A recce patrol begins at insert, and insert is a really vulnerable time for a patrol. This post intends to talk through some considerations for recce team insertion. It also discusses how other, seemingly unrelated skills are vital to successful recce operations.
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Recce Team Insertion
You will have to insert in order for your patrol to begin. Most of our visions of “doing recce” revolve around moving stealthily through the woods in Multi-cam with a really cool rifle. You’re going to have to get TO the woods somehow, though. The possible exception is a security patrol around your home/neighborhood/encampment…but that’s not a recce patrol, it’s a security patrol. Insertion and extraction are the “commute” of the recce world – they just get you to the office, then you have to get to work. During insertion the team is incredibly vulnerable. This is for several reasons.
State of Transition
First, at the moment of insert the team is in a state of transition from the insert platform (truck, helo, whatever) to the ground. If the unit gets hit while half the team is in the truck and half the team is dismounted, what then? Does everyone dismount and fight a planned ambush? Do you try to get dudes with rucks back into the truck? I can’t give you an answer. Neither can anyone else – the conditions on the ground will dictate. What I can tell you is that you want to do everything possible to avoid this situation because it really is the proverbial shit sandwich.
There is a transition with most insert platforms and methods. When inserting on vehicles and helicopters there is the time the vehicle is stopped or the helo has landed, while the team is dismounting. With amphibious ops it’s when divers or boats are transitioning from water to land. Parachutists transition when they land and have to deal with a tangle of silk and 550 cord, disentangle themselves from trees, or stop themselves from being dragged across the ground.
During these states of transition the team is in a state of lowered security. They can’t pay attention to everything, and they are paying attention to the act of insertion. They may also be coming off a very loud platform, like a CH-53, which not only broadcasts your presence, but also drowns out noises in the environment, and leaves you half-deaf.
Insertion is Hard
Insertion is physically and mentally taxing. As I describe some insert methodologies further down some of the hardship of insertion will become apparent. Doing an over-the-horizon transit on open ocean in an inflatable Zodiac, for instance, is physically tiring. Navigating over the horizon while accounting for dozens of variables including wind and water currents is mentally taxing. If the insert is a self-insert the boats (you never go with a single boat) have to be buried. If you’ve never buried a F470 Zodiac, I’ll tell you, its’ the biggest hole you’ll ever dig by hand in your life.
The point to all of this is that insertion is often exhausting. The team doesn’t arrive in enemy territory full rested and with a full belly of food. They’ve often been physically working, or in uncomfortable environments for hours on end before they get to work. They show up exhausted, into potentially contested territory.
Team has often just inserted into area that is usually, by definition, unknown. When the team hits the ground it is to conduct reconnaissance. This means you probably don’t know everything about the area into which you are being inserted. This means that the team may be inserting into planned ambush. They may be inserting into a random security patrol, or very near the site of a platoon’s bivouac. The unknowns also make insertion a very dangerous time.
Let’s recap. The team is in a period of transition, they are mentally and physically taxed from the insertion itself, and they don’t know everything about the area into which they are inserting. Everything about this seems dangerous.
The Keys to Success
There are two keys to successful recce team insertion. They are physical fitness and rehearsal. I will harp on physical fitness through out this article – it is just so, incredibly important. The ability to move oneself over long distances just to get to work takes a big toll on the body and mind. This toll is lessened by being strong. Matt Robertson at Everyday Marksman recently put this far more eloquently than I could ever hope to (I know I keep referencing Matt but he writes such good content!).
The other key to success is rehearsal. Amatuers practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong. You need to rehearse your infiltration, like you’re going to do it. If you’re inserting will rifles and rucks doing a talk-through then a “slick” (without guns and backpacks) walk-through isn’t going to cut it. You need to get your gear on, get in the platform you’re inserting from, and rehearse. If you’re inserting in the dark, you need to rehearse in the dark. Practice it like you plan to do it for real.
