Woodland Operations | MassCops

Woodland Operations

Discussion in 'Patrol' started by Hush, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. Hush

    Hush Moderator Staff Member

    Came across a good article regarding LE operations in woodland areas. Especially relevant following the Dorner incident.
    (reposted from Lightfighter.net, originally posted by Tracker6)

    I get many questions about law enforcement operations in rural terrain, so I decided to write a little for my LEO brothers and sisters and post it here on Lightfighter. I don’t think this is anything revolutionary, but if it goes too far on an open forum then mods please feel free to move it to the SWAT/Mil section. Right, let’s dive into what I consider to be one of the most dangerous missions that an LE team can undertake.

    Author’s Note: I am going to discuss the Dorner case in recent days. It is in no way my intention to criticize the manhunt OR somehow make myself sound like I could have done better. If I were that good I would have been there, so take these words at whatever value you think they are worth. I had the opportunity to train some of the State Rangers that work in that area back in 2007; I hope they were able to put their skills to use.

    Part 1. Understanding our Battle Space

    For the purpose of this writing, I am going to focus on the worst of the worst and trust that other tactical professionals can draw parallels for their specific circumstances. The worst of the worst in recent days was Christopher Dorner, and there was a lot of speculation about where he would flee to and how long he would choose to stay in the woods. He left a big clue with his burning truck, and to understand a possibility about why he went there we need to look at Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Guerilla warfare , which Dorner professed to wage against a specific enemy, requires several specific ingredients to wage effectively. One of the key points of success or failure is complex terrain, and complex terrain exists in several forms. The two types of terrain that I am going to focus on are cities and rural terrain/
    mountains,and many of our jurisdictions have both of them within a same county or state.

    Cities allow for a person to escape easily into mass crowds and provide numerous hiding places and opportunities for shelter and escape. That’s why the media is such an important tool here as a way to send important information to the masses and reduce a perp’s cloak of invisibility. Informed people (and money) typically go a long way towards eventual capture. Thus, in a city, a perp either needs a strong support from the populous or people who don’t know that he is wanted. Enter the need for these folks to get to a rural area.

    The focus here is on complex rural terrain, specifically mountains. Mountains and wooded areas are void of the prying eyes that can unmask a hiding criminal. In particular, mountain areas like Big Bear and others also have enough infrastructures from tourism to support one person and keep them from starving or freezing to death. If you have areas like this in your jurisdiction, you need to understand their value to a perp. Mountains and their associated villages and communities played a key role in the guerilla insurgency in Greece during WWII, Afghanistan against the Russians and the US, Eric Robert Rudolph against US law enforcement, and most recently Dorner’s attempt at escape and evasion.
    The key point to take away here (despite my conjectures about Dorner) is that the more complex the terrain within your jurisdiction, the stronger the need for specialized organizations that are equipped to handle emergencies within it.

    Now that I have bored you with my lengthy definition of complex terrain, let’s assume for the remainder of the writing I am talking specifically about rural terrain.

    Part II. The Fundamentals

    First, there is a theme that we need to understand: Good tactics and their application apply no matter the environment. There are a ton of tactical parallels both inside and outside the shoot house. Here are a few:

    • Surprise, Speed, and Violence of Action: In the rural setting, we use camouflage clothing and equipment as a foundation for the retention of the element of surprise, allowing us to operate at our own tempo. (This has to be as close to 100% as possible and is considered an individual skill. More on that later.)

    • All environments contain linear danger areas (LDA’s). The sooner you recognize them the sooner you can apply the proper tactics to mitigate the threat. Remember that they are dangerous because they are linear, and that means a loss of surprise to the team for whoever is watching. We already know that a loss of surprise means a greater need for speed, so traverse LDA’s quickly and efficiently, just like hallways in the house.

