The cornerstone of why you need communications in the field is unit coordination. Teams must have a way to relay what they see and update the situation to other partner teams in the field and to a command location. This is what’s known as Inter-Team Communications and should be thought of as your lifeline for the Small Unit. One of the topics briefly covered in the RTO Course is how to integrate squad-level commo gear into your kit. After training with several groups I’ve noticed that this normally is an afterthought, so it’s something that I address through demonstration of my own gear during the second day. While I don’t require anyone to bring anything to class other than a notebook, pen, comfy shoes and a good attitude, on the FTX there is a little bit of team movement and scratching the surface on Small Unit Tactics (SUT) that I cover elsewhere. There’s a lot of reasons I do this, but its mostly to prove to the student they’re effective with almost nothing. Everything else is an enhancement to the skill they’re building. Basics never change, and proper adherence of the basics will get you through most situations. The point is not that its an SUT class- its that you’re using your training and gear in the intended environment and showing me that you can apply what you just learned. An RTO (Or RATELO for you Marines) is a critical element of the small unit and as a recent Scout class learned, can be the hardest job on the Team. Together we lay the foundation and provide a context, so that everything else becomes easy and you can add to it to suit your group’s needs. Among the takeaways through a hands on approach is how to integrate Inter-Team communications efficiently into your own personal Second Line or ‘Deuce’ gear (also known as ‘kit’). One of the biggest issues for those looking to conduct patrolling is how to effectively integrate basic communications equipment into their patrolling kits- there’s a right way and a less-right way, centered around making life just a tad easier while moving tactically.
Our primary course focus is creating reliable communications over an area, between Sticks in the Bush (recon slang for a team out on a patrol) and a Command Post, or Tactical Operations Center (TOC), with some of the most common and basic equipment out there. Since for most Prepper Groups the range of operations is limited to a few miles or maybe over a county or two, our communications needs are primarily Line of Sight (LOS), meaning VHF and UHF. And considering that it’s tactically sound to have small teams operating in tandem, such as our converging routes reconnaissance method seen in the diagram, we need a way to keep in touch between both to prevent fratricide and coordinate efforts. This is the purpose of our Inter-Team Communications.
Our handheld radios, or HTs, accomplish this task simply and most of you already do this without much thought. Whatever your group uses is up to you- contrary to popular opinion I’m not here to tell you what to buy- but make sure whatever it is that it’s at least suited to the task (meaning you didn’t “buy them by the case!” only not use them, at least took it out of the box a couple times, know that it won’t break if its dropped, won’t quit if it gets a little wet, and it uses standardized accessories across all your teams) and has proven itself to work over the ranges you need it to function. In class we use everything from Baofengs to Yaesu and Icom, because I prefer to teach you how to best utilize what you likely already have and show you where to make improvements if need be. It is far better to learn to use what you have than to throw money at problems and still come up short.
In many cases this also means having a way to use improvised external antennas to increase range or directionality of your transmissions. For example, in the Blue Ridge where I’ve trained a handful of groups, DTR and Direct Talk systems are proven unreliable at best over intermediate distances, so they’re used between members on a team (Intra-Squad rather than Inter-team) in close proximity- within the hundreds of feet between an Observation Post and a Hide Site. Other options are far more reliable over longer distances when communicating to a TOC or Command Post, especially in the lower UHF bands (400mHz) or VHF Hi Band (144-162mhz and 220mHz) where wire antennas are both very simple to build and relatively small (6-8in UHF & 19-22in VHF, or 13in in the case of 220). As folks in a recent open enrollment class realized in short order, conventional wisdom regarding VHF in thick vegetation and hills doesn’t always apply either- MURS wouldn’t make a short trip of a few hundred meters while GMRS worked just fine. So flexibility regarding communications which is instructed through the PACE plan, just like everything else in the small unit realm, rules the day. That is of course if you’re disciplined enough to actually plan an operation and do something other than tear off into the bush with a rifle.