Rehearsals will make you good at what you’re doing. Man, little feels better than watching a well-rehearsed teamwork. Each member knows what the other members are doing and counts on them to do it. Rehearsals will also tease out what won’t work. Ruck is too big to fit through that car-door? Let’s shrink the ruck or use a different door. This doo-dad is prone to snagging on seatbelts? Let’s streamline it with some rigger’s tape. And on and on – I hate to repeat myself but rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
Military Insertion Mechanisms
As with most of these articles let’s look at how the military inserts recce teams. Oftentimes these skills get center stage (“Oh man, I want freefall wings!”) but it’s important to remember that these are only insert skills. These methodologies only get you where you need to go so that you can begin doing your job.
These methods can be divided up into three categories: Airborne Operations, Waterborne Operations, and Land Operations. I will discuss all three methods in some detail. The last two, waterborne operations and ground operations are both realistic options for civilian recce teams. Pay attention to both of those sections.
Keep in mind that none of these insert profiles exists in a vacuum. I will try to point this out throughout, but often they are used together. A HALO jump for instance, will very likely lead into a long foot movement. A boat operation might lead to a surface swim, then a dive, then a long foot movement. On and on it goes but the point remains, no method of recce team insertion lives in a vacuum, and ground-based operations are universal.
Air operations occur from the air and usually consist of one of two things: parachuting or some sort of helicopter-borne operation. These are the least likely prospect for any sort of civilian recce team due to complexity, high level of training required, and equipment (namely aircraft). Air operations are fun to read about and I have a decent amount of experience with them, but they aren’t terribly practical.
The quintessential military recce insert method is the freefall parachute. It’s cool, it’s sexy, and it has some really amazing capabilities. There are several flavors of parachuting and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of the particular style of parachuting each puts men on the ground from thousands of feet in the air. Jumping is a really, really cool capability, but it is also incredibly dangerous.
The dangers and difficulties of parachuting are many. There is the danger of some kind of catastrophic failure of your equipment. These can and do happen. Of course you carry a reserve parachute, but if you’re in a hard spin this is likely just to end up wrapped around your body. You could have some sort of personnel issue, like crashing into another jumper.
There’s a mystique that jumping requires no physical fitness: “just let gravity do the work!” Freefall jumping with combat equipment requires physical strength; if you can’t arch with a couple hundred pounds of guns, rucksacks, and parachutes strapped to your body you’re going to have a hard time getting stable. If you can’t get stable, you’re probably going to go into a spin.
Most combat jumps are going to be conducted at night, too. Any complex operation conducted at night is more difficult and dangerous. Nighttime also means jumpers have to wear night vision, which is one more thing to get caught in parachute lines. You can see how the dangers really begin to stack up.
High Altitude/High Opening (HAHO) parachuting means that the jumpers exit the plane at high altitude and open their parachutes almost immediately. Though this can be done freefall, it is usually done via double-bag static line. This means that a line is hooked up to the aircraft. As the jumper falls the line pulls out a deployment bag, and a small drogue chute slips out of the bag. The drogue chute catches out, then pulls out another bag that deploys the main parachute. This is a little more complicated than regular military static line and is mean for special kinds of parachutes, like the steerable chutes used for HAHO ops.
The parachute is deployed at very high altitude. This means the jumper gets a long, long time under canopy. The great thing about steerable parachutes is that you can put them close to where you want to land. Not only can you turn them, but they also channel air to create some forward drive. The jumper can exit and cover, potentially, 10-12 horizontal miles before he hits the ground. Think about it – you could jump out in friendly (or friendlier) territory, and glide into your patrol area. Also, since you chute opened so high, you don’t have to worry about the bad guy hearing the loud pop of it opening.
There are a few problems with HAHO ops. They are very dangerous. I think that probably goes without saying, but we’ll say it. Since jumpers spend so long under canopy this must be conducted at night (otherwise they’re just hanging targets). If incorrect wind calls have been made the team can end up scattered all over the place which makes the mission just finding each other. Oh, and each jumper has to navigate on his way down to make sure he’s ending up in the right place.
