I finally saw ‘Lone Survivor’ – Comprehensive Thoughts

Lone Survivor

I had my hand surgery yesterday to get the hardware out, which allowed me to milk the opportunity to lay on the sofa and catch up on watching ‘Lone Survivor.’ What a great movie. I’ve heard a lot about this portrayal of Operation Red Wings and yes, it’s a MOVIE and some of the portrayed events, such as the battle in the village at the end, may not be quite accurate. However, watching the movie led to some thoughts which I will pass on today – this is comment based on the movie itself, not Operation Red Wings.

I don’t intend to dwell on the operational aspects of the movie, such as the re-tasking of the QRF Apaches etc. I want to mainly dwell on the parts that are relevant to the armed civilian – because none of us are about to take part in a Navy SEAL raid in Afghanistan, are we?

So, this was a 4 man Observation Post (OP) patrol ‘behind enemy lines.’ What can we learn from what was portrayed in the movie?:

  • Wear ballistic plates, minimum, front and rear. And not steel ones. Given the number of rifles you probably have in your safe, even if you have to sell one, invest in lighter weight ceramic plates. I will shortly do a gear post on how to sensibly rig yourself with a plate carrier and light battle belt. Any time you expect to be in a kinetic situation, armed with a rifle, in a tactical environment, wear plates front and rear, at minimum. One goes with the other. Even on a covert OP patrol, if it goes noisy, as it did in the movie, you will want to be wearing plates.
  • Carry a backup handgun, in case you lose your rifle, or it is rendered inoperable. Have enough rifle ammo on your person, your LBV/LBE, to survive a firefight. I would opine 8-12 magazines is a good number. More goes in your patrol pack, but you need a minimum on your person.
  • Do effective PT and maintain yourself at a level where you can bug out with your fighting load, fight, and move from position to position. No, willfully being a fat-ass does not cut it. Did you see the training footage at the beginning of the movie, from BUDS? There is a point to that – both physical and mental : never quit. However, if you are old/infirm/wounded/injured and can’t do what you used to be able to do, at least be able to run your weapons and fight – which is exactly what my most recent student review from Combat Rifle Manipulation (CRM) states:
    • “For the older prepper patriot; you read these blogs and wonder, “What can I do?” You may have ailments… the back, the arm, the leg … but your ‘heart/soul’ is still there even when the body doesn’t want to cooperate.
      THIS class is the answer to the question, “What can I do!”
      Worried about whether or not you’ll be an asset? Most assets are skills-based and these are teachable skills. These are skills you can take back and teach to your family or group.
      In closing whether you’re a young gun or a bit long-in-the-tooth, you will leave this class much more proficient with your weapon.”
  • (If you are breaking contact, avoid jumping off a cliff, which will likely put you out of the fight anyway!)
  • (It is faster for a CH-47 Chinook to put its butt (tail ramp) on the deck, if it can, which it mostly can with the exception of heavy tree cover, and have everyone run off the back, than hover and wait for everyone to fast rope. Let’s avoid doing stuff because it’s ‘high speed’, and do what is most sensible/tactically sound in the situation.)
  • Carry an IFAK (Improved First Aid Kit) on your person. I talk about contents of that on my Combat Lifesaver page. You want to think about having minimum:
    • Tourniquet x 2. CAT or SOFTT-W. 1 in IFAK, 1 ready on your person.
    • Combat Gauze, vacuum packed x 2.
    • Ace wrap x 2
    • Emergency bandage x 1 or 2
    • Naso-Pharyngeal airway (NPA)
    • Hyfin Chest Seal x 2
    • Needle for Needle Chest Decompression (NCD)
    • Tape
    • Training to use all this!
  • Notice how, in the early stages of the battle, when they were first compromised, they were using drills and commands that you will hear on an MVT Class. No-one was doing any tacticool stand-up stuff. The tactical adviser for the movie (was it Marcus Luttrell?) had them seeking cover and moving from cover to cover, taking prone covered and concealed positions. Watching it was like watching a drill at MVT on steroids, with all the Hollywood effects. I heard “Move,” “Moving,” “Push Right,” and “Peel left,” which frankly amazed me because I don’t have a Navy SEAL background and I half expected them to be doing it somehow different. I don’t know, like using Navy terms or something – “Peel to port!”! It just goes to show that basics are basics.
  • When they were initially contacted they were surrounded 360 by the enemy. Thus, they were unable to break contact in a classic way, by fighting away from the enemy. Instead, they fought out in a certain direction. So their drills were a buddy pair/team fight through action, trying to break out of the enemy encirclement.
  • The real meat of what I want to talk about here is that of running a patrol. Planning and preparing for a patrol is a detailed business. When you cover your orders and rehearsals, you will need to put time and attention into ‘Actions On’ – by which I mean your planned and rehearsed ‘actions on’ certain events.
  • ‘Actions On’: Often these are skipped over or given lip service to. Let’s go over a few that are highlighted in the movie:
    • Action On Enemy Contact: These will be a series of pre-rehearsed drills that you will do in your four man team if you hit unexpected enemy contact. I teach these drills on my CRCD Classes. If you are going on an OP patrol, you will want to consider actions on contact when moving, and actions on contact in the OP, if you are compromised.
    • Action On Patrol Compromise: which must fall within your rules of engagement/appropriate law. Bravo to LT Murphy for taking charge and making the right call. You don’t murder people – you have an ‘Action On’ drill to fix the situation. I think the only two acceptable options would have been:
      • Somehow subdue and restrain the goatherders until the mission could be completed. However, without comms they were unable to trigger the assault force.
      • As they did in the movie, let them go, operation compromised, exfil. The downside being that they didn’t have comms and  they didn’t have a great exfil plan, see below.
    • Action on Civilians: hostile or friendly/neutral – see compromise above. At the end of the day, if you are on a covert OP patrol, and you are compromised, your OP mission is over, and you go into whatever you planned action on is. This could be an exfil to extraction, or a direct action, such as snipe/fire mission on the HVT (in this case Ahmed Shah) etc….METT-TC.
    • Action On Enemy Pre-Seen: This is where you see the enemy before they see you. You may or may not be compromised at some point in the near future. Your action on is usually to try and remain unseen, while perhaps putting in a hasty ambush in order to be able to respond if you are seen.
    • Action On Lost Comms; If you are a sensor OP, upon which an operation is triggered, such as in the movie, then you are no good without communications. In the movie, they tried to move to establish communications. In such a case, where communications are lost and not restored (and there is no working backup, such as the sat phone), there should be a clear action. Rally points (primary and alternate) need to be established as part of the planning for the mission, and the teams will exfil to the rally point. Given a certain trigger time or event where there have been no communications, then the QRF/extraction team will be dispatched to the nominated rally points to pick up the team. Depending on the situation you may be able to extract covertly, as you came in, and thus not alert the target for a return once you square away the comms situation. However, these same rally points can be used as your exfil points for a compromise/contact and thus if the operation goes wrong, that is where you move to. If what happened in the movie happens and you lose comms and also have a contact, the QRF will be on the way anyway and will know where to go. If your primary rally point is inaccessible or occupied by the enemy they will know that you will go to the secondary. It must be situated in such as way as to most likely make it usable if the primary is not.
    • If the whole thing goes to a  soup sandwich, as it did in the movie, then you need an overall E&E plan. This will give you an overall  “War RV” in addition to the local rally points you planned for that operation.
    • Action on Casualties: as a 4 man team, you will find it hard to move with a single man down. There will be your initial move of the casualty while in contact, which as shown in the movie will most likely be a drag as you fire and maneuver to try and break contact with the enemy. Once you are out of the initial contact, but probably still being followed up, then you will need to find another plan to get the casualty to the rally point. You may carry a folding litter, but having all 3 carrying it and none on security is not a good idea. You may use a drag litter with one man pulling, the others covering. However, in the terrain in the movie its not going to fly. You may have to take turns with a Hawes/Fireman’s carry with the other two covering. Bottom line, if there is more than one casualty, and you are in that type of situation, the casualty has to try and move himself, perhaps assisted by another. Also, you are only going to be able to move him if your PT levels are high!
    • There may be situations where you are running an OP patrol but you don’t want to use radio communications, for fear of being intercepted and compromised. It just depends on the balance of technology between you and your enemy. That will not work for a sensor OP such as in the movie, where you need to report in real time. However, if you are simply gathering information on pattern of life and enemy numbers/activity etc, then you may be able to use another system such as dead drops/runners/agents in some proximity to the OP. This will be a way to get your log reports out so they can be analysed and used for planning. I had a situation just like that in my novel: ‘Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises.

Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises

    •  In the movie they split the OP team into two locations, OP1 and OP2. In OP1 they had one resting, one observing. At the rear they had the radio guy, with one on rear protection, the other resting. Flexibility in planning/operations is key. I prefer to teach that the OP team of 4 will remain in the same location, minimizing movement and rotating duties through the 4 of them: observation, logging, rear protection, rest. If you take an 8 man team, two teams of 4, then you can have a longer term OP, with a group in the OP itself and the other group in a rest/rear security area to the rear, similar to how they had it in the movie, but with more people. It’s a balance, but it works well like that if you are going to be there for a long time. If there are only 4 of you, and you will be there for a long time (over 24 hours), you will have to do the 2 man split into observation  and rear positions.
    • Do not walk out of the treeline on the forward slope facing the objective! You will be seen! A good ground and inter visibility study, taking account of vegetation (from sat photos/recce reports) will go a long way to finding a  suitable OP position in advance, which will minimize exposure as you occupy it but give you line of sight onto the objective area. Act as if you are under observation, or potential observation, at all times. Plan, move and use the ground accordingly.
    • Know some local language or at least carry a language card, and know some of the local customs, such as the Pashtunwali code. How else to communicate with locals, particularity if they are trying to help. Out of interest: Did the patrol have SAR locator beacons? Don’t believe the rhetoric/propaganda and assume everyone is a bad guy. It’s not black and white, its shades of grey. That’s a bit of a weakness if you are a ‘special unit’ kept for super secret operations behind the wire all the time. You don’t get any exposure to the locals, and thus they are all evil bad guys in your eyes.

No doubt more will come to me after I hit ‘post.’

Live Hard.

Die Free.