Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


Monday, November 26, 2018

Kennedy Rig — Brett Conklin

Sometimes you just have to get something made, as nothing off the shelf meets all your needs or wants.

I have used the 2-piece MAV from Tactical Tailor and it filled most of that list—but there were a few things lacking. I was using the center adapter and X-harness. and then finding various pouches I needed. It mostly ended up being mag pouches, which took a lot of the real estate on the MAV body itself.

More recently I got a S.O.Tech MACHS, a special operations medical setup of their longstanding Hellcat, as reviewed by Steven a few years back. This got rid of some of the issues of space and adaptability, as it provided for internal mag pouches. The front is then blank MOLLE, giving me more real estate for any other pouches. However it only worked for 5.56 mags. In addition, the center closure was not great, with velcro and snaps. When full of mags it pulled open easily.

Steven has modified his to solve some of these issues, but by the time I considered that level of modification, I decided I'd be better off just having exactly what I wanted made instead.

I had been watching the rigs made by Kennedy Nylon Designs, so contacted him and we worked through my needs, and the details of what that would involve. I wanted to stick to the front-opening chest rig like the S.O.Tech or 2-piece MAV, but with my add-on PALS over the attachment to loose no real estate.

And he delivered!

The whole rig is made with 1000 denier Cordura in ranger green, reinforced and with binding tape at all seams and edges. The shoulder harness is padded, with mesh lining and two channels of PALs as well as elastic between each row, to attach small items and route radio cables, hydro tubes, and so on.

The belt essentially extends all the way around, with a three-row PALS panel at the back. The belt and harness are held on with a six-point harness, much as the British PLCE. While there are a lot of them, all adjustments are set up for me to be able to adjust while wearing the rig, and I don't have any extra triglides or other retainers to lock the settings down.

I am still deciding what to do with the upper and lower back panels. I may attach a small hydro carrier and buttpack, but since I wear an assault pack a lot, this may not be needed, and may get in the way.
The pack wears higher than this for real. 

I also was interested in keeping the internal mag pouches as on the S.O.Tech, but wanted to be able to carry all mag types. He built this with an interchangeable system. You can put in inserts—three per side for 5.56 guns, 2 per side for 7.62. They don't fit too snugly in the slots, so you can choose how high to wear them, and how close to the centerline, trading security and comfort for ease of access.

The 5.56 pouches are pretty roomy, so can also hold AK mags as well. The 7.62 mag pouches are also not too tight, and work with FAL, G3, and M14 mags. 

G3 mags, set lower to our left, higher on the right

FAL mags with magpuls, with the pouches set lower to our left, and higher on the right.

The front has a velcro-secured two channel PALs panel. Open that up and there are G-hooks to hold the two sides together. Much less distance than side-release clips, much like the First Spear Tubes, and other such solutions gaining traction now.

The PRC-126/128 is our CWG issue comms and pouches for those are not great. Most you can find are for ALICE gear, and while the later model USGI pouches that came with the RACK system are not terrible, they are not great. They have a simple top flap that makes it not super convenient to pass the cords or antennas, and you have to pop the lid to check or change channel or volume.

So, I also had him make a PRC-126/128 radio pouch with more modern features. It's open topped, and has plenty of room for top attachments to pass through.

Yes, we may be getting more of these made so tell us if you want to buy one for yourself. 

I have the rig set up with pistol holster on the right side now, but that can easily be swapped with a general purpose admin pouch, or likely a SAW pouch, like our beloved but hard-to-find Spec-Ops X6 as shown here.

Starting at the center and working around to my right I wear: a compass pouch, general purpose pouch, pistol holster, and canteen.

As I said above, the back panel is empty right now.

Resuming on my left side, there's the radio pouch, admin pouch, and finally a pouch to carry my map case.  I will be continuing to work with KND to have a purpose built pouch to replace that one shortly also.


So I now have a single rig that can fill most of the roles I need it to instead of having several rigs and doubling up on some gear, or swapping equipment from one rig to another as missions change.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Battle of Westerplatte, 1 - 7 Sept 1939

I have recently found that Amazon Prime Video has a huge selection of obscure (to me at least) foreign war movies. Most interesting, is that many of them are from the other side of the Iron Curtain, things we couldn't see when they were first shown.

Some are awful, but some are fun, and others are classics. Today I want to talk about Westerplatte (1967). There's also a 2013 Polish movie on the same topic, but it's too angsty, too full of flashbacks, and uses bad 3D effects.