High Altitude/High Opening means that jumpers exit the plane at high altitude but don’t deploy their parachutes until they are at relatively low altitude, sometimes as low as maybe 1,500 feet (but usually 3,000 or so). After jumpers exit the aircraft they assume a stable attitude and fly at terminal velocity. When they reach a certain, predefined altitude they attempt to create some distance from the group, then they deploy their parachutes. HALO jumping has some advantages over HAHO.
First, it gets the team on the ground much faster. This is important sometimes, like when pararescuemen jump into hostile area to attend to casualties (it has happened quite a bit in the AFG theater). For recce team insertion capabilities this can be a bit more covert. The jumpers are so small and moving so quickly they are unlikely to show up on radar. The team also spends much less time under canopy, reducing the time spent being a really easy target.
When jumping at high altitude, whether HALO or HAHO, oxygen will be a factor. At anything above 10,000′ the aircrew will need to be on oxygen (the rules are a bit more nuanced than this, but that’s the rule of thumb). At anything above 14,000 the jumpers themselves will either need to pre-oxygenate, or jump with oxygen on depending on time in flight. A lot of military jumps are conducted at 9,999′ or 13,999 to avoid oxygen requirements because, frankly, it’s a hassle.
Low-Level Static Line (LLSC) is the type of static line jumping that most military guns in airborne units do. These jumps are conducted at low level and are used to push out scores or sometimes hundreds of guys at once on mass-drop operations. This is a good way to get an infantry platoon or company or battalion on the ground in a hurry. It can also be used to get a small recce team on the ground.
The “low level” in LLSC means that most of these jumps are conducted around 1,200′. This gives the jumper time to work through some malfunctions without keeping him (or her) hanging there in the air all day. These jumps can be conducted higher – the highest static line jump I did was in the SF-10 transition course where we jumped from 3,000′. They can also be conducted as low as 800′ which gives the jumper basically zero time to deal with a problem if one occurs. I’ve heard of guys refusing a reserve parachute at this altitude because there’s so little time to deploy it. According to them, “it only gives you something to fidget with on the way down.”
Static line parachuting can be just as dangerous as freefall jumping. Most static line chutes are not terribly steerable, meaning you literally go where the wind takes you. Some, like the SF-10, are, but this can make them more dangerous if the user is inexperienced in their use or can’t make a good wind-call and flies with the wind.
Civilian Recce Team Insertion Parachute Ops: No-Go
Some of you reading this are probably parachutists. Some of you may be thinking, “I’m a Class _ jumper with __ jumps and ___ minutes under canopy; I could jump into a patrol!” Honestly, you probably could. I have no doubt that you are a very competent and capable parachutist. But civilian parachuting and jumping a recce team is is about as different as you can get.
First, civilian parachutists rarely (if ever) jump at night. This is probably the biggest difference and the biggest contributor of complexity. Doing anything at night introduces more friction and difficulty. You also need a night vision capability if you’re going to do anything more than a low-level static line jump. And you’re going to need experience navigating under canopy, at night, on night vision. That’s a lot of discrete skillsets to add.
Civilian parachuting also never (or very, very rarely) jumps with equipment like a rucksack and a rifle strapped to your legs. That makes things quite a bit different. And then, of course, you need an airplane. The pilot needs to be willing to fly at night, into contested territory.
So maybe you have all these things. Maybe you have jumped at night, have jumped night vision, are a former military freefaller, and you know a pilot who will take you up. What about the rest of your team? Do you have six dudes who are that good, AND who are trained in the various recce disciplines? I’m guessing not.
Helicopters are the quintessential insert mechanism for US military personnel of all stripe. They have the amazing ability to project power to just about anywhere from high mountain passes to oil platforms in the middle of the ocean. Helicopters can make gun-carrying soldiers appear just about anywhere on very short notice. When the US military inserts troops for any reason, you’d better believe helicopters are discussed as an option.
