Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 9 – Section I – Overview

Section I — Overview

Patrols and Patrolling

9-1.        A patrol is sent out by a larger unit to conduct a specific combat, reconnaissance, or security mission. A patrol’s organization is temporary and specifically matched to the immediate task. Because a patrol is an organization, not a mission, it is not correct to speak of giving a unit a mission to “Patrol.”

9-2.        The terms “patrolling” or “conducting a patrol” are used to refer to the semi-independent operation conducted to accomplish the patrol’s mission.  Patrols require a specific task and purpose.

9-3.        A commander sends a patrol out from the main body to conduct a specific tactical task with an associated purpose. Upon completion of that task, the patrol leader returns to the main body, reports to the commander and describes the events that took place, the status of the patrol’s members and equipment, and any observations.

9-4.        If a patrol is made up of an organic unit, such as a rifle squad, the squad leader is responsible. If a patrol is made up of mixed elements from several units, an officer or NCO is designated as the patrol leader. This temporary title defines his role and responsibilities for that mission. The patrol leader may designate an assistant, normally the next senior man in the patrol, and any subordinate element leaders he requires.

9-5.        A patrol can consist of a unit as small as a fire team. Squad‑ and platoon‑size patrols are normal. Sometimes, for combat tasks such as a raid, the patrol can consist of most of the combat elements of a rifle company. Unlike operations in which the Infantry platoon or squad is integrated into a larger organization, the patrol is semi-independent and relies on itself for security.

Patrol Leaders

9-6.        The leader of every patrol, regardless of the type or the tactical task assigned, has an inherent responsibility to prepare and plan for possible enemy contact while on the mission. Patrols are never administrative. They are always assigned a tactical mission. On his return to the main body, the patrol leader must always report to the commander. He then describes the patrol’s actions, observations, and condition.

PURPOSE of patrolling

9-7.        There are several specific purposes that can be accomplished by patrolling:

– Gathering information on the enemy, on the terrain, or on the populace.

– Regaining contact with the enemy or with adjacent friendly forces

– Engaging the enemy in combat to destroy him or inflict losses.

– Reassuring or gaining the trust of a local population.

– Preventing public disorder.

– Deterring and disrupting insurgent or criminal activity.

– Providing unit security.

– Protecting key infrastructure or bases.

types of patrols

9-8.        Patrol missions can range from security patrols in the close vicinity of the main body, to raids deep into enemy territory. Successful patrolling requires detailed contingency planning and well-rehearsed small unit tactics. The planned action determines the type of patrol.

Combat and Reconnaissance patrols

9-9.        The two categories of patrols are combat and reconnaissance. Regardless of the type of patrol being sent out, the commander must provide a clear task and purpose to the patrol leader. Any time a patrol leaves the main body of the unit there is a possibility that it may become engaged in close combat.

9-10.     Patrols that depart the main body with the clear intent to make direct contact with the enemy are called combat patrols. The three types of combat patrols are raid patrols, ambush patrols (both of which are sent out to conduct special purpose attacks), and security patrols.

9-11.     Patrols that depart the main body with the intention of avoiding direct combat with the enemy while seeing out information or confirming the accuracy of previously-gathered information are called reconnaissance patrols. The most common types reconnaissance patrols are area, route, zone, and point. Leaders also dispatch reconnaissance patrols to track the enemy, and to establish contact with other friendly forces. Contact patrols make physical contact with adjacent units and report their location, status, and intentions. Tracking patrols follow the trail and movements of a specific enemy unit. Presence patrols conduct a special form of reconnaissance, normally during stability or civil support operations.


9-12.     A patrol is organized to perform specific tasks. It must be prepared to secure itself, navigate accurately, identify and cross danger areas, and reconnoiter the patrol objective.  If it is a combat patrol, it must be prepared to breach obstacles, assault the objective, and support those assaults by fire. Additionally, a patrol must be able to conduct detailed searches as well as deal with casualties and prisoners or detainees.

9-13.     The leader identifies those tasks the patrol must perform and decides which elements will implement them. Where possible, he should maintain squad and fire team integrity.

9-14.     Squads and fire teams may perform more than one task during the time a patrol is away from the main body or it may be responsible for only one task. The leader must plan carefully to ensure that he has identified and assigned all required tasks in the most efficient way.

9-15.     Elements and teams for platoons conducing patrols include the common and specific elements for each type of patrol. The following elements are common to all patrols.

