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The Folly Of The Four Man Stack

“CQB is a war of angles.” The first time I heard this was back in 2004 from Rich Mason, owner and head instructor of DARC (Direct Action Resource Center). Once I understood what he meant, I totally changed my point of view on how close quarter battle (CQB) should be approached. I was ‘threat centric’ before- meaning I always thought of “How best to get to the threats as quickly as possible so my team could eliminate them.” What I did not know for the longest time though was the flaw in this thinking. It assumes the enemy is not going to be better at CQB than you and your team.

This 4-man stack is perfect size for taking down the average size residential rooms.   (Photo courtesy DOD)

Most tactics rest on the popular principle of Speed, Surprise, and Violence of Action. Meaning that a fast clearing pace, with overpowering use of flash bangs, explosive breaching, and domination of rooms; along with accurate and lethal fire, is going to keep the enemy off balance and effect his capability to effectively engage the assaulters. Sounds good right? Well the issue with all this is: it does not take into consideration the enemies’ CQB proficiency. We assume flowing into rooms fast and laying down the lead is going to keep the enemy off kilter. When in reality, the threat could be smart enough to be using the angles presented by open doorways to adjacent rooms, halls or other spaces that can be used to set up ambush points where he has a clear view of the stack. Ambushed- unless team members stop to look beyond the room right in front of them (Looking two or three rooms deep through open doorways). The team will not see him. This is where the war of angles comes into play; he who can employ points of exposure, to shoot, and not be seen.

 

The Flaw in the Four Man Stack

 If one is not set up to cover the angles, you are not set up to really handle CQB. This is the heart of the problem with a four-man stack. While it is a perfect number to have to dominate your average size room with lethal fire, it is nowhere near enough personnel to cover all the angles a team will be exposed to as they move through a multi-room structure. For example: imagine a hallway with a T-intersection. If you stand in the middle, that’s only three angles. Now add three open doors coming off that intersection. That creates three new angles. If those rooms have doors to other rooms in them (when opened) have a view to that T-intersection. That is now even more areas/angles. See where I am going? For every open door that gives view of another space in the structure, that is a new angle one must cover.

As you can see the number 1-man dropping security to pick up the room the 4-man stack is going into. If there is a doorway in the bottom right of photo. The team will be exposed to any threats that could be waiting there.    (Photo courtesy DOD)

Doing the math with a T-intersection and no doorways that’s 3 angles with 4 men it’s covered. Now add three open doors: that’s six angles. These rooms lead to other rooms with more open doors. That’s more angles and so on. Even if you just add one doorway to the T-intersection- that will already create more angles than the team can handle. No big deal, have assaulters scan multiple areas. Well problem with this, despite what you may think, one man can really only cover one angle at a time. If one is pulling security on an open door on the left, and say a opening to a hallway on the right, his attention is split between both areas.  All a threat has to do is observe and wait until the assaulter’s muzzle and attention is fixed on the opposite angle then just pop out and send a quick burst his way. No matter how fast one may be, action usually beats reaction. There is a very good chance the assaulter is going be the one getting hit first. If you read part 1: Control the Hall, Control the Floor– things can be made even worse by not having a permanent long security man, to cover uncleared areas the team has not reached yet. If the number one man of a 4-man team, is also the one pulling long security, he is going to have to drop long security to maintain a 4-man entry team. That temporary drop in security can be exploited by a trained enemy- giving him the opportunity to shoot at the team as they flow in or back out of the room. An even worse maneuver against the team while they may be shooting targets in that room: coming in and shooting them all in the back!

This is not limited to just hallways, say you come to opposing rooms if it’s a single team. Unless someone covers the other open door. Good chance the stack can be fired upon from the other room. Plus, what about breaching? How many times have you seen a 4-man stack prepping to blow a door where the cover man in order to cover the breacher steps forward to face the door? In doing so, turns his back to the rest of uncleared hall. Not a good thing.

 

The Solution

So how does a team cover all angles? Simple: bump up the number of assaulters in a team or stack.  Add one, you now have a long security man. Adding two to a 4-man stack making it six is even better, now giving you a long security man and one extra to cover rear, or two to cover long. This even allows a man that can pick up extra angles as the team approaches them. The whole idea of the number being set at four in the military is not based off practicality but instead is based off of two things: First as I said before, four men is an ideal number to take down a room but why the military likes it is just based off splitting an Army infantry squad in half. An Army squad is nine men, (so split up, that gives you two 4-man stacks and the squad leader to direct them). Never was covering long or the capability to pick up multiple angles ever considered in the choosing of going with a 4-man stack. That is why in every military manual on CQB only a 4-man team is depicted.

4-man team in a hallway. Again, we see number one man needing to shift focus from covering long down the hall to focus on door. What’s worse- number 4-man has his back facing uncleared areas. Solution: Add more men to the stack to cover all the angles team is exposed to. (Photo courtesy DOD)

What about SOF? Aren’t the CQB teams bigger? For a time yes. It was after some hard CQB fighting in Iraq in the mid-2000’s Army SF in their formal CQB schools adopted up to 6-man teams. They recognized, that while during multi-team CQB- 4 men are plenty to a stack since multiple stacks are going in at the same time to flood an objective.  The problems open up once those stacks start to spread out in a structure. This creates gaps in coverage. 4-man teams cannot take down rooms and cover uncleared areas effectively and at the same time. Teams were not taking casualties flowing through doorways flooding into rooms. Instead, it was in hallways and from other adjacent rooms that had view of the rooms the teams were going into. Because of this, numbers were bumped up in the stacks allowing for extra men to cover angles while 4-man teams cleared rooms. Unfortunately, because of the length of time that has past since those hard CQB days in Iraq and as more and more of those guys who learned the hard way that 4-man stacks don’t work have retired and left service. Those lessons learned are being lost, and SF is slowly creeping back to only using 4-man stacks. Another reason for this: The SF manual for CQB was last revised in late 2005, one year before the implementation of 5 and 6-man stacks. So, the changes never made it into the manual resulting in new guys coming into SF and wanting to read about CQB they do not even know from manuals the 5 and 6-man teams are an option.

My old SFODA practicing running with a 5-man stack for the first time at DARC from 2004. We learned right away having an extra 5th man greatly reduced the enemy’s ability to shoot at us by closing off the angles of exposure the enemy had of us as we cleared the structure.

The Wrap Up  

Is your team using a 4-man SOP? Then next time you are conducting CQB training, I encourage you to try this: open all the doors in the building, have someone stand a few rooms deep in the house. As the 4-man team flows through, clearing the structure. Have that man count the number of times; He has eyes on the team and they don’t see him. You might find yourself surprised by the number.

 

 

Jeff Gurwitch
Jeff Gurwitch is a retired Special Forces Soldier who served 26 years in the United States Army (18 years with Special Forces). He served in the First Gulf War, three tours OIF, and three tours OEF. A contributing writer for SWAT Magazine and Defensereview.com. He is also an avid competitive shooter, competing in USPSA, IDPA, and 3-Gun.

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