But the older film is wonderful. Guns are authentic to my eye as they are both Polish productions, and interesting to see as different from the usual US (or non-gun/airsoft gun). IMFDB page on it. They seem mostly properly employed. Lots of fussing with MGs to load them, to make sure they are moved to the best position all the time, re-water them!

People are yelled at to fire only short bursts. They even low crawl very properly. 
The film even went to the level of making not everyone a hero. People broke after days under fire, or just decided they didn’t want to fight until an officer all but threatens to shoot them. Maybe worthy of the Mindset Quote thread (translated) is a day 3 discussion in the local HQ by the officers:
We talk about surrendering, while our men only worry if they have enough ammunition. Well, gentlemen, we have enough ammunition.

The battle itself is super interesting for reasons that are perfectly relevant today. The political situation was horrid. They were on a weird little bit of only nominally Polish land, with both land and sea on all sides from what was supposedly an open city. 
Danzig was supposedly not really part of Poland or Germany, and had a police force but no army, but the Germans effectively occupied it, in a great example of peacekeepers not doing their job before the Canadians led the UN to generally figure out how to do this. Here's a close up of the Westerplatte peninsula. Danzig (modern day Gdansk) is mostly to the west. 
This strongly misrepresents what a fortification consisted of, but is an easy to read simplified plan:
The League of Nations nominally enforced Danzig being open, but it was entirely toothless. And, too beholden to avoiding war at all costs, so appeasing and backing off, as we all learned didn't work very well in the end against the Nazis, or the Empire of Japan. 
I am reminded of the UN mission to Rwanda doing nothing, and the French having to come and rescue all the Westerners, but leaving everyone else behind to die. Compare to Operation Unicorn, where French peacekeepers counter attacked and destroyed the entire Ivorian Air Force for an attack. Last year, UN withdrew from a peaceful Cote d'Ivoire; enforcing peace with force can totally work. 
German Photo-reconnaissance from 1936 clearly showing many of the buildings
The garrison on the peninsula was restricted in size, and from having significant weapons, or fortifications. All because of a desire to not make the Nazis angry, and give them an excuse to attack. Of course we know now that lacking that, the Germans just made up an excuse when it was time to attack. The Polish Army even reinforced for a few weeks shortly before this, but had to withdraw under international pressure. 
And to add to the awfulness, despite sea access and being in sight of Poland, it’s actually entirely cut off from friendly territory. Everything goes through the Open City of Danzig, which rapidly became  effectively enemy territory. Not only is there no way to fall back, but supplies are restricted even during the build up. 
Another photo-reconnaissance shot from 1936 showing where the New Barracks is situated (by the black arrow) and also showing the old ammunition bunker on the lower far right of the photo with the Old Barracks and Officers Casino about the half way mark on the extreme right of the photo whilst the Red Wall can be seen running the length of the photo.
Even the movie hits on this well. That logistics and the whole tail matters. The medical section complaining their supplies are held up in customs is just another dumb administrative thing to deal with before the war starts. But once the shooting is on, it means all your casualties stay that way, or die, because there’s not even enough dressings, much less antibiotics, surgical tools, or enough staff.
The same for backup radios and commo wire; from the first day they had to use runners to talk to outposts, are risking guys running more wire. And for most of the time they cannot talk to higher at all so cannot get clarified orders or more intelligence. Or, how to feed people once the kitchen is blown up because you expected that the big fort would be bomb proof. And a thousand other things that sap the ability of your men to fight.
Generally, it’s a good example of how individual bravery and the man with a rifle will do a hell of a lot, but artillery, air attack, and machine guns will often win out. The newsreel footage in the older film didn’t match at all, but I didn't mind as it as jaw dropping. Every gun on an battleship firing on the island at a range of about 150 m (really) is, even in grainy film, a sight to behold.
Above is a painting, but I like it.
The whole movie is also on YouTube for free, just start at the beginning instead of from this clip where the bombardment is. 
I cannot imagine sticking it out in the face of that.  And no one expected they would. The tiny, determined garrison was actually planned, at the national level, to only last 12 hours, and that was considered nuts, as it was up from a pre-no-reserves estimate of maybe 6 hours. If I haven't outlined enough horrible things they had to overcome then try this last add on for the tactical situation: The whole island isn't theirs. There's a wall down the middle, and Nazi soldiers on the other side. 
Another aerial photo from 1936, clearly showing the Red wall running the length of the 
Harbour Canal and the Old Barracks in the extreme right of the picture edge
And not a fortification. A wall. like what you might separate your back yard from your neighbors. Here is it after the battle. Yup, it's about one layer of brick, and some wire on top.  
A German posing for a shot by the ruins of the Red Wall
And yet, they lasted an entire week under those conditions. Imagine if they had even twice the manpower, better fortifications, and a dozen mountain guns to wheel around and blast the Germans with?

