Tom Buchino: Success or failure hinges on factors including individual and collective skills (training and experience) and the immediate ability to operate as a Team, thus Small Unit Tactics.

About the author

Tom Buchino, Sergeant Major, U.S. Army Special Forces (Ret.), with over 23 years of active duty services. Tom started Tactical Ranch in 2010 and recruited a cadre of instructors from all aspects of the SOF arena and specialized law enforcement personnel. 

Tactical Ranch operates in conjunction with Covenant Special Projects, LLC (CSP). Tactical Ranch and CSP specialized in elite risk mitigation advisory services and training for the U.S. and allied nation governments, local, state, federal agencies, and private customers.


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Most battles are fought and won or lost by the composition of small teams

The Article

I feel extremely fortunate to have been included in this group of dynamic tactical instructors and asked to provide my insight into the latest tactical trends.

I’ve had the opportunity to review many of the submissions provided by others spotlighted in this publication.

To be honest, I was impressed by the lack of Knuckle-Dragging verbiage in their write-ups…

… my counterparts exemplify the true essence of the modern Warrior; eloquent, well-spoken, professional, yet always prepared to drop the hammer if the situation requires Violence of Action.

My kind of guys… No Snowflakes!

There is no such thing as advanced tactics; only perfect execution of the fundamentals under stress.

Everything we do as tactical operators, protective agents, law enforcement officers, and trainers must be rooted in the fundamentals.

Shoot – Move – Communicate!

Nothing else matters.

So, with that in mind, I would like to address the importance of Small Unit Tactics (SUT).

From first-hand experience in the Special Forces Regiment, I know that most battles are fought and won or lost by the composition of small teams.

A SEAL Platoon, SF A-Team, light infantry squad, or a few police officer’s responding to a school shooting fight with limited personnel, limited weapons systems, and limited supporting resources.

Success or failure hinges on factors including individual and collective skills (training and experience) and the immediate ability to operate as a Team, thus Small Unit Tactics.


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The importance of proper execution of Small Unit Tactics

As the owner of Covenant Special Projects Protective Services and our training facility, TACTICAL RANCH®, my instructor cadre and I ensure we stress the importance of proper execution of Small Unit Tactics.

Small Unit Tactics (SUT) encompasses all aspects of individual and collective element tactical competencies as well as the team’s doctrine, policies, procedures (SOP’s), and TTP’s.

SUT requires mental and physical discipline.

The discipline to execute the trained behavior that best supports fellow teammates’ efforts and the ground-truth situation.

Small teams rely entirely on one another; it’s critical to mission success.

Every operator must do his/her job and not “Be the Lone Wolf,” possibly placing fellow teammates or the mission at risk.

SUT is like a tactical symphony; every instrument or operator has a supporting role.

One rogue violin out of key…

One teammate performing something different from rehearsed SOP…

Well, you get the picture.

The issue with developing robust SUT capabilities in small teams is: this aspect of training is often overlooked.

It’s much cooler and better for the Spotlight Ranger YouTube posts simply to allocate all training time to individual skills; El-Presidente, Tactical Reloads, etc.

Of course, those of us who carry guns for living or for defense purposes love to spend time at the range punching holes in paper or banging steel, but we often neglect working scenarios involving others (Team Work / SUT).

Training of Small Unit Tactics is critical for mission readiness

So, let’s break down SUT.

Think of SUT as the combination of everything administrative, historical, and tactical combined in an Action.

An action that is based on a solid foundation of principles and doctrine.

Foundations are the sturdy, never-wavering, always present blocks that support every structure, every business, and every successful tactical operator and operation.

Foundations (based on doctrine) support the fundamentally based execution of an operation.

Now foundations are seldom in view, often hidden and constructed of messy, not pleasing to the eye materials, yet when the molecular structure of these elements combine with just the right mixture, the result is nothing less than a Solid Platform for everything else to stand upon.

Implementing SUT training into a group or team training events is critical for mission readiness.

As previously stated, every aspect of individual and collective skills are combined into Small Unit Tactics.

Whether conducting a Dismounted Patrol through an Afghan village, Counter Ambush Immediate Actions while operating a convoy in Syria, or Serving a High-Risk Warrant in Chicago, the immediate action of team members during emerging events must be behavioral and decisive.

Scenarios must be of tactical relevance

The application of doctrine for the combat deployment of smaller units in a particular environment.

To truly develop and implement SUT competencies in your small team’s training, you must first determine your doctrine.

Military and most Law Enforcement elements have published doctrine.

But occasionally, we work with small teams that have yet to determine what their true mission is, let alone know anything about doctrine.

This deficiency leaves the team no clue how to train and often leads to confusion in team members’ responses in emerging scenarios, resulting in diminished SUT competency.

