How to survive the transition from urban warfare to hostile jungle operations.

Master the deadly art of SOF manhunting.

And learn why military never should try to win the last war while preparing for current or emerging threats.

An interview with
R.L. Lightfoot II: Vice President of TTOS

R.L. Lightfoot II is the Vice President of TTOS.

He is a former Army Ranger with 2/75, as well as a former Intel NCO.

He spent almost 20 years that followed his Army enlistment as an LEO on the northern US Border.

He was one of the team members responsible for the interdiction and arrest of the Al Qaeda linked terrorist, Ahmed Ressam – the “Millenium Bomber”.

He created Operation Green SEAL, which was later adopted by the U.S. Government and later made classified.

In 2005, he was selected as an instructor for TTOS.

In 2012, he was appointed to the position of Director of Operations and later, VP (2016).

Peter Kerr is President and CEO of TTOS.

Tactical Tracking, or: Getting people to master their cognitive function

CQC: Dear Lightfoot, what would you say are the most difficult and the most dangerous aspects a soldier has to face during a transition from his urban warfare background to missions within armed conflicts in very hostile rural areas, like those we have in Africa, now?

R.L. Lightfoot: This is actually a conversation that we, Pete and I, have quite frequently.

A big part of what we do is getting people to master their cognitive functions, based on input from sensory faculties. How to perceive – how to react.

Your eyes, your ears, all your senses, taking-in just raw information.

That raw information has to bounce off in your brain somewhere.

That’s, where you hope to quickly make sense out of it, without cognitive bias or filtering.

What happens is that people get these implanted biases about what they think they are supposed to see, rather than what they actually are seeing.  

They perceive the past, in a manner of speaking, and not the present.

And they broadcast that bias on their observations and cognition.  

That is cognitive bias.

And that is a big part of tracking and a big part of survivability in a battle space.

Nobody talks about it, and I don’t know why.

But certainly we do because we teach this mastery of observation void of cognitive bias; and use tracking operations as the vehicle to achieve it.

Because what we have done with our programs is:

We stripped it all the way down to very core competencies that logically link together and build a path on one and another in a progression while learning a new skill, which is tracking.  

That’s why I say tracking, as a new skill and hopefully a new operational competency, is the vehicle to attain this.  

It’s more than just merely following tracks.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

What we are trying to do is, get them to master their cognitive ability.

To completely immerse themselves in a foreign environment and quickly master it through a structured observation process.    

Structured observation is key!

The process defines the end product, which is action/reaction and mission accomplishment through use of the environment and the tactical information it holds within.

We have a framework in order to do that – the referenced structure.

And then to build skills in a short period of time that rivals or surpasses indigenous capabilities.

And that may sound a lot like “Wow, thats crazy!” – it’s really not!

We are all made off the same pieces and parts.

Every single one of us on this world can trace our lineage back to a time where we carried spears and we tracked animals, and for that matter, people.  

It was not just following tracks either.  

It was hunting.  

Tracking was used as a tool to advance the hunt.

Some people say that tracking is the origin of all science, because it is an observation process.

Science covers many subjects, yet the framework of the scientific process drives discovery and learning, as does our process.

It does so, hopefully, void of bias or the introduction of any variable.

You make observations and make a determination about what you are seeing, based on either direct observation, objective facts or a prediction (hypothesis) which would be your deductive or inductive reasoning capability.

When we frame our courses like that, what you get at the end is a group of more alerte, more attuned, more educated soldiers that have mastered the skills of observation and cognition.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

TTOS: We teach manhunting!

CQC: So, should every soldier become an expert in tracking?

R.L. Lightfoot: Most troops that we train have similar statements following the course.  

Most of them are to the effect that it is a course that everyone should have right out of basic training, or Ranger School, or the Q Course.  

It meant that much to them. Had that much of an impact.

It still blows me away, given the consistent feedback over two plus decades, that the military does not institutionalize the course.

A learning organization is supposed to learn.

