Ambush and Counter-Ambush: A Tale from the Scout Course

Over this past weekend I had the pleasure of assisting as an “OPFOR” during the latest Scout Course.  When I wasn’t getting shot by students, I was observing the students as they practiced camouflaging, stalking, and ambushing each other.  One force-on-force exercise was especially noteworthy, and I would like to share my observations with you all.

This took place during the ambush and counter-ambush portion of the class.  One squad of students (henceforth referred to as 1st Squad) was tasked with ambushing another (2nd Squad), and set off to prepare their positions.  After several minutes had passed, 2nd Squad crossed the line of departure, and cautiously proceeded forward.

1st Squad’s perspective

The Squad leader assessed the terrain, and determined that conditions were favorable to a V-shaped ambush.  They had good intel on where 2nd Squad would come from and it followed a natural line of drift, which would funnel them right into a gap between a ridge and a small rise in the ground.    The squad leader then emplaced his fire teams as shown below (maps not to scale).

The squad leader told his team leaders to look over at him periodically for hand/arm signals.  The word was passed not to engage until 2nd Squad was almost through the kill zone.

A few minutes later, the point element of 2nd Squad came into view as they rounded a curve into the kill zone.  The point, two riflemen walking abreast, suddenly stopped and crouched down.  An instant later, another man came into view behind them holding a giant pair of binoculars.  After a few hushed words with the point, he peered through his binoculars intently towards their immediate front, and then he and one of the riflemen pulled back around the bend and out of sight.  A minute later, the last man from the point element followed suit and vanished.

At this point, 1st Squad Leader knew that the ambush had been compromised.  Judging from the terrain, he guessed that 2nd Squad would climb the hill on his left and attempt to flank the ambush.  He tried to wave to Alpha Team Leader, but he was staring intently forward.  Alpha Team on the left hadn’t seen the hostile point element, but they had heard them moving and expected the enemy to appear any moment.  It was unclear why First Squad Leader chose to remain in place, but it was likely that he didn’t want to make noise by moving or talking to get Alpha Team’s attention.

A few minutes later, shots rang out on the left side of Alpha Team.  At this point 1st Squad Leader broke his silence and yelled “They’re coming behind us!”  However, Alpha Team Leader already realized what had happened and had hastily re-oriented his team to face the new threat.  Simultaneously, multiple riflemen burst forth into the ambush’s kill zone, bounding from tree to tree and firing at Bravo Team.  This triggered Bravo and Charlie to both open fire on the four shooters now in plain view in front of them.

It was over in a minute 2d Squad was congratulated on thwarting the ambush and not getting eliminated.

2d Squad’s perspective

When 2nd Squad’s point element discovered the ambush, they had only seen 1st Squad’s Bravo team, which was insufficiently camouflaged.  When the point element pulled back, the entire squad huddled together to discuss what this meant for them.  Given the terrain, they assumed that the ambushers were in an L-shaped ambush on the left hand side of the map.

2nd Squad Leader asked for suggestions, and a lot of ideas were thrown around.  In the end, the squad leader decided that their Bravo and Charlie teams would climb the hill and get behind the suspected enemy positions.  Alpha team would wait until they heard gunfire, and then fire and move into the kill zone towards what they believed was the short leg of the ambush.

Bravo and Charlie Teams crept forward, and to their surprise did not find enemy where they expected them.  Nevertheless, they kept pushing forwards until they saw a few of the enemy ambushers further down the draw.  Fortunately, the ambushers were facing away from the flanking force, which then opened fire.

This triggered Alpha Team to spring into action, bounding between trees and shooting towards the enemy they had spotted earlier.  What they didn’t expect was the ambushers on the ridge, whom they had completely missed during their reconnaissance.  Even while the ridge was firing at them, Alpha Team didn’t notice 1st Squad’s Charlie Team for a good 40 seconds.

Lessons Learned

-1st Squad was detected because some rifles weren’t painted and their positions weren’t effectively camouflaged.  Fieldcraft is more important than you think, it can literally save your life.

-2nd Squad’s use of a 2-man point element made them twice as likely to detect the ambush, which they did.

-Once the ambush was compromised, 1st Squad Leader should have repositioned his men.  The time for stealth was over, the enemy already knew he was there.  While 2nd Squad deliberated over what to do, he could have easily moved both Alpha and Bravo teams to a better position to ambush the enemy flanking team, since he knew it was coming.  Instead, he chose to remain quiet and thus handed the initiative to the enemy.

-2nd Squad made an interesting choice in sending Alpha team into a known kill zone as a “distraction.”  Even with the ambushers suddenly distracted by the flanking maneuver, they maintained the advantage of prepared positions.  Combined with the fact that they missed the fire team on the ridge, this course of action would have seen Alpha Team wiped out.

-2nd Squad Leader made good use of his peoples’ input when making his decision.  He allowed his subordinates to make suggestions, but he ultimately made the decision.  This leadership style, called participating, was appropriately and effectively used here.  I teach more about this in the Team Leader Class.

-2nd Squad’s Alpha Team Leader made it obvious that he was the team leader.  He walked back and forth behind his point element with his weapon slung, constantly scanning with his binoculars.  This clearly identified him as an important target to the ambushers.

-1st Squad’s ambush, despite the fact that it was discovered, was properly set up as a V-shaped ambush.  The legs of the ambush were given limits on their aiming so as to avoid fratricide.  Considering that this was a group that had just met each other the day prior, it was impressive to see them coordinate a complex ambush like this.

These are just a few of the take-aways from this exercise.  This shows just how potent force-on-force training is, and how even just one exercise like this can generate a lot of learning.  This is why I am running the Force-on-Force Lab on March 26-27, a 2-day class which is completely devoted to force-on-force learning.  If you learned something from this story, imagine how much you could learn in two days of these exercises!

My email is  Get out here and train!

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at

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