular trend amongst “health club” “personal trainers” to have clients stand on a balance board with one foot, while performing a 2.5lb dumbbell overhead press with the opposite arm, while their eyes are closed!). Functional fitness, in this legitimate context, simply means, the ability to move large, heavy things. It doesn’t matter if your biceps are 15 inches in diameter, or 21 inches in diameter, as long as you can move the requisite amount of weight. It’s a definite matter of function over form.
At the same time, while I am, always have been, and will continue to be, an advocate of absolute strength, I’ve rightly been called to task in the past, for not relating the need for relative strength as well. Being able to lift a Toyota Hi-Lux over your head and throw it through a wall in order to effect a breach into a compound is certainly useful…unless you’re so goddamned big that you can’t climb through the breach you created.
The key questions are: What type of strength do we need, how strong do we need to be, and what is the most efficient method of developing those standards of strength? Bodyweight strength is simply the ability to stabilize the individual joints, in combination with one another, to perform critical athletic movements. Too often in the past (and the present amongst some circles), we’ve focused exclusively on this type of strength. While useful, it’s not enough when you have to carry heavy loads to prosecute the fight, or carry a wounded buddy back to a safehouse, or carry battlefield recovered gear off an objective…It’s not enough if you need to grab an armored-up Kalashnikov-wielding Spetznaz commando and bounce him through your front door into the rest of his team coming through the door to give your wife time to get the kids out the back door. It’s not enough if you need to toss a tweaked out rioter through a car windshield to give your buddy time to get the pickup truck started, in order to effect a getaway from a flash-mob.
You’re also going to need raw strength, the ability to move a heavy weight, through space. You’re also going to need speed-strength/power, the ability to move a heavy weight, through space, at a high velocity. Those require resistance training beyond bodyweight calisthenics. It’s not secret that I’m a fan of heavy weight lifting exercises, such as squats, bench presses, overhead presses, dead lifts, and power cleans.
Combat strength needs to be a measured balance of strength-weight ratio. That ratio comes into focus when we consider the concept of power. Simply put, speed-strength/power (and I may be diverging from the scientific physiological terminology here, but please, bear with me) can be described as the ability to use your strength in a fast manner. This can range from the strength of your squats allowing you to sprint up a flight up stairs more quickly than the spindly-legged cross-country runner, to the ability to grab a couch and throw it at a guy down the hall. It may be as simple a matter as being able to run a 300 meter shuttle run, in full kit, in a prescribed amount of time that mimics the physiological demands of small-unit combat.
In that vein, combat-focused PT also needs to develop two different types of endurance. For our purposes, endurance is simply defined as the ability to sustain physical exertion over a sustained period of time. In most instance you will face, activity is intense and can only be sustained for a relatively short time. With some recovery, however brief, the activity can then be repeated. This is anaerobic endurance and is typified in many combat tasks that involve repetitive, quick, powerful movements, such as individual movement techniques under direct fire (3-5 second rushes) for example, or a quick combative encounter when you run into an unforeseen bad guy and need to create space to get your weapon into the fight.
At other times however, especially for the partisan without the benefit of air assets and with limited ground vehicle mobility, the task may be far less intense, but require longer duration, continuous movement, such as a foot march with rucksacks to conduct a multi-day security patrol around your area. This type of activity requires aerobic endurance. Most activities in the UW environment however, like life, are not simply one or the other, but a combination of both, to varying degrees. Fortunately, modern sports science has demonstrated conclusively that training anaerobically will improve aerobic capacity, although the opposite is not true. For this reason, the age-old military solution of daily, long-distance runs is happily obsolete when missions require full-spectrum endurance (says the guy who HATES long- or even medium-distance running…).
Neglecting the aerobic demands of longer runs, such as those needed to get around an enemy position to maneuver on him, or the endurance needed to walk 10-20 miles, cross-country, in the mountains, with a loaded rucksack would be just as ill-advised as ignoring the sprint demands. While the Ranger Regiment utilizes foot march conditioning (these “gut checks” were called “ruck runs” in my youth, because most of the time, you had to basically RUN, to complete them on time), more as a method to build physical and mental endurance in young Rangers, the partisan MUST also utilize it just as much as a practical training method. While the gut check benefits of the forced march are certainly just as valid for the partisan as they are for young Rangers, traditionally, irregular warfare has been conducted by foot-mobile forces, to aid in avoiding road-bound security forces. In the event of providing security for your community in the blooming unpleasantness, whether you live in an urban enclave, a suburban residential neighborhood, or the hinter-boonies of the Redoubt, you WILL have to project force into otherwise unreachable access routes by foot-mobile patrolling. Get used to it, and get conditioned for it now. The basis of a combat-focused physical conditioning program for partisans should, in my less than humble opinion, be built around forced marches, with fully-laden rucksacks. The Ranger Regiment maintained a standard of 10 miles weekly, with 20 miles quarterly, although in the mid-1990s, at least in my platoon, we conducted a 12-mile foot march every other Friday, with 80-pound rucksacks, and a 25-mile foot march twice a year. These were done with a 10-minute/mile pace standard. In the SF community however, the long-time standard has been a 15-minute/mile pace. I believe for most partisans, this latter standard is much more realistic and achievable, although I do believe the standards should be maintained or even increased for distance.
Performing a ruck run daily of course, would serve little purpose other than physical degradation of the body, especially for those of us no longer in our twenties, the rest of your cardio-respiratory and endurance work should probably be conducted via the use of sprint training drills to build anaerobic endurance, and mid-distance runs of 3-5 miles (Personally, I never enjoyed running, and still don’t. I’d be inclined to focus on the 3 mile distance over the 5, but that’s my personal weakness…).
Too many people in the Liberty movement claim doing chores around the “farm” as their PT. While historically, guerrilla fighters have come from rural agricultural societies (with notable exceptions, I realize), and their lifetime of hard work has largely been historically sufficient to condition them to the challenges of UW operations, the modern American, even one who “homesteads” and does manual labor daily, is not performing anywhere near the level of physical labor of a third-world farmworker. Don’t fool yourself. Develop a PT program.
Tactical PT:
Combat-focused PT facilitates the ability to meet the physical requirements of tactical missions. Generally speaking, these will almost always require a mix of movement skills, strength, and endurance. Unlike traditional exercise programming, these need to be utilized in coordination with one another to effect the complete synergistic benefit of a PT program. This is called Tactical PT.
Tactical PT may include a traditional Obstacle Course (if you have the room and ability to construct such a beast), combatives, casualty evacuation pulls and carries, and ruck runs. Even better, is a combination of these, such as the RPAT run-modified, I’ll describe in the next article on PT standards.