If the new experiences and learning of thousands of troops and lives saved has not made an impression upon TRADOC, I don’t know what will.  

It’s a lost cause, seemingly.

We receive emails from troops all the time about how what we taught them literally saved their lives.  

From combat engineers, all the way up to former CAG.

You know, there are guys out there, who say they are expert trackers.

There is no “expert” tracker, that is ridiculous.

That’s like you are saying that you are an expert in seeing or an expert in thinking and walking at the same time.

We all have those abilities.

If you mowed a lawn with a push lawn mower you have done tracking.

And if you have, you‘ve already seen how the angle of the sunlight affects how you are able to see where you mowed, or where the wheels went and so forth

I use this analogy, it is kind of that easy, but it becomes progessively more difficult as things move forward; and moreso depending on the environment.

So, in the end, going back to biases, people have an idea what tracking is… and usually they are way wrong!

We, Pete and I, actually we don’t like teaching tracking.  

That may sound crazy.

It’s boring and many have tried to make something out of it that it’s not.  

It’s kind of like those fake martial arts masters on YouTube.

There is an area where people get so “lost in the weed” with the minutae of following steps – that they forget that they are actually hunting!

We teach manhunting.

We teach targeting. We teach personal recovery.

We teach special reconnaissance. 

All this stuff evolves around hunting people and exploiting places and events.

Especially for recon teams, same thing.

Reconnaissance relies heavily on mapping an operational environment and learning it’s missions variables within, prior to operations.

Where do they get that information?

Indigenous forces?

How do they know? Are they even being honest?

And that is part of our framework for operating in foreign environments, tracking is used as scouting was in the past.  

A structured way to exploit sites, previous events and places for its intelligence value.

You objectively learn the operational environment over time, as well as the mission variables present within it.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

A deadly transition: Urban warefare to jungle combat

CQC: Most European forces have been trained for URBAN warfare or for conflicts in the light rural areas of Central Europe or Eastern Europe.

But Europe is facing new security threats in Northern Africa with links up to Central Africa.

Even Germany has a deployment in Mali, now – which is something radical new for Europe!

Is there any important lesson you would to tell our European soldiers who may have to leave from Europe into a rural conflict like those we have in Africa, now?

R.L. Lightfoot: You framed it with an European premise, with German and European troops heavily trained for a decade or more just for direct action and urban warfare.

There is a place for that (direct action/urban warfare).

A lot of what we teach has an impact on that type of environment as well, because it is also an environment that you can read.

A lot of what we do is about taking-in information, processing it and then making a desicion of what it means, quickly and in context.

Not just what it means though, but what to do with that information and when and why.

So, it is not just a “How” to do something, but also a kind of “when and why” that goes along with it.

An that’s why from a subject matter expert point of view – that is why we need to get students and attendees to come to our courses.

Not just to learn the subject, but our instructional methodolgy in the hopes of positively impacting institutionalized military instructors and SME’s.

But that is not something that only pertains to European troops.

Because here in the US – even for example the regiment that I was in, 2nd Ranger Battaillon, JBLM, that was Fort Lewis back then, that place – you dont even recognized it now, it’s huge (vehicles, dog kennels, etc).

And the mission has changed so much, because what they do is support TIER1 assets a lot, to near exclusion.

They are rolling in a pack.

They take killing and capturing the enemy to an industrial level.

They are wholly immersed in their current mission.

And they are a extremely lethal fighting force combined.

It is a beautiful thing.

But they have been working a lot in a one-dimensional environment.

Not a lot of jungle work, not a lot of alpine, stuff like that.

I should say, however, that a 2nd Batallion Ranger completed the Kaibil School in Guatemala in 2012.

For the first time in more than 25 years, an American Soldier has graduated from the Guatemalan special operations Kaibil School, in Poptún, Guatemala.

Staff Sgt. Joel R. Rodriguez, Jr., a Ranger Reconnaissance Team Leader assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., graduated December 2012.

“I volunteered to attend this school because I wanted the challenge,” said Rodriguez.