Think of a part-time police SWAT team in a landlocked small rural county in the US that wants to spend time training with borrowed boats on a river 150 miles outside their jurisdiction…

Maybe it is fun and a great tanning opportunity, but what a waste of valuable training time.

It’s not relevant to their assigned directives.

Or that same SWAT team that has not developed a Tactical SOP (TACSOP) concerning Entry; could be catastrophic should officers not know their individual and supporting officer’s duties and responsibilities during the assault.

I know all this discussion of Doctrine, SOP’s, Policy, Procedures blah, blah, blah are not what gets Tactical Practitioners blood pumping.

For many of you, the behavioral response of such is already engrained in your soul from years of service…

But, as trainers or unit leaders, we are responsible for setting our folks up for success.

Combat Marksmanship Speed and Accuracy development are quantifiable; immediate results are noted by hits on steel or the tone of a Pro-Timer, but evaluation of SUT requires non-biased evaluation of the team performance in a given scenario.

Scenarios must be of tactical relevance (remember the SWAT Team in a boat training!), and each exercise must be followed by a facilitated After Action Review (AAR).

The AAR allows teammates to discuss their actions and supporting team member actions from the Planning Phase through Actions On the Objective.

We develop Lessons Learned from the exercise and subsequent AAR, then revise (if necessary), rehearse, and evaluate. An ongoing process that must evolve with the tactical environment.

Don’t waste time, resources, or energy on tactics or techniques that will (a) Will Never Be Authorized by Your Agency / Unit and (b) Are Not a Mission Essential Task.

Stick with what is doctrine!

Principles designed to promote operator initiative and to solve problems

Doctrine consists of fundamental principles, tactics, techniques, and procedures, and terms and symbols.

But, most of all, doctrine provides the fundamental principles of what works in battle based on past experience.

These principles have been learned through combat and conflict, and although not always perspective in nature, they are authoritative and always the starting point for addressing new problems.

Such principles are not simply a checklist for what to do in a situation or a constraining set of rules; these principles are designed to promote operator initiative and adaption to solve problems.

With that in mind, once the team has identified their Mission, the Mission Essential Task List (METL: skills required to fulfill mission directives, Specified and Implied Task), accepted or developed and implemented department, agency or unit policies, procedures, and standard operating procedures, they now have the basis for doctrine.

In addition, the team now knows what skills to train, how to develop team operability, and the best course of action for revising and sustaining capabilities.

All of this combined become the receipt for SUT development.

My time serving on and leading small teams (Special Forces & Protective Services Teams) has engrained the importance of SUT.

Knowing the learned behavior and immediate response for myself and teammates in a given situation provides teams the Tactical Advantage when “shit hits the fan.” When on the “X,” what do we all do to win? That’s SUT.

SUT is not restricted to Policing and Military Units.

It must be trained and employed in any aspect of a battle involving two (2) or more operators.

Offensive, defensive, reconnaissance and stability operations require SUT.

Traveling, traveling Overwatch, Bounding Overwatch requires SUT.

Get it?

Everything we do in this wonderful world of the fight involves Small Unit Tactics.

A SEAL Team supporting a Marine Task Force may have differing Tactical SOP’s (TACOPS).

However, their doctrine is consistent, allowing them to operate in support of each other.

An SF HALO (Military Freefall) Team will have mission-specific aspects to their TACSOP but will integrate perfectly and operate alongside that SEAL Team.

We may differ slightly in composition and capabilities but operate conducive because of common doctrine and training based on the fundamentals.

A small group of Special Operations Forces (SOF) conducted an infiltration of Iraq

This was never clearer than during a mounted patrol during the initial invasion into Iraq in 2003. (Unclassified).

Before the “Official Kickoff” of the coalition forces air campaign, a small group of Special Operations Forces (SOF) conducted an infiltration of Iraq to set up and secure an isolated, abandoned airfield.

The mission was to conduct a clandestine infill of other SOF teams for reconnaissance operations from the secured airfield.

The airfield seizure team consisted of one (1) SF A-team and one (1) SF-B Team (a small headquarters command and control element), and a handful of Air Force Combat Controllers.

Upon successful occupation and set up of the airfield, the SOF contingent received multiple small teams via prompt delivery from time-staggered blacked-out MC130s.

With US SOF operators’ successful and undetected infiltration complete, all were dispatched to different recon sectors.

The Airfield Team was ordered to initiate movement North to Baghdad to get Eyes-On the Baghdad International Airport (Saddam Intl. AP / SIAP).

The small SOF element traveling in GMV (ground mobility vehicles) and Toyota Tacoma’s were joined by a Civil Affairs (CA) Section with two (2) HumV’s.

