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Tactical Movement
Crossing Danger Areas
by Jon T. Harris

Jon Harris takes military movement tactics and translates them for application in the paintball scenario and big game.  In this installment, Jon lays out a plan for crossing a dangerous open space such as a creek, road, or power line easement.

The object of this drill is to have the team cross the danger area in the formation and location specified by the team leader.  On the far side of the danger area, team personnel and equipment are accounted for.  The team continues the mission.

This is done in a series of steps.  Below is directly out of the US Army FM 7-8   What I want to do here is  first  leave the Army doctrine in place and then after you finish reading this  Ill explain how it really works.

Army speak starts here: 
(1) When the lead team signals "danger area" (relayed throughout the platoon), the platoon halts.
(2) The platoon leader moves forward, confirms the danger area, and determines what technique the platoon will use to cross. The platoon sergeant also moves forward to the platoon leader.
(3) The platoon leader informs all squad leaders of the situation and the near-side and far-side rally points.
(4) The platoon sergeant directs positioning of the near-side security (usually conducted by the trail squad). These two security teams may follow him forward when the platoon halts and a danger area signal is passed back.
(5) The platoon leader reconnoiters the danger area and selects the crossing point that provides the best cover and concealment.
(6) Near-side security observes to the flanks and overmatches the crossing.
(7) When the near-side security is in place, the platoon leader directs the far-side security team to cross the danger area.
(8) The far-side security team clears the far side.
(9) The far-side security team leader establishes an OP forward of the cleared area.
(10) The far-side security team signals to the squad leader that the area is clear. The squad leader relays the message to the platoon leader.
(11) The platoon leader selects the method the platoon will use to cross the danger area.
(12) The platoon quickly and quietly crosses the danger area.
(13) Once across the danger area, the main body begins moving slowly on the required azimuth.
(14) The near-side security element, controlled by the platoon sergeant, crosses the danger area where the platoon crossed. They may attempt to cover any tracks left by the platoon.
(15) The platoon sergeant ensures everyone crosses and sends up the report.
(16) The platoon leader ensures accountability and resumes movement at normal speed.
NOTE: The same principles stated above are used when crossing a smaller unit across a danger area.
End of Army Speak!!
Ok, everybody got that?  Sure, and you all understand it completely. 

Well my team of real soldiers didn't.  This simple little drill was practiced maybe  50 times before it really worked the way it should and we were supposed to know what we were doing.  So, in the paintball field it works the same way. Throughout this site I'm sure you have noticed that I preach practice and practice as a team.  Do the little things and get them down, cold.  Then start putting those small tasks and drills together and build into a real formidable team.

So, enough jaw jacking, let's break this down. 
For our purposes we are going to use a medium sized team. Not quite as big as a normal infantry squad but close enough.  We have eight members. And, let's set some other parameters.  We are in a scenario game that has a decent size field.  This is not the 15 min, run in the middle and spray paint game.  This is the type we all love to play - games with an objective, a mission or task to complete -  game that lasts a while.   That means you really get to use tactics and skill.
Our field is a wooded area, there are trails and paths or maybe even a road ( like a power line easement) to cross.  These areas are fairly open and clear.  They make natural boundaries and natural places to really get smoked.

The crossing

So your team is moving through the woods and comes upon a path.  You have to get your team across this path.  It is about 20 feet wide, which is about the same as a two-lane road. There are woods on either side.  From your side of the road you can't really see into the other side woods more than a few feet. So, what do you want to do?  Normally in paintball the team will either run across, or maybe even try to cross all at once in a mad dash.  I want you would-be team leaders to ask yourself a question. 
Where is the danger on this danger area?   
    Is it:
    a. the road
    b. the far side
    c. the near side

Actually  it's all three,  but you knew that.  Also we need to back up a bit here and talk about how you get to this danger area.  How is your team organized?  There are three basic formations (organizations) for moving your team through the bush. 

An Army acronym called METT-T will determine  how this happens.