So how do we integrate this into our patrolling kits? Handhelds work best when the radio is held upright, the antenna vertical, and the operator not sounding like they’re eating the mic; in other words, their mouth far enough away from the microphone to sound clear and not garbled. The problem you’ll run into is that hands-free operation is preferential, and that some options are a lot more field-worthy than others. In addition, most folks configure their gear to support their rifle and usually look at it as only that; proper Deuce Gear (second line kit- your fighting load) should sustain the individual for at least 24hrs. Bring in a patrol pack or ruck, and now you’ve got some potential integration issues that are only overcome by actually running it in the field.
Your radio, whether it’s intra- or inter-team, should be on your Deuce Gear and in a place where you can index it if need be. Since we all know that after moving around they tend to develop a mind of their own, such as unexpectedly changing frequency/channel, changing volume, and the best of all, getting switched off or dumping their memory accidentally, you’re gonna need to have it in a spot where you can pull it out and look at it to see what’s going on without my buddy’s help. In my experience, having the radio out of the way and in its own pouch works- and plugging it up to an external mic should be a no-brainer.
Some of the Options Out There That Work For Me
The Low-Profile Earpiece
These are popular with security details. To be blunt, I’m not a fan unless low profile is a necessity, and the only nice thing I can say about them is that they’re better than throat mics (don’t buy throat mics, seriously, you’ll regret it). Their only real use is when an absolute low profile is required. They irritate my ear, block my ability to hear ambient noise when I’m moving, and flat out suck compared to other options when a clandestine posture is not required. So for rural patrolling, don’t bother. But then again, they’re handy to have if you’re requiring that low profile and if they work for you, then they work for you.
The Plain Ol’ Speaker Mic
Speaker Mics, sometimes called collar mic by Public Safety personnel, is the most basic forms of hands-free operation. Clip the radio somewhere, clip the mic somewhere, and you’re good to go. And since they’re much smaller today than they used to be, you can clip it pretty much anywhere that makes sense. The inexpensive Baofeng or Wouxon versions (seen here clipped to my custom UW Gear Swamp Fox Rig) are actually pretty good for the cost and I have no issue with using them. The only potential problem you may run into is that they can be loud, so keep an eye on the volume at each security halt during movement.
The Bowman Headset aka the TASC
Old school to some, but still an excellent option for communications integration on the move. The “Tactical Assault Special Operations Communications” headset presents a great option for maintaining complete silence from your radio on the go while allowing you to both hear all transmissions and hear all of the ambient noise. The boom mic picks up the voice and the Push To Talk (PTT) button can be clipped in a convenient location. I’ve always loved these due to the fact that they’re extremely comfortable and work very, very well. They were mostly phased out in lieu of Peltor sets due to the inherent hearing protection, but I never really cared for the bulk of Peltors and the amplified noise within them. If you haven’t noticed by now, hearing ambient noise is very important to me in a tactical environment, and the TASC is a great way to preserve that sensory perception. These can be found with needed plugs for basically every radio on the market, and even the eBay clones have stood up to some serious field use on my part.
The H-250, nicknamed “The Dogbone”
The H-250 should conjure memories both good and bad in the minds of every vet. This was and remains the standard hand mic with every military radio, resembling an old phone. Whether you were whispering a SALUTE report into one or shouting at a Squad Leader to meet you at the TOC (you haven’t lived till you’ve been called out by your First Sergeant or Platoon Sergeant over the Company net), we all know them. Interestingly enough, I still favor them and keep a few laying around equipped with Kenwood-style plugs for commonality. They’re a hard act to beat for simplicity. On my non-firing side, whether standing or in the prone I can lay my ear to the speaker and listen to the traffic at a low volume and speak into the mic just as easily. And the camo duck tape keeps it in a nice spot so it doesn’t wander away.
Driving home the main point again, the purpose of each of these is to keep your hands as close to being free as possible while making necessary radio functions fast and simple. I don’t have to pull the radio in and out of a pouch and monkey around with it (unless its developed that mind of its own we talked about) and life becomes just that much more simple while on the move. That integration is very important and something you should be working through on your own kits in addition to placement of magazines and ancillary support gear you may have. But that’s a whole other topic for another time.
If you want to learn more about communications for preppers and survivalists for both the small unit and across a region off the grid, I suggest scheduling a slot for the RTO Course. I also am willing to travel for private groups. Feel free to email me at email@example.com for more details.