I bring this up not just to celebrate some really solid heroism, but because horrible situations happen, at small scales and large, for unimportant battles and key moments in history, all the time. 
CWG events, and training, tend to focus on getting the basics right. Not just teaching and letting you exercise small unit tactics, or using fewer and unencrypted radios, or how to navigate with a compass. No, while we are happy to teach those, more important than knowing any one skill is understanding principles. 
With those, you can react to loss of material, loss of mannpower, loss of communications. You can change and adapt to the situation, instead of waiting for direction from on higher, failing to take action because there's no fire support or air support, or just sitting there clueless while you wait for the Blue Force Tracker to get fixed. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rain, Waterproofing, and Jungle Rigs

I have been thinking much lately of waterproofing, and gear designed to work in constantly wet conditions. I got rained on a lot in Poland, almost constantly in Iceland, and then came home to many days in a row of rain.


My rain gear has gotten a workout, and I have been re-waterproofing much of it to handle it better. Gore-tex doen't easily wear out, but the micro-permeable layer is on the inside. The surface of your jacket can also soak up rain, get heavy and cold, and be unpleasant. Periodically you need to re-waterproof your gear. 

My favorite is definitely wash-in waterproofing. Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in Waterproofing is easy to use, and the most effective thing I have used so far. I apply it to all sorts of stuff when it looses waterproofing. Tents, packs and pack covers, hats, and more.

Use the directions on the bottle for the amount, but I do not ever risk getting a waterproof washing machine, and just do it in a bucket or a sink. A spare sink or wash basin in the basement, not the kitchen sink. Agitate and rotate your gear so it gets evenly soaked, rinse it out, and let it dry fully.

The wash-in will be fine as it is. Use sprays (the matching brand usually, as it's the same stuff) to touch it up as it starts to loose waterproofing resistance over time, especially on high-impact areas like the sleeves and shoulders of a rain jacket, where the rain falls directly on you. 


But not everything is or can be under a waterproof cover. One lesson of jungle warfare especially is that some gear has to just be able to tolerate wet conditions all by itself. 

Sometimes this is you rifle, radio, optics, and electronics. They cannot live their life in waterproof bags, so need to be designed to accept being wet all the time, without leaks or corrosion. 

Maintenance is an important part of this. Many of us may think of cleaning and oiling metal parts, but forget the plastic, electrical, and water-sealed components. 

Every time a new electronic device comes to me, and periodically for maintenance or when they clearly need to be cleaned, I remove all battery doors and other removable panels. Many seals and panels get silicone to assure they do not stick, and gaskets or o-rings get white lithium grease. If possible, remove the gaskets and o-rings to grease both sides. 

Without suitable lubrication, you won't be able to tighten the panels, seals won't move into place or can even erode and tear. Dry seals are not waterproof. 

Electrical items, like the battery screw caps on your Aimpoint, need the same treatment, but we need to make sure the electrical contact work. Most of these devices pass electricity through the cap into the body of the device; corrosion can prevent this from working, but so can some oils and greases. 

Instead, do the same treatment with dielectric grease. It's simply electrically-conductive grease, and works very well for this. 


The jungle has always been the worst environment, and lessons have been learned at great cost about the right gear to wear and carry, from the Philippine Insurrection right on through to today. 

Of course we like to forget the lessons of the past, so almost everything learned from the Pacific campaign was lost by the time Vietnam rolled around, but since our various post-war jungle insurgencies, the US, France, the UK and others have maintained jungle warfare schools to keep the skills alive and push for suitable equipment. 

While the jungle is the most extreme version of the relentlessly-wet environment, there are bits and pieces of it all over, which make their lessons very relevant. Many times I have been walking along a creekbed in Missouri that is covered in ferns and moss, with a layer of fog indicating 100% humidity. And it's like this all day, all year round. 

For those environments, and for the periodic rainy seasons we get, we learn that some items cannot be waterproofed, or worn under cover, but have to learn to live with constant dampness. Slings, belts, and load bearing equipment are the tip of the spear on this front. 

There are a few lessons in finding and configuring equipment for this: 

  • Use materials that do not retain water. Ditch stuff like canvas, and avoid padding. If you must use padding, use hydrophic foams. 
  • Allow water to drain. This is not just drain holes, but is more complex than you think; every time there are two layers of fabric, water can get trapped between them. If you have a waterproof fabric tube over a hydrophobic foam pad, water can still get trapped between the two layers. Mesh is a nice solution for many of these situations, but also just eliminate extra layers. 
  • Never use anything that can corrode, or rot. Drain grommets are terrible things because they are metal. They clank, snag, tear off, and eventually will corrode.
  • Do not cover too much of the body. The soldier has to be not overheated during their work, or chafe from the wet fabrics. Chafing on long, heavily-loaded, wet runs will eventually move from discomfort to damage. Injuries from chafing can get bad enough that people in austere environments, without medical treatment, can die from them!