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


  1. Interesting and informative article John and a good read.

    Ain’t gonna work for me though. I’m a type two diabetic and 53 YRO. The wheels are coming off this old body that has been subjected to much physical punishment over the years.

    However, I do walk 2 miles a day and lift weights concentrating on my upper body daily and I try very hard to eat right. I am not what you’d consider sedentary but I’m not an athlete by any means. I do practice martial arts ( goju ryu and Kenpo ) because I can’t run very fast so i have to prepare to stick and fight which I have no problem with. BTW, I’m not a fat guy either. I’m 6’3″ and 200 lbs.

    I have several friends who are Marines and Army and when they are home on leave I see them jogging and running through the neighborhood. If it all goes bad they’re probably going to be the people with the endurance, experience and mental toughness required. Me, I’ll be content to be support for whatever the war fighters need and will pick up my rifle to pitch in.

    Snake Plisken

  2. This may be the Captain Obvious side of me talking, but apart from the anaerobic/endurance benefits of rucking are the conditioning effects on your feet. You’ll develop tough skin and will be less prone to blisters, and when you develop blisters, you’ll get used to dealing with them with moleskin, etc. You’ll also develop well broken-in boots. And you’ll learn how often you have to hydrate, change socks, remove/add layers of clothing, etc. So what I’m getting at is that rucking is one of those exercises that ‘exercises’ how your whole system (body, clothing, land nav, etc) works together in a direct way. Whereas when folks talk about gym exercises like squats, they talk about how those exercises translate into real-world benefits.

    1. Spartan,

      Close, but maybe not close as obvious is the pile of suck that is the massive weight hanging from your shoulders… just something mental about the old turtle back. And these are the nice things said by someone who happens to enjoy rucking, ruck marching, tabbing ….

  3. While I’m still holding up physically, and not wanting to take away anything from the article, here’s something for the old guys to be working on:

    Wargaming commentary from a close friend, to someone thinking tactically, not strategically.

    “I’m guessing that anybody who reads this has twenty or so years of military experience, SF or lesser.

    So my question is this… “Train while you can,” for what?

    Is there any Old SF’er here who could not build a rifle battalion (or better) from scratch if he had to? More importantly, be its commander?

    Speaking only for myself, the very idea that I need to grunt around with 120 lbs of gear playing private in small unit tactics courses of entry level battle drills leaves me completely cold. And utterly disinterested.

    Does it occur to anybody else here that after twenty or so years in SF we old-timers have the equivalent of a C&GS (or probably better) qualification? Or that if you don’t have at least the equivalent of C&GS you did something very wrong in your career — or worse, were not paying attention?

    As for the booger-eating-idiot-next-door cop with all the cool-guy military crap, are any of us really scared or intimidated? When it takes SWAT teams with AFVs to take down one poor schmo with two rifles and a couple of bags of fertilizer we may rightly conclude that we have the measure of our foe.”

