Best Defense

A Marine’s Afghan AAR (VIII): Some rules to live by

Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine, who knows how to walk the walk, offers several small but interesting lessons from the ground in Afghanistan. I’m impressed. For example, I’ve been around Quick Reaction Forces, and in fact was embedded in one once, but haven’t seen it made standard procedure to have the QRF platoon leader sit in ...

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine, who knows how to walk the walk, offers several small but interesting lessons from the ground in Afghanistan. I’m impressed. For example, I’ve been around Quick Reaction Forces, and in fact was embedded in one once, but haven’t seen it made standard procedure to have the QRF platoon leader sit in on the pre-patrol briefs of other units heading outside the wire.

Gather round, little grasshoppers!:

Defensive Positions.  Every position is not laid out for Final Protective Fires.  Despite what IOC says, sometimes Close Defensive Fires is your best option.  Recognize the most likely place for the enemy to take a few shots at you i.e. covered and concealed escape route, within small arms range and lay your weapon system on that. Proof your range cards frequently.  You may have set in your guns initially when no corn was up and a month later the tactical situation has changed.  Guns are also heavy and generally they are resting in sand.  As they sink, your range card becomes worthless, guns become unleveled and your traverse ends up becomes a search and traverse.  Conduct frequent training with the Marines on post on machine gunnery and how to manipulate the weapon system/use the range card; along with telling them why the gun is positioned where it is and aimed at that spot.  Commanders at individual positions should tour their posts daily.   

Make sure your guns are cleaned and lubed.  Most Marines make sure the weapon is clean and to keep it clean, they don’t lube it.  Take that into account with failure to clean the ammo and then you will have a guaranteed jam when you need that weapon the most – this happened to one of our COPs when they caught a couple of guys laying in an IED and the guys got away.

Make sure you use good judgment on where optics are placed, what kind of optics you use, and do detailed sketches of the surrounding areas.  Not sure how many times, I have gotten on post and asked, how long has that loop hole been in that wall across that field?  A Marine has never been able to give me an answer and a lot of them look like recent additions to the local décor.

You have to battle track your squads and get frequent position and radio checks.  Keep abreast of the type of air on station and where it is.  You should have redundant com and be able to operate your COC effectively day or night.

Use the right weapon system for the right threat.  .50 cals and MK-19s are great but if your sector of fire/observation is 200 yards probably don’t need it, especially if your Marines aren’t competent in using the system.

Have supplementary and alternate positions.  Basic fundamental but most posts don’t have them.  Also make sure they are labeled.  A good system I saw was numbers for posts and letters for Supplementary and alternate positions.  It’s confusing to the Marine if you tell him to take his men to the position next to the post at two in the morning under attack.  Be able to say take your team and divide them between bravo and charlie.

Have a planned reaction force on standby.  The leader of that force attends the patrol brief the Marines going outside the wire. Your briefing area needs to be set up as user friendly as possible, so your Marines will use it.  Have a GRG map up big enough to trace a route along with a regular 1:50,000.  Put up a skeleton order with freqs and call signs on it.  If you can put benches in there to encourage Marines to sit down and take notes, do so.  Make a write board so Marines can draw formations and do ROC talks for cordons etc.  (I used the back of a laminated map and it worked fine).

Make sure you are conducting continuing actions.  Take a look at those claymores and your wire every day.  Often when I walked the wire, claymores were camouflaged with mud in front of them or had fallen over and were pointing to the sky.

Know your neighbors.  You should know each of them by name and visit them a few times a week.  If you aren’t visiting them frequently, bet your ass the enemy is and probably observing you from their homes.  But it just isn’t as exotic to stop by the neighbor’s house and visit, besides who wants to add more time to their patrol by stopping just outside the wire either coming or going.  Generally, your neighbors are the most important people to talk to and know.

Use log books on post and log in things that are important tactically, not radio checks and worthless shit.  Change your relief times (had one post where they only got shot at right after or before changeover and Marines could only identify general directions vice locations, just change up your times and make sure the COG is keeping an eye out prior to relief).

Just like patrolling, get a hold of a 6-4 and read the chapter on defense.  Lost art and you will never be surprised with what you find.  By the middle of the second company, I could tell platoon commanders what I was going to find.  They thought, never on my post and they ended up walking back steaming in most cases and changing how they did business.

‘Nuff said?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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