In the past, you simply couldn't meet all these requirements, so spent a lot of time making sure your gear could dry out, trying to apply waterproofing materials, cleaning them, and replacing worn bits. Or, they were so waterproof (vinyl and other rubbers) and heavy they were fatigue-inducing for the soldier.

Today, technology is not just more phone apps, but materials that give thrilling options to meet these needs really well. Lightweight synthetics like Hypalon, and many proprietary laminates are offered that have zero water absorption. They also are built in interesting ways, to reduce weight, complexity, and avoid padding and spaces which can trap water.

While several companies make such things, two leaders of note are Velocity Systems, especially with their Mayflower line Jungle Kit, and Blue Force Gear, which has a whole line of Helium Whisper pouches, and a line of Minus load bearing gear with laser cut slots and holes instead of MOLLE webbing sewn on.

(Note, Blue Force Gear seems to be discontinuing some of their Minus rigs, so if you want one, today is the time to get them while on closeout)

My Jungle Rig

I have used a lot of load bearing gear. ALICE, the SDS RACK, commie chest rigs, belt lines. A few years ago, I took that info, sewed my own, and it had some fun features but it got worn out so at the beginning of 2016, I started looking to replace it. Had some wish list ideas, etc. but I stumbled across a MACHS (a Hellcat Mk2 with extra pouches) for a steal, and wrote about that.

It had some relevant features which make it work well. A lot of the design is very nice to avoid chafing, or trapping water. The shoulder straps for example are wide webbing without padding. But it's still a little over-built, and despite some customizing on my part it cannot meet all my needs simply because it is a 5.56 only rig.

Jungle Kit

Recently, I went to a friend's store, and tried on a number of things to meet this need. I started with a lot of assembling and trying the Mayflower Jungle Kit. It was not me. But let me explain.

First: It’s nice. So nice that if you love ALICE or other belt setups I cannot suggest it more highly. It is very stable, very well built, and very light. And, meets all the other needs outlined above about comfort and water retention.

But I personally have settled very much to where I like to wear my rig (high) and know how belts work for me. They don’t much. The pouch bottoms stab me, and tilt, and snag on my ruck belt, and so on. I want a platform tall enough to mount the pouches TO, not hang them FROM. If that makes sense.

Front or Back Adjustment

The other thing worth considering is the overall layout. Both belts and chest rigs are of a fixed diameter. They have adjustable straps which allow them to fit your body — and which must adjust as you change clothing for the environment, have fat days, or choose to wear or not wear armor.

For belts, the adjustment is in the front. This is super convenient to adjust, but it means the fixed point of reference for the belt attached items is at your spine, in the back. As you adjust, items move to or away from your centerline.

For chest rigs, split at the front or not, the adjustment is in the back. While it can seem like you are wasting space with this gap, generally you can fill it with back panels — the hydro carrier is a common one. Anyway, on a chest rig, since the adjustment is to the rear, when your diameter changes, the front-relative position remains the same. When you reach for stuff, you find your snacks, pens, lightsticks, and magazines always at the same place.

Again, these are not bad things. Just choices. Your choice may very well be different from mine, and that is just fine. 


Being a cheapskate, I was thrilled to find the Blue Force Gear discontinued page, and immediately got a SplitMinus, and a few pouches. And over the past few weeks I have put together… this:

Because of the video I noticed the back upper straps weren't adjusted right, have fixed those. And the IFAK pouch is being replaced with something smaller.