    1. While I agree with John that war is a young man’s game I wonder how old the average patriot’s age was at Lexington and Concord or Saratoga? And i mean in respect to the relative long lives we live now compared to our patriot fathers and mothers?

      And please, with all due respect, don’t get me started on police military gear and SWAT tactics. As a person who was SWATTED last summer I have come to the realization that an innocent person ( family ) are in serious danger during one of these events. I was lucky that my dog didn’t get shot. Turned out to be BS and the cops that I know said as much ( pissed of their Sarge ) so now I have to worry about a 28 YRO dickhead with a grudge. They did have a 4 nice and shiny M4’s though.

      I was calm and compliant through the whole event which seemed to piss off the Sarge even more. He threw a lot of threats my way and my being much older and schooled in my second and fourth amendment rights. He said he knew more about the 4th than i did ( I let him search my home, there’s nothing to hide here ) and I said ” I doubt that, the public schools quit teaching the Bill of Rights in 1990 while you were still in diapers.” You would have thought I peed on his parade.

      Bottom line is this: a squad of heavily armed youngsters ( from the US ARMED FORCES ) would have been a great help at that point during the SWATTING but besides endurance and commitment and health, there is always a need for practical experience and common sense needed. You badass war fighters do what is required and i’ll support you in any way needed.

      Sorry about getting long worded, but see john, many of us aren’t capable of being a hardcore and capable war fighter. However, I do believe that you are on the right track……..we all need to be as fit as possible! No doubt about that!


      Snake Plisken

  4. Let’s juxtapose the two, i.e. CG&S and SWATing.

    Articles here are about a situation were the rules are thrown out, that something major has happened that requires the sort of knowledge discussed.

    In that scenario, setting an ambush would be easy, and they’d walk (run) right into it.

    As for the people that make those types of phone calls, without the protection of the State, they’d be dogmeat soon enough.

  5. im a little over weight I don’t have much time to exercise I’m in construction an then I come home to six kids so what can I do to beef up an loose fat

    1. @Jason
      Do Fork Drops and Table Pushups:
      Before you clean that plate, leave something on it, drop the fork, and push away from the table.
      100% effective since forever.

      Diet or exercise alone are a poor way to lose weight. But cutting your intake back is the best way to get any benefit from exercise at all. It’s a lot easier to eat your way into being fat than it is to exercise your way out of it, but by the same token, trimming your intake is the easiest way to lean out over time. You may not exercise 10x/wk like John, but you darn sure eat 21x/week. So cutting your portion sizes will have twice the effect for virtually no effort, with the bonus that it saves you money at the grocery store week-in and week-out, which leaves that money available for other things, like practice ammo and other preps, let alone feeding the six baby birds at your dinner table.

      Eat more fruits and veggies, and less fat and junk food garbage. Cut out the crap in your diet, and stop overeating, and you’ll lean out at a far more ideal starting weight in the first place.
      When and as you can add solid exercise to that weekly routine, the benefits to your body will accrue faster, if you don’t have to first overcome all the crap you’re slinging around your middle by being chunked out at the start.
      You’ll also sleep better, last longer over your lifetime, and have more energy all the time.
      (You may even note a renewed sparkle in the spouse’s eye.)

      Note I didn’t say go on a diet. Diets suck, and they seldom work. Just eat less than you’re eating now, and every chance you get to cut nutritional Styrofoam out of your intake, DO IT.

      But it takes the toughest kind of discipline there is: self-discipline.

      1. Aesop you hit that ball out of the park!

        After finding out that I was type 2 diabetic 3.5 years ago ( nearly died ) I was offered a free class by my doctor that was taught by a nurse and dietician who specialize in teaching about diabetes. I was a bit slow to come around but eventually signed up for the class. What an eye opener! I now eat 5 or 6 small meals a day. I love fresh veggies but have to kinda force myself to eat fruit. I love a good steak and chicken as well but don’t eat a huge amount at any sitting. I eat until I’m comfortable without packing my stomach. Part of this is physical and most of my appetite is mental. I know that i’ll be eating again within a couple of hours so I don’t stress.

        It’s kind of odd when my brother and I go to a fine dining establishment because I’ll give him half of my sandwich and all the fries because he’s much more active than I am. He’s 6’7″ and 240 lbs and a carpenter who really works his arse off and I’m down to 195 lbs ( from 238 lbs ) and 6′ 3″ but much more sedentary than my kid brother.

        I feel much better with the weight loss and I’ve also tried to cut out processed foods as much as possible.

        When my nephew gets back from his tour of duty this coming summer ( Marine Corps ) we’ll probably start jogging again. I jog and slog and he runs backwards and tells jokes as well as funny Marine Corps stories during his service. I can’t resist a joke or funny story and that’s how he rolls to get me physically active.

