Disclaimer: This article describes one of my first CQB experiences with the Israeli Defense Forces, compiled from old notes. The article is merely an opinion piece—a piece of advice.
Back in 2008, on a hot, dusty, and stressful day, we finally reached the physical part of our urban qualification. The training grounds looked like a small, random settlement straight out of Tatooine.
It was our first real physical training using various CQB methods, with a great focus on the entry phases and communication. I was number two, behind my buddy, ready to enter the room. It was our first time performing with live fire. No more paintball games or simulations—a real cause and effect. We entered the room via the procedure we learned. The place was filled with sand, and the whole room, which had no windows, quickly turned into one big dust cloud. We couldn’t see more than two meters ahead of us. Seconds after “stabbing” the 180° to the left, I recognized a continuous passage to the next room and automatically notified my buddy, keeping the flow and initiative.
We stacked up, processed the situation carefully, and continued to the next room by using a variant of limited penetration. For those who have been in these situations before, you know the feeling: Your heart is beating, your adrenaline is pumping like a Formula One car, and you view the world through a toilet-paper tube.
On the second entrance, it became hard to breathe, and we began to process things slowly. One of the instructors tossed a live flashbang straight into the room. As a result, we had to “flip the switch” and kick in with force. It was a bad entry. Out of four targets in each corner (I know, who places targets like that, right?), one was still “alive” and clean. We froze in our final position, awaiting “endex” and feedback from our instructor. He came in with a hard face, checked the four targets, and swiftly started to yell at us:
“Paper targets never lie. They are a true mirror to your actions and they have no manners or pretty words to deliver the truth. You failed in the first room, you missed a hidden corner with a small target, and you repeated your failure in the second room. You were all dead long ago.”
I refused to even believe him and started to look for excuses—until he hazed the shit out of us. Simply put, we were too linear and too obvious. Much of that can be attributed to the following.
The “White Fatal”
Back in the methodical CQB preparation week, which took place a week earlier, we sat in classes and got fed dozens of different tactical sketches on white boards simulating different situations and clearing techniques. The focus was almost always on that classical box room with four corners, and endless colors and numbers. A true unicorn experience.
What we all always saw was a white background and a black color as the designated structural borders. There were no obstacles, furniture, irregular structure layouts, etc. It was just blank and clean.
It was not until the first live-fire week when I figured out that prior to any entry, we all ran in our brains that same whiteboard, with those clear and clean sketches. We unintentionally ignored the fact that there are more than just corners and borders, there are also obstacles and things in between that will require your immediate attention and the ability to make a fast decision that will dictate your tactics. Often, it fucks it all up.
Walls will always be there, as will windows and corners. But there are always obstacles that no whiteboard can prepare you for. Obstacles like tables, chairs, sofas, ledges, elevations, angles, and even big animals in some shit-holes that will surely get in your way and will do their best to disrupt and compromise you. Unlike on the whiteboard, the effect of these obstacles can not be deleted by a simple move of a hand. What happens is a solid, bitter fact, and will remain engraved on the walls of history.
“When everyone on your team thinks the same, no one thinks.”
Linear thinking is our tendency to immediately look for a single explanation or solution to a problem rather than looking at the problem as the result of many interconnected reasons.
Focusing on only one reason rather than on the underlying structure of interconnected causes is what creates unintended consequences in our attempts to solve a problem. Like missing a hidden shaft or a passage in a room. When you relay your planning only on a whiteboard, it will result in instinctively linear thinking later on. Most CQB briefs I did and have been through in my life have been conducted with clear and straight lines. Don’t get me wrong, I see no problem with the use of whiteboards or sketching. I just believe it’s crucial to keep in mind that nothing is linear in real-life room clearings, and no room is perfectly empty.
In the many briefings we did, for a mission or training, the whiteboard proved fairly accurate in regards to a building’s structure, but we never knew what was inside. In order to prevent the White Fatal, we always added into the empty sketch of the designated room one of five different sets of possible furniture/content layouts. This way, say there was a hidden small shaft or a huge bar top to the left, we would have an automatic answer to that specific obstacle.
Communication is a must on any team.
Yes, yes, we all know that, we’ve all heard our instructors and officers repeating that damn sentence…but wait a second, are you really communicating adequately?
A healthy team discussion is made of the ability to forge more than two opinions and points of view into a productive tool, which is essential to your task. In my experience, the discussion is a key element to prevent that White Fatal. Life is made out of questions, fast and slow questions, and you are the one who is committed to reply with an answer, fast or slow—you choose. Therefore, after you’ve gone through that sketch, make sure there are answers to any possible what ifs.
After some years of training and watching individuals in combat situations, I figured out that very often—especially at the infantry level—individuals see the urban environment through of a very narrow field of view. They see a shape, and then they take action—questions later. While it does sound like quintessential military behavior, that’s where we as humans tend to fail to perform and follow our tactics. That’s why it is important to learn there’s more to CQB than running and gunning like a SEAL in Hollywood. I’ve got nothing against whiteboards. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. But only sketches in tandem with strategy that was built by everyone’s individual perspectives will provide the ability to deal with such situations.
Thanks for listening.