Getting Over There

If you've spent any time in the military at all, you know there are a number of ways to cross a linear danger area, the term we used to describe an area of vulnerability for patrolling soldiers, SWAT guys or whatever. This can be something as obvious as a road or firebreak indicated on maps or a terrain feature you tab onto as you're moving, like a streambed.

Most militaries have a number of different ways of crossing a linear danger area (LDA) and they're remarkably similar. I heard of a new one recently, however, in a remote little bar in Indian Springs, NV (the Oasis maybe?) while tipping back a few with a couple of salty émigrés from the former Rhodesia after a combat tracker class over in the Creech/Silver Flag area. Rhodesians, by and large, operated in four-man 'sticks' or 'call-signs' largely because of the troop-carrying capacity of their helos. Even in Fireforce operations (a heliborne call-sign functioning in many ways like our current QRFs overseas) they rarely operated in large numbers. The necessity of operating in small teams and widespread employment of trackers fundamentally affected the development of their small unit infantry tactics, only some of which resemble the standardized infantry movement TTPs of our boys.

Any tracking team conducting a follow-up in a rural area is going to find itself needing to cross an LDA. This technique for doing so is based upon the Rhodesian method (and, not coincidentally, is the tactic taught by the Tactical Tracking Operations School). It is diagrammed here utilizing a five-man tracking team, but can just as easily be accomplished with a four- or six-man team.

Instead of moving up on an LDA, establishing near-side security, rally points and fireteam movements, this movement should be a natural extension of the team's movement, calling for a minimum of direction from the controller (Team Leader). It is fairly simple and has been proven effective. Note that one of the foundations of such a tactic is that the tracking team is well trained, rehearsed and its members used to operating with each others or with other trackers of identical methodology.

Diagram 1
(Note: the diagram intervals between team members, spacing and size of the operational area are not to scale.) The red arrow indicates the direction the track line is taking them. The team's two flankers (LF and RF) out to the sides of the Y formation as they should be, tracker (T) on the track line and controller (C) back from the tracker, with a rear security tracker (RST) at the rear, alternately glassing ahead with a weapon optic or binoculars and then checking security to the rear of the team.

Diagram Two
One of the flankers has observed the nearing LDA and communicated this on to the controller via hand-and-arm signal. Tracking team comes on line in the same deployment as they would with a contact front. Flankers keep out in their area of responsibility. Tracker moves straight up to the LDA, maintaining the location of the last known spoor to prevent contamination. Tracker attempts to identify spoor on the LDA and determine if the team can safely move across without contaminating. Flankers will similarly be examining the ground to their front to ensure the quarry has not done a hard direction changed and moved off either direction down the LDA as part of anti-tracking attempts. RST will cover forward or continue to watch the rear of the team as determined by the tactical situation and the environment.

Diagram 3
Flankers push across LDA simultaneously to the other side, far enough into wood line to allow the rest of the team to continue across within their area of security. (Practiced, tandem movement like this mitigates the risk of observation or engagement by a armed quarry or hostile personnel.) Once across the most vulnerable area they will transition smoothly back into their standard role, ensuring the security of the tracker while watching for action indicators to determine if the quarry is veering, changing direction or whatever. The tracker and controller are responsible for watching down the LDA approaches as soon as flankers move, but they and RST should remain alert to the possibility they are called upon to assist in the physical apprehension of a suspect or the support by fire of the flankers if a challenge is issued on the far side. Once flankers have moved a sufficient distance and are satisfied with security, they will settle in while the remainder of the team crosses.

Diagram 4
Tracker, RST and controller come on line and cross LDA simultaneously. Again, moving simultaneously in line abreast minimized the amount of time it takes to get the remainder of the team across and mitigates the danger of being observed or engaged by a suspect or enemy personnel down the LDA approaches. This is typically a better option in a small element to scrolling or bumping the road, where the remainder of the team comes across one at a time. This necessarily increases time taken and reduces noise discipline in addition to the risks articulated above.

Diagram 5
Tracking team shakes out back into tracking formation and presses on. If one of the flank trackers has already located the quarry's spoor on the far side, he will point this out to the tracker or simply take over the track line, rotating in place with the tracker. The team continues in a Y formation on the follow-up.

Now, there are a few things to keep in mind when reviewing this technique.

  1. It should be rehearsed and kept simple. Team members should know intuitively how to deploy and be ready for the controller to signal them across.
  2. There may be no need to practice a tactical LDA crossing at all. If this is a team of deputies four hours behind a guy that bailed from a house, the tracker determines the team is still two hours behind, and there have been no action indicators to indicate any intentions to counter-track or turn and fight, the team should probably push across in order to continue closing the Time Distance Gap.
  3. Depending upon the nature of the terrain and the Time Distance Gap, the controller may elect to have the entire team move across the LDA in line abreast without pushing the flankers across at all, pausing on the far side to give the tracker a moment to get back on the track line or locate lost spoor.
  4. This method is similar to those employed by certain small units of military personnel. The tracking team is responsible for its own near side security while the flankers determine far side security. Their method should be determined as needed based upon training and experience - it is not the purpose of this article to debate the relative merits of the cloverleaf vs. heart vs. zig-zag technique of ascertaining hostile presence on an LDA.
  5. The team my not have the luxury of looking for a more suitable or safer crossing point. Terrain and the difficulty of the tracking conditions (and spoor) will necessarily be a part of this consideration.
  6. The need for the flankers to watch for anti-tracking or a direction change on an area such as this, particularly if the tracking medium changes to something more difficult, cannot be overstated.
  7. Though it is a good idea to periodically set rally points if for no other reason than to establish a timeline and trackline for courtroom presentation, it will typically not be necessary to put a near-side and far-side rally point in place as one would do with a squad- or platoon-sized element of military personnel. This does not obviate the controller's responsibility to maintain visual contact with his team members and situational awareness of the team's position within the context of the operational area.
  8. The entire movement will be changed if an action indicator is located in or around the LDA. The controller must remain cognizant of the tracker's location, as a good tracker intent upon locating lost spoor or reacquiring the track line is very likely to push across the LDA without proper security.

That's it. That's all I've got for this installment. Please, before you comment, keep in mind that I’m not trying to provoke a debate about tactics. I've said before they're like guns, calibers and beer - everyone is convinced his preferred breed is the best way to go. I'm not going to say you're silly for not listening to me; I'm just putting this out there for your consideration. Now, your willingness to read and be open-minded of course may significantly impact the success of your follow-ups in the future, but who am I to judge?