Helicopters have a few disadvantages, but not many. First they can’t reach certain areas. Beyond certain altitudes helicopters just can’t bite enough air to get lift. These places are really few and far between on planet Earth, however. Helicopters also have to assume a really vulnerable posture of hovering or landing (or a combination of the two) to disgorge troops. This is problematic for obvious reasons. Blackhawk Down and Roberts Ridge are two awesome books from the modern Afghanistan canon that will elucidate some of the problems with helicopters.
When inserting a recce team helicopters still employ a technique developed during the Vietnam war. The choppers would do short touchdowns at several landing zones. This made it more difficult for the enemy to tell which LZ the troops had inserted at. It isn’t a perfect strategy because it’s still a limited number of sites, but it’s better than landing only once and giving away the site.
Aside from just landing there are some other ways that helicopters can support insertion of a recce team.
Fast-roping involves sliding down from the helicopter on a rope. This isn’t rappelling as the fast-roper isn’t attached to the rope via any belay device. All he’s holding on with is his hands and (sometimes) feet. The helicopter suspends a thick (1.5″ diameter). This can either be suspended from a frame jutting from the side or rear of the helicopter, or through a hole in the bottom of the bird. This hole is called the hell-hole and is created by removing a panel from the chopper’s floor.
Ropers approach the rope. Wearing heavy gloves they grab it with their hands. They step off and begin sliding down rather quickly. Depending on the distance the roper may pinch the rope between the insoles of his feet to control descent speed. Once the roper is on the ground he gets out of the way of the next guy in a hurry. Typical distances to fast-rope are 20-30′ off the ground. The higher the more dangerous, as ropers do sometimes fall.
Fast-roping has the advantage of letting dudes get down from the helicopter when it can’t land due to terrain, trees, buildings, etc. To be honest I’m not sure why I even included this one; I was almost finished with this section before I realized that. Fast-roping isn’t the most appropriate insert method for recce teams as it’s not ideal under a heavy load of equipment. The risk of injury gets high really quickly.
A very valid recce team insertion method is helo-casting. This method is only appropriate when insertion is facilitated by a body of water as this is a cross-over air/amphibious operation (we’ll talk about amphib next). Helo-casting involves your team members just jumping out the back of a moving helicopter into a body of water. Though every time I’ve done this it has been into the ocean, I don’t see a reason you couldn’t helo-cast into a large lake. Here’s how it works.
The helo gets low and flies slow. When the bird is 10-15′ off the ground and the helo is flying no faster than 10-15 NM/hour, jumpers exit the aircraft. Height and speed are generally referred to as “10 and 10” or “15 and 15” or whatever, as applicable. They exit one or two at a time with their feet down, arms raised above their heads, fins in hand. When they hit the water they don fins and either begin a boat insert, dive op, or surface swim.
This method is pretty cool because the helicopter doesn’t have to land. It slows down a lot but it keeps moving and doesn’t touch the ground, making it harder for the enemy to ascertain where the team inserted. A “rubber duck,” aka a F470 Zodiac can also be dropped, allowing this to occur way offshore making detection very difficult.
Helo-casting has the big downside of potential injuries. I have a good friend whose back was injured on a helo-cast and though he continued to serve, it took him out of commission for a quite a while. The easiest, most effective way to make helo-casting safer is to go lower and slower (closer to 10 and 10) and to rehearse frequently at low height/speed.
Why Helo-Ops Aren’t an Option for Civilian Recce Teams
This one is simple: we just don’t have helicopters. OK, I know someone somewhere reading this has a helicopter but helicopters in the civilian world are few and far between and are really expensive. You’re probably more likely to meet a dude with a Cessna 150 in a hangar somewhere than you are a guy that owns a helicopter. I don’t know why helicopters aren’t more common for recreational fliers but they aren’t.
