Building the Scout Team

No man is an Island.

There’s a popular meme that’s repeated over and over- the Lone Cowboy, the Lone Mountain Man, the Lone Sniper, etc, etc. That’s all hollywood fluff. If you want to survive in a non permissive(READ: very hostile) environment, it takes a team. Sure, Jack Hinson may have done some damage…but in the big scheme of things he did little to affect anything by picking off Company-level Officers. Frank and Jesse James- team. Quantrill- team. Even Jim Bridger, contrary to popular belief, worked in a larger team with other trappers and Scouts. Let’s take a look on how to structure an effective team.

A little bit of history

In the historical context of the work, the Scout is an irregular force. He and his team works as a spy, finding the lines, recording their numbers, and effectively reporting their findings to a larger, more capable force. In addition, his team can conduct surprise raids when the time’s right, and melt back into the terrain as quickly as whence they struck. From the earliest stages of warfare through around the Spanish American War, this role did not change much. In many ways the skills developed were unique to former British Colonial Areas; definitely in American History but also very much in Australia and African nations, notably South Africa and Rhodesia.

During the American Civil War, the role of the Scout often included what we now call Asymmetric Warfare. That’s simply a 360deg battlefield versus the traditional European linear warfare model. Many of these skills were carried on from the American Revolution, which were an evolution of lessons learned from the French and Indian War. MAJ Robert Rogers is perhaps the best example, and his Journal and Rules for Ranging are required reading for this line of work. They scouted and fought as the natives did; and changed warfare in the New World.

Let’s bring it forward to the near-present. Scouts in the traditional role were once again developed to fill the gap presented by conventional warfare. Vietnam is perhaps the most familiar example; with the development of the Long Range Recon Patrol Units, Long Range Patrol(now known as LRS), and finally, the Recondo school, Scouts and Irregular Warfare was back en vogue. It’s successes, coupled with skills inherent to life in the African Bush led to the highly successful Rhodesian Selous Scouts. Why does the role of the Scout have such an endurance throughout history? Because he works, that’s why. And the most essential lesson of it all, as any veteran of one of these units will attest, is that in addition to superior small unit skills, partnering with locals from the area of operation is just as critical today as it was in 1756.

In the coming times, the building and development of small Scout units local to their areas of operation(AO) will not only be critical to success of Liberty’s mission but will also work as tremendous force multipliers. And we’re going to need all we can get.

Team Breakdown

Today’s Recon Team doctrine comes from lessons learned in Vietnam. Anyone who’s read Larry Chambers’ LRRP series(which I highly recommend) will be familiar with this. The basic structure is Six men in order of March(how they walk while on patrol); The Senior Scout(SSO), Team Leader(TL), Radio Telephone Operator(RTO), his Assistant(ARTO…guy carrying a lot of batteries), a Scout Observer(SO…junior guy carrying a lot of extra equipment), and the Assistant Team Leader(ATL…in the rear covering the tracks and keeping accountability).

Six men makes for a low profile, while still carrying enough equipment to exist for a good long time unsupported while snooping and pooping. Contrary to what many may assume, Teams are trained to operate nearly indefinitely provided they have the batteries to do so. That’s right- batteries are the linch-pin to mission success- because believe it or not, a Scout is a high speed radio dude with a rifle in this day and age. Six well trained, seasoned men can do a lot of damage…but are far from invincible; watch Bravo Two Zero or Lone Survivor if you want a realistic picture of what happens to a Scout Patrol when Commo goes bad. Those two failures are directly attributed to poor radio skills and even worse contingency planning, among two of the most elite units on the planet. Now that I’ve drove home that point…we’ll move on.

It’s important to remember the whole “unsupported” thing. Even the Teams get resupply for long missions. You may not; it all depends on what you do or fail to do now. Consider that. You may not have another team on standby for a hasty extraction; an air drop unit for resupply; and medevac unit; indirect fires; and so on and so forth. Act accordingly.