“I wanted to test myself and it’s something I wanted to accomplish during my military career.”

The Kaibil School is considered one of the most prestigious, vigorous, arduous military courses in Central America.

Their motto: “If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.”  – 75th Ranger Regiment

Did they teach Combat Tracking in that School?

No, they do not.

As Pete would say: “Tracking is a means to gather actionable, real time intelligence.

It’s a way to bring yourself into contact with the enemy.

Without it, you are walking around blind, looking for a fight and hoping it finds you.  

Without a means to bring the unit into contact with the enemy, that weapon system you are carrying is useless, it may as well be a stick”.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

So, you get down – and I said this to a SEAL master chief a couple of month back in the jungle.

They said: “Well, this is a kind of what we wanna get out of the training.”  

They had their own idea based on a preconceived notion.

And what they were saying don’t really flow with our program and it came from the biases they brought with them into the course.

No fault of their own, as some will classify themselves as “Desert Frogs”.

The bottom line is, and what I told them:

“Look, our program is built to support, what you guys do. 

We teach it to our special forces and other SOF teams, including SEALs.  

It’s a program that is built the way it is for a purpose and will work for you well.”

But the thing that I said to him that really made him take a step back is:

‘You guys don’t know what you don’t know.’

“And you need to rely on us a little, trust us, to help you to learn what it is that you don’t know. 

It goes well beyond ‘Plan your Dive and Dive your Plan’.

He kind of took an offense in that, and I apologize – no offense was intended.

It’s just a phrase we use a lot.

It has to do with a metacognitive state of mind – learning to learn, and being open to learning first.  

Disposing of your preconceptions.  

Adapting to the new and responding accordingly.

But that is the key problem!

Army‘s right now, all over the world, are really good at preparing for the last war (or even the one before that, in some cases).

That’s not the business that we are in.

We don’t prepare for the last war.

That’s pointless.

If people want to pay a company money to get ineffective training to suit the last war we fought – fine, they can find other people, who do that.

That’s not what we do.

Sure, there are other companies that teach tracking, but not in context the way we do.  

Not as targeted as we do.  

Not with the bigger picture added value that we bring.

Most teach tracking in a vacuum, don’t run extended field operations and culminating exercises.  

We are the only ones that do that.

It’s probably because in our late 40’s we’re the only ones in good enough shape to do it, compared to the others.

Our experience matters a lot too.  

If you don’t have the depth and personal ability, you can’t do it the way we do.

Teaching tracking in a vacuum is the same as shooting paper targets on a flat range for troops that will be tasked with dynamic entries in CQC.  

It doesn’t work that way.  

Nothing does.

Lessons written in sweat and blood

CQC: What do you do?

R.L. Lightfoot: We train for a contemporary setting in context and for the emerging threats.

The most difficult and most dangerous aspect in the urban and direct action transition – to like jungle-work or even working in North Africa like the current German deployment in Mali – is that:

“They don’t know what they don’t know!”

And you cannot rely on indigenous assets all the time.

Because a lot of times even those guys dont know that they dont know.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

We trained our special forces for four years to go into Central Africa and to a certain degree East Africa to hunt people.

And the model that we used was somewhat revolutionary.

Because we actually tapped an old knowledge base, going all the way back, to say Malaya in the 50s up to Vietnam and to our more current conflicts.

And honestly one of the ‘bibles’ that we used is called „Learning to eat soup with a knife“.

That, combined with the Recondo Manual, the B-52 Tips and assorted MAC-V writing, rounds out our knowledge base, when combined with our APEX program.

‘Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife’ is the “counterinsurgency bible” in my opinion.

It is also written by COL Nagl, who also wrote the current Army COIN Operations Manual; so therefore, consistent and understood

Very well written.

Because it has it has so much of a database over time within it.

The knowledge base that was used to build the current COIN manual.

So, we reach back and we make sure that we don’t lose those hard lessons learned because someone sweat and bled to learn those lessons.

Many of those lessons not captured in the COIN manual, are also applicable to many other missions or strategies, such as counter-guerrilla operations in a non-permissive environment.