Even if they were, very few civilian choppers have the lift to safely carry a recce team and its equipment. Most helicopters out there in civilian land aren’t the medium- and heavy-lift choppers of the US military. Blackhawks, CH-46s and 47s, CH-53s, even UH-1 Hueys can carry six dudes with guns and rucks no problem. Most civilian choppers don’t even have room for six dudes. They also don’t have armor, guns, electronic countermeasures, chaff…
Amphibious options are a very valid method of recce team insertion for both military and non-professional military recce teams. These have some big benefits of being safer than parachute operations and quieter than heliborne operations. Bodies of water are often viewed as an obstacle and may not be as well-defended as terrain based approaches.
I generally picture the ocean when I think of amphibious insertions. However, there is little reason that some of these techniques wouldn’t work on lakes or even rivers. The only flaw I can think of is that any force occupying the shores of a lake probably realizes this, and will try to defend the entire late. Only very large lakes that are contested are viable insert candidates, and then the water is probably closely guarded…but maybe not and it is worth consideration.
The most obvious method of waterborne insertion is the boat insert. In the military the boat was always the good ol’ F470 Zodiac with a 55-horse engine (I started just as the old twin-35s were being phased out). Actually it wasn’t one, it was at least two. For obvious reasons you shouldn’t do an open-ocean insert without a safety boat. Boats have to launch from a far enough location that they aren’t observed.
Generally this meant a very,very long transit over open ocean called an “OTH” or Over-The-Horizon. An OTH boat transit sounds simple (drive the boat for a long time) but it is an incredibly feat. The coxswain has to be able to navigate via chart and compass on a planned offset, taking into account both currents and wind. The men on the boat have no easy time, either; riding a Zodiac is hard work even in mild chop. With some decent waves the crew can get pretty banged up on gunwales and deck plates. It is hard, exhausting work.
Once you insert you can’t just leave your boats lying on the beach. You can either bring extra guys along to drive the boats back or you can conceal them. Bringing dedicated coxswains (boat drivers) along has some benefits. They become someone else’s problem as long as they get off the beach and aren’t compromising you. On the other hand that’s more seats, and more boats you potentially need to hold everyone and completely the mission in the event a boat becomes disabled.
The biggest benefit to keeping them is that you can self-exfil later. Unfortunately in the meantime you have to invest a lot of effort hiding boats before you carry out your mission. Trust me – you don’t want to bury even a small boat in the sand. It is exhausting work.
This is the rucking of the amphibious world. First, like rucking, it usually begins with some other form of transport. You’ll start in a boat, get to a certain point, then hop out and proceed to swim. Second it requires some physical prowess. Swimming is hard. Swimming with full clothing a rucksack, load-bearing equipment, and a rifle is very hard work. Ruck and swimming are both somewhat technique driven; you can muscle your way through but you’re better off if you have a little technique and maximize efficiencies.
Finally, like rucking, no one can take these methodologies away. Fuel can be completely unavailable or vehicles completely destroyed, but you can’t keep guys from walking or swimming in. These are the bread-and-butter techniques of a recce team. It’s not cool, it’s not sexy, but surface swimming is the baseline of the amphib world. It’s quiet, it’s simple, and accessible.
This is where you really need to practice. It’s very easy to imagine what it would be like to swim up on a beach, shoulder your ruck, and carry on. It’s another thing to get there exhausted and freezing only to get covered in sand and rubbed raw in the next 25 minutes, only to realize you barely even got to work and have six more days out here. Again, the idea of recce is cool but the reality is much more like very hard work.
Surface swimming can be made a bit easier with good technique and a bit of equipment. Learning how to swim with a ruck is not something I’m going to cover here. You will probably want a mask, maybe a snorkel if you’re in heavy chop, and certainly some fins (the only downside of which is now you’re going to lug fins around for the rest of the patrol).
Diving is another cool-guy skill. Though I’m a well-qualified and experienced civilian diver I was not a military combatant diver. Still, everything here should be accurate. Military diving mostly done with closed-circuit systems like the Draeger LAR V. Open-circuit diving is your standard SCUBA rigs. They are called open-circuit rigs because when you exhale your bubbles are released and rise to the surface. This makes it really easy to see roughly where the divers are and is not ideal for a clandestine insert.
