The reconnaissance platoon can be given the mission to follow the trail of a specific enemy force. When operating in a low-intensity conflict environment, the reconnaissance platoon has a greater likelihood of receiving a tracking mission. A tracker must have patience and move slowly, quietly, and steadily while observing and interpreting available indicators. He must avoid using reckless speed that may cause him to overlook important signs, lose the trail completely, or blunder into an enemy force. Attention to detail, common sense, logic, and knowledge of the environment and enemy habits allow soldiers to obtain valuable information from signs in the area of operation.

a. Organization. When the reconnaissance platoon receives the mission to conduct a tracking patrol, it assigns the task of tracking to only one squad. The remaining squads provide security or act as a reserve if contact is made. ( Figure 6-2 shows the typical organization of a tracking squad.)


(1) Squad leader. The squad leader carries the radio and is the primary navigator. He has overall responsibility for accomplishing the mission, organizing the force, and setting each soldier's load.

(2) Primary tracker. The primary tracker's job is to follow the main trail left by the tracked group; he has no other duties. The primary tracker focuses on following the main trail.

(3) Security. The security man observes to the front and flanks of the trail and provides security for the primary tracker who concentrates on the trail. Normally, this is the assistant squad leader.

(4) Rear security. The rear security man provides security for the rear. He looks back along the trail at irregular intervals to keep from being ambushed from behind. If the squad makes enemy contact to the front or flank, the rear security man is in the best position to support the men in contact. The rear security man also records the traveled azimuths to assist in navigation.

b. Concepts. Any indicator that the tracker discovers can be defined by one or more of the following concepts:

    • Displacement.
    • Stains.
    • Weather.
    • Litter.
    • Camouflage.
    • Immediate-use intelligence.

(1) Displacement. Displacement ( Figure 6-3) takes place when anything is moved from its original position. A well-defined footprint in soft, moist ground is a good example of displacement. The shoe or foot of the individual who left the print displaced the soil by compression, thus leaving an indent in the ground. By studying this indicator, the tracker can determine several important facts. The print left by worn footwear or by a barefooted person may indicate lack of proper equipment.

(2) Stains. A stain occurs when any substance from one organism or article is smeared or deposited on something else. The best example of staining is blood from a profusely bleeding wound. Bloodstains are often in the form of spatters or drops. Blood indicators are not always on the ground but may also be smeared on the leaves or twigs of trees and bushes.

(a) Staining can also occur when muddy footgear is dragged over grass, stones, and shrubs. Thus, staining and displacement combine to indicate movement and direction. Crushed leaves may stain rocky ground that is too hard to leave footprints. Roots, stones, and vines may be stained where leaves or berries are crushed by moving feet.

(b) In some instances, it may be hard to determine the difference between staining and displacement since both terms can be applied to some indicators. For example, water that has been muddied may indicate recent movement; mud that has been displaced also stains the water; stones in streams may be stained by mud from footwear; algae can be displaced from stones in streams and can stain other stones or the bank.

(c) Water that collects in footprints in swampy ground is muddy if the tracks are recent. With time, however, the mud settles and the water clears. The tracker can use this information to indicate time. Normally, the mud clears in about one hour. Clearing time, of course, varies with the terrain.

(3) Weather. Weather can either aid or hinder the tracker. Wind, snow, rain, or sunlight may completely erase indicators, thus hindering the tracker.

(a) By studying the effects of weather on indicators, the tracker can determine the age of the indicator. For example, when bloodstains are fresh, they are bright red. Air and sunlight change the color of blood first to a deep ruby red then to a dark brown crust when the moisture evaporates. Scuff marks on trees or bushes darken with time; sap oozes and then hardens when it makes contact with the air.

(b) Footprints are greatly affected by weather ( Figure 6-4). By carefully studying this weather process, the tracker can determine the approximate age of the footprint. If particles are just beginning to fall into the print, the tracker should become a stalker. If the edges of the print are dried and crusty, the prints are probably at least an hour old. This varies with the terrain and should be considered as a guide only.

(4) Litter. A poorly trained or poorly disciplined force moving over a piece of terrain is likely to leave a clear trail of litter. Gum or candy wrappers, ration cans, cigarette butts, remains of fires, or even piles of human feces are signs of recent movement. However, the tracker must consider weather when estimating the age of such litter. Rain flattens or washes litter away and turns paper into pulp. Ration cans exposed to weather rust first at the exposed edge where it is opened and then moves toward the center. Again, the tracker must use his experience to properly determine the age of litter. The last rain or strong wind can be the basis for a time frame.