And one, we should honor those lessons.

And two, we shouldn’t have to sweat and bleed in order to learn those lessons again when it is right there before us.

So a big part of what we do is manage a knowledge base that supports contemporary operations.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

Our longest war in a one-dimensional environment

CQC: You use this principle of having a knowledge base to make a military transition to more rural conflicts easier?

And to prepare troops or even special operation units to operate better in these new and most likely very hostile rural environments?

R.L. Lightfoot: Within the transition a huge influence is that you are looking at something that is completely different .

And you are using biases that you implanted into yourself for urban warfare and direct action and trying to suit those to a current environment.

Humans are always trying to reach back to a previous experience to make sense of the present.

It is somewhat like “letting the truth getting in the way of the facts“, I guess that is one way to say it.  

Or, thinking about it and agreeing with yourself.  

Looking for information that supports your preconceptions.  

Twisting the truth to suit your bias.

“Confirmation bias” is something we talk about constantly in our operations.

You can’t take a look at something, a situation or a pattern of observations, and than try to make a determination based on what you think that you should be seeing form past experiences in an urban environment of direct action.

Like for example our guys – where you, lets say carrying around 270 rounds or 360 rounds or whatever how many rounds they are carring, with a 556 and plate carriers, pack and gear that is suited for urban warfare and direct action or one-dimensional – like desert – warfare.

That stuff does not apply in a lot of areas that we are working, now.

You’re down to 100 rounds with a SCAR-H and carrying more than 40 lbs (16 kilos) of water that needs to last for days on end.  

However, we teach bushcraft, so there are ways to make animal contaminated water that looks like coffee into consumable, relatively safe to drink water.

Water becomes more important than ammo and the round must be suited for the environment.

Especially concerning dangerous animal encounters – now, that is a mission variable for you.

So, the transition is difficult from an equipment standpoint, from a training standpoint, from a bias standpoint, from all these different things.

But again, it goes down to “You don’t know, what you don’t know!”  

This is why SME’s anchor down schools in that fluid instructor flow.

And we have gone so long now in a one-dimensional environment that the people that are now trainers within our militaries are brought up within this one-dimensional environment.

And even the trainers don’t have the knowledge base to facilitate effective learning in that transition to a jungle or hostile environment.

Not all fit into that category, as I assume some do not; but a staff or cadre has a fluid membership.

The knowledge comes and goes.

It’s kind of like what happened to Combat Hunter, a program we built with the USMC.

It went from our SME’s anchoring the program, to ______ from fill in the blank, corporate defense contractor with absolutely no knowledge base to draw from.

Martial arts concepts are great: A simple concept says that the farther from the core of your body, the weaker the technique.  

With what we do, the farther from the SME and core of the program, the more corrupted and weak it becomes.  

It begins to drift.  

Students, of students, of students are now instructors.  

Lot’s of filtering taking place.

There is a lot more that goes with this.

I think this is an important message that everybody needs to hear.

And I am not hearing it coming form anybody else but us.

I guess, that is why were have been tapped year after year after year to deliver cutting-edged courses to SOF units and a lot within special forces.  

The respect the core and the SME’s.

Because we deconstruct everything down to basic principles and then build upon those.  

And that’s because we are the builders that know the structure and subject intimately. 

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

The art of mastering a new environment quickly

CQC: If there is a common problem of biases that getting into the way of troops or special operations to become more effective in a new and and more hostile environment – how do you know, that your biases don’t get into the way, also?

When others may want to win the last war, you may want to win your last operational experience (again)?

How do you know, that the art of tracking can make such a big difference here?

R.L. Lightfoot: We want to know: “How do we know, what we know?”

“How do we know that this is a fact?”

And I went back in our legacy program, that I learned back then in the early 2000s and in operational conditions.

Some of this didn’t make sense because a link in the chain of information was a student of a student.  

We had to go back to the founder, the builder.

And so we learned: “Wait a minute… the person who wrote this, how did he know that this was a fact, that this was true?”

