Welcome to another edition of Military Fridays! This is a weekly feature where I, a Marine Corps veteran, help other writers create believable military characters or scenes. Today, I’ll be talking a bit about tactics and what SOP’s (standard operating procedures) looked like in Afghanistan.
First off, I’ll discuss room clearing procedures. To begin, I’ll mention that the way soldiers kick down doors in movies, standing directly in front of a door and kicking forward, is never the way we do it. Doorways are called ‘fatal funnels’, meaning if someone is on the other side of the door with a gun, anyone in front of that door will be immediately cut down. So when preparing to enter a room, every Marine is lined up to the side along the wall.
So running straight at the door and kicking it is practically suicidal. Instead, we use the donkey kick. The kicker stands next to the door with his back to the wall, raises his knee, then kicks backwards as hard as he can just below the doorknob, like a donkey.
Once a door is opened, entry into the room must be swift and perfectly timed. The first man into the room (called the point man) must decide to go either left or right and stick with that decision. Because the next guy is right behind him, and he’s going whichever way the point man does not. Any hesitation by the point man could get both men killed.
Following the initial entry, what happens next depends on the size of the room and if there’s more rooms further in. So with literally endless scenarios that are possible, I’ll leave you with the initial entry, since that’s the most critical piece anyway.
Now, if you’re writing about a group of soldiers in Afghanistan, it’s important to know where in Afghanistan they are. For one thing, the geography changes a lot. The northern provinces are mountainous, while the south is largely arid and flat. For another, the tactics also change. Up in the mountains of Afghanistan, Americans are largely free to patrol in several different formations and to charge towards the enemy once contact is made. Combat is generally from a few hundred meters away and getting shot is the main threat.
Down in the south (where I was deployed, Helmand Province) the exact opposite is true. The main threat down there was IED’s (improvised explosive devices). Like, it wasn’t even close. So if your characters are in Helmand Province or Kandahar, they would never charge at the enemy because that’s what the enemy wants. Oftentimes, they would plant an IED, in a treeline for example, then shoot at a patrol from beyond that treeline, baiting the Americans to run directly into the bomb.
Patrolling in the south of Afghanistan was single-file all the way, every time, and both the point man and the last guy in the patrol had a metal detector to sweep for bombs. And you never leave the cleared path. A Marine in my battalion lost his leg once because he took a step about six freakin’ inches off the cleared path and triggered an IED.
Also, on my deployments, night patrols were strictly forbidden. IED’s killed or wounded enough Marines during the day, so going out at night when it’d be even harder to see IED’s was simply out of the question. Now I don’t think everyone battalion operated this way, but it makes sense and is good to know.
Do you have any more questions about Marine Corps tactics? Or IED’s or combat in Afghanistan? Drop a comment below or send an email to email@example.com and I’ll be glad to answer! Thanks for reading!