    • In order to have a successful assault, you have to find them first. Think of this like your failsafe breach and get your search/location tactics as fail proof as you can make them. For most of us, searching involves a K9 team. Set them up for success by containing the perimeter as quickly and efficiently as possible. Patrolmen ruining the track prior to K9’s arrival is unacceptable and should be handled at the commander’s (supervisor’s) level. Other forms of tracking a suspect involve visual tracking, helo’s with thermals, interviews with neighbors and witnesses, and cell phone tracking. You will need to use at least one method, and probably a mixture of several. (Remember the maxim of Find, Fix, and Finish)

    • Every encounter (loss of surprise) will happen one of three ways: Have a plan for each encounter.
     They see us first (usually unintentional)
     We see them first (usually best)
     We see each other at the same time (both parties lose surprise simultaneously)

    • Dominate the angles. In the outside world, these angles tend to be both vertical and horizontal. Team tactics should reflect this. Team members need to be in formations that allow for mutual support and different visual angles on the environment. Team formations will be dictated by the mission. Tracking (search) formations will differ from assault (takedown) formations and you should be able to assume any of them as the situation changes.

    • Like the tactics, communication needs to be simple and concise. Non-verbal communication, like pointing a rifle at a danger area, is a great way to communicate a problem to the team without saying a word. This is contingent upon every team member paying attention and sending their message in a language and with a method that the rest of the team can understand under stress. Too often I see people looking like they are speaking sign language for no reason. Likewise I see people talk too much on radio comms.

    • First Aid skills are generally more important in a rural setting. While you don’t need a team of surgeons, EVERY OFFICER needs to understand the basics of TCCC. Again, this is an individual skill that EVERY officer needs to have ingrained.

    Part III. Types of Operations

    There are two basic types of operations in rural terrain: Planned and Unplanned. If a team prepares for the planned operations the skills needed for the unplanned can be applied on the fly. Think of an unplanned rural operation like an entry that has to be made under exigent circumstances.

    A. Planned: This type of operation is similar to the prolonged Dorner hunt in the Big Bear area or any other manhunt. There is substantial evidence pointing to the perp’s probable location and thus the environment is known. Barring perp/police or perp/civilian encounter, agencies can spend a little more time on equipment selection, terrain association, etc. Other more mundane examples might be surveillances on drug grows, anti-poaching operations, etc. Of note here is that all planning is going into location/probable interception of the perp or intelligence gathering. Emergencies may arise but have not manifested yet. There should be an emergency element standing by in case the perp reveals themselves unexpectedly.

    B. Un-planned: These types of operations often occur when a suspect flees into a rural area. This will often be a “come as you are” type of operation, where equipment will be placed over a standard patrol uniform. This is where even a little decent camouflage is better than none. For example, a multicam plate carrier over a uniform shirt breaks up the chest just enough to confuse the eye, making it harder for the perp to find center mass. Like the end of a vehicle pursuit, officers should know when to run into the woods in a hasty follow up and when there is time to contain the area and approach once the odds have been evened up.

    *Next Up, Equipment Selection*
    zm88, Irishpride, MSP75 and 2 others like this.
  2. Hush

    Hush Moderator Staff Member

    Part IV. Equipment Selection

    This is where most people’s eyes glaze over. There is so much to choose from, and many novices get stuck looking at what the latest fashions are overseas with little to no thought about how it might translate over to CONUS LE operations.

    First, let’s look at safety equipment. Here we will see where woodland operations take an about face from normal LE dangers. For example, what is still killing most cops are handguns in lowlight conditions. By contrast, 3 of the last 4 officer homicides in my agency (a land based Federal agency) ranging from 1998 to 2012 have been from rifles in daylight conditions. Additionally, every officer in my agency who has ever been shot has died. A zero survival rate needs to be a wakeup call for all of us. We have to listen to these statistics and make our equipment selections based on the raw data. It is not a fashion statement or a trend. It directly affects people’s lives. So, when you start you research, look at your threats and build your wish list based on safety first. By completing an internal threat analysis for my boss, I got her (a civilian) to sign off on a pretty aggressive equipment list. It is possible, and you have to stay positive and attack from the safety angle. When in doubt, use the language from the Risk Analysis folks. They know how to make quick and lasting changes, and will often be great allies if what you are saying is articulated well.