        Best to you and yours Aesop,

        Snake Plisken

  6. One thing maybe the sniping between trainers could be done in a more open less bitchy fashion. And I’ll take fat in my diet contra-Aesop especially the last week when I was in deer camp sans heat, the good animal fat came in handy. I’m in my 50s but I could come close to passing the Ranger’s fitness standards, but that is not the problem, it is staying power over time that kills us old fucks. Yeah I got a burst, but Ranger school is out of the question.

  7. Robroysimmons,

    Was there a particular reference in the article that you thought was me sniping at a trainer? Or were you referring to something in the comments that I missed?


    1. Paragraphs 8 and 9 perhaps. Not that big a deal but man drama can be draining if allowed to fester. One slight quibble I do believe Freefor is not primarily made up of Ranger Fit individuals at this time, but mainly old fucks like me, and here is the deal we ain’t no assault force of doom. And keep up the good work but take it easy on old fucks who might think they need to be powerlifting champs after reading you.

      1. No drama at all.

        I read something once that claimed “nature is a heirarchy, and we all need to learn our place.” I don’t remember where I read it at, but I agree with it. No, a guy in his 50s or 60s isn’t going to be as fit as a 19 year old, even if they’re doing the same PT program. Nature of the beast. There’s also a reason most 50 and 60 year olds aren’t–and shouldn’t be–running door-kicking missions.

        What it really boils down to has nothing to do with other trainers. What it boils down to is, we need to know what we’re capable of–physically and mentally and emotionally. It’s cool that older guys want to think they’re still 19 and can run with the 19 year olds. I suffer from the same delusion, and I’m only 40. I am however, in above average health and condition for someone even ten years younger than me. BECAUSE I PUSH PAST THE PRECONCIEVED LIMITS OF WHAT SOMEONE MY AGE IS CAPABLE OF.

        If a guy can’t–or just won’t–push himself to a higher standard, he’s going to die, or get other people killed. Period. Full-stop. End-of-story. It doesn’t matter how old he is, if he’s missing a leg, or has an extra leg. It.Just.Doesn’t.Matter.

        I stand by it, and rest assured, there’s no sniping–bitchy or otherwise–involved:

        IF ANY INSTRUCTOR/TRAINER/GURU tells you that you’re “fit enough” they’re utterly full of shit. Period. I don’t care what their resume is.

        If you’re (you in the general sense, not YOU specifically) not willing to continue pushing through and improving? Go fill a support role and be proud of the contribution you’re making. Just don’t try to let your ego write checks your ass can’t cash, and get other people killed as a result.

        1. Agreed John. I would fill a support role and fight as best i could in a SHTF. I don’t care if it’s loading magazines, scrounging for food or providing medical support. I CAN and WILL do my part. I know what I’m capable of physically and will adjust accordingly to the situation.

          I read somewhere that for every war fighter there are 9 support people and I suspect that’s true. Those numbers don’t work in a SHTF scenario though do they? Especially when resources are limited. Your thoughts?

          I like to quote a bumper sticker I saw sometime back. ” Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill”. I don’t think that is quite true but I’ve seen enough in my life to say that it does apply most of the time. You can’t beat training and experience whether it’s as a trained and in shape war fighter or as a small business owner.

          Thanks for the article and lively debate John. You and your family have a safe and fun filled Thanksgiving!

          Snake Plisken

  8. Not sure what your point is Robroy, but i hope you guys filled your deer tags.

    I was thinking about a documentary i saw a few months back about a large family that bugged out to Siberia during the Russian revolution ( sorry John this is waaay off topic ) and they built a cozy cabin and settled in. What fascinated me was that they were so paranoid about using a rifle that would give their position away that they would ‘ walk down” their meat. They would have three people track a deer or moose for days on end. Apparently an animal being stalked will not take time to drink and will die of lack of water at some point. The endurance of these refugees from the blood letting in Russia is amazing. You gotta be one tough person to slog through extreme cold and snow for three days to earn your calories!


    Snake Plisken

    BTW, I ain’t walking any deer down around here. I’ll just nail them with a compound bow and let the younger brothers track the animal. 🙂

  9. FItness is key. I was never a SF. but throughout my career I stayed fit and strong. The key point in part for is the time to recover from an injury. I let my fitness degrade and suffered a life changing injury. it didn’t have to be that way and wont be but the amount of time to recover would put me in a hole six feet deep if we were living in a nation WROL.

    Retired for 15 years now, I am working my way back to being fit so I can recover in short time from an injury. I am not a doomsdayer. I live practically. I take care of family and friends. I have constantly said that we as Americans need to be concerned about the state of our nation. To close Guys my age that have wisdom and knowledge will be those leaders needed if the stuff ever does hit the fan here at home. After the cop killing in NY we are getting closer to WROL.

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