The concept of a “guardian angel” was taught to me by the Marine Corps very early in my career, and I had the opportunity to observe its use in many different contexts. While the idea of an overwatch position is not a uniquely Marine concept, I believe that the Corps’ take on the subject merits its own article. In this article I will lay out what a Guardian Angel is, when it should be used, and lay out some guidelines for practical application of this tactic.
Guardian Angel defined
The Marine Corps defines a Guardian Angel as a covert overwatch position, unseen by the enemy, as a force protection tool. Some characteristics of a Guardian Angel are listed below:
- The Guardian Angel is employed to protect an exposed element. The protected element can be combatant or noncombatant, offensive or defensive, static or mobile.
- He may be armed or unarmed.
- If unarmed, he must be in a position to provide early warning to the protected element.
- If armed, he must be positioned such that he can engage a hostile force without endangering the protected element (normally from an elevated position).
- He must be hidden from the enemy and adopt an ambush mentality.
- Multiple Guardian Angels may be used at once, preferably in separate locations for maximum coverage.
Why Covert Overwatch?
The most important aspect of a Guardian Angel is that he must be hidden. This is because an enemy determined to attack you will not be deterred by an overwatch position, he will only plan to evade or neutralize it. It is far preferable for your overwatch to surprise the enemy and foil their plans once they are already committed to their actions. Even better if they are equipped with a suppressor and can remain hidden even while firing. Seeing yet unseen, extending an invisible hand of protection over a vulnerable element. A true physical manifestation of a Guardian Angel.
When to use a Guardian Angel
Ideally, our entire force would be concealed from the enemy. Unfortunately, there are certain situations where this is not possible or even desirable. When we are forced to expose part or all of our force, a Guardian Angel can provide early warning and direct support in the form of precision rifle fire. The presence of one hidden rifleman firing well-aimed shots can turn the tide of a gunfight in a hurry if he is positioned correctly.
The following are some examples of situations where a Guardian Angel would be valuable for force protection:
- Defensive operations (homestead, base, critical infrastructure)
- Manning vehicle checkpoints
- Meetings with people outside your group
- On patrol when you must bound across an open danger area
- Any gathering of civilians when there is a threat of an outside attack
How to emplace a Guardian Angel
Location is key when employing a Guardian Angel. I will summarize the considerations using the military acronym OCOKA for terrain analysis.
- Observation; The Guardian Angel must be positioned so that he can observe both the protected element and potential avenues of approach for hostiles. He should also be positioned so that friendlies are not in his line of fire. Elevated positions are ideal for this.
- Cover and Concealment; The position must provide at a minimum sufficient concealment to hide the Guardian Angel from enemy observation. Ideally, it would also provide cover from incoming fire and hide the muzzle flash of the shooter.
- Alternatively, if your Guardian Angel is unarmed providing early warning only, concealment could simply mean blending in with the local populace grey man style.
- Obstacles affecting movement; If possible, the Guardian Angel position should have obstacles in place to prevent his being maneuvered upon if he is detected. That said, emplacing overt obstacles around him (such as barbed wire) risks compromising his location. Thus, it is best to use natural obstacles (such as ditches, fences, and bodies of water) that are already in place.
- Key terrain; The Guardian Angel should avoid key terrain that is too obviously dominant of the surrounding terrain because this is where the enemy will look for him. Examples include church steeples and roofs of buildings.
- Avenues of approach; The Guardian Angel should be mindful of all avenues of approach to his position. In case his position is compromised, at least one escape route should be planned. In buildings, he should be no higher than the second floor in order to avoid being trapped upstairs. Worst case scenario, you can drop down from a second story window without breaking anything if you know how to land.
It is also critical that the Guardian Angel have communications with the protected element. If the protected element is a civil gathering/meeting of non-combatants, he must have communications with a security force on the ground with the protected element.
As you can see, the Guardian Angel is a simple concept that can be incredibly effective when properly employed. One final note I want to leave here is to know the capabilities of the man that you will use as a Guardian Angel. If the furthest he is confident shooting is 200m, it would be foolish to place him 400m away from the protected element. If the Guardian Angel is a constantly manned post (such as in a defensive perimeter), bear in mind that you will be rotating men through the position, and that you must consider the skill levels of each one. Know your people and ensure that they are trained.
Stay dangerous, gentlemen.