For the record, as shown it is (my left to right):
  • 10-speed 7.62. Gray for some reason I cannot recall, but once assembled I hit it with some Rapco Khaki paint. Works great. Carries anything at all. Can dump the mags when transporting the rig, so I added elastic cord, simply woven through the back of the rig cutouts and molle webbing. Knotting at each tension needed, so no noise from cordlocs. 
  • Folding pouch from some UK pack. Roll top and velcro. Using it for pens, lightsticks, squinchers, etc. 
  • SAW pouch. Also UK issue. On my other rig I have SpecOps X6, and ideally I'll get some Helium Whisper SAW pouches but at $80 a pop, not eager to do that. Left one here has velcro sewn to the top to hold the patch indicating that it has a (home-sewn) IFAK pullout. 
  • Mayflower Jungle Buttpack (empty here and the straps stupidly hanging down) woven through the back 1" belt of the rig, and the D rings attach via the little velcro tab things to...
  • ... a First Spear hydro pouch. Accidentally got the small one, but in the end, perfect as I get a little stowage below, and less weight in water above. A lot of times I wear an assault pack it's just to have backup bottled water and rain gear. Buttpack can handle those duties I think, lightening me up. 
  • Another SAW pouch, empty. This is my Mission Specific Stuff pouch. Day optics, LRF, thermal, batteries, food, small water bottles, gloves, etc. It varies, but is a great solution for that, been using for years. Where the idea of the SAW sized pullout came from.
  • Bang pouch. I have none of those, but a few mini-smokes, and if those dry up will turn it into something else. Previously was on the shoulder so this is probably better use of the space.  
  • And back around to the matching 10-speed 7.62
Not visible is: Nothing. A big benefit of these modern rigs is that there are fewer features! There is no inside pocket for example. I have never been able to use these properly. They are too small, only work with flat things, never have loops to keep pens and lightsticks upright, etc. And they do add weight, bulk, and trap water even when made of mesh. So good riddance.

I also did mod it to have tubes. The laminate they are using is NOT hypalon, so hypalon or vinyl glue techniques do not work. The tubes are in vinyl (either Tempur door scraps or FMTV cargo bed scraps… I cannot recall which) I tried some good glues and techniques and it was meh. Holding, but not trustworthy. So ended up sewing, and it sews like gangbusters.

The cordura (?) finish layer is nice for glare and noise, but it does soak up water pretty good. There’s not much of it, so it doesn’t get super heavy, but if was doing jungle or maritime stuff full time, I’d give the whole rig a waterproofing soak (stupidly, I just spent the weekend doing that to a bunch of other stuff of mine, forgot to do this…)

The laminate is very shape-supporting. It doesn’t compress and fold up and squish like fabrics. Putting the repair tubes into the slots I glued/sewed was a bear. Very doesn’t work like fabric/webbing loops. Even more so, when you just wear it around; the SR-attached front was nothing to write home about, but with the tubes, the whole mountable panel is rock solid. The rig is now not hanging off me, but as I have always liked (and gotten my home-sewn ones to do especially) is practically bolted to me. Nothing wobbles, and everything is where I expect it to be every time I reach down.

So, who is ready to ditch ALICE, cotton canvas, and old "bombproof" cordura things? What rigs are you running, and how are they going?

Monday, May 28, 2018

More on Cateyes

The amazing amount of moonlight at Swift Fox ruined my plans to try out some of my night sighting equipment, and some other operational night stuff, like glow in the dark notebooks, signalling gear and cateyes on everything.

But the other day I was out shooting in a very dark night, and noticed some gaps in capability. Glow tapes were hidden because I was on the other side, new items were hard to find, and I couldn't take notes without breaking out a flashlight, which isn't exactly super sneaky.

So, have now fixed it. Here's how everything looks now in my precision rifle setup. Look close, it's only worth looking at in the dark:

My solutions are mine, and many of you won't have much of this gear. But you should be able to use the ideas to think through solutions to some of your problems before they arise.


I totally have velcro on the outside of the pack, and a cateye, but... when I am using the pack the lid is flopped open so you cannot see it.

So, I added a small glow in the dark tag to the webbing on the inside of the lid. You can see it here centered in the lid at the bottom of where it is when halfway flipped open.

Similarly, I'll also note that I flipped over my magazine carriers. You want them right side up of course, but I made them "right side up" when the pack is upright, as though worn. But I never pull mags out when wearing it, but laying on the ground. So, I flipped them over. Just like the cateyes, think about everything in the context you will actually use it.

Expensive Things

Really, this is "loose things" and much of the immediate value is finding them without bumping into other stuff as you brush your hand around the terrain.

But what freaked me out while packing in the dark was finding the very expensive LRF and Kestrel. So they got various labels with my name, a reminder the LRF is in yards (not meters) and also some glow tapes.

Importantly again for context, note where I put them: on the flat sides. The kestrel gets to be right below the screen—and on the back, on the windvane cover—as it lays on one side or the other.

The laser rangefinder gets them on the sides. Which seems nonsensical when using it, but when you lay the unit down, those are the sides facing up.

Ammo Box

Most ammo is in magazines, but I also keep a spare 50 in a plastic MTM box. It has a little glow tag, and appropriate day labels, on the lid. But again when used it is open. So I added a nice large chunk of glow sheet to the inside of the lid.