Headquarters Element

9-16.     The headquarters element normally consists of the patrol leader and his radio operator.  The platoon sergeant may be designated as the assistant patrol leader.  Combat patrols may include a forward observer and perhaps his radio operator.  Any attachments the platoon leader decides that he or the platoon sergeant must control directly are also part of the headquarters element.

Aid and Litter Team(s)

9-17.     Aid and litter teams are responsible for locating, treating, and evacuating casualties.

Enemy Prisoner of War/detainee Team(s)

9-18.     EPW teams are responsible for controlling enemy prisoners IAW the five S’s and the leader’s guidance.  These teams may also be responsible for accounting for and controlling detainees or recovered personnel.

Surveillance Team(s)

9-19.     Surveillance teams are used to establish and maintain covert observation of an objective for as long as it takes to complete the patrol’s mission.

En Route Recorder

9-20.     An en route recorder can be designated to record all information collected during the mission.

Compass and Pace Man

9-21.     If the patrol does not have access to global positioning systems, or if it is operating in a location where there is no satellite reception, it may be necessary to navigate by dead reckoning. This is done with a compass man and a pace man.

Assault Team(s)

9-22.     Combat patrols designate assault teams to close with the enemy on the objective or to clear the ambush kill zone.

Support Team(s)

9-23.     Combat patrols designate teams to provide direct fire in support of the breach and assault teams.

Breach Team(s) and Search Team(s)

9-24.     Combat patrols have breach teams to assist the assault team in getting to the objective.  Search teams are designated to conduct a cursory or detailed search of the objective area.


9-25.     Leaders plan and prepare for patrols using troop-leading procedures and an estimate of the situation. They must identify required actions on the objective, plan backward to the departure from friendly lines, then forward to the reentry of friendly lines.

9-26.     The patrol leader will normally receive the OPORD in the battalion or company CP where communications are good and key personnel are available for coordination. Because patrols act semi-independently, move beyond the direct-fire support of the parent unit, and often operate forward of friendly units, coordination must be thorough and detailed.

9-27.     Patrol leaders may routinely coordinate with elements of the battalion staff directly. Unit leaders should develop tactical SOPs with detailed checklists to preclude omitting any items vital to the accomplishment of the mission.

9-28.     Items coordinated between the leader and the battalion staff or company commander include:

– Changes or updates in the enemy situation.

– Best use of terrain for routes, rally points, and patrol bases.

– Light and weather data.

– Changes in the friendly situation.

– The attachment of Soldiers with special skills or equipment (engineers, sniper teams, scout dog teams, FOs, or interpreters).

– Use and location of landing or pickup zones.

– Departure and reentry of friendly lines.

– Fire support on the objective and along the planned routes, including alternate routes.

– Rehearsal areas and times. The terrain for the rehearsal should be similar to that at the objective, to include buildings and fortifications if necessary. Coordination for rehearsals includes security of the area, use of blanks, pyrotechnics, and live ammunition.

– Special equipment and ammunition requirements.

– Transportation support, including transportation to and from the rehearsal site.

– Signal plan—call signs frequencies, code words, pyrotechnics, and challenge and password.

9-29.     The leader coordinates with the unit through which his platoon or squad will conduct its forward and rearward passage of lines.


9-30.     The platoon leader also coordinates patrol activities with the leaders of other units that will be patrolling in adjacent areas at the same time.


9-31.     As the platoon leader completes his plan, he considers the following elements.

Essential and Supporting Tasks

9-32.     The leader ensures that he has assigned all essential tasks to be performed on the objective, at rally points, at danger areas, at security or surveillance locations, along the route(s), and at passage lanes.

Key Travel and Execution Times

9-33.     The leader estimates time requirements for movement to the objective, leader’s reconnaissance of the objective, establishment of security and surveillance, compaction of all assigned tasks on the objective, movement to an objective rally point to debrief the platoon, and return through friendly lines.

Primary and Alternate Routes

9-34.     The leader selects primary and alternate routes to and from the objective (Figure 9-1). Return routes should differ from routes to the objective.

Figure 9-1. Primary and alternate routes.


9-35.     The leader should consider the use of special signals. These include arm-and-hand signals, flares, voice, whistles, radios, visible and nonvisible lasers. All signals must be rehearsed to ensure all Soldiers know what they mean.

