In this article I will cover an introduction to tactical overnighting in the backwoods, by which I mean establishing temporary patrol bases for rest and administration. We cannot predict now exactly what conditions will look like after a collapse and as such I urge you not to make too many assumptions based on your particular idea of what such a post-SHTF situation will look like. The purpose will be to give you the general principles and techniques of tactically overnighting in the backwoods, which you can tailor and apply as necessary and appropriate. Although aimed at a woodland environment, the drills can be adapted to other environments, such as urban, as you find necessary. It is best to adopt a mindset of flexibility and gather mental and physical knowledge and ‘tools’ in order to be able to be able to conduct some of these procedures as you find them necessary and appropriate. For the article I will assume a broad post-SHTF situation of societal collapse with a general absence of law and order.
If you are conducting operations as an independent patrol away from your home base then you will need to set up patrol bases for rest, admin and to conduct your operations if you are out for anything more than one night. You will preferably move into a patrol base in daylight, so you should identify an area on the map and move towards it in good time. In some circumstances it is a good idea to cook and eat at one location before moving on and establishing a base and sleeping at another location. This will not be possible if you plan to occupy a patrol base for several days, but may be used if you are moving in jungle type or heavily wooded terrain and are looking to eat an evening meal then move to an overnight spot before moving on again in the morning. It should be noted here that for any of these tactical operations described here there cannot be any wood fires, particularly at night. It is not camping. Also, if you have solid fuel or fuel stoves in order to heat rations, then they should be dug in and only used in daylight. In severe circumstances in close proximity to hostiles you can do “hard routine” with no cooking, but when possible it is advisable to look after yourself well, eat hot food and consume hot beverages to maintain both body and spirit.
Most military patrol base drills are designed for platoon size formations containing three squads and as such are based around triangular shapes. For this article we will assume a smaller patrol of perhaps squad size, and thus you will consider a circular or linear layout. It may also be that you use these drills adapted from a woodland setting to occupy a building for a short period of time, and you can adapt them accordingly. It may also include vehicles in a similar concept. The triangular or circular concept is a way of simply creating 360 degree security with three elements. Look at the numbers and organization that you have and decide how best for you to achieve this effect. The phases for the occupation of a patrol base are as follows:
Snap Ambush: As the patrol is moving along, perhaps along a small trail, the leader gives the signal for snap ambush (hand covering the face for ambush) and points to the side of the trail. The squad breaks track 90 degrees to the trail, heads off the trail a short distance, and then peels back another 90 degrees back parallel to the route they just walked up, peeling in on line into a snap ambush (don’t forget rear and flank protection). The idea of the snap ambush is to wait for a period of time to ensure that you are not being followed or tracked. The idea of breaking track and peeling back is so that by the time any tracker realizes that you left the trail, he is already in the killing area of the snap ambush, in front of you.
Recce: Once a suitable period has elapsed, the leader will depart on a recce of the potential patrol base, which should be relatively close by. At squad patrol level you will not be able to spare manpower so the leader will likely take a small security element and perhaps return to the snap ambush himself, always moving at a minimum in buddy pairs. A patrol base is not designed to provide a dominating defensive position or fields of fire, but rather it is designed for concealment. So, ideally the leader is looking for an area in deep cover, perhaps with an accessible water supply, on a reasonable slope and without any obvious trails or tracks through it. The idea is to get hidden in the woods.
Occupation: The patrol peels out of the snap ambush and moves to the patrol base location. You will decide and have a drill for how the patrol base will be laid out, either in a line or perhaps in a small circular perimeter. Usually the patrol is led in through the base, or 6 o’clock position. For a triangle, the apexes and thus sentry positions would be at the 6, 10 and 2 o’clock positions (upside down triangle). For a small group, it may only be possible to have one or two sentry positions and if only one it should be at 6 o’clock which is the direction facing the greatest enemy threat. The leader places each buddy pair down in their position and they will take off their packs and use them as fire positions as they watch out and cover their sectors of fire.
Stand To: the patrol will remain silently at stand to for a suitable period of time, probably 30 minutes, listening and observing for any enemy activity or follow up.