Interestingly enough, another couple of groups worked in a similar manner; the Selous Scouts and certain units of the Chechen Mujahidden. Both groups worked within these realities, and while they had a certain amount of support it was a far cry from what I experienced. Their organization reflected this. Both groups, from the lack of manpower coupled with the lack of intrinsic macro-level support, broke their teams down further. The Selous Scouts took what we think of as the traditional Scout team and broke it in half; a Team Leader, an RTO and what can be considered a SSO; in their terms a Sapper. The Chechen Resistance roles were much more defined upon firepower roles; with a Marksman serving as TL, a PKM gunner, and a third man carrying an RPG variant. This lower profile team breakdown proved quite effective at the small unit level. While the express purpose of each unit was a bit different, their roles on the battlefield can be considered basically the same, and the lessons gained from both should certainly be heeded.

The Selous Scouts were what’s known as “pseudo-operators” or rather, infiltrators posing as insurgents causing chaos among the insurgents. They’d go into rebel controlled areas, paint up and act like the rebels from a distance, then compromise lines of resupply from neighboring countries and cause fratricide incidents among rebel forces(sounds awfully familiar in the III% community…doesn’t it?). It worked; Political intervention from the outside lost Rhodesia, not failings of COL Reid-Daly’s men.

The Chechens, on the other hand, built teams based around what worked against the Russians. Keeping a low profile and recognizing that the Russians were loathe to dismount from their vehicles(a lot like conventional Army units in Afghanistan) they could “hug” forces inside of danger-close air and artillery support range(inside of 300M according to their own accounts)and light up the OPFOR before they could react. The ambush tactics were effective, and their weapons reflected this paradigm as well. Frequently the infamous SVD rifle would be seen not with it’s PSO scope, but rather fitted with a red-dot for improved speed. It’s important to note that every part of the team supported the marksman, and the marksman served as the TL. It was his judgement call on where and when to strike, with the PKM serving as suppressing fires for ground troops and the RPG taking care of the BMP armor before they had time to react. This is what we call…inside the OODA loop.

Another important note is that the units were not rigid; they could “stack” or bring more units together as the mission dictated. Situations are always fluid and flexibility is what wins the day. There are several accounts of shockingly effective raids conducted by larger forces of Selous Scouts as there are of Chechens defending terrain against Russian Armor(most notably the first defense of Grozny). Flexibilty wins the day.

Scout Team Structure

Both of the former examples consisted of highly trained, well seasoned men selected from the line units. They’ve trained, ate, slept, partied and cried together. In the field they know how each other thinks and can communicate without talking. No book or blog can teach these skills but rather give pointers on how to reinforce and foster them. That being said, the rule of three seems to work.

The very first lesson that sinks in for any recruit is that two is one, one is none. Nobody goes anywhere without their buddy. Two sets of eyes are better than one. Two rifles on target are better than one. You get the point. In the standard Light Infantry Squad, two Buddy Teams comprise a Four Man fire team. Two Fire Teams comprise a Line Squad, and two Gun Teams(M240) comprise the Weapons squad. Conventionally this works pretty well, but it also carries a high signature; meaning you hear this herd from a mile away. Not effective for any prospective guerilla force, especially not one concerned with Scouting.

The Scout Team breakdown, as previously discussed, renders a much lower profile. It still makes noise- after all, it’s six guys in the bush. Cutting this in half, we cut the signature down. Most importantly, there’s three guys to rotate the sleep and security plan in a hide site. The three man team is as small as it can go without making serious compromises to the safety and security of the team. This gives us three roles needing to be filled as well- the TL, the RTO, and the SSO.


Each Scout needs to be a self starter and well rounded in a diverse set of skills; the more the better. From your prospective pool, who bowhunts? A bowhunter’s skillset lends itself well to the Scout mission; benchrest shooters, not so much. The guy who participates in SOTA(summits on the air- get involved if you’re not already) or other QRP enthusiast would make a great RTO. And a former Combat Arms NCO would be a great candidate for a TL. Just saying. Geardos and excuse-makers need not apply.