And we went back and we actually discovered it “Hey, look, that’s not right, that’s not right.

These tactics are no good, these tactics are ok and these tactics are gold-standard.”

And so, Pete and I completely rewrote our program into our new APEX program that reflects all these lessons learned and we got down to the “How do we know the How and the Why?”

Anybody can learn to track – not all become hunters of man.

Following tracks is easy.

Following a set of tracks – everybody can do this.

What we don’t do is teach people follow tracks step by step.

We teach people how to become completely immersed with the new environment to master it quickly.

We train for expeditionary warfare and special operations, which is a variation of where a lot of our info came from – bushwars.  

There’s a BIG difference.

And then the transition from this mastery into a reconnaissence- and scouting mode.

Then later, as they learned to learn, while mapping the operational environment, they also discover and learn its missions variables.  

They have been fully immersed, making an expeditionary environment a back yard.

Then we go on into following, ass-kicking and hunting people. The stage has been set.

And the way we did it in Africa, the way it built upon itself over and over again, even the local forces were asking our guys: „How do you guys do this?“

They were like: „How do you know what you know?!“, because even they don’t know it.

So, it is quite amazing.

And we are really proud of it and the outcomes.  

They serve us all well.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

Because Pete, for example, spent a lot of time in the Pacific jungles.

I spent a good amount of time in South American jungles and dense forests of the Pacific NW Coast.

One of our others instructors spent a lot of time in an Alpine and sub-alpine environment and was a team sergeant on a mountain team.

Another retired from the SEAL teams.  

Another was a Force Recon Marine and still active in the reserves (4th Recce).  

We have another that was Regimental Recon Detachment (75th), French Foreign Legion and then career Special Forces (yes, he went AWOL a couple times to fight).

So, we have a really good and broad base of knowledge that we can to bring to bear for any pre-mission training in context of what troops are gonna do.

Which is most important.

Its got to be in context of what they are going to do.

Not what they have done. Not the last war.

Not in a vacuum either.

That doesn’t work.

Thats how you lose.

And you lose big.

By trying to apply your biases of your last war on to the emerging threats or the contemporary threat.

That’s where you get hurt.

And this is where you have to re-learn those lessons the hard way, and people are gonna sweat and bleed in order to do it. Which is sad.

Because those lessons learned already exist.

We are proud to manage this knowledge-base, to honor it.

© Tactical Tracking Operations School

Working within an unconventional warfare environment

CQC: Honestly, while working with you someone can clearly feel your enthusiasm for what you do.

R.L. Lightfoot: Pete and I have a lot to say about our program.

We have very distinctively different thoughts on how things should be done.

And it is somehow unconventional, but then again – who do we spend the most amount of time with?

People who have to work within an unconventional warfare environment or irregular warfare, or counter-guerrilla operations.

And counter-guerrilla is one of the things that we really excel, because we both have learned a lot in that regard in our jungle travels.

CQC: Could you tell us about a specific project, one that is not classified but reflects the core principles of your work: knowledge base, military transition, training of troops and SOF?

R.L. Lightfoot: Yes, there is one project, that was public, so everybody knows, that it was us:

That would be the African PMT projects:

Article: Hunting the Hunter

Also, we had a role in setting up the new jungle warfare school in Hawaii.

And we have a really good relationship with them.

Great location, great place for training, and they use our tracking program and we’ve done SME exchanges with them.

We passed along what we do, based on where we’ve been and what we’ve done.  

They responded in kind.

Hawaii sounds nice, but really?

Very difficult, no bullshit jungle.

It will eat you up, when you are not careful.

It is also a safe environment, because there is no poisonous snakes or spiders.

There are poisonous plants and berries and stuff like that though.

And there are pigs and mongoose to be harvested if you need to, for more in-depth bushcraft.

More about TTOS

Read more about Tactical Tracking Operations School (TTOS) in our extensive introduction article: 

How to create SOF manhunter


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US General: Decades-Long Struggle in Africa

 

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