On any mission, it is important to plan and execute proper group movement in order to avoid dangerous or risky areas. This includes movement of individuals within the group as well as teams (or squads) which act as smaller subsets of the group. The same principles military experts use for troop movement can be applied to any movement of people in a dangerous or high-risk area.
Before discussing the three primary group movement techniques (traveling, Travelling Overwatch, and Bounding Overwatch), we must first understand the types of formations available to moving groups of personnel.
Formations describe how elements (people and groups) are arranged when moving. Formation shapes can be applied to individuals in a group or to teams within a larger unit. There are five types of formations – Column, Line, Echelon, Wedge, and Vee. As with movement techniques, each formation offers advantages and disadvantages in terms of speed, flexibility, and security.
Although it provides little security advantages, the column formation is used when speed is critical to the mission. It is the easiest formation to guide and control and provides good security to the side. The formation requires each person follow directly behind the person in front of them.
The Line formation is useful when the group/team is crossing a large open area. It provides protection to the front and rear but little protection for the sides. It is difficult to control and one of the most difficult formations to transition to other formations. The Line formation requires persons move abreast of one another and are dispersed laterally.
The Echelon formation is used when the group requires security or clear observation of the groups sides. It provides excellent security, particularly in the front but is difficult to control, especially in rough terrain. The Echelon formation requires a persons form a diagonal line. A lead takes the first position with each subsequent person located to the rear and outside of the person in front of them.
The Wedge formation is a good defensive formation and is used when the enemy situation is unknown. It provides excellent protection for the front while still maintaining good protection to the sides. The Wedge formation requires a lead person with remaining persons positions to the rear of and outside the lead person.
The Vee formation provides even better protection for the front members while still maintaining good protection for the flanks. It is easy to transition to other formation but difficult to control. The Vee formation requires a center person located at the rear of the formation with remaining persons located to the front of and outside the center person.
Key principles used during group movement
The routes the group intends to take as well as the formation the group will maintain during movement must be decided, communicated to group members and adhered to by the entire team. The route and group formation used is important because during group movement, the team must always maintain 360-degree security. Routes and formations also ensure that if enemy contact is made during movement, it is made with the smallest number of group members as possible while still ensuring the safety and security of all members. It is also required that control measures are dictated and used during movement of the group. Control measures will include periodic head counts as well as designated rally points.
How to ensure successful movement of a group
Groups composed of multiple teams should use a lead squad for security and navigation. The point man of the squad is responsible for the safety of the squad while the navigator should be tasked with compass (navigation) and pace (movement speed) duties.
Stealth, cover, and concealment tactics should be used during group movement. Tactics include not only typical camouflage techniques but also timing considerations. For instance, the group may time their movements to coincide with other operations that may distract the enemy target.
Groups and teams should plan for support. This is necessary even if the group thinks it may not be needed during movement.
In open areas, individuals should be widely dispersed. It is the only wide individual group members can provide support for their allies.
An attack team (aka fire or squad team) should be placed in the rear of the group. The attack team is responsible for rear security and attack support services. The members of the team must be spaced so that the entire group does not become engaged if enemy contact is made. However, attack team members should not be so widely dispersed that they cannot maintain visual contact with members of the group. To keep team members fresh, the attack team should periodically rotate with the lead squad.
Group and team leaders should move inside the formation where they can maintain good visual contact with all members, monitor members, and maintain control of the group/team.
Deciding where to move and the concept of “overwatch” positions
When deciding where to move, you must consider where the enemy is likely to be. Movement techniques often use a position known as “overwatch”. An overwatch position is one that supports another team during movement. This is accomplished by positioning the team where it can observe the terrain as well as likely enemy positions during group movement.
For an overwatch group to be effective, you must consider the best potential routes to the next overwatch position, the range of weapons or communication length between the overwatch group and both the enemy and other teams.
Group movement techniques
Travelling movement technique
Groups should estimate the likelihood of enemy contact. This estimate dictates which movement technique should be used. When enemy contact is not likely, the Traveling movement technique may be used.
The travelling movement technique offers more control than the Travelling Overwatch technique but less control than the Bounding Overwatch technique. It provides maximum speed but minimum security and group member dispersion. In the Travelling overwatch technique, members move together with no overwatch position established. The distance between group/team members should be about 10 yards with 20 yards between teams. The technique is characterized by continuous movement of group/team members which provides maximum movement speed.