This much sheet will shine light onto things, so if it's really, really dark you can see the ammo itself.

Also note, I wrote on it. You can write on the glow sheets to label items. Here, I've labeled the type of ammo in case I forget and need to write it down. I get forgetful.

Data Book

I used the weird heat-sensitive glow sheet I got the right way finally, and ironed it onto the divider in my notebook holder, as a sort of sheet lifter. Now it's smooth, so I don't need to keep several sheets of paper under it to write on it.

Not sure my eyes are good enough to read this anymore, especially as I use pencil, but at least it glows enough to find the book and then if I use a light I am swinging it around a lot less to find things.

Scope Adjustments

Windage and elevation knobs have little glow triangles.

These are not so much to be used to adjust, and with a zero stop there's no direct need to have it on the elevation knob except for one issue:

I am terrible at this. I forget to adjust properly, reset knobs between ranges or even range days. I spent a whole range session the other month wondering what was wrong with the rifle. Gave up, and once I got home looked and yup I had leftover windage dialed in.

These, day or night, help remind me to start at zero.

Clip On

This is probably the simplest. I have a simple glow tape on the back of the PVS-30.

It provides an orientation mark to the gun, which I would otherwise put on the rifle but I don't need it when the clip on is not attached.

I have similar tags on the back of the tripod (not shown) and some other modular rails that I use at night.

Again here I wrote on the tag, the amount you dial for offset.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

TTPs for Ad Hoc Teams

One of the key things that makes teams work in tactical settings is working as a team. Teams that train and work together for a long time establish—formally or informally—TTPs, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures.

This means that everyone is on the same page. From radio codes, to react to contact, an order or observation means the same thing to everyone. Even better, you end up talking less, as you just know where everyone is, and what everyone is likely to do next.

Ad Hoc Teams

The real world is more complex than this. Far too often in critical tactical situations, you will find yourself suddenly attached to another team, that your team has attachments, that you've merged units, or are cooperating closely with an adjacent unit or agency.

After an engagement, a team is formed from the remaining elements, and the leader quickly briefs everyone on the new plan. 

I have a lot of experience with this in instructional, and other war gaming and simulation environments. Very rarely do entire units show up for training or other events, or there is a serious mismatch in unit sizes, and we have to split your team for the exercise to work properly. We end up creating ad hoc units, and forcing them to work together, sometimes to solve fairly complex tactical situations, or do actually dangerous things, by relying on surface-level operational and organizational skills, and instructor oversight also. No TTPs to fall back on.

Except, that is not entirely true. Teams can add a handful of them to the mix, all by using the basic methods we all already use for instructional settings. Think of a safety briefing. We tell everyone the same thing, repeat it (in summary) as needed, and make sure everyone understands what is being said.

Set Standards

As the team leader, you cannot be effective in a tactical environment if every time something happens you have to be giving orders to each individual. This is slow, and maybe dangerously ineffective. You need a few basic tactics that everyone can follow.

But just a few. Enough that you can get them out to everyone in the time available. It could be several minutes if planning for an exercise or mission, it could be seconds if reacting to an active shooter. But talk to the team.

Pick 1-3 things to say. No more. What you pick is mission dependent, but good categories are:
  • Marching order, environmental dangers (cliffs, waterways), and any key actions or hand gestures you expect to give: "This means freeze in place, this means get down."
  • Define the objective. You can consider this part of the mission brief, but it also establishes what everyone focuses on, and therefore what you don't worry about. 
  • Actions on contact. If, for example, contact is not your objective then maybe you withdraw and go around in order to make sure your objective is met. 
Without these being clearly stated, even briefly, you could get distracted, bogged down, or have different people do different things as they react to situations on the ground. 

I've seen team leaders go too far with this. If there's suddenly half an hour to kill, they add a few more tactics, and we do shoulder-to-shoulder training. This is too much for the little time available. Too much information in too short a time means the team will fail to absorb any of it. Keep it brief, and keep it to a verbal briefing only.  

Repeat, and Confirm

Whatever you say, say it again, every time you brief the team. If you've been walking through the woods for an hour, now the objective is in sight, and you give a final briefing about the attack, first re-state the basics.

Sometimes this is because your plans have changed. The movement orders may be entirely different so you need to give new ones for this phase. But even if everything stays the same, reinforcing it helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Make sure everyone understands their role. Ideally, by getting a verbal readback from everyone. If the team is too big or there's not enough time, just spot check with the guys who don't seem to be paying attention. It helps make sure your orders will be followed, and everyone will know it better hearing another person say the same thing.

