Proper Planning for Field Excursions: part 2

In part one I discussed commander’s intent, backwards planning, and the XYT. I encourage you to read that article if you haven’t had a chance to already. For those of you with experience in military planning and wondering why I’m not getting into the more doctrinal aspects of planning, I’ll get there. I want to first discuss tools I’ve learned that are used on a more day to day basis and that augment more doctrinal techniques, you might say they’re unconventional. I’ve been taught the “top down” view of planning many times, what I’d like to do is present it from the bottom up instead.

The next three ideas I’d like to discuss are the map study, OCOKA-W and the rule of threes.

Once we have been either given a task to complete or developed one ourselves, we should begin familiarizing ourselves with the terrain or area we will be operating in. The more information sources you can tap into the better.

As of this writing Google earth is still available and is a great resource for studying terrain. There are a few features I find very useful and I think you will too. First is the 3D terrain setting, you want to ensure this is on when you are doing a terrain study. This will give you a fairly good idea of the general terrain in an area, and with the capability to go to ground level it can give you a pretty realistic sense of what you’ll see terrain wise in an area. One thing to note is foliage and structures are not taken into account all the time.

3D terrain with natural lighting conditions showing shadows.

Next is the viewshed calculator. Once you’ve set a specific waypoint you can right click on it and calculate the field of view for that waypoint. It will ask you from what elevation as well, and you can play with this to get a good idea of what kind of line of sight you’ll have at different elevations. This is useful for a lot of purposes but I’ll leave you to your imagination.

Green areas are within Line of sight of blue marker

The next tool that is useful is that you can adjust the visible light to a certain time of day. While this doesn’t account for man made illumination or moonlight, it can give an idea of what areas are illuminated at different times of day. Once again, I’ll leave this up to you to figure out how best to use it.

While Earth is a good tool, it’s not the only tool available. I would advise you to screenshot and save/print any pertinent information from there for future use though.

The next tool available is the free PDF maps from the USGS website. These are multilayered maps with a traditional topographical map as well as a satellite view that can be overlaid. While not in 3D like Earth, it is still a very good resource. I once again advise saving and printing any pertinent map sheets that you may want in the future.

The next tool available is any Open Source Intelligence that is available about your area of interest. This could be photos, videos and articles online to published magazines or other documents. Also don’t discount first hand accounts from people familiar with the area and then of course there is always the option to scout it yourself…

So besides familiarizing ourselves with an area, what are we looking for when we are doing a map study? For those of us with a degree from USMC and similar schools, we use an acronym OCOKA-W. It stands for Observation and fields of fire, Cover and concealment, Obstacles, Key terrain, Avenues of Approach and Weather. We want to look at these different aspects from both our point of view as well as the point of view of any other parties involved, whether they are friend or foe. For example, for Observation, what sort of observation will the terrain allow for? How far can you see on average based on the terrain and vegetation? How will this effect you and your adversary?

A graphic I came across. You could build a better one pertaining to your situation though.

The different factors of OCOKA-W are also dependent on each other. For instance, once a key terrain feature, in this case a hill top, is identified, what will the Observation and fields of fire look like for it in good weather and bad weather? How about at night? Is there any dead space in those fields of fire?

Dead space is an area within a field of fire that cannot be observed or covered by a direct fire weapon and should be considered a key terrain feature as well. Any feature whether man made or natural that has the capability to impact your actions or your enemies is considered key terrain. Some examples of these are hilltops, tall buildings, ditches, rivers, wadis or forests.

Avenues of Approach are any obvious routes into or away from an area. These can be roads, trails, or other features such as a right of way through a forest. Avenues of approach can be further classified into “high speed” and “low speed”. For instance, if it rains on the power line right of way, how will that effect our ability to move through that Avenue of Approach? It might go from high speed to low speed. From a defensive point of view, this equates into how much reaction time I have to prevent someone from moving down that road into my area. It might dictate that I need to employ Obstacles, another OCOKA-W consideration. From an offensive point of view, it might dictate how I can move through an area and what sort of equipment and training I’ll need.

While not a part of OCOKA-W, I also take note of what natural resources are in the area. What kind of vegetation is there? Where can I get water should I need to? What kind of game or edible plants are available this time of year? How best can I camouflage myself in the area?

The next planning tool I’d like to discuss is “The rule of threes”. While I’m not aware if there’s actually a published definition for it, it’s simply the concept of not giving a person more than three responsibilities at a time.

Rule Of Threes

In a leadership sense, it means not giving any leader more than three charges to supervise. This of course isn’t a hard rule, but the idea is not to have so much resting on one man’s shoulders. Spread the workload and the stress out so that each of the individual jobs will get done better. While in the civilian world it’s not uncommon to see people managing much more than that, there’s a big difference between civilian management and combat leadership.

Incoming rant… They aren’t even on the same planet. At a time in life when most civilian managers are still figuring out what to do with their manhood, most combat leaders are making multiple life and death decisions a day in an environment where you have to make do with the people you have. No HR to handle non-performers. They have to be motivated to do their jobs and it’s up to the leader to figure out how. Rant over…

So back to the “Rule of threes”. If I’m the one planning I want to ensure the best I can that I’m not trying to do everything. Sometimes a leader tends to get “leader’s legs” and will want to run around and do everything himself. This is no good in the long run. If I have ten other people in my group I can’t do everything for all of them; I need to be able to delegate certain tasks to other people. I also can’t supervise and inspect everything that needs done, so that too needs delegated. Those three words are italicized for a reason; delegate appropriate tasks to the appropriate person, supervise, and inspect what you expect.

So starting from the ground up, you have one man, just a leader without a team. Then as his team grows, he will become a team leader. Eventually the team gets big enough to split, making two teams. At this point the original man, if he’s the best man for the job, should take a more supervisory role and there should be two team leaders overseeing the teams. Eventually as the teams grow, it will become time to split them and create a second squad. In this way, no matter what there’s always a leader, even if it’s just one man by himself.

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