The Small Group’s Mission Essential Task List, Part One – Forward Observer Shop

The Small Group’s Mission Essential Task List, Part One

The Mission Essential Task List (METL) can be most simply described as a composite, comprehensive list of the specific tasks necessary for a unit or group to master in order to complete whatever missions they may be assigned or believe will be necessary. The METL is absolutely crucial to the preparedness group security team and the trainer in order to provide focus to the on-going training of the security team.

In order to develop a solid, realistic METL, the trainer, the team, and the leadership of the preparedness group must sit down, determine what missions they will objectively and realistically expect the team to perform, and then determine what tasks are inherently necessary to the performance of those missions. This will keep the METL development focused on realistic, achievable missions that the security team can be expected to perform effectively.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on a small-unit security team of 8-12 personnel, focused on conducting security operations for a retreat/community in a rural or semi-rural environment characterized by scattered farms and communities with agricultural ground and timber lands interspersed.  Thus, much like most of so-called “fly-over country” in the United States of America.

In order to determine the missions that will be essential to this security team, we have to look at the doctrine that will guide them. To do that, it is important to understand exactly what doctrine is. The terms ‘doctrine,’ ‘tactics, techniques, procedures,’ and ‘standard operating procedure’ have become almost synonymous in common usage amongst survivalists and preppers over the years. It is important, however, to understand the actual meanings of these because precision is important in discussions of matters of life-and-death.

Doctrine is defined as:

the fundamental principles by which groups or units guide their actions in support of the mission.

If we define the mission of the security team to “provide active and passive security measures for the defense of the retreat group, it’s property, and the surrounding community,” then the doctrine they utilize will focus on the performance of that mission.

Some philosophical elements that define this mission, in my belief include, but may not be limited to:

  • The best defense is a good offense. The moving, aggressive small-unit is far more effective in a fight than the non-aggressive small unit stuck hiding in a static position with no idea of what is headed their way. This requires a projection of force outwards to gather intelligence information on the activities in the surrounding areas.

  • Stand-off favors the small-unit. It’s an axiom of unconventional warfare doctrine that stand-off weapons and tactics that allow the guerrilla to choose the time and place of the fight, and then leave if the situation changes to the opponent’s favor, are the best choice. In less dogmatic terminology, it could be said, “if they’re in your front yard, it’s too late to run.” By this, we mean the sooner you know about a large, aggressive hostile force, the better chance you have of stopping them or dissuading them from continuing to move towards you. If that doesn’t work, however, you’ve created enough of a time-distance gap to allow the rest of the group to escape. If you wait until they’re coming through your front gate, however, and realize you cannot stand them off, then you’re done because it’s too late to get away.

  • Most people sleep at night and move during the day. It’s easier to find people when they’re stationary. Additionally, most people are afraid of the dark. That means that those bands of cannibalistic San Franciscans will have campfires and/or flashlights and torches. That really makes them easier to find in the dark, when they’re stationary. Learn to look for people in the dark.

  • We don’t have close-air support or artillery, so we have to master traditional light infantry skills. Since we can’t expect the help of A-10s or a barrage of 155mm howitzers to bail us out of tight spots, we have to create the ability to either avoid those tight spots or to get out of them without that help. Contrary to the negativity of many, people managed to fight effectively without air support or large artillery support for millenia. Even today, on a tactical level, small unit irregular forces manage to hold their own against larger, more technologically advanced forces through the application of traditional scout/woodsman, classical infantry skills and fieldcraft.

  • The dude that throws the first effective punch usually wins the fight. It’s as true in a gunfight as it was in the schoolyard against the bully. If we can seize and maintain the initiative, we can keep the hostiles reacting to our actions, rather than trying to impose their own will on events.

  • It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Well-trained, well-disciplined groups of physically and mentally courageous fighters have historically served very well to defend their homes and families, even against vastly superior numbers. Quality of training, or software, is far more important than the quality or even quantity of equipment, or hardware (granted, only to a point. Eventually, as the man said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”)

Using these doctrinal beliefs as the foundation of our mission statements, we can begin to determine some of the missions we will need to conduct in order to provide for the security of our homes and community. The operations our security team may have to perform might include:

  • Defense of the physical property

  • Reconnaissance and security patrolling to find, fix, and finish or deter hostile aggression

  • Attack hostile forces, including ambushes or raids.

That’s quite a workload for 8-12 people, isn’t it? Especially when we start to consider the number of supporting tasks, individually and collectively, that are required by each of those three operations. Fortunately, many of the supporting tasks will be common to multiple or even all of those operations.

Since we’ve now determined likely operations that our security team will be required to perform, next week we’ll take a closer look at each one and determine what collective tasks will be required to perform each one. Then we’ll look at which collective tasks are common to all of them or most of them.

 Photo credit:Sgt. Matthew Moeller, U.S. Army

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


  1. could anyone please explain what the term fix means in relation to the phrase find , fix , and eliminate? Thank you.

    1. Shane,

      To prevent the enemy from moving.

      Not trying to be a smart ass, but so that you know the definition is accurate:

      FM 3-90-1, Appendix B, Tactical Mission Tasks, Pg B-13: Fix is a tactical mission task where a commander prevents the enemy from moving any part of his force from a specific location for a specific period of time.

      MCWP 3-11.2, Pg 2-34: When beginning a fire fight, the first few rounds of automatic rifle fire should be delivered at the rapid rate in order to gain fire superiority and to fix the enemy.

  2. Nice article to get everyone started. Part 2 is pretty good as well.

    Do you think that trying to teach the group this article targets about Op Orders is too much?

    “Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies” 11B trained and experienced

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