Dirty, tired, camouflage-painted, trousers ripped, armed to the teeth, and overloaded.
Okay, so that’s what the guys on the Recon team look like most of the time. The team itself has evolved a bit due to operational requirements, equipment limitations, and force protection requirements established by higher. Over the years since Vietnam, the Recon team has ranged from four-man Force Recon Stingray teams to entire Recon platoons going out as one.
The basic, by-the-book Recon team consists of six men. Up front is the Pointman. He’s supposed to be the lightest-loaded man in the team, because he’s going to cover the most ground, finding the route often by trial and error. It’s one thing to plan a route on a map and sand-table, it’s something else when you’re walking the ground with a rucksack that weighs 90-120lbs, at 0300. A good pointman, with a good team leader, will often halt the patrol in order to move forward and figure out the best way through the terrain. He also has to know what to look for when it comes to IEDs, possible enemy patrols, or any contact that could get the team compromised.
Behind the Point comes the Team Leader. The TL is responsible for everything the team does, so he is behind the Point on movement. The primary concern on movement is the route, so the TL has to be close to the Pointman to make sure they’re on the right route. Again, a good TL doesn’t keep his Pointman on too tight a leash.
After the TL comes the Radio Operator. The chain of command has several times flipped between whether the Pointman or the RO is the third in line from the TL. They both have high levels of responsibility. If the Pointman isn’t on his game, the team doesn’t get to its objective. If the RO isn’t on his game, the team can’t report what they see, and can’t call for help if they take contact. The RO usually carries the heaviest load, between radios, antennas, and batteries, along with his combat load.
The RO is followed by the Assistant Radio Operator. The ARO does just what his billet says; carries the spare radio or radios, batteries, and assists the RO in getting comm. Comm is all-important, so having more than one set of eyes and hands on getting comm is just a good idea.
The fifth man is the slack man. Usually the junior guy on the team, the slack man is essentially the mule. He carries all the extra batteries and ammo that the rest of the team doesn’t want to. In recent years, he has begun carrying a SAW, M240, or IAW, along with the ammo for it, providing the team with some extra firepower. If, as is the case in Iraq, the seating in a Humvee leads to the team being cut down to five men, the slack is the position that is cut. The automatic weapon usually goes to the ARO in those circumstances.
Finally comes the Assistant Team Leader. The ATL is responsible primarily for security and accountability. He makes sure there aren’t any stragglers, and when the team halts, he’s the one who counts heads and lets the TL know that everyone is accounted for. Before the mission the ATL supervises the rest of the team’s tasks while the TL is busy with the planning.
So that’s a quick and dirty rundown of a Recon Team. It’s a team that can get in and out of an enemy area without being detected, call in artillery and air on targets far from other friendly forces, and, in a pinch, can lay down enough fire to decimate forces far larger. There is a story taught in BRC of a 1st Recon team in Vietnam that rendered a VC battalion combat-ineffective through a series of hit-and-run attacks as they broke contact.
Swift, Silent, Deadly.