Closed-circuit rigs are the preferred military solution. These rely on a small bottle of oxygen (rather than compressed air) and a solution that scrubs excess carbon dioxide from your exhalations, then recirculates the exhaled air, adding just a bit of oxygen back in each time. This produces no bubbles to give away the diver’s position. Unlike open-circuit rigs, divers are much more limited in the depths to which they can descend (usually a max of around 30′ if memory serves). This is plenty deep to avoid detection in any plausible scenario.
To most people diving is a relatively easy recreational activity that isn’t impacted too much by most physical limitations. Diving can be a really accessible, easy, relaxing time. Military diving is extremely difficult, both mentally and physically. There is a huge navigational component, it is nearly always (at least in the context of recce team insertion) conducted at night, and long distances are covered. Though this is more accessible than parachuting or helo ops, your team better be some studs before you plan a dive insert.
Dive insertions are almost always used in conjunction with other mechanisms. Though it would be insanely complex, you could theoretically jump into a dive op. More realistically you will probably do a long boat ride, a long surface swim, then go sub-surface for the final leg of the insert. Bottom line, though, you just can’t cover a super long range via diving alone without something like the Navy’s SDVs, which obviously you’re not going to have if you find yourself doing recce where you live.
Amphib Ops for Civilian Recce Teams
When I was initially planning this article it didn’t occur to to me how relevant this one was. Amphibious operations – especially boat ops and surface swims – are extremely accessible to most civilians. Very little specialized equipment and only minimal specialized knowledge is required.
What is most necessary for any successful insert is a very high level of physical fitness. Because remember…the insertion is required just to get to work. Once you’ve inserted is when the real work begins. Those of you picture a nice, relaxing boat ride, a short walk to a hide site, then laying on your belly watching the bad guys are kidding yourselves.
Ground operations are the most accessible, simplest, and safest insert methodology available. Despite helicopters, parachutes, closed circuit dive rigs, and everything else the military has, ground ops are by far the most common. They are also inherently accessible to a civilians operating in a military or paramilitary capacity.
Most guys in special operations will work their way through a “rucksack team” before going on to a dive team or a freefall (parachute) team. This is because everyone needs to know how to operate on the ground because ultimately that’s where every team ends up. Even the coolest freefall-qualified recce team in the world doesn’t jump and land right on their observation post (OP). They land and still have to walk in. These skills are mostly universal and if you plan on being capable of doing recce one day, you should be good at ground operations.
You can expect an article in the future on some specifics of patrolling, i.e. how to move in the woods, etc. Right now I’m just going to talk about foot movements as an insert skill. This is a totally viable methodology to get the team from Point A to wherever they are going to conduct recce, provided they can get there without being observed. Even if your insertion is initially via some other platform, foot movement WILL be a part of it.
The problem for most urban- and suburban-dwelling Americans is the last part about “without being observed.” If you’re walking through neighborhoods and Walmart parking lots and shit you’re probably going to make contact before you get close to your objective. Or at very least everyone is going to be talking about your presence, which is going to make awful hard to observe the enemy without their knowledge.
Not all is lost if you live in such an area; there are ways to skin this cat. Hours, days, weeks before the team can displace to an alternate, clandestine location. Their movement to such a place should be separate and unremarkable. Once there the team assembles, prepares, and launches.
Foot movement requires a high level physical fitness. This isn’t some trail walk on the weekend. In fact you will specifically be avoiding trails and other “natural lines of drift.” Recce patrolling involves “breaking brush” – that is, moving entirely off-trail. To patrol requires carrying a ruck, which (at least in the military context) can way 100 pounds or more. In my discussion on recce gear I mentioned that civilian gear is likely to weight much less, but still think about breaking brush with a 30-pound ruck, 25 pounds of gear, and a rifle. It requires moving over terrain, through streams and creeks, and at night. In short, recce patrolling is hard and you’d better be strong.
Pack animals are another valid insert methodology. Admittedly, though, this is one about which I know almost nothing. I have owned horses and I never will again (I’m famous for saying, “horses eat money and shit work”). If you know anything about pack animals you know more than me so I’m not going to belabor this one.