    Hopefully many officers already know what they want but often their agency’s policies don’t allow for it. In many cases, there is desire with no funding. In instances where there is little funding, it takes time to build a team of officers capable of the task. In instances where there is funding, teams often rush or rely on the one supply officer that “knows everything” about tactical equipment. Take the time and chose what works with little excess.
    As an example, I will include various components of my kit and why we selected it for our situation. For the purposes of this writing, I am explaining kit for a planned operation where I have time to develop a packing list and change out of my regular patrol uniform.

    A. The Base Clothing

    I am not talking about base layers here, I am rather talking about the base level of clothing for planned operations. In my case, I wear a BDU style uniform with plenty of pockets in multicam. To put it bluntly, we chose multicam because it flat works in my AO all year round.

    When it comes to camouflage, you have to have 100% commitment. A single black holster, rifle, pouch, etc. can give you up. But don’t despair, it doesn’t have to be all multicam either. A rattle can of spray paint is a cheap fix. The main point is that you are cognizant of it and take the steps to fix it.
    Author’s Note: As with any tactical operation, mindset and success starts from the time you put your clothes on. I put mine on the same way every time, and the same items go into the same pockets every time. The more pockets you have, the more important this becomes.
    Boots need to fit for your AO, so get what works in earth tones. I wear good ole’ flight gloves on my hands. A pair of over mittens with a removable finger section works great in colder weather. I typically wear my helmet on my head as it is my NVG platform as well and provides extra head protection. I might throw on a boonie if I am not wearing my helmet. Notice the lack of anything “ghillied”. Ghillie suits are okay for static positions, but too often I see guys show up for training with burlap hanging off of everything they own. That shit doesn’t last long in real life.

    B. Protective Equipment

    Again, everything matches as close as possible. There are only a few ways to do this wrong and tons of degrees of right. We need to be constantly asking ourselves how we can make our situation better. My guys and I roll with plate carriers in multicam. As stated above, the multicam plate carrier is even useful in an urban environment as it breaks up the human outline enough to confuse anyone trying to landmark an officer’s chest. Why rifle plates? As explained above, I have adapted to what past history tells me is the greatest threat to me in woodland setting. I go light on the pouches on my PC. Three mags (with the possibility to expand to six), a TQ and trauma shears, an IFAK on the weak side, an NFDD on the weak side rear, and a small hydration bladder on my back. My IFAK contains the basics;
    • Chest seal
    • Bloodstopper bandage
    • S-rolled clotting gauze
    • Chest decompression needle
    • NPA and lube
    • A personal ID card customized to each officer

    Helmets need to be comfortable and be covered. Covers absorb light and deter shine. Active hearing protection is also a good idea as it channels radio traffic and amplifies hearing while protecting from loud noises. Some of my guys would rather use an earpiece, so just choose something that works for you. Padded belts are great for all day comfort and back support. I use suspenders a la the old LBE system for comfort. You don’t get many chances to take your kit off, so use well-made and comfortable equipment. I throw a fag bag on under my PC to hold various items like lube, Cat Crap for lenses, additional trauma equipment, etc.

    C. Technical Equipment

    Technology has come a long way in helping officers in a woodland setting. Land Nav was mentioned earlier, and I occasionally use a wrist compass but I almost always have my wrist GPS. A quick note about Land Nav; don’t allow team training days to get bogged down with intricate land nav skill builders. Officers need to know how to find the basic cardinal directions and report that information to a team leader or commander. Remember that even if you are a Land Nav god, most of the people that you try to send the information to won’t be. Keep it simple.

    I typically carry a thermal imager for static positions. NODS are the only way to go in no light and should also be painted camouflage. If you run NODS, you need an IR laser system to be fast and repeatable. All IR systems for duty need to have an illuminator also. The civilian stuff without an illuminator is fantasy land for LE operations. We use PEQ 2’s and ATILLA’s, both of which work great for us. Binoculars are pretty self-explanatory, (but just in case) we use them to help us see better and peer into distant danger areas.

