A platoon or squad may receive the mission to follow the trail of a specific enemy unit. Soldiers looks for signs left by the enemy. They gather information about the enemy unit, the route, and the surrounding terrain as they track.


The key considerations for conducting a tracking patrol include--

         The soldiers move stealthily. The soldiers must be well-disciplined and well-trained in tracking techniques.

  • When the platoon receives the mission to conduct a tracking patrol, it assigns the task of tracking to only one squad. The remaining squads and attachments provide security.
  • The configuration of the platoon must provide security for the tracking team to the front and flanks as it follows the trail. The formation of a squad conducting a tracking patrol is in Figure 3-17. Separate elements of the squad must move as dispersed from each other as terrain and vegetation allows, and still maintain visual contact. Normally, the lead fire team is responsible for point security, tracking, and navigation.


Besides the common elements, tracking patrols have a security team and a tracking team.

a. Security Team. The security teams provide security for the squad leader, RATELO, and pace man and also provide rear and flank security.

b. Tracking Team. The tracking team reads signs and follows the track of a specific enemy unit.


The most important consideration in assigning duties is the requirement to put the soldier best trained in tracking as the primary tracker. The squad leader attempts to maintain fire team and, if possible, buddy team integrity. He assigns the following duties to his soldiers.

a. Patrol Leader. The squad leader is the patrol leader and the main navigator. He has overall responsibility for mission accomplishment.

b. Primary Tracker. This soldier's only task is to follow the main trail of the main body of the unit being tracked.

c. Security Man. This soldier provides security for the primary tracker. When possible, he is the primary tracker's buddy team member.

c. Security Team. One buddy team provides security for the squad leader, the pace man, and RATELO.

d. Rear Security Team. One buddy team provides rear security for the squad.


Training is essential to develop and maintain the necessary tracking skills. Once deployed into an area of operation, training continues so the platoon can learn about local soil, climate, vegetation, animals, vehicles, footwear, and other factors. The primary tracker can prepare a tracking book showing specific signs and how they weather or change over time.


Specific intelligence about enemy habits, equipment, garment, footwear, diet, or tactics is important. For example, reports might show that the enemy wears sandals like the natives in the area. However, the units being tracked show signs of one soldier wearing boots with an unfamiliar tread. This could mean that the unit has a trained cadre, a foreign advisor, or a prisoner with it. Any specific information about the enemy is also helpful. If possible, soldiers should interview someone who has seen them.


Men, machines, and animals leave signs of their presence as they move through an area. These signs can be as subtle as an odor, or as obvious as a well-worn path. All soldiers can read obvious signs such as roads, worn trails, or tracks in sand or snow. However, attention to detail, common sense, staying alert, logic, and knowledge of the environment and enemy habits allow soldiers to obtain better information from signs they find in the battle area.

a. Finding the Trail. Finding the trail is the first task of the tracking team. The tracking team can reconnoiter around a known location of enemy activity when the trail cannot be found in the immediate area. There are two ways they can hunt for the trail:

(1) From a known location. Often there is a specific area or location where the enemy has been seen. From here, the tracking team can locate and follow the enemy's trail.

(2) Cutting trail. This occurs when the route of a friendly unit crosses a trail left by another group (Figure 3-18). It can be by chance or the team can deliberately choose a route that cuts across one or more probable enemy routes.

b. Trail and Sign Analysis. Once the first sign is discovered, it must not be disturbed or covered. It is analyzed carefully before following the enemy. If the sign is found at the site of enemy activity, the exact occurrence can often be reconstructed. If a trail is the first sign found, the tracker can still determine such facts as the size and composition of groups being tracked, their directions, their general condition, and other facts. The tracker determines as much as possible about the enemy before following them. As the platoon goes on, this process does also, and the tracker's knowledge of the enemy grows. One or more of these techniques can be combined when the enemy attacks or tries to evade being tracked.

(1) Regaining a lost trail. As soon as the tracker loses the trail, he stops. The tracking team then retraces its path to the last enemy sign. It marks this point. The team studies the sign and the area around it for any clue as to where the enemy went. It looks for signs of the enemy scattering, backtracking, doglegging, or using any other countertracking method. If the trail is still lost, the team establishes security in a spot that avoids destroying any sign. The tracker and an assistant look for the trail. They do this by "boxing" the area around the last clear sign (Figure 3-19). The tracking team always returns to the same path, away from the last sign, to avoid creating more trails than needed.

(2) Employing common countertracking techniques. Once the enemy realizes he is being followed, he will try to evade or attack the tracking team (Figure 3-20).

c. Multiple Patrols. Two or more tracking teams can be used to track the same enemy unit.


1st Squad is tracking the enemy (Figure 3-21). The squad leader informs platoon headquarters (at the ORP) by radio and tells them the estimated size, composition, rate of march, and direction of travel of the enemy. The platoon leader directs 2d Squad on a route that will cut the enemy's trail.

2d Squad marks where they cut the trail (Point A) and begins tracking. The mark is by prearranged signal. It can be a stake driven into the ground, several stacked rocks, or a twist of grass tied up and bent at an angle.

1st Squad continues to follow the trail until it reaches the mark left by 2d Squad. This ensures that the enemy unit is still together and that 2d Squad has found the correct trail. The leader of 1st Squad then requests further orders from the ORP.

When 2d Squad confirms the enemy unit's direction, speed, and estimated distance, 2d Squad gives this information to the ORP. The platoon leader directs 3d Squad (which is patrolling in sector) to set up an ambush along the probable enemy avenue of approach.