Michael's Dispatches

Tracking Update

12 Comments

25 April 2009
Brunei, Borneo Island

This quick email from Borneo is an update about the combat tracking course conducted by the British military.

Tracking is a lost art in the British and U.S. militaries.  Even among the most highly trained forces, you’ll seldom come across anyone who can honestly track a man or interpret signs.  Many times in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve seen combat forces come up on signs of the enemy – and our folks do set to work analyzing ever smidgen they can find – but only in a single case did I see soldiers who started tracking on a very subtle trail that was less than obvious.  Not surprisingly, those soldiers were “good old boys” from the 278th Tennessee National Guard.  Where those soldiers learned tracking I do not know.  Presumably they got it from growing up in the boondocks, and they probably got it from their granddaddies.  We didn’t get any enemies that day, but the 278th soldiers definitely were able get on what I thought was the right trail, and they tracked quite a distance (after a bomb exploded).  They weren’t playing around.  More recently, I was with some American soldiers in Afghanistan and there was a very minor shootout wherein nobody got hurt.  At least two Taliban were seen going over a hill after the bullets were swapped.  Our boys closed the gap as fast as they could and tried to get them, but we never picked up their trail and the enemy escaped.  I believe that the British and Gurkha trackers I am seeing in this school in Borneo might well have picked up that trail, and nailed the Taliban that day.

The tracking school only started on Monday, and we just finished Saturday’s training which began with classroom work and ended with about five hours of tracking in the jungle.  We started with 21 students but are down to 17 after something between the Netherlands and Brunei governments caused four Dutch students to drop out today.  The Dutch soldiers are upset.  The Brits also are upset because the Dutch were good tracking students, and also the Dutch have Afghan combat experience under their belts, as do most of the British.  And so it’s good to hear about their experiences, and how tracking might apply back in Afghanistan, because most of these Soldiers and Marines are heading back over.  All seven instructors are combat veterans from some place or another.  Some of the students have three combat tours behind them, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.  None of these Marines and Soldiers had any experience in tracking, yet after having started only on Monday, by late this afternoon in that steaming jungle, they were successfully tracking Gurkhas.  (The Gurkhas had gone before us to leave track.)  I can say with absolute certainty that very few British or American soldiers would have been able to follow those tracks.  Maybe some of those soldiers from the 278th Tennessee National Guard could have pulled it off, but I doubt that 99% of the others could have even found the first subtle signs.

Toward the end of the day, my section of five soldiers lost the Gurkha tracks, and so the soldiers “probed” and “casted” to regain the trail, but we just lost it fair and square.  We didn’t get them this time.

The jungle was losing light, so we started to head out of the jungle to catch some trucks back to base.  There were a few interesting “jungle things” to photograph, and so while the five British students and an instructor headed out, I stayed back with an instructor named Taff Jones, a British Marine, to get the last photos.

There was no trail in or out, and we honestly didn’t know which way the others had gone because we had hardly paid attention.  (Though we knew the exact azimuth to get out, so we knew where their signs should be).  Instead of going on compass, the Taff picked up their trail, which was difficult to see, and we walked at a brisk pace.  Taff seldom even stopped, but would just point out sign as we bounded through.  Taff would say things like, “See that transfer?”  “Flattening here.”  “Look at that beautiful print.”  A few signs were obvious, but mostly they were subtle.  Again, I think 99% of the American or British soldiers would have almost zero chance of following that trail.  At one point I thought Taff lost the trail, because he just stopped and started looking around.  Then he said something like, “They stopped here and turned around.”  In fact they had zigzagged a lot, and later told us they did turn around there.  We found the others waiting for us.  If they had been the Taliban, we could have nailed them.  Or we could have radioed and had them cutoff or ambushed.

All the combat veterans in the course are of the same opinion.  We can put a lot more whipping on al Qaeda and other enemies in Afghanistan if more of our people learn how to track.  Nobody has to be Tonto to do this.  You just need good instructors, good eyes, and the willingness to practice.  This training is cheap.  No ammo, no airplanes, no high tech, and just about anyone can get a lot better very quickly.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll try to email each day about the progress.

Your Writer,

Michael

 



Please click here for Part III of this series on the tracking course in Borneo.