Travelling Overwatch movement technique
When enemy contact is possible (but not likely nor expected), the Travelling Overwatch movement technique should be used. This is the most commonly-used movement technique. The technique offers good control, dispersion, speed, and forward security and is characterized by a lead team that moves continuously ahead of the group. The distance between members should be maintained at about 20 yards with about 50 yards separating teams within the group.
The lead team must be far enough ahead of the rest of the group to detect or engage the enemy before the enemy can fire upon the main group. However, the lead team must be close enough to be supported by the attack team (typically spaced about 50-100 yards away). To maintain this spacing, trailing teams may periodically halt to watch the lead team’s movement.
Bounding Overwatch movement technique
When enemy contact is expected, the Bounding Overwatch movement technique should be used. This technique offers maximum control, dispersion, and security but at a much slower speed. The group has a binding element and an overwatch element. The bounding element moves while the overwatch element occupies an overwatch position that can protect the route of the bounding element during their movement. The length of the bound can vary but the distance between members should be maintained at about 20 yards.
Before each bound, the leader gives directions to team members such as the direction of the enemy (if known), the position of the overwatch element(s), the next overwatch position, and the route of the bounding element. The leader will also instruct members what to do after the bounding element reaches its next position (and how all elements will receive their next orders). While bounding, the overwatch element will scan terrain for enemy targets and provide warnings and/or cover fire for the bounding element.
Forward observers and leaders should stay with the overwatch squad.
There are two ways to execute the bounding movement. An Alternate Bounds dictates the lead element move forward to establish an overwatch position (while being covered by the trail element). The trail element will then advance past the lead group to assume the next overwatch position. This method offers the quickest Bounding Overwatch movement speed.
With Successive Bounds, the trail element covers the lead element which moves forward and establishes an overwatch position. The trail element then advances to the overwatch team’s position but does *not* pass it. The lead element then advances to the next overwatch position while the trail element provides cover and support. This method avoids having the trail element advance past the lead element. This method is more secure, but slower than the Alternate Bounds method. This method allows the group to maintain a consistent collection of members within the lead team (which may be important if the team’s members possess unique navigation talents).
Mix and match movement techniques
Various movement techniques can be combined and used by teams and the overall group. For instance, one group may use Bounding Overwatch while two teams use Travelling Overwatch techniques.
Movement of groups during limited visibility
Groups must consider that their formation and movement technique are impacted with limited visibility. Movement with limited visibility requires leaders move closer to the front while the group reduces speed. The spacing between elements should be reduced and given the potential for members to stray from the group, a regular headcount should be conducted.
Navigation with limited visibility requires use of dead reckoning (determining your position via calculations utilizing direction and speed of movement) and terrain association. If possible, move parallel to easy-to-see terrain features (e.g. side of hill or a roadway).
To maintain stealth and security during movement with limited visibility, ensure group members make no noise and emit no light. Use camouflage and terrain to avoid detection. Stop frequently and listen.
Moving through danger areas
Danger areas are areas that may expose the group to enemy observation or attack. This includes open areas, roads and trails, cities, enemy positions, or obstacles such as fences or streams. Before moving through a danger area, designate near and far side rally points. Make sure all sides of the group are secured (near side, rear side, left and right flank). Begin by conducting recon on the far side (side closest to the danger area).
Group moving through linear danger area (LDA) such as river or highway
When a group moves through linear danger area, the group leader must recognize the linear danger area and quickly send a hand and arm signal to the remaining group members (or team leaders).
Trailing teams or individuals may determine they need to bound across (overlap the group leader to setup a supporting position). The trailing group members would move across the LDA first. A separate unit of individuals should set up to the right or left of the LDA to provide an overwatch position for the crossing team(s). Leaders within the group should direct members/teams to cross.
Once members or teams reach the far side of the LDA, they should set up an overwatch position to allow the first overwatch members protection during crossing.
Teams moving through a open danger area
The group leader should recognize the open danger area, stop the group, and use hand and arm signals to alert members to the potential danger area. A smaller team should move forward to assess the situation and confirm the danger area. Near and far side rally points and designated.
In many cases, a detour movement would be used to cross an open area. A lead team would move 90 degrees (sideways left or right) while counting paces. After moving laterally to the danger area, members resume their forward pace until they have passed the danger area. Then members would move 90 degrees (opposite direction of their first detour movement) the number of paces required to put them back on the original path.