However, think about pack animals in a recce context. They obviously aren’t going to stay with you at your hide site and OP, so they are going to have to cached somewhere or walked back. This is probably going to require some help from someone. On the other hand they can be a tremendous asset, moving insane (relative to a person) amounts of gear. Riding horseback is also massively fast than walking but again, comes with some downsides.
If you’re considering using livestock as an insert methodology you need to be practicing now. Practicing tacking up your horse, packing your mules, unpacking packed mules, etc. Exactly zero percent of this stuff is intuitive or stuff you can just do on the fly without prior knowledge. Don’t assume that because you have a couple of barn-sour nags that you and your buddies are ready to be the next “horse soldiers.”
Ground Operations: Vehicles, including ATV
We’re finally at the meat and potatoes. Outside of walking, most recce team insertion in the civilian context is going to be conducted via vehicle. Hell, even the military uses “dirt-casting out of a CH-7 Ton” as a really easy insert method. As civilians we just don’t have assets and capabilities like helicopters, fixed-wings and parachutes, and that sort of thing. It’s possible for civilians to launch patrols via boats and swims, but let’s be honest – cars, trucks, and vans are where it’s at. I put this one in its own category because I plan to spend a lot of time on it.
I’ve included ATVs in this one, too, since they share a lot of similarities with vehicle inserts. The benefits of vehicle insertion are many. A single pickup or van can haul an entire team and all its gear, though maybe not comfortably. Vehicles are ubiquitous in most parts of the world, not just the US. Vehicles provide speed that is impossible with foot movement, and provide some natural concealment for the team that walking does not. Another huge benefit is that these insert capabilities are simple, safe, and easy.
I’m not going to cover every single little detail of a vehicle insert. Below are some things you should think about before hopping in a truck and launching, though.
A self-insert via vehicle (or ATV or horse or even a boat for that matter) is not ideal. The big problem with a self-insert is that you have to do something with the vehicle… and that “something” is leave it behind. This creates a problem whether you plan to go back to it or not. If you do plan to go back to it, well, now the enemy has a great place to wait for you. The vehicle could be booby-trapped. It would be tagged with a GPS tracker to reveal where it came from. Or bad guys could just be lying in wait to shoot you in the face when you come back. That’s the worst-case scenario.
The other, less-bad option is that it gives the enemy a very good idea where you started. You all dismounted the vehicle, probably not far from where it stopped. If the enemy should happen along and find it, now they have a great place to start tracking you, either by cutting sign, using dogs, flyovers with thermals…bad stuff happens when the enemy knows your rough location.
The preferred alternative is to have someone drive you and drop you off. This creates some problems, too. The main one is where do you get your people. I’m guess that as a civilian recce element you’re pretty much tapping out ALL your tactically-minded buddies to put together half-ass team. Where are trusted, smart, intrepid drivers going to come from? Also, the more people leave the wire, the more people are potentially risked by the mission.
Those of you that are still too nervous to invite your neighbors over for a beer are probably going to struggle with this stuff. I know many of you probably don’t understand why I write the non-cool-guy articles, but trust me: being well-rounded is IMPORTANT.
Concealment and Cover
You must also plan for your vehicle being stopped by police, going through check points, etc. Here is where we bump into some tie-ins with the “T”-word I don’t like using here: tradecraft. To prevent getting busted really quickly you’re going to have to have a story to tell.
Your driver(s) also probably needs to have some plausible explanation for why he or she is out and about at that time of day, and in that area. If possible the team should stay hidden or the explanation is going to get really ridiculous and fall apart (“We’re a professional lumberjack competition team, officer. Nothing to see here!”). Can you cover the team up with hay in a farm trailer? Hide them in boxes in a moving truck, or within a load of firewood?
Obviously if the team is hidden and subsequently discovered you are going to have some problems. I can’t go too deep into that stuff here, nor am I really the expert on it. I’m just giving you some stuff to think about…and you should definitely think really hard on it if you plan to “do recce” one day.