The CA section was integrated into the SOF convoy, placing their vehicles between the A team-leading and B team bringing up the rear.

The combined team pushed North in the dark cold, reaching the Euphrates River crossing as the sun began to rise.

Before crossing the bridge, a final security halt provided the team confirmation that aerial intelligence indicated no insurgent presence.

As the team made their push over the bridge crossing the Euphrates, and all vehicles now approaching the Southern, downward slope of the bridge, the convoy became engulfed in enemy small arms fire from all directions.

Front, Rear, Left, and Right contact as the Fedayeen had laid in ambush positions covered by buildings and elevated rock walls awaiting the patrol’s Entry into the Kill Zone.

Multiple RPG teams and soviet DShk heavy machine guns positioned at multiple roadway intersections supported the Fedayeen’s efforts.

The US team’s options to Break Contact or Fight Through were made for them when the Assistant Patrol Leader (rear of the convoy) identified that there had been break-in contact and one vehicle was no longer positioned in convoy order.

As the SOF operators continued to engage targets with both rifles and mounted machine-guns and MK-19 grenades launchers from vehicles (now at much higher speeds), the announcement of the lost vehicle was sounded over the radio.

With the team fighting from their convoy and the ever-expanding distance between the trucks, the trailing Tacomas made a stance at an overwatch intersection.

They dismounted a couple of operators to recover the lost Civil Affairs vehicle.

All of this came amid a seemingly endless ambush of enemy participants.

Supporting fires allowed the dismounted troops to maneuver and vector the wayward vehicle back into convoy configuration.

Both the SF and Civil Affairs soldiers returned fire to the repositioning enemy forces.

The commander and lead element located an open field to assemble, set up security and defensive positions, and awaited the trailing arrivals.

Upon the arrival of all vehicles, defenses were set as the team prepared for a counter-attack. To this point, the Unit had received no severe casualties.

However, many of the vehicles have suffered multiple non-disabling wounds.

Communications with higher (command) reporting the situation was established while a motivated US Air Force TAC-P (an attached member of the team) dispatched Close Air Support from an A-10 Thunderbolt.

Due to enemy armor positions located to the patrols North, the determination to fight back through the ambush site and cross over the Euphrates once again was made, brief to all teammates, and executed with the firepower of the A-10.

The extended period spent coordinating air support, reporting, and refitting for round two allowed the Fedayeen time to re-form and position for their counter.

Never go through an ambush a second time…

That’s just common sense.

But, when the options are tanks vs. trucks or some buggers in decent position vs. SOF guys and other American troops with a crap ton of bullets, the answer is a no-brainer.

After positioning the Tacoma’s in between the heavier HMMV’s and ensuring the A-10 inbound run, the detachment began its violent egress through the city back the rivers crossing.

Round two proved to be more intense than the previous, but the A-10 showed no mercy, and the US ground element’s speed and fire accuracy was more than the opposing forces anticipated.

As the egressing US forces laid waste to stationary targets, the A-10 spent every grain of its combat load on the hardened positions and one poor bastard bad on a motorcycle, the team was able to cross the danger zone and egress South, over the bridge spanning the Euphrates to a secure rally point; all without a serious casualty.

Yes, many of the vehicles looked like Swiss cheese, one even died just after making it to safety, but the team was secure and in the defense.

Live to Fight Another Day!

The importance of mission-specific, realistic tactical training

This brief overview of a contact in Iraq is not intended to showcase heroes (a word much overused these days) or lack of perfect intelligence…

Instead, it is intended to highlight the importance of Small Unit Tactics.

The US forces involved in this 5-hour battle on a hectic day in foreign land remained poised in overwhelming odds.

They destroyed a large number of enemy forces by working together, thinking intuitively, exercising initiative, and taking the fight to the enemy.

Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and US Air Force troops, although serving different units, with differing SOP’s and different training and equipment, exercised the principles of Small Unit Tactics to fight. “One Team One Fight”!

Small Unit Tactics are a vital aspect of tactical training.

The combination of everything administrative, historical, and tactical combined in an action … an action that is based on a solid foundation of principles and doctrine.

As we face this new decade, global threats and domestic disturbances will require increased vigilance on behalf of the Tactical Practitioner.

The Future brings many unknowns, but I know me and my guys at Tactical Ranch® will continue to stress relevant, mission-specific, realistic tactical training and the importance of developing and/or enhancing SUT capabilities in every group we have the privilege to work with.

“One Team One Fight”

Tom Buchino
Sergeant Major
US Army Special Forces (ret.)

Owner, CSP Protective Services
Tactical Ranch®

“De Oppresso Liber”


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