(5) Camouflage. Camouflage applies to tracking when the party being followed employs techniques to confuse the tracker or slow him down. Walking backward to leave confusing prints, brushing out trails, and moving over rocky ground or through streams are examples of techniques that may be employed to confuse the tracker. By studying signs, a careful, observant tracker can determine if an attempt is being made to confuse him. If the party attempts to throw off the tracker by walking backward the footprints are deepened at the toe and soil is scuffed or dragged in the direction of movement. By following carefully, the tracker normally finds a turnaround point.

(6) Immediate-use intelligence. As the tracker moves, he constantly asks himself questions. As he finds indicators that answer those questions, he begins to form a picture of the enemy in his mind.

(a) Interpreting. The tracker must avoid reporting his interpretations as facts. He should report that he has seen indications of certain things instead of stating to the commander that these things actually exist. The commander may have more information to help him estimate the enemy he is facing.

(b) Reporting. Immediate-use intelligence is information concerning the enemy that can be put to use immediately to gain surprise, to keep the enemy off balance, or to keep him from escaping the area entirely. A tracker can obtain information that, when combined with information from other sources, indicates enemy plans. Tracking is one of the best sources of immediate-use intelligence. Indicators may be so fresh that the tracker becomes a stalker, or they can provide information that helps the commander plan a successful operation.

c. Footprints. Footprints may indicate direction and rate of movement, number of persons in the moving party, whether heavy loads are being carried, and whether the enemy realizes that they are being followed ( Figure 6-5).

(1) Running. If footprints are deep and the pace is long, rapid movement is apparent. Extremely long strides and deep prints with toe prints deeper than heel prints indicate running.

(2) Carrying load. Prints that are deep, short, and widely spaced with signs of scuffing or shuffling indicate that the person who left the print is carrying a heavy load.

(3) Walking backwards. If the party members realize they are being followed, they may try to hide their tracks. Persons walking backward have a short, irregular stride. The prints have an unnaturally deep toe. Soil is displaced in the direction of movement.

d. Key Prints. Since the last man in a file normally leaves the clearest footprints, his should be the key set of prints. The tracker should cut a stick to match the length of the key prints and notch it to indicate the width at the widest part of the sole. He should study the angle of the key prints to the direction of march. The tracker should also look for an identifying mark or feature on the prints, such as a worn or frayed part of footwear, to help him identify the key prints. If the trail becomes vague or erased, or merges with another, the tracker can use his stick-measuring devices and, with close study, can identify the key prints. This helps the tracker to stay on the trail. A technique used to count the total number of individuals being tracked is the box method. There are two methods the tracker can use to employ the box method:

(1) The first and most accurate method is to use the stride as a unit of measure when key prints can be determined. The tracker uses the set of key prints and the edges of the road or trail to box in an area to analyze (A, Figure 6-6). This method is accurate under the right conditions for counting up to 18 persons.

(a) Determine the key print. In this case, the key print is the print left by the lug sole boot. This boot made the last print on the trail, and it is the easiest print to recognize.

(b) Draw a line across the heel of one of the key prints.

(c) Move forward to the opposite key print and draw a line across the instep. Add the extra one-half print to determine if a person is making an abnormally long stride.

(d) Use the edges of the road or trail as the sides of the box, and the drawn lines as the front and back. Any person walking normally would have stepped in the box at least one time. Count each print or partial print in the box.

(e) Remember to count the key print only once.

(2) The second method a tracker can use to employ the box method is the 36-inch box. It is used where there are no key prints distinguishable. However, this system is not as accurate as the stride measurement (B, Figure 6-6).

(a) Use the 36-inch box method when no key print is available. Use the edges of the road or trail as the sides of the box.

(b) Measure across a section of the area 36 inches in length. The M16 rifle is 39 inches long and may be used as a measuring device.

(c) Count each indentation in the box and divide by two. This gives a close estimate of the number of persons who made the prints.

e. Other Signs of Displacement. Footprints are only one example of displacement. Anything that has been moved from its original position by a moving person is an example of displacement.

(1) Foliage, moss, vines, sticks, or rocks that are scuffed or snagged from their original place form good indicators. Vines may be dragged, dew droplets may be displaced from leaves or stones, and sticks may be turned over to indicate a different color underneath. Grass or other vegetation may be bent or broken in the direction of movement.

(2) Bits of clothing, threads, or dirt from boots can be displaced from a person's uniform and left on thorns, on snags, or on the ground. The tracker should inspect all areas for bits of clothing or other matter ripped from the uniform of the person being tracked.

(3) An enemy entering or exiting a stream creates slide marks, footprints, or scuff bark off roots or sticks. There are many examples and signs of displacement; the tracker needs to carefully analyze those signs that indicate movement.