FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. – On a recent zero-illumination night here, six Soldiers were tracking a vehicle being used by an improvised explosive device emplacement team. The Soldiers were tracking the enemy based on the tire tread pattern. Armed with night vision devices, infrared illuminators and training they had received over the past few days, their mission was to locate any emplaced IEDs, secure the area, and report the location to their Command Post so Explosive Ordnance Detachment could be dispatched.
Recently Soldiers at Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center participated in a two-week Tactical Tracking Course, learning advanced skills that enable pursuit of the enemy, intelligence gathering, and counterinsurgency operations through battlefield tracking. The Soldiers taking part were assigned to the RWBAHC, 111th Military Intelligence Brigade and 18th Military Police Detachment, with support provided with a Black Hawk crew from Company C, 2nd Battalion, 285th Aviation Regiment.
“The training incorporated basic tracking skills and intelligence gathering techniques such as identifying and forming conclusions from ‘aerial and ground spoor’, which are identifying marks like footprints, decaying food, and broken vegetation,” according to RWBAHC Deputy Commander for Administration Lt. Col. Brent Hayward.
Hayward said the training came in the form of classroom instruction in the morning followed by practical exercises in the afternoon. During PEs Soldiers worked as teams to track their assigned quarry after identifying that person based upon boot prints.
During the course the Soldiers had to contend not only with the training portion, but almost every type of weather as it was hot, rained and snowed, providing the trackers how spore is aged by elements and how to effectively track in those conditions.
Additionally, Soldiers tracked their quarry through the urban and environment and during black out conditions with night vision devices. Tracking teams were universally assessed on their ability to maintain stealth and blend into their environment.
“I’m a believer that every squad in the Army needs a Soldier who has received at least 100 hours of instruction on combat tracking,” said Hayward.
“Why should Medics learn tactical tracking? During [large-scale combat operations] it is not unheard of for wounded Soldiers to attempt to escape the carnage of battle for shelter. Hunters will tell of wounded prey moving large distances or seeking shelter in obscure places, and occasionally disappearing entirely. Human beings on the battlefield are no different. Untrained eyes will be ill suited to ‘follow-up’ and find wounded persons in time to provide lifesaving aid,” Hayward said.
“In either a LSCO or in a counter-insurgency operation a trained tracker is a force multiplier. Trackers can maximize immediate survivability for their squad on the battlefield. Like a good sniper team, a tracker will detect deviations from the natural environment. This sensitivity makes them particularly apt at detecting camouflaged positions, IED emplacements, mines, and tripwires. The value added from having these trained eyes at the squad level should be obvious,” Hayward said.
Staff Sgt. Adam Scott, Noncommissioned Office in Charge of the RWBAHC Radiology section said the training taught him new skills and expanded his proficiency with his existing skills.
“During my time in the Army, this is the most beneficial training I have ever received. The attention to such minute details has been engrained in us as humans for thousands of years for hunting/survival purposes. Reactivating these skills increases the warfighters effectiveness with lethality and survival ability,” Scott said.
“Not only did this training focus on identification, but also the age of tracks, waste, and items left in the environment. This knowledge is priceless in pursuit of enemy personnel, search and rescue operations, and gaining intel. Additionally, surveillance was also a large portion of this training, to remain undetected and gain intel on enemy elements. This encompassed terrain navigation, camouflage, and counter-tracking practices to prevent identification. These skills greatly improve multiple aspects of the warfighter in almost every situation,” said Scott.
“The instructors were true experts in their field with many years of real-world experience tracking for military units, and law enforcement. I believe every Soldier should experience this training,” Scott added.
“I was surprised to see over the course of two weeks how I could notice more and more inconsistencies in the environment in order to track someone, and how I could move kilometers of distance and follow a trail,” said Maj. Anthony Threet, Chief, RWBAHC Clinical Support Division.
“I feel it is a worthwhile skill to have … it can save lives on the battlefield by seeing indicators more effectively of IEDs, booby traps, etc. This skill set can also be put to use in search and rescue operations, to locate personnel, even after time has passed,” Threet added.
The training culminated in a realistic battlefield scenario with the teams tracking high value targets through the Fort Huachuca training area and included use of a Black Hawk helicopter for HVT medical evacuation and tracking team extraction.
“Tracking teams were tasked with acquiring the tracks of three enemy HVTs (all wearing enemy issued uniforms) who had been wounded while escaping an attempted snatch and grab. Tracker teams located the HVTs, applied enemy prisoner of war processes, and then initiated lifesaving medical care. They were then tasked with establishing a helicopter LZ followed by a live helicopter evacuation/extraction. All three teams of Trackers completed the exercise to perfection,” Hayward said. “These Soldiers can cause the enemy some pretty serious headaches if leveraged properly.”
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Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM)/9th Army Signal Command and more than 48 supported tenants representing a diverse, multiservice population. Our unique environment encompasses 964 square miles of restricted airspace and 2,500 square miles of protected electronic ranges, key components to the national defense mission.
Located in Cochise County, in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles north of the border with Mexico, Fort Huachuca is an Army installation with a rich frontier history. Established in 1877, the Fort was declared a national landmark in 1976.
We are the Army's Home. Learn more at https://home.army.mil/huachuca/.