You laid out the best plan. Did your homework, picked a great frequency or two, didn’t hear any unknown traffic and all the radios worked back at your retreat. The patrol route looked great on the map and everyone in your stick is familiar with the area. But when you stepped off things started going south. Radios all quit working. No contact with your retreat. You’re starting to panic and lose control. The other guys on the team are getting short with each other. Where you thought you were on the map ends up not making sense, and you can’t find a reference point to do a resection. Just a few hours in, you’re lost, have no radio contact, and are losing daylight fast. Not looking too good. What’s your recovery plan, Patrol Leader?
There’s a right way and a wrong way to plan and layering your equipment goes right along with it. In the RTO Course I teach a concept we used for planning in the Army known as PACE: Primary, Alternate, Contingency, EMERGENCY.
Emergency, 100% of the time, every time, is the most dead-nuts reliable method possible. The primary purpose is getting you and your team rescued. Whether it’s route selection or communications, once all else has failed, option E must work. I’ll take a step back for a second and say that every layer of a communications plan utilizes PACE. If one way doesn’t work, you’ve got another. If VHF doesn’t work for Line of Sight, maybe UHF will. If those two don’t work or are somehow compromised, move to the contingency frequency to alert the recovery team (or Hatchet Force) to begin moving.
Emergency signaling is non-electronic, with a couple of exceptions- flashlights and strobes. My E-Line commo kit includes methods of signaling both day and night as well as the response signal to confirm contact with my recovery team.
Pictured up top is a big, bright orange and pink flag known as a VS-17 panel. From Left to Right is a Write-in-the-Rain pad; an infrared strobe, a few note cards/ permanent marker with an emergency 1:24K protractor and emergency signal flash card; a reflective colored US flag patch and Signal Flash mirror; a magnesium firestarter bar; and a watertight bag.
The VS17 needs no introduction to anyone who’s been in the Army. What we used to do in training is sew them in our patrol caps as an emergency signalling method. It’s just a blaze orange piece of fabric that you can’t miss during the day.
Pictured here is a close up of the write in the rain notebook I prefer. Write in the Rain pads are wax impregnated and will hold up in humid and wet conditions much better than regular paper. This version made by ESEE has a lot of great reminders, for example International Morse Code and basic navigation info. While we all know this stuff in a comfy setting, people tend to find out quickly they forget when they’re cold, tired, wet, starving, and terrified. Having it in front of you helps out.
I carry notecards too. The notecards are great for a variety of reasons, making range cards and sector sketches, marking casualties, or just being something that’s bright white and stands out. Engineer tape (a 2in wide white cloth strip) works too. Always carry a permanent marker; it writes anywhere on anything and I hate fighting a cheap pen when I need it to work.
The ESEE navigation cards are worth their weight in gold. Having an extra protractor is always a great idea, and another one is included in the notepad. The reason I use 1:24k these days versus MGRS 1:25k standard is that unless otherwise marked, USGS maps come in UTM, which is 1:24k. While anyone with decent land nav skills would be in the same ballpark through terrain association, its not the same and using the wrong protractor on the wrong grid makes you…wrong. On the white cards is another couple great reminders, including IMC and standard air-ground rescue signals.
The infrared strobe is not always necessary- I included it because I carry it out of habit and my group uses them. If your team is equipped with NVGs, it comes in handy. If the OPFOR does as well, it can compromise. Observe and plan accordingly.
The Reflective US flag is yet another way to signal friendlies who may not be aware of your presence. A patrol may not be out looking for your team, but you happen to run across them anyway. An American Flag (hopefully) will keep them from shooting you. The Signal Mirror is a low profile way to signal friendlies, keeping a lower profile than the VS-17 panel and the magnesium bar is for signal fires. Finally, have a nice waterproof bag to carry it in.
I keep all of these items on my body when conducting a combat patrol. The standards for using them are entirely up to you, but remember that this is a last-ditch kit to get you rescued. You need to know how to use it on the run and under less than ideal circumstances, and that means getting regular training.
When all else fails- PLAN E MUST WORK.