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Communications for Small Teams

by Nick Meacher

As we discussed in last month’s issue of Survival Dispatch Insider, communications are very important. Not only your communications but other people’s as well. It’s important when on patrol around the AOA Area of Action) to be able to keep in touch with the base periodically as well as your own team. When on a patrol you ideally want to keep everyone in visual sight and use hand signals. You don’t want to give your position away by talking. Also, don’t give an adversary the advantage of signals or communications intelligence (SIGINT & COMINT) by making constant transmissions.

Use of Radios

Ideally, everyone will have a radio set up for short distance communications when on patrol. This means using low power and an earpiece. Low power as you only need those in your team to hear you. If you use high power your signal will travel further and potentially give away your position. We’ll talk about how to use this mistake by others below.

The radio should be in some kind of protective case and in a high rain area should be protected from the wet. If you’re in a populated area just moving around amongst friendlies, your radio should be set in such a way that the display isn’t visible. You don’t want to make it too easy for people to see what frequency it’s on. Ideally the entire radio shouldn’t be visible as knowing the make and model will narrow down the possible frequencies you are using. Avoid anything that makes it easier and quicker for someone to find out what frequency you’re using. You also want to set your radio so the backlight is off all the time. You don’t want it coming on at night and lighting up like a beacon!

beofeng radio

You should also have a rotating set of frequencies to use. Change them every day or two, or even every few hours depending on the situation. The pattern should be known to all in the team as well as your home unit so they can monitor in case you call for backup. Rite in the Rain notepads are best for this, but should only be good for a single patrol in case it’s compromised. The frequencies should have a name or number you refer to them by so that the frequency is never given on the air. You should also have a guard frequency that is monitored by your base and is only used in an emergency.

Depending on how far the patrol is and if you’re moving from one location to another with your whole team, a higher power radio for longer communications may be needed. This could be a low power (QRP) HF capable radio such as the Yaesu FT-817ND which is designed for man packing. It also has VHF and UHF capabilities.

If that’s too much weight then you can improve the performance of your HT by adding a light weight ladder line J-pole and a pig tail (as discussed in last months issue on communications). There are designs on the internet to make them yourself, including YouTube, or you can buy them pre-made for about $25. Carry a length of light line and a weight to hoist it up over a tree limb. The one in the link comes with 10ft coax, but you can contact the seller and ask for a longer length. Remember the higher your antenna the further the signal will go. Also remember one is none, two is one.

yagi antenna

As we also mentioned in last month’s edition, the use of a Yagi antenna will direct more of your signal in the direction it is pointed AND make it harder for those not in the direct path to detect you. We provided links to build simple fold up ones in last month’s magazine and you can find them all over the internet. They’re very simple to make.

A Yagi antenna can be used to direction find in the same way as it transmits. You’ll hear a stronger signal from the direction it’s pointed. This is useful for eavesdropping on someone when you know their frequency. You can also use it to find out exactly where they are. Direction finding from a couple of different locations can triangulate someone’s position.

As always, keep your transmissions brief when there is any possibility of someone trying to find you. Use codewords for locations when legal to do so, which is just good COMSEC and OPSEC. If you’re doing a recon of a potentially hostile area or group you should never transmit unless under fire. Have an evac team available to come and bail your butt out. Doing a recon from a hide or a patrol requires very specific skills that I’m sure we’ll address in a future article.

Signs and Signals

portable radio

The most common hand signals I’ve seen posted on internet sites are the ones used by SWAT teams. They address urban tactics and the needs for SWAT operations. When doing patrols, infantry hand signals may be more appropriate. Such things as formations, staggered column, echelon left or right, line, wedge, V, assembly/rally, enemy sighted etc. are needed for patrols that would not normally be used in SWAT tactics. The best manual for this information that I’ve found in the Department of the Army is Visual Signals training manual TC 3-21.60.

Other signs that you should look out for when travelling are signs left by hobos. I’ve read articles that indicate in the past number of years there are more people choosing the lifestyle. There are increasing numbers of veterans who aren’t being taken care of and become homeless. But this particular article referred to millennials who are choosing to live that way. I’ve no way to verify if the various charts of hobo symbols found on the internet are real or not. However, I will say that many years ago when I was in my 20’s I was fortunate enough to take a 2 week course in wilderness escape and survival. It was with SAS instructors that taught us what to look for, places, markers to indicate may of the things that these charts do. In any case it can’t hurt to print and laminate a set to keep in your bugout bag.

Ranging & Intel Gathering

When coming across indications of another group while patrolling, it’s important to gather as much intel as possible. Noticing a trail that has been used recently, broken branches, flattened grass, or the smells of cooking are all things you should notice. Even in your own area you need to mark key points and markers. The way to do this is with a range card. While primarily for snipers, it can be used to mark any area where there is an adversary or another group so you have a map. The ranging cards are available in Rite In The Rain paper. The range card indicates distance and direction from your position plus any relative fixed points. Items of known height should also be indicated as these can be used for ranging. Indications of any communications equipment should be included, such as antennas and their type (vertical, long wire, beams, etc.) as these could indicate the type of comms they have. If you can see what radios personnel are carrying try to determine make and model. If you’re close enough or have good optics, try to see what frequency they’re on if not practicing good OPSEC.

An excellent monocular to assist with this is the Vortex Solo R/T monocular with MRAD ranging. Used with a MILDOT Master ranging card you can calculate distance to an object of known height very quickly.

Final Thoughts

Communications during small patrols can seem complicated at first. With a little training and research, you can learn a lot from the available information. In a SHTF scenario, it will be lifesaving to communicate with your group without giving any information. Knowing communications systems will also let you use information about other groups if they’re sloppy enough to give it.

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