How to Use Patrolling Tactics to Move as a Team

by September 29, 2014

It’s always the same story in action movies, the bad guy is walking around his home or the courtyard outside when a team of well outfitted, steely-eyed operators pop out of nowhere to snatch him up. What the movies don’t show, is the long and arduous movement that the team had to do just to get into position in the first place. The infil and exfil phases of an operation are every bit as important as the actions on the objective, but certainly not as sexy in real life.

patrol-tactics-main-1Learning to move as a team can be beneficial beyond the battlefield. There’s an obvious parallel to hunting since stealth will greatly reduce the amount of time necessary for a successful hunt. Additionally, when you’re with a partner, learning the same tactics and non-verbal communication techniques can greatly enhance your experience.

Army Field Manual 3-21.8 (FM 7-8) deals with exactly this idea, moving as a team. This information and more is open source and can be found on Army sanctioned sites such as Tactical Movement refers to a team’s movement when not in direct contact with the enemy. The tactics used will vary widely based on factors of terrain, patrol size and enemy posture. The factors that don’t change are the following:

  • Maintain cohesion
  • Maintain communication
  • Maintain momentum
  • Provide maximum protection
  • Make enemy contact in a manner that allows them to transition smoothly to offensive or defensive action

All of these elements are critical if the team is going to arrive in the right place, at the right time, without compromise and maintain 100% accountability of every member. While this applies to movement in vehicles as well as on foot, we’ll only be discussing the latter.

Movement Formations

Different formations are used for different reasons. The changes in formation will determine the distance between Soldiers, sectors of fire and responsibilities for 360-degree security. The space between personnel will vary based on the level of illumination as well. You should never be outside of view of the man ahead of you or the man behind you. This is important for non-verbal communication techniques.

Column/File Formation



  • One lead element
  • Majority of observation and direct fires oriented to the flanks; minimal to the front
  • One route means unit only influenced by obstacles on that one route


  • Easiest formation to control (as long as leader can communicate with lead element)
  • Ability to generate a maneuver element
  • Secure flanks
  • Speed


  • Reduced ability to achieve fire superiority to the front
  • Clears a limited area and concentrates the unit
  • Transitions poorly to bounding over watch, base of fire and assault
  • Column’s depth makes it a good target for close air attacks and a machine gun beaten zone….

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About myoung

Ben and Marcy Young are the owners of Southern Oregon Survival.


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