Land Navigation is the bread and butter. Learn how to read a Topo map and use a compass; join a SAR group at the local fire department if you don’t know how. Do you hunt? Why not? Hunting teaches a lot, but most notably it’s a great teacher of silent movement and tracking skills. Ground hunt. Make mandrives with a couple buddies. It builds the appropriate correlating skills.(MOVE)

HF communication is the heart of the RTO. Each team member at the very least must know how to set up and operate the equipment. If you want reliable, beyond line of sight communications, NVIS is the only answer. In the Teams TACSAT has replaced this…but there’s a reason every LRS RTO is taught a primer on HF. For the III% mission, we don’t have TACSAT and anyone who brings it up is a mental midget and should be written off. They don’t want to learn or expand their skills, and don’t have the experience level to recognize the folly of their misgivings. (COMMUNICATE)

All of your teammates should shoot on a regular basis. That’s a given…but can they make accurate, repeatable hits at 300m or further(preferably out to 600m)? A gun nut who likes to clutch weapons is not suitable…nor is a bench rest guy. They have knowledge that can be useful for sure…but frequently these types like to put the cart before the horse. Accurate. Repeatable. Hits. At distance. Under stress. When you’re cold, tired and wet. The weapon doesn’t matter nearly as much as being able to accurately use it, resupply it, and have it standardized among your team. Yes, every team member needs to have the same weapon system. It makes things easier when you haven’t slept in a couple days and suddenly find yourself in a hasty break contact. (SHOOT)

Notice what I did here? Instead of Shoot, Move Communicate…I made it MOVE, COMMUNICATE, SHOOT. Because realistically, that’s the order of importance for the Scout team.


We’ve established a historical primer on Scout Team purpose and structure. We’re not the first at anything; and it’s important to read and heed lessons of the past. From my own experience, flexibility and intelligence of the mind rules the day. And the only way to get it done is to go out and build these skills.

It’s about Skills, not Gear.

21 thoughts on “Building the Scout Team

  1. Pingback: Brushbeater: Building The Scout Team | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. Good info !

    Any experienced hunter will already be an expert tracker,able to move quietly, and able to make shots at 300-500 yds.
    Especially those who hunt out west,making long shots on game like antelope,elk,and bighorn sheep.
    Those of us who bowhunt are generally even better at moving quietly,and concealing ourselves,moreso for those who hunt from the ground,and don’t use treestands.
    Those of us who have spent time hunting the vast national forests of the rocky mountain west are already well-versed in map and compass use,although not all of us learned the military grid system of land navigation.

    I spent a few seasons working for an outfitter years ago,one of the first things we did when guys got in from the local small plane airport was to have them shoot at paper plates with their names written on them that I stapled to plywood that was set up at 300yds. A paper plate is about the size of the vital organs of an elk or mule deer.
    Very,very few guys even hit the plates,usually those who claimed to be “expert shots” or “as good as a sniper” usually couldn’t even hit the plywood,much less the paper plate.
    The guys who didn’t brag about their shooting skills usually put all 3 rounds in a group in the center of the plate.
    Shooting at 100 yd targets,and being able to make nice groups does not translate to being able to make 300 yd shots.

  3. David Hamel

    Early Scout teams took the fight off the open field and into the woods. The next generation will take it into the suburbs and cities. To paraphrase Patriot’s Benjamin Martin: “The next war will not be fought on the frontier. It will be fought amongst us.”
    To operate in the Surveillance State will require a new skill set indeed. Keep up.

    1. I’ve done this sort of thing a few times, in a couple of countries. If you find what I’ve written irrelevant, or wish to discuss Hollywood versions of realities, I call upon you to look elsewhere.

      1. David Hamel

        In retrospect my comments did come across as dismissive. My apologies. You have obviously put a lot of time and effort into this article and your blog. You are to be commended for that.