Use Plain Language

It also confirms they understood properly. Because, they might not. If the team members don't have experience with your tactics, they may not understand your jargon. If they repeat it wrong or sound quizzical, make sure they understand what you are saying.

If part of your team are foreigners, they may not understand your accent, abbreviations, or your colloquial language. Make especially sure at least one of them understand, and in the worst case he can explain to the others in their native language.

Break Contact! 

I'll use a relatively recent CWG force-on-force event as an example. The team I led was very small, and had a mission to survey, not to fight. So I briefed most of all that our react to contact drill was "run away."

More specifically, I said:
  • This drill is for when they see us and there's no way out but to shoot our way out. If we see them first, we just freeze, get low, and generally hide or move away so they do not see us. 
  • If contact is unavailable, whoever sees the contact will alert everyone else, loudly, to direction, distance, and appx strength. 
  • Everyone fire at them. A lot. Keep talking, so we can direct each other's fires.  
  • Throw smoke AT them. 
  • Then fall back one by one, while firing. A few seconds of movement to the rear each time, then turn, drop and return fire to cover the others falling back. 
  • When I say "break contact," turn and move without continuing to return fire.
And this actually worked. I wish I had it on video because it was really well executed, and in the AAR the opposing force thought we were amazingly quick, a larger force than we actually were, and could not figure out where we'd gone. 
An ad hoc team reacts to unexpected contact. Their actions-on-contact briefing takes hold and they are able to move from having lunch to combat success with minimal casualties.

Now, it partly worked because everyone was briefed to the same level. I was entirely distracted, in the middle of navigating and my first thought was to secure the map and documents. So I failed miserably as a team leader, and didn't call out the action to take. But someone else did, which got is all in gear, so I tossed the smoke, and everyone started moving.

Know Your Limits

This basic tactic didn't work when we tried to reverse it. A situation developed so that we felt it was important to stage a quick deliberate attack—more of a spoiling attack to just displace them—upon the opposing force. Thinking that we had a solid plan that worked, I thought: reverse it. Smoke, bound forward, sweep the objective. Easy!

Nope. It did not, for many reasons. But most of all because it exceeded the brief. 

When you have to work with ad hoc teams, keep things simple, and as a combat leader recognize your limits. Actions you might perform normally may be too dangerous with the limited TTPs the whole team you have with you knows. 

Most of all, plan ahead, think before you get into trouble, and tell everyone what you expect of them within the time and tactical situation presented.

Come Try it Out

In five weeks CWG will be hosting our next force-on-force event, where you can try out this technique, and all the tactics and equipment in a realistic, day/night, all-weather combat setting.

Sign up today for operation Swift Fox 18, 27 - 29 April 2018 in north-east Oklahoma.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


For most of the history of warfare, night vision meant letting your eyes acclimate to the darkness, and night combat would have been met with blank stares as it simply was not done. In only the past half century or so, as the industrial era moved to the technological era, have we gotten the technical capabilities to do things like see better at night.

Not all new technology can or should supplant old methods, and for night fighting in many cases the earlier, ones are still very applicable. We should understand how to keep our eyes acclimated for darkness, and we should use cateyes.

The cateye is a common name for glow in the dark tapes worn on the back of the helmet, hat, ruck, or rig. Glow in the dark technologies were ready for the consumer market in the 1950s, and mostly were used for toys and other novelties, Remember, we had radium for serious uses!

By the early 1970s glow in the dark tapes were available, and began to be used by individuals and on a unit by unit basis in some armies, such as the US in Vietnam. In May of 1981, the previously experimental addition of two panels of glow tape to the issue helmet band became standardized.

How Glow In the Dark Works

Phosphorescent, or "glow in the dark" paints, inks and dyes absorb UV radiation, and covert it to visible light. The transition between these states is, conveniently for us, very slow, so you can "charge up" the glow in the dark cateye, or your compass, watch, etc. and it will remain glowing for many hours, though it slowly gets dimmer over time.

Note I said they use UV light, not white light. Just a few years ago, this was unimportant, as incandescent light bulbs are a mess, so put out lots of heat, and light in frequencies we don't use including UV. LEDs, on the other hand, are very narrowly focused so have no spare frequencies they emit. Charging a cateye with a white light today is pretty ineffective.

So, you shou also have at least one UV light—a keychain light will be plenty—for each fire team or squad, to make sure everyone's cateyes are charged every few hours.

Cateyes Are Not For You

Some use of glow in the dark patches is for you, and works well even if working alone. It is common to stick small pieces of glow tape to key parts of radios, handsets, tent openings and the like. Then you can find them in the dark, and orient yourself to your location, without turning on the lights. I even have some glow tape on an Army issue typewriter, though it is hard to imagine night typing being a thing. The Army even issues a 2x2" velcro glow patch for placing on your rucksack, so you can find it when returning to a cache point, OP, or patrol base.