    And that brings me to magnified optics. Simply out, we rarely use them in my AO. We just don’t need them that often. I used an ACOG for a while at work because I listened to all of the people that said that I would need it outside. I don’t. I run an EOTech and know that with my 100 yard zero I can consistently make solid COM hits out to 300 yards. What I cannot do is judge misses without magnification, so there are uses for them. If you decide that you need one, here are a couple of considerations that I have found.

    • Magnifiers help you place rounds better. They might help you observe more, but living in your optic limits your SA and can also fool the rest of your team into thinking that you have a problem ahead.
    • Magnifiers and red dots are way better than fixed powered optics.
    • Magnified bolt guns really don’t have a place. They get really heavy and hang on everything in the woods. Like ghillie suits, save them for static positions.
    But all of this kit comes with an Achilles heel. We have to build training time into our schedules in order to be able to use it quickly and efficiently when needed. Again, keep it simple.

    Next up, simple sustainment kit and inclement weather considerations
    zm88, frank and Hank Moody like this.
  3. Hush

    Hush Moderator Staff Member

    D. Sustainment Kit

    This will entirely depend upon your mission and the environment. From my perspective, I am undertaking tasking generally not lasting longer than 24 hours, but that 24 hours may start at midnight, so gear for overnight considerations have to be made. Folks working in colder or warmer climates will have a different consideration with varying equipment, food, and water.

    The key when choosing sustainment kit is to look for light weight items that can multi-task and remember that you may be uncomfortable for a while but you won’t die. As for choosing light weight kit, know that you will need to spend some money to do it right, so don’ limit yourself or your team. In addition, if you provide your folks with a few quality pieces of gear you will see more than a few start to supplement on their own as their moral goes up.

    A typical 24 hour load out for me this time of year might consist of the following list, as seen in the photo. Please note that not all of these items would go in the ruck every time.


    1. Framed pack compatible with armor. I run the Mystery Ranch SATL. My guys also run the Marine Corps pack designed by Arcteryx.

    2. Camouflaged waterproof bivvy. These are great lightweight pieces of kit that can be a lifesaver. As Doc Rick mentioned a few posts above, exposure to the elements has to be a consideration that you plan for.

    3. A poncho liner for warmth. A sleeping bag may be more fitting depending on the environment and your AO. In warmer weather I roll with just the bivy, if that.

    4. A warm jacket, in this case an Arcteryx Atom. I can’t buy these for each of my guys and I bought my own. I did, however, loan mine to one of my guys one morning last week when we were freezing (yes, I am that nice of a guy I guess) and he is hooked now. Again, sometimes you just need to light the spark….

    5. A small stove. I like the jetboil but any quality stove will do. A hot drink in a cold LPOP can be a huge moral booster.

    6. Food/water: Don’t neglect this. We typically carry MRE’s because they are free, but whatever you do, take food. Once the hunger pains start the distractions get out of control. Some wise old Pat guy on this board talks about the goofy things people will start to do when blood sugar and hydration get low. Again, there are medical considerations in the woodland environment that you have to consider that don’t often accompany urban ops.

    7. The last item that you see is a hand warmer. What can I say; I am a whus who doesn’t like cold hands. Plus, it keeps me from moving around on a static operation when my hands hurt from the cold.

    8. Extra batteries: This should be pretty self- explanatory. I don’t have a fancy formula. I just cram them until I think I have enough. Then I add more.

    E. Parting thoughts:

    • If your AO (jurisdiction) has a large piece or pieces of wooded terrain that a perp might see as advantageous, then you have a responsibility to know how to deal with it. This is especially true if you have a Special Weapons and Tactics team. When you need it, you are most likely really going to need it. Your team won’t rise to the occasion unless prepared.
    • You will have unplanned and planned operations. Both of these will involve either searching an area for a perp or tracking a specific track. The success of finding and perserving the track is contingent upon initial responders not screwing it up and this fundamental needs to be corrected immediately at the supervisory level. Don’t just let the shift give a guy shit for screwing it up.

    • Equipment color needs to be carefully selected and adhered to. Black only works in training.