When you’re “on the X” is not the time you want interior lights coming on. Those should be disabled in advance. You also don’t want to sit there while the fat kid in your element struggles to get out of that third-row seat. You’ll want to stack your team and gear to facilitate a hasty egress from the vehicle.
One more thing: you also want to make sure the vehicle is in sound mechanical condition and that you can make any necessary repairs on the fly. The vehicle breaking down in contested territory is obviously a bad idea. It seems that those dreaming the hardest of doing recce pay the least attention to articles like How to Change a Tire and How to Change Your Own Oil, but I promise you there is a tie-in. A recce guy needs to be good at a lot of stuff; once you’re out in the hinterlands you’re on your own.
Your vehicle(s) should be able to support your element’s personnel and gear. I can’t tell you exactly what this is going to entail. It will vary depending on the size of your team and the vehicles available to you. As mentioned earlier it should offer either concealment for the team or you should have a very convincing story to explain your presence. Even then you probably want to conceal your packs and rifles.
If you’re inserting a patrol anywhere near denied area you’re going to really need to plan your route(s). Depending on the criticality of your mission (and, if it’s not important why are you doing it?) you’ll probably want at least an alternate route, and possibly a tertiary. These are used in case something goes wrong with the primary route, yet mission accomplishment still trumps going home.
Hopefully you also have some sort of intelligence on the security of a given route or road. Otherwise you’re leaving it to blind chance that you aren’t going to run into checkpoints, patrols, etc. Clay Martin talks about building a network in his Concrete Jungle and you’d do well to heed his advice.
For the actual drop-off point you want screening. At the barest of minimums this means inserting under darkness. You can insert during daylight but that really raises the chances of being seen. Just a casual observer – a hiker, hunter, or fisherman, for instance – can suddenly become a huge problem.
Well into hours of darkness…well, the odds that hiker, hunter or fisherman is going to be there go way, way down. If they are what do they actually observe? Probably just some vehicles coming to a brief halt and maybe some doors closing quietly. They can’t say exactly what happened, can’t give an accurate headcount, can’t give a direction of travel, and they certainly can’t identify individuals.
You also want to choose an area that is offers screening via terrain. In mountainous terrain this is pretty easy. First, choose a road with low traffic. Obviously you don’t want to pull over on the side of the interstate and drop the team off. Next, choose a section of that road that offers limited visibility: in curves or between hills are good options.
Speed is Security
Here is where your rehearsals really come into play: you want the insert vehicles stopped on the X for as little time as possible. The longer the vehicle stops the more obvious it becomes. It should be able to disappear around a curve, stop, disgorge the entire team in a matter or seconds, then be back on its way. Stopping for six minutes while the dumb kid on the team looks for his lost flashlight under the seats is the wrong answer.
Again, the driver should be trusted, quality personnel. He should be giving the team time-hacks at something like thirty minutes, five minutes, one minute, and thirty seconds. This requires him knowing the route well. At thirty minutes the team is all awake and alert and making sure everything is secured and ready to roll. When five minutes is called everyone is ready, and removing last minute concealment objects, and gearing up. At a minute everyone is poised at the doors (or wherever) and at thirty seconds the doors should be being quietly opened. Everyone should be keenly alert to the vehicle slowing. As soon as forward motion stops the team should be piling out at the rapid rate.The doors should be quietly closed and the insert vehicle should be on its merry way.
After Stepping Off the Platform…
In this article I’ve basically covered methods of recce team insertion. In the last section got a bit into the practical aspects and how-tos because ground-based insertions are going to be the most accessible and realistic. We will leave this article here, with the team standing in the road, fresh out of their insert vehicle. When we come back next time we’ll start to dig into the basics of patrol movement – how to walk in the woods.
In the meantime don’t forget the keys to success for recce team insertion: physical fitness and rehearsals. Any recce team insertion is going to require a high level of physical fitness. Any recce team insertion is going to go much more smoothly with plenty of tough, realistic rehearsals.