For your learning pleasure as per the US Army:


Mission. Commanders pass to their subordinates a clear concise statement of what is to be done and for what purpose. Whenever possible commanders assign subordinates an objective and a zone with few restrictive measures. A time is specified to coordinate actions of various subordinate units. 

Enemy. Commanders consider the enemy's dispositions, equipment, doctrine, capabilities and probable courses of action. They aggressively seek enemy weaknesses. Requires a constant active and predictive intelligence effort oriented on critical units and areas. 

Terrain and Weather. Commanders exploit terrain to provide maneuver opportunities and cover and concealment. Key terrain directly impacts the success or failure of an operation, providing a significant advantage to the force controlling it. Weather and visibility conditions can provide concealment from enemy forces and opportunities for friendly forces. 

Troops Available. The number and type of friendly troops available affect the tactical plan. Choosing which units for which types of actions is vital to success and is influenced by the status of the units' training and the experience of their leaders. Units are employed according to their capabilities and perform the functions of the battlefield operating systems. 

Time. Timing is critical to the synchronization of the battlefield operating systems. Rapid execution is key to conducting operations that keep the enemy off balance, acting inside his decision cycle. 

Reference: FM 100-5

Click for full size squad formation diagram

The Line

All members move in a line abreast of each other.  This is hard to control but gives the most firepower forward. The line can be used to assault through the other teams position.

The Wedge

This is a good moving formation with pretty good security all around. An eight person team will use two wedges

The File
This formation is easy to move through heavy brush or on trails, because it is basically walking in line.  It provides good firepower to flanks, but is weak to the front and rear.
Click this thumbnail to see the larger view of this formation
These formations are controlled by hand signals most of the time.  If your team has voice activated radios and they are quiet these work very well too.

The formation I try to use the most is a combination of wedge and file.  This is shown on the left side of the illustration above  "column with teams in wedges".   This allows a lot of flexibility.
Below are my terrible artist's renditions of what is happening.

Click for full size diagram

Position #1
The team approaches the danger area.  As mentioned before we will  use this road depicted in the diagrams below.
The forward element of the team ( A1)  signals to the  team leader (TL)   that a danger area is ahead.
The TL will normally move forward to observe the situation and decide of a plan of action.  
Several decisions are to be made: 
        1. Does the team cross the danger area?
        2.Can the team go around and not expose itself to observation?
        3. Is there time to detour or will this affect the overall plan (mission)?
        4. How will the team cross ( if the decision has been to cross)?

So our TL decides to dross the team.  Below is ONE way to do it.  The team leader after deciding to cross (decision takes  only a second or two)  signals  that rear security needs to report to him.

He signals with hand signs that security is to come to him.   The signal is passed back down the line by every team member.  It is important that each team member passes the signal. Not only does this get the message passed, but it also lets each member to know what is going on.  The guy in back may be 20-30 yards or more from the danger area and all they know is the formation has stopped.  Communicate, I can't stress this enough.

Click for full size diagram
Click this thumbnail to see the larger view of this formation
Rear security (B3 and B4)  move up through the team and report.  The TL points out the crossing area and sets  the security to work B3, B4 move to the departure point in the near side of the crossing. A2 and A3 give the B3,B4 team cover as they cross.

Click for full size diagram

Click this thumbnail to see the larger view of this formation
B3 and B4 cross the danger area and immediately recon the far side. This is done  quickly as now is the time is when they are most vulnerable.

B4 remains at the farthest point on the recon and acts as a guide for the rest of the team to move to. B3 returns to the crossing point and checks that the main body of the team is ready. B3 motions the team across. 

Click for full size diagram

Click this thumbnail to see the larger view of this formation
As the team crosses the path, B3 covers the path from his side as each team member come across. The team normally crosses in pairs. The A team members will move up and the rear B members will take their place. When the entire team has crossed the A team once again takes up the lead and the B team falls in the rear, resuming the formation and positions before the crossing.  As the team moves past the forward B4 member, he remains and moves out when his team passes, once again taking rear security.
Click this thumbnail to see the larger view of this formation
Now once again excuse the artwork but you should get the idea.  As the team crosses the path, B3 covers the path from his side as each team member come across.