    • Protective equipment needs to match your threat. All medical considerations are compounded when the environment is more austere and cut off. In cop operations, there usually isn’t a large support mechanism that can bring you a speedball. If you don’t bring it, it isn’t making it.

    • Use technology to your advantage. Night hunts are more than possible IF you have the equipment and proficiency in its use. If not, wait till morning.

    • When it comes to Land Nav, know the basics without overcomplicating it. Even a map book and a compass are adequate in many instances.

    • Magnified optics may not be as necessary as you think. If you have them, use them for what they are intended. They are generally not a monocular for area scanning.

    • Sustainment gear needs to match your needs with little excess. You don’t need half of what you think you will. Uncomfortable does not mean you are dying.

    So there you go, the end of the primer. I do not preach this from an ivory tower. There are photos of me on the internet with multicam and a black holster. If you have suggestions, sing them out. This forum is about learning and it sets us apart from the others. [​IMG]
    zm88 and Hank Moody like this.
  4. Hush

    Hush Moderator Staff Member

    On Dinosaurs and Uncle Rico:

    Dinosaurs: We have all seen them and trained with them. Folks who retired several years ago from a position in an armed profession and have not kept up with the times. Everything from TTP’s to equipment selection is based upon the latest and greatest at the moment that they retired. I experienced that THIS PAST WEEK at a Rural Ops class.
    I was confused at first because these guys had retired from Group. When I asked them when they retired I began to get a clearer picture. As it turned out, these guys left just as the GWOT was ramping up, so when I heard phrases like “I like iron sights because they don’t have batteries”, “you guys with flashlights on your guns should think about taking them off” and “I wouldn’t wear armor in the woods, and if I did, I would wear the lighter concealed vest” my meter started pinging. It went off the charts when the instructor held up his ALICE LBE kit as his version of perfection. The fact that I wore my helmet the entire day was equally foreign to them, but my helmet is an AirFrame and thus light and comfortable. Things have changed.

    And now we have what I call an Uncle Rico, the character from Napoleon Dynamite who wore his old leather jacket while throwing his football around and reliving his high school days. I don’t intend for this to be insulting to the instructor and I respect his service, but I do remember things better when I inject humor and that mental picture was pretty funny.

    To me, a correct explanation is something like “this is my kit but there is newer, lighter kit like the BeltMINUS out there now. Key objectives are light weight pouches and kit and careful kit selection to avoid excess.” You see, there are instructors out there right now who retired years ago from their professions and have become instructors. Pat Rogers and Larry Vickers are good examples of this, and what sets these two (and others) instructors apart is their ability to keep up with trends in tactics, techniques, kit, and doctrine and remain relevant (even trend setting) years after being paid by the government.

    Now, I completely respect their opinions but I also eventually had to speak when they asked for the class’s opinions. I had to mention to the class that our experience with wearing armor was different. Again, when your agency has a zero percent survival rating comments about armor usage in an appropriate setting become very important. In my mind, these guys did not take the time to research past their own experiences and as a result are taking money to teach inaccurate information. I shut up for the rest of the class because shortly thereafter I found myself consistently given the poorest terrain and thickest brush to navigate through. I quickly picked up what they were throwing at me and decided to endure the rest of the class and use my experience to make my situation better. At the conclusion of the day, there were some good points to take away from the class and I am glad that I went.

    Seeking training on this topic can be confusing and most “instructors” either don’t advertise well or they are too vague in what you will be getting. I am not going to recommend specific vendors here as I have my opinions and you should not be too swayed by them. There is value in every course that you will take, and when it comes down to it only you and your team and leadership will know what will work for you. All I ask is that you validate your tactics with force on force and always beware of the Dinosuars and Uncle Ricos.
    frank likes this.
  5. NHPaul4

    NHPaul4 MassCops Member

    Does anyone have, or know of a website to get a power point on woodland operations/searches, focusing on SWAT Deployment?
  6. Hush

    Hush Moderator Staff Member

    Lightfighter.net would be your best bet. A great resource and where the original article came from.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    NHPaul4 likes this.

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