But the primary tactical use of cateyes is when moving as a team at night. Generally, you follow each other in a long line. Without night vision it is very common to be arm's reach away from each other at night, and when you cannot see them even that close, you simply grab onto the back of their rig or ruck. Cateyes allow you to move much, much more easily.

Cateyes glowing (slightly) on a helmet in dim light.

With night vision, cateyes still work, just the same way. It is often still very, very dark, so hard to pick out where the guy you are following is, so the cateye in front of you is much easier to follow. And easier is safer. When that part is easier, you can spend more time making sure you step safely, don't get snagged by branches, and looking out for the enemy.

Night vision doesn't eliminate the value of cateyes.

Cateyes on the back of a 3-day assault pack, viewed under night vision

Cateyes, Two of Them, Not Just One

Note the term, cateyes. Plural. And look at the helmet bands. There are two, not one. Why is that?

Some of this is for the usual two is one, one is none, (in case one is obscured, damaged, or destroyed) but the real reason is about the smallest perceptible difference. It would be very hard to follow a tiny pinpoint of light, as you would have no idea if you are following the proper person, or some distant bright light, and where they are going.

Giving the cateyes dimensionality with two distinct glowing panels allows you to tell how far away you are following, and to tell if they are turning (or at least turning their head as in the example above), so in true darkness you get a heads up about where the trail goes.

Larger things like the custom name tapes we're ordering are fine also, as they have a similar dimensionality. At close range, like when hiking in a line, you can read the name (or at least tell that it's a wide shape), and notice when the aspect ratio changes so determine when the person you are following is likely turning.

Pragmatic Light Discipline

One of the things many soldiers have been taught is to turn their helmet bands inward when closing with the enemy, because of light discipline.
Sniper candidates from 2nd Cavalry Regiment of Battle Group Poland have used the flap on the back of their helmet covers to obscure their cateyes, in 2018

However, cateyes are not that bright, and as we well know, light falls off with distance, until you cannot see a light at all far enough away.

Cateyes are very dim, so are invisible even through night vision just a couple hundred yards away.

Light discipline is important, but it's hard to come up with situations where something as small as the cateye, usually facing away from the enemy anyway, is at all likely to give away your position. In fact, covering up identifiers like your cateyes it's more likely to cause issues of unit coordination, communication, and identification; I've been shot in the back (in FoF exercises!) by my own team when we had problems with identifiers like this.

Cateyes on Everything

So, I've convinced you to go out and buy a helmet band with cateyes on it, or to install some on your hat if not a helmet guy. But what about when the hood of your rain jacket is up? Or you are moving with your ruck, and the top is so tall it blocks your head?

You need to think of the cateyes as a system, and plan for them to always be visible. I like to put cateyes on the back of my:
  • Helmet, hat, and nightcap
  • Assault pack
  • Rucksack
Hell, we even got glow in the dark patches silkscreened into our CWG base layers.

This way, at least one is always visible, no matter what I wear. When I tried wearing a poncho again a couple years ago, I glued a few to the back of the neck of the poncho also.

What you'll figure out pretty soon is not everything will take a helmet band, or has velcro. So, you have to make your own cateyes. Glow in the dark tape is easily obtained, cheaply, and self-adhesive tapes seem to make it easy.

But not so fast. The adhesive is not great, on any of these. They will fall off eventually. The material itself is somewhat rigid, so sewing is messy, and will eventually cause the material to crack and fall off again.

My favorite method is glue. Get a strong contact cement, apply to the cateye, stick it on, pull it off, let it dry for a few seconds, and put it back. Once cured, it won't come off. I have done this on ponchos, webgear, pouches, patrol caps, and more.

Already bought some self-adhesive ones? No problem. The adhesive isn't glue, but is double-sided sticky tape. Just cut off a piece, and peel it off or rub firmly and it will start to peel away. Remove it and you have a clean back to applying your glue.

Another favorite of mine is to attach to small bits of velcro to make re-positionable glow tabs. For larger pieces, the self-adhesive velcro plus self-adhesive glow tape will usually work well.
Two pieces of glow tape attached to velcro to simulate twin cateyes on an assault pack.

Learn More About Night Operations and Night Fighting

Try out marching with cateyes, using IRR panels, night sights, NODs, thermal, and learn much, much more about working at night at our training event, coming up in less than one month!

Night Team Operations Training10 - 11 March 2018
Farmington, Missouri

Sign up today!


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