Swift | Silent | Deadly

Recce Patrolling VI: Individual Recce Skills

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I my last post I talked about the basics of patrolling for a recce team. In this post I’m going to cover some individual recce skills and attributes that everyone in the team should possess.

The Recce Team | Recce Gear Loadout | Recce Weapons | Recce Insertion | Patrolling Skills | Individual Skills

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Individual Recce Skills

Today I want to talk about some skills that everyone on the recce team should have, from Team Leader down to the Slack Man. If you have dreams of doing recce you should start working to develop these skills and attributes. This is essentially a checklist of basics that every team member should already bring to the team. There are plenty of other specialized billets – snipers, medics, etc. – but this is the minimum skill level that every team member should show up with.

These skills aren’t peculiar to recce teams. Any military or paramilitary unit should have essentially the same individual skills. These aren’t specialized, cool-guy skills. These are nothing more than basic soldiering skills.

Personal Discipline

If there’s one attribute for a recce team member to have, it’s personal discipline. I’m definitely not holding myself up as the bright, shining example. I looked at most of my teammates and marveled at their level of discipline. I had teammates who could accomplish amazing feats through sheer force of will.

These were men who could be starving, freezing, and soaking wet, yet still sit patiently on the glass watching an objective and never fail to notice a significant act. They were men who could come off a seven-day recce patrol, and shower up…just so they could hit the gym. I worked with guys who always – no matter how well I performed on a patrol – made me feel like I was slacking.

If you want to see a picture of personal discipline look at the man on the right. He was one the most disciplined men I’ve ever know. Sadly he was killed in Afghanistan in 2019.

How did they accomplish this? The most important of individual recce skills: personal discipline. No matter what was going on around them, they elected to behave exactly the same way. Cold? Wet? Tired? Hungry? Hurting? Who cares – the job doesn’t change, so they didn’t change. If you want to be good at recce, develop an insane level of personal discipline.

You can start by doing something that sucks, like working out. Set some goals and achieve them, no matter what. Get comfortable being uncomfortable – turn your thermostat down (or up), go on a diet and stick to it, do something, repeatedly, that requires discipline. There is no shortcut to discipline other than to exercise it.

Physical Fitness

The single biggest thing you can do to help your personal discipline is to achieve a high level of physical fitness. Again, this is another area I could have been better in during my active duty days, and although I was fit enough to do my job I’m not the example of “what right looks like.”

Recce looks cool on YouTube. Actually doing it, in live weather, under a heavy rucksack, over rugged terrain, on minimal calories, and night, sucks. Being physically fit will make it much easier. Getting physically fit now means you will need less personal discipline later because everything will be a little easier.

Ever drag a human very far? You’ll find out very quickly how “in shape” you aren’t.

A physically fit recce team member will be able to move further, faster, under a heavier load. He will be able to endure privations like loss of sleep and decreased calorie intake more easily. The physically fit soldier will be more capable of sustaining himself for longer on less. He is also better able to deal with injury and sickness. I’m going to borrow the Everyday Marksman’s take and put it another way. Being fit gives you three major benefits:

  • increased combat capability,
  • Improved health and durability, and
  • Helps you develop mental grit

You should go listen to his podcast on the topic. Bottom line, if you think you don’t need to have a high level of physical fitness to do recce, you’re kidding yourself.

Land Navigation

The previous two were attributes rather than individual recce *skills.* This one is undoubtedly a skill: land nav. Actually being good at land navigation is an individual recce skill that can’t be ignored. I don’t mean basically trained, “let the point man worry about that.” That attitude is a recipe for disaster. Everyone on the team needs training and frequent practice on land navigation.

Every single member of the team should be able to read a map. Every team member should be able to locate a grid on a map. He or she should be able to make sense of the terrain on a map, including natural and man-made features and elevation/incline. A recce team member should be able to read and understand marginal data like the map’s scale and declination. Next, the team member should be able to convert the map to real world through terrain association (i.e. “this mountain on the map is that mountain over there”).

Each team member should be able to shoot an azimuth, walk in that direction, and roughly keep track of his distance moved. If he becomes disoriented he should be able to shoot a resection (“re is me”) and relocate himself back on the map. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you probably have some land nav training to do before you’re recce ready. Land navigation is maybe the most crucial of individual recce skills – a lost team is a liability.

Firearms Skills

Obviously anyone on a recce team should have some firearms skills and abilities. Let’s take a look at this set of individual recce skills.

Each team member should be able to run his weapon. You don’t put together a recce troop out of guys that still need to learn how to shoot. Instead they are normally pulled from among the best and brightest infantry soldiers. High-level firearms marksmanship and manipulation is an individual recce skill that “comes standard.”

Every member of the team should be able to operate every weapon on the team, like this M249 SAW.

Obviously you should be familiar with your personal weapon. Additionally, if you have a mix of weapons on your team, you should dedicate the time and ammo to become familiar with all the weapons on your team. Even well-organized and equipped military teams have mixes of weapons. Every member of the patrol should be able to pick up the M203 or Mk46 and employ it effectively.

Safe Handling

First, you should be able to handle your firearm safely. That almost goes without saying…but not quite. I still see lots and lots of shoddy gun handling from both civilians and cops that are on ranges with me. Remember, you will be living with the rifle, fully loaded, for days on end. You will be in close proximity to teammates. A negligent discharge, even if it harmlessly impacts the ground, may give away your position. The need for safe handling cannot be overstated.

Safe handling is always mandatory, but especially so on run-and-gun ranges like this one where shooters may even be running up-range with live weapons. Note the shooter’s finger is straight and off the trigger.

