Disclaimer: This article, compiled from old notes, describes one of my first Close Quarters Battle (CQB) experiences with the Israeli Defense Forces. The article is merely a piece of advice.
It a hot, dusty, and stressful day of 2008. We had 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 also our first time performing with live fire. No more paintball games or simulations — a real cause and effect. We entered the room using 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 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 driver, 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, one 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 factors:
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 whiteboards 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, like missing a hidden shaft or a passage in a room, in trying to solve a problem. 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 missions or training, the whiteboard proved fairly accurate in reflecting a building’s structure. But we never knew what was inside the building. 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 we really communicating adequately?
A healthy team discussion requires the capability to forge more than two opinions and points of view into a productive and useful tool. This is essential. In my experience, discussion is a key element in preventing that White Fatal. Life is made out of fast and slow questions. 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 your team has 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 a very narrow field of view. They see a shape, and then they take action — questions are asked later. While this does sound like quintessential military behavior, that’s where we, as humans, tend to fail in performing and following 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 they will only work in tandem with a CQB strategy that is built by everyone’s individual perspectives. Otherwise, we will not have the ability to deal with such situations.
This article was written by Eli Feildboy, founder and CEO of Project Gecko and former Israeli commando. It was originally published in 2016.