 


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    John ryan · 9 years ago
    When I was in Borneo it was always referred to as the forrest HAs that changed
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Juggernaut · 9 years ago
    small typo in first paragraph - "with American some soldiers" should be "with some American soldiers"
    - very interesting information on tracking training - ex girlfriends seem to have this instinctive talent too
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mary · 9 years ago
    Our high tech equipment is an edge, but it does not and should not completely replace practical knowledge and skills and common sense. Our troops should also not be considered expendible in order to protect the financial investment in high tech equipment. Give our troops the best technology and the education in technology that we can, but make sure they are also equiped to survive off the grid. Afterall, if all our enemy has to do is pull the high tech plug to defeat us then that is what they will happily do, over and over and over again. It is good that you are promoting basic skills like tracking. Let's just hope the right people take action regarding the weakness you're exposing.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John · 9 years ago
    Interesting course you are taking looking forward to "following" your training. Maybe there will be jobs at the IRS when guys are discharged.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike Pierce · 9 years ago
    Michael
    I am a former Marine (many years ago) and i reside in Okla. when not touring professionally in the Music Industry, Have been with Hank Williams Jr. 19 years. I am also an avid 'fan' of your work, I read this with interest as there is a group of gentlemen
    here in Okla. who have been teaching Tracking skills for quite some time here. Their Org. is called Centurion Training Group. They have a blog called Breach Bang Clear. The team leader is named David Reeder, They teach these Tracking skills free of charge to Miltiary & LE & i have heard nothing but Great reports on the school. I beleive that
    several were taught by David Scott-Donelon who began his milltary career in the Army of the Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland in 1961, He is an original member of the C sqaudron,Rhodesia Special Air Service, In 1968 he posted to the newly
    formed TCU (Tracker Combat Unit) Rhodesia, Was also a Sealous Scout & RLI, In 1980 Donelan joined the famous
    5 Reconnaissance Unit South African Special Forces, He has tracked many communist guerillas in both countries. He is a legend in the Tracker community & speaks highly of Dave Reeder & Centurion TRng. Group. These gentlemen are also
    dedicated readers of your writing. Just thought i would let you know in case you were unaware of this GREAT Tracking School
    in Okla. who have taught many free of charge. One of my prized books is D.Scott-Donelan's book Tactical Tracking Operaions.
    It is signed by Donelan & given to me by David Reeder, These guy's do so much, The ony pay they receive his helping the
    good guy's, They all sacrifice so much of their time & money, (They try to generate funds by selling some items on their site
    www.goingloud.com, Or Centurion Training Group/BreachBangClear or donations) to finance the Schools/Courses. I applaud
    these Patriots!!! Keep up the great work Yon & 'Watch your SIX!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike Pierce · 9 years ago
    DAVID SCOTT-DONELAN!!! CAN TRACK A PISS-ANT!!! Check the gentleman out. He is a legend in Tracker Community!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike Pierce · 9 years ago
    Centurion Training Group in Okla. Great Instructors, They were taught by the best David Scott-Donelan, A legend in the
    Tracking community!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 9 years ago
    I read somewhere years ago that the Sultan of Brunei was the richest guy in the world. I wonder if that's still the case.... Anyhow, apparently he has a nice jungle
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Ryan · 9 years ago
    Michael, this will be quite valuable after your tours are done.
    When you get back home you'll always be able to find your car on a Saturday night.
    All the best, Don
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cor van der Linden · 9 years ago
    Mr Yon,

    I'm a dutchman and would gladly want to know why our Netherlands and Brunei governments caused four Dutch students to drop out today. I can understand that the Dutch soldiers are upset. because the Dutch have Afghan combat experience under their belts. I know our soldiers are very motivated and I just do not understand why they had to leave to program.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Kenyon · 9 years ago
    This is an excellant skill to have today. We will need this from now on due to the type of combat our troops will be faced with.

    You can bet your last dollar that the enemy will be doing this as well.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert J. Almeida · 9 years ago
    Read your letter on tracking training, hope I said that correctly, and have found it very interesting. I am so pround of those who are defending us from the enemy. I served during the 'Nam era, not in combat or war zone, but I am very proud of those who risk their lives. I like them to know I am with them in spirit and pray for them every day. I have very high respect for you Michael and the brave reporting you do. You are a reminder of Ernie Pyles during WWII. Please, keep yourself safe. I know through your writtings that you go intop very dangerous missions with our troops. God Bless!!!

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