If you can’t handle it safely for a few hours in dry weather on the range when you’re rested and fed, you’re probably going to have a problem on Day 3 in the bush, at 02:30, when it’s 42 degrees, pouring rain, you haven’t eaten in 12 hours, and you’re trying to huddle under a poncho. Safe handling skills should be deeply ingrained.


Next, you should be able to accurately engage targets, with your combat-setup rifle, from contact distance out to about 300-350 yards. If a recce team finds itself in a fight, it’s going to be outdoors, and maybe at some distance. This includes both known- and unknown-distance shooting. If applicable to your operational environment each shooter should also have some familiarity with high-angle marksmanship.

You should be able to utilize standing, kneeling, and prone positions without any sort of artificial support, crazy loop slings, etc. – just your fighting rifle and fighting load. You should also be able to lay down a large volume of fire in short order at close range when breaking contact or assaulting through an ambush.

Pro-Tip: Magazine Retention

In the military and in close-quarters battle engagements, magazine retention isn’t emphasized. For a soldier or Marine, replacing a lost magazine is nothing. In CQB you can usually walk back through the structure and collect spent/dropped magazines.  When in the woods, when breaking contact, this really isn’t an option.

This becomes problematic when you can’t replace lost magazines because you don’t have an infinite supply like the U.S. Army does. On a recce mission you may or may not have loaded magazines in your rucksack. You may just have ammo, and be depending on reloading depleted magazines. This means you must retain them.

Rather than wear a dump pouch on a recce patrol, our S.O.P. when mag retention mattered was to stuff empties down our shirt. They would stay there and could be easily retrieved later. This slowed your reload a bit, but again, we’re talking outdoor distances, not CQB distances.


The recce team member should be able to keep his rifle up and running. This includes both reloading and dealing with all types of malfunctions. You should be extremely proficient in both emergency/speed (bolt lock) reloads and tactical (top-off) reloads. You should also learn how to clear the various malfunctions your rifle is prone to. For the AR platform this is the Failure to Feed, Failure to Eject, Double Feed, Failure to Extract, and the Brass Over Bolt. It also means understanding and doing regular, routine maintenance to prevent malfunctions.

Battlefield Recovery

A recce team member should also be extremely competent at employing battlefield recovery weapons. To be clear I never had to use a battlefield pickup and I don’t know anyone who has, but that certainly doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Recce teams operate far forward of friendly lines. They have what can be carried on on their backs (and chest, and waists). Resupply is a difficult task that may give away their position.

From my days at the schoolhouse. Special operations outfits tend to be much better at teaching foreign weapons these days.

A recce team finding itself in a firefight would do well to be able to employ the enemy’s weapons. To be honest I think this is one are where my military training failed. The first time I ever shot an AK was in Iraq, I was shooting a gun that had been taken off a target house. You should focus on prolific military rifles and to a lesser extent light/medium machine guns.

It’s obviously I wasn’t well-versed in AK handling. The safety isn’t engaged on this rifle that was actually recovered from the battlefield. If you aren’t provided the training you need it’s on you to go find it or teach yourself.

The AK-47 is the most prolific military rifle the world over. Being able to pick one up and run it is a skill that a recce team should obtain immediately. Personally I wouldn’t order a $3,000 AK from Rifle Dynamics with all the bells and whistles. I’d try to get something close to military-issue. That’s what you’re going to be picking up off the battlefield…if you actually do a battlefield recovery.

After gaining some skill with the AK, I would probably recommend focusing on various action types. It would be a good idea to know how to run bolt-action and lever-action rifles, and pump shotguns.

Medical Skills

Every member of the team should have some medical knowledge and skills. Even if there is a Corpsman or medic in the team, fundamentals of Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) recommend self-aid, buddy-aid, medic-aid. That means if you get shot you don’t just lie down and wait for the medic. If at all possible,  take care of yourself and leave everyone else to fight. Once you’ve taken care of yourself, get back on the gun and keep fighting. If you can’t take care of yourself, your buddy should take care of you until a Corpsman or medic can get to you.

Gear is not a substitute for high-quality, realistic training. This was a TCCC-like lab I did in 2004 before deploying to Iraq.

If you’re actually conducting a recce patrol, with live weapons, there’s a pretty good chance someone else out there has live weapons, too. That means there’s a decent chance someone is going to get shot. At a minimum, each member of the team should have a recent TCCC class under their belt.

Greg Ellifritz’ Tactical First Aid and Collapse Medicine is an affordable and accessible class that will prepare you well for combat trauma, as well as some austere-environment medicine.

And that’s a really bare minimum. Imagine being five or six miles into the woods with a gunshot wound with your five closest friends, and the highest level of training among you is TCCC. I hate to beat a dead horse but everyone on the team should probably have TCCC and ideally be EMT-qualified. The NOLS Wilderness Upgrade class would make you an even bigger asset to the team, especially if you can do a little volunteering and get some experience treating injuries.

Without knowing how to use them, all those sexy IFAKs are really just decoration.

Closing Thoughts

There are some skills that I considered including, but they more properly belong in team/unit skills. I also hesitate to include them in this article because of the difficulty of obtaining them for the average civilian. They are obtainable, but they really need to be developed, practiced, and honed by the team. These skills including patrol formations, hand and arm signals, and immediate action drills. While these are skills that the individual team member must possess they are sort of the collective property of the team. The team will mold these to the team’s size, TL’s preference, and various other factors. For these reasons I’m not going to get into a whole lot of detail here.

Doing recce well requires a lot of discrete skills. Again, these are just baseline soldiering skills. This doesn’t even touch on specialized recce skills like photography, communications, etc. All of the skills discussed here are inherently obtainable to average individual with a little bit of effort.

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