Clearance Patrols: at the close of the stand to period, clearance patrols will be sent out. These should only consist of two or three men and the idea is to clear the immediate area around the patrol base. A simple technique, given that you are likely in the woods in close cover, is for the first man to move out to limit of sight from the base, the next to the limit of sight of him, and the third to limit of sight of the second man; they will then circuit the base and return inside. The remainder of the patrol remains ‘stood to’ throughout.
Sentries: on completion of the clearance patrols sentries will be posted. These will initially be posted at the limit of sound from the patrol base due to the requirement for the coming work phase. There will be two different sentry positions in a patrol base, which will be day and night. Night time sentries are brought in to the base and at daytime the positions are pushed out.
Work Phase: once the sentries are posted then the patrol will stand down and begin the work phase. There are various things that may or may not happen:
• Track plan: Use para cord or string (green) as communications cord to mark out a track plan inside the perimeter around the position, linking the sentry position, buddy positions and the command location. This will allow the track plan to be followed at night and prevent people wandering off into the woods. Clear brush and sticks from this track up to above head height.
• Positions: in conventional warfare ‘shell scrapes’ should be dug and the buddy pairs will live in these. They are 12 inches deep and large enough for two people to stretch out and sleep with all their equipment, which should be covered by a tarp or poncho at night against the rain. You may decide not to dig these but either way individual positions are still laid out with sectors of fire allocated. Your tarps will only go up at night, after evening stand to, and will come down again in the morning, prior to dawn stand to. If you are not digging in then do something to camouflage and build up your location and fire position, maybe using logs, branches and leaves etc. Also, clear your sleeping area of ground cover to reduce noise and move away the bugs on the forest floor.
• Latrines: a deep drop latrine will be dug. This should be just outside of the position and yes unfortunately under the eyes of the sentry position. You can get behind a little cover for privacy, and if you have a mixed gender post-collapse patrol team then you will have to make other allowances, but the latrine must be covered by the sentry because people using it are vulnerable and you do not want them snatched.
Routine: Once the work phase is complete the patrol base will go into routine. A sentry roster will be written and once that is done there will be time for weapons cleaning, admin and sleep. There should be stand to for at least 30 minutes spanning dawn and dusk which marks the change from day to night routine. There should be a clearance patrol after dawn stand to. This is now the time when the patrol will rest and administer itself in the patrol base and also conduct any operations that it has planned, such as recce missions. There should always be a security element left at the base when a mission goes out, so long as the patrol intends to return to the base.
Bug-Out Plan & Battle Discipline: a patrol base is a covert affair, a temporary base to conduct operations from. It should not be seen as similar to a contemporary ‘Forward Operating Base” (FOB) or even the Firebases of Vietnam era. That would be a different animal, the establishment of a defensive position. The patrol base will need an Emergency Rendezvous (ERV) and will usually plan to ‘stand to’ for any enemy threat or incursion. If the patrol base is ‘bumped’ by the enemy then there will be a plan for a withdrawal under fire to the ERV and then break contact. If true battle discipline is applied, then shell scrapes will be dug as fire positions and all gear that is not in use will be packed away ready to go at all times. This means that when you are woken in the night for your turn on sentry, you will not doze back off but waken, get out of your sleeping bag and pack all your gear away in your pack silently in the darkness, without use of light. You will re-deploy your sleeping gear once you get off duty. When dawn stand to comes, everyone will pack away their gear, take down their tarps (also known as ponchos or ‘bashas’) in the pre-dawn and be ready in their fire positions for the dawn. It is useful to rig up your ‘basha’ with bungee cords attached which can rapidly be used to put up and take down the tarp using nearby trees; make sure that when you set up the tarp, it does not sag in the center or it will collect rain water and collapse on you. Strategically located bungees will help with this, including one or two to hold up the apex. If you are bumped, then the patrol base will be stood to and all gear will be rapidly packed away in buddy pairs, stuffing sleeping bags away etc. If the order is then given to withdraw, packs will go on and the patrol will fire and maneuver out to the ERV.