It this is a open road with a long view up and down   it may be best to cross the team (once the far side security has been set by the B3 and B4 team members) all at once.  This will give someone looking down the road only one chance to see the team cross instead of  5 or 6 separate crossings.  Terrain will dictate whether or not this is practical.
With practice this drill is seamless,  It moves so fast that it looks  to the casual observer like nothing happened at all but it did.  This drill, like all others depends on a clear understanding of what to do and practice.

At the start of this drill I mentioned the TL signals for rear security to move up to him.  How is that done?
My squad used a couple of signals.  Pointing to the eyes and then putting three fingers on the upper arm told everyone that the security ( the eyes) needed to go to the TL (the sergeant with stripes on his arm.)
What Happens if something goes wrong?
Goes wrong?  That never happens, right?   In fact it darn near ALWAYS happens.  There are a couple of situations that are glaringly open to questions here.  Let's try to answer those.

Question #1
What if my security team runs into the opposing team on the other side of the danger area?

That's why you send a small security force.  First, your whole team isn't committed to something they don't want (like an ambush) and second, your remaining team may be able to support the security force, but the main thing is the security force is really on its own.  Itís members have to watch out for each other.  The far side security team knows the main team is behind it so they concentrate on front and sides.  Their safety and the rest of the team's depends on how well they do the job.

Question #2.
Ok, the security team is watching out but they run into a large force on the other side when they are doing the recon, what should they do?

They should, if unseen,  quietly move back to the main body and tell the TL what they found.  The TL will then need to adjust either plan of travel  or action to remove the opposing threat . On the other hand, if they are seen and the paint hits the air, they should break and run, yelling all the way, dumping paint back at the attackers.  The rest of the team should come online at the far side of the  danger area and lay down covering fire to help the now running  security force back to safety.  Once the security team is back across and joined up with the team, the whole team can  start  movement back to a safe rally point to adjust what is happening, reload and regroup.    Alternatively, they can attack the security teams pursuers  if it is a small patrol or just a couple players.  They may think the 2 security team members are all there is (since that would be normal in paintball play) and run headlong into an ambush set up by the rest of your team.

Question #3
What if my team gets caught in the middle of the crossing?  

Answer?  RUN.  This is the cardinal rule when taking fire.  Move out of the kill zone.  If the far side is secure then move there, if not then don't, but try not to let the team get spread too far apart.  If in fact you end up with a team that is half on one side and half on the other side of a danger zone, try to move against your attackers.  One half of your team will most likely be able to keep them occupied as the other half of your team can move to flank the attacking players.

Question #4
What if we are getting creamed?  

Break contact and move to the designated rally point, either the last or the next.   (Hmmm, anyone figure this a successful mission might take some preplanning?)

Question #5
What if we get all messed up and all our players are getting hit?

Go immediately back to the start point, Do not pass Go. Do Not collect two hundred dollars.  Get a drink and wait for the next game.  DO have an AAR. After Action Review.
Sounds like a topic for another article  ;-)
Have fun!!

About the author

Jon T. Harris has served in civilian SWAT and hostage negotiation teams in Texas from 1977 through 1988. In 88, Jon joined the US Army and served in rapid deployment and small independent units in Europe until he retired due to combat related injuries. Jon was rated as The NCO of the year while serving in Europe and is a permanent member of the prestigious US Army Europe Morales Club.

Jon is a published author.  He has written several articles on small unit training in the US Army magazine as well as several short stories. He is the author of the action adventure novel "Breakpoint" which is at the publisher now and is the tactical adviser and owner of, a site dedicated to scenario and military simulation paintball use. His interests are in Scenario Play and Mil/Rec games.

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