Challenge and Password Outside of Friendly Lines

9-36.     The challenge and password from the SOI must not be used when the patrol is outside friendly lines.  The unit’s tactical SOP should state the procedure for establishing a patrol challenge and password as well as other combat identification features and patrol markings.

Location of Leaders

9-37.     The leader considers where he, the platoon sergeant, and other key leaders should be located for each phase of the patrol mission. The platoon sergeant is normally with the following elements for each type of patrol:

– On a raid or ambush, he normally controls the support element.

– On an area reconnaissance, he normally supervises security in the objective rally point (ORP).

– On a zone reconnaissance, he normally moves with the reconnaissance element that sets up the link-up point.

Actions on Enemy Contact

9-38.     The leader’s plan must address actions on chance contact at each phase of the patrol mission.

– The plan must address the handling of seriously wounded and KIAs.

– The plan must address the handling of prisoners captured as a result of chance contact who are not part of the planned mission.


9-39.     The departure from friendly lines, or from a fixed base, must be thoroughly planned and coordinated.


9-40.     The platoon leader must coordinate with the commander of the forward unit and leaders of other units that will be patrolling in the same or adjacent areas. The coordination includes SOI information, signal plan, fire plan, running passwords, procedures for departure and reentry of lines, planned dismount points, initial rally points, actions at departure and reentry points, and information about the enemy.


(1)     The platoon leader provides the forward unit leader with the unit identification, size of the patrol, departure and return times, and area of operation.


(2)     The forward unit leader provides the platoon leader with the following:

– Additional information on terrain just outside the friendly unit lines.

– Known or suspected enemy positions in the near vicinity.

– Likely enemy ambush sites.

– Latest enemy activity.

– Detailed information on friendly positions, obstacles, and OPs.

– Friendly unit fire plan.

– Support the unit can provide (fire support, litter teams, guides, communications, and reaction force).


9-41.     In his plan for the departure of friendly lines, the leader should consider the following sequence of actions:

– Making contact with friendly guides at the contact point.

– Moving to a coordinated initial rally point just inside friendly lines.

– Completing final coordination.

– Moving to and through the passage point.

– Establishing a security-listening halt beyond the friendly unit’s final protective fires.


9-42.     The leader considers the use and locations of rally points. A rally point is a place designated by the leader where the platoon moves to reassemble and reorganize if it becomes dispersed.

Selection of Rally Points

9-43.     The leader physically reconnoiters routes to select rally points whenever possible. He selects tentative points if he can only conduct a map reconnaissance. Routes are confirmed by the leader through actual inspection as the platoon moves through them. Rally points must—

– Be easy to recognize on the ground.

– Have cover and concealment.

– Be away from natural lines of drift.

– Be defendable for short periods.

Types of Rally Points

9-44.     The most common types of rally points are initial, en route, objective, reentry, near- and far-side.  Soldiers must know which rally point to move to at each phase of the patrol mission. They should know what actions are required there and how long they are to wait at each rally point before moving to another.  Following are descriptions of these five rally points.


(1)     Initial rally point. An initial rally point is a place inside of friendly lines where a unit may assemble and reorganize if it makes enemy contact during the departure of friendly lines or before reaching the first en route rally point. It is normally selected by the commander of the friendly unit.


(2)     En route rally point. The leader designates en route rally points based on the terrain, vegetation, and visibility.


(3)     Objective rally point. The objective rally point (ORP) is a point out of sight, sound, and small-arms range of the objective area. It is normally located in the direction that the platoon plans to move after completing its actions on the objective. The ORP is tentative until the objective is pinpointed (Figure 9-2). Actions at or from the ORP include—

– Issuing a final FRAGO.

– Disseminating information from reconnaissance if contact was not made.

– Making final preparations before continuing operations.

– Accounting for Soldiers and equipment after actions at the objective are complete.

– Reestablishing the chain of command after actions at the objective are complete.


Figure 9-2. Objective rally point.


(4) Reentry rally point. The reentry rally point is located out of sight, sound, and small-arms weapons range of the friendly unit through which the platoon will return. This also means that the RRP should be outside the final protective fires of the friendly unit. The platoon occupies the RRP as a security perimeter.

(5) Near-and far-side rally points. These rally points are on the near and far side of danger areas. If the platoon makes contact while crossing the danger area and control is lost, Soldiers on either side move to the rally point nearest them. They establish security, reestablish the chain of command, determine their personnel and equipment status, continue the patrol mission, and link up at the OR.

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