Communication Confusion

One of the most neglected aspects in Close Quarter Combat (CQB) training is communications. What I mean by this is- How to correctly pass information so that the team may react with speed and decisiveness, in an appropriate manner. The reason why communications is so neglected is it is usually last in the priority of things to do when training in a shoot house. Think about it, when most units conduct live fire CQB training the focus is usually on moving safely as a team, combat marksmanship (hitting bad guy targets), and establishing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). So just for ease of instruction and safety, most live fire is done with no hindrance of verbal communication – even against OPFOR in force on force training.  Because there are no noises approaching real gunfire in confined spaces and explosions from breaching or grenades and such, continually going off, communicating between team members still goes pretty much unhindered.

Where most Assaulters do finally realize issues with the communication plan and their methods and techniques are lacking is unfortunately (many times) in the middle of a real gunfight. One of the number one after action comments with a lot of Special Forces members highlighted after their first real gunfights is: “too much internal radio traffic”. It is because of the adrenal dump guys get being in combat; they want to call out everything they see, do, and encounter. This practice not only crowds the net, but also can create confusion, and worse- slows down momentum. Bottom line- how and what you may (or may not) communicate in CQB, can have a big impact on the execution.


Call out where to go, not what you see

One thing that really drives me crazy is when watching a team conduct multi-room CQB- after the team flows into and clears a room, they are stacked back up to exit, the number one man will peak out looking to where to go next. The team leader or number two man will ask; “what do you got” and the number one man will undoubtedly respond with everything he sees; “I got open door left, hallway front, closed door down the hall right”. Great! Thanks for the building layout, but where should the team be going next? Well no problem, let the two man decide or the team leader. Someone who cannot see the next problem should be the one to make the decision where to go? See the issue here? Not only is the team wasting time, but shouldn’t the guy who can see, decide where to next? (The answer is yes). So instead of calling out floor plans of what one sees, (which tells the rest of the guys in the stack nothing useful), number one man should be only calling out where they are going next.

Doing so right off the bat not only gives a clear picture of the next problem but, also allows team members to set up beforehand. It helps in how they need to be stacked or positioned for that next area. For example- Team flows into a room from a hall way. The hallway has another four doors coming off it, both left and right sides with a T-intersection at the end, and who knows after that- calling out all that stuff does the team no good. The team members already know they passed through a hall to get into the room they are in. So instead, when ready to move on, the number one man should just call out the next place they are going. Say: “open door across the hall”. Now the team knows; it’s an open door to a room, and to get there. They will need to employ cover or security to deal with crossing a hallway.


When to speak, when to stay silent

Another big issue that irks me, is watching teams talk the entire time especially if they have not even encountered a threat yet. Calling out “room clear, 1 up, 2 up” etc. If there is a hidden enemy, and he hears you three rooms away clearing and approaching that gives him time to prep for when you do get to his position. Bottom line: until enemy contact, there should be no noise.

This hand signal given on top of helmet has a very distinct meaning to those that know it. Seeing this, the rest of the team behind this man now stack up a certain way to handle a problem this Assaulter sees.

How do you control which way to go, tell room cleared, etc., without talking? Well that’s easy, hand and arm signals. Why is it hand and arms signals are a must for every unit in the woods patrolling but are abandoned once indoors?  Having hand and arm signals that cover everything that needs to be said not only allows you to clear silently but also can be used when things go loud from gun fighting. You don’t need a huge list of hand and arm signals, just enough to cover: direction of movement, when to stack up, whether crossing a hall or hitting door same side, calling for some sort of mechanical, explosive or ballistic breaching, along with a method of acknowledgement. With hand and arms signals, body position and muzzle directions work great to convey messages. Why have everyone in a team say; “1 up, 2 up, 3 up ,4 up, room clear”? When if all members simply raised their barrels to high ready or lowered to low ready, to indicate they have cleared their sector. (Not to mention calling out 1 up 2 etc. is a pure amateur hour technique). Obviously, your teammates can see, after entering a room, if you are still standing and not shooting or have shot anyone. (Don’t get me started on the uselessness of calling out “Red Zones”).

How about if you need to reload, get a weapon up, or have transitioned to a pistol and want to get long gun back up? Well one way to show that just take a knee. Example: shooting a threat, going empty, transitioning to pistol. After threat is killed, take a knee with pistol still up scanning for threats. That’s the signal for someone with long gun to come over and pick up your sector until you get your rifle back up.

No the number two man is not holding hands to comfort the number one man. He is actually grasping the signal the number one man gave, to let him know he acknowledges it. Non-verbal communications work great, but only if you have a SOP for them.

Ever find yourself in a room with multiple doors, mixed in with a bunch of other teams? With everyone calling out what they see, shouting over others to get attention, and at the same time possibly shooting at threats, how do you rapidly convey which direction or door to take next? Simple, if you have a hand and arm single for stack on me. Then it’s just a matter of moving to the next problem and giving the signal, until you deem you have enough guys stacked up behind you to handle it. Now without saying a word, you got guys stacked in the direction that needs to be cleared. If multiple guys are giving that signal because they are standing in front of doors, no problem. Pull security and keep giving the signal until guys are freed up from clearing rooms.


The Wrap Up

Question: can your team communicate non-verbally to cross a hall? Or to take a left when going into a T-shaped intersection? If they cannot, then why not? We have PACE plans (primary, alternate, contingency and emergency) with regards to electronic communication when conducting dismounted patrolling, vehicle, and air ops. Why not in the house? If you need to rely on verbal communications to get the job done, you are relying on a variable that cannot always be controlled. Sure, clearing one house in suburban America- not much chance of not hearing fellow teammates. How about being part of multiple teams fighting it out in an industrial complex that are separated by multiple rooms or buildings? With constant radio chatter and sounds of gunfire and explosions all around or in a school with hundreds of kids running around with a fire alarm going off and your team must get to the active threat as fast as possible. Can your team communicate instructions to each other, when verbal methods cannot be understood? You should.




This post currently has one response

  • Couldn’t agree more. Having an effective SOP and cutting out all the unnecessary talking reduces a lot of the confusion that comes from calling everything out (like I learned in the Marines) and also makes it easier to process what is in front of you under stress.

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