  4. TnDoc

    Enjoyed your article….ignore the jackass’s. I train in East Tn….have a good group of guys, we do SUT as per Max Velocity….some of us have trained with him. I enjoy these type of articles, thanks! Looking fwd to reading more. TnDoc

  5. Pip-Boy

    Ahhhhh your bringing back memories of my time as a LRSD member for the 7th ID, in the early 90’s. Your not lying about the extra weight. I never heard the term ARTO, I was the grenadier (203) but good lord I carried all freaking kinds of batteries. From spares for the PRC77, and 126’s (?) to freaking NODS (PVS7’s), we used both the circular and a ton of double A’s,
    Then there was the freaking weight at the time I weighed around 150 and when we jumped, which was often, I weighed nearly 250 lbs with all my freaking gear, Welcome to the Light Infantry!
    I remember being told by my TL a SGT. Robert Flores, He had two mustard stains on his wings, he made both jumps into Grenada and Panama, and a star on his CIB got him self all the way to SFC in the 75th but was court martialed and demoted to CPL for the nose candy. The primary mission is Reconnaissance of the enemy, we are not to be discovered and can not fight a protracted ground fight for long, without indirect fire and CAS. Once we hit the Ground we’d dump are chutes and weapons bags, let the Legs and fat boys pickem up, dump our Kpots into our rucks and put the Ol boonie on, Est perimeter and start hooking up Comms. Everyone of us had compass and during our training he made everyone of us read the maps do pace count. Shot the azimuth etc. He also had us do each others jobs Out in the field it was also real casual on the names, very rarely did we use rank. He wanted us to cross train and know each others jobs just in case bad ju ju hit us as he called it. He also wanted us to be as prepped as possible for pre-school (Ranger School) as he called it.
    It took a hell of a long time to move into our postition to start the actual Recon of the OPFOR, other times we were sent out to actually raid or set up near and far ambushes. Those were easy basically just a movement to contact. But the actual reconnaissance of an OPFOR position was the longest, most boring and tedious, part of the job. Because not a lot of shit happens when you are pulling surveillance on a target, but you had to be as detailed and as accurate as possible about the target, so that when the line companies came in to do the assault or raid, they would not get bogged down. We would relay all the information we had to our CO in the form of a SALUTE Report. And every day we switched out our old commo jargon for new jargon, in the form of an SOI hanging around the RTO,s neck. If we did our job right we scooted out of there and let the line companies do the DA or we helped guide them like a wannabe Pathfinder and observed as they came in and got to have all the fun.
    I hate growing old.

  6. Paraclete

    Just discovered your Blog …and look forward to learning more.
    Thank You for being willing to teach those of us who desire to learn.

  7. Shocktroop0351

    Oh Shit, looks like I just got introduced to some more good reading. (Thanks WRSA…) This article really goes along the same lines many of the patriot light infantry guru’s have been pushing, especially the idea of using a small two or three man team as your basic fire team, then bringing other teams together for larger ops. One thing I would be interested to see is your ideas on the technical “Hows?” of operating a team like this. Which NVIS antenna’s would you use and why? Would you use different antenna’s in the desert vs. the forest? I’ve been a general ticket holder for about 6 months and I’m still experimenting, so this aspect really interests me. Also, a training regimen for said three man team? An organized way to share skills and incorporate all the different skill sets into a team environment. Thanks for putting this up and taking the time to educate.

      1. shocktroop0351

        I apologize, I got excited reading this and didn’t think to see what other articles you had also written.

  8. Eric

    After stumbling over here from WRSA several weeks ago, I have been in a reading (and re-reading) frenzy. Yours is one of the most useful blogs I have found. It is the light scout version of an instructional blog versus the often overweight musings of “never did this stuff so I’ll make up for it by providing quantity versus quality” blogs…thanks for the lean meat without all the BS garnish.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Brother. My sole aim is to present a useful product for the common man to use- identifying critical skills I learned with their civilian equivalent- in order to give a baseline for folks to build their own groups from.

  9. BillyTheFat

    Thanks for outstanding article. I look forward to perusing the literature you’ve mentioned, as well as your other posts.

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