Earlier this year, a video of 10th Mountain Division soldiers conducting live-fire room-clearing training—the famous “Battle Drill 6”—went viral. In the video, the soldiers repeatedly “flagged” each other, pointing loaded weapons at fellow soldiers during the drill. Experts also condemned the poor techniques shown during the exercise. The resulting furor led the division’s command sergeant major to comment publicly, promising to “fix this.”
There is a deeper question here. Why are conventional infantry soldiers doing room clearing at all?
This question may shock many. After all, every infantry soldier in the force today, from private to sergeant major, has been brought up in a culture of room clearing. All infantry units train on it. But this wasn’t always the case. Through the early 1980s, infantry soldiers did not “stack up” and rush into rooms full of enemy soldiers, guns blazing. So what happened?
The story begins with the failed raid to rescue Israeli Olympic team members held hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972 and the creation of a new, elite Army unit—1st Special Operational Detachment–Delta (1st SFOD-D)—a few years later. Initially intended partly as a hostage rescue force, the unit needed to be able to storm airliners and hotel rooms to free hostages. This task required precise accuracy and an absolute minimum of collateral damage—after all, discriminating between the hostage and the enemy was the whole point. Hostage rescue required an incredibly high level of training, and it was accepted that the soldiers selected for the elite unit would face great risks to save hostages.
Over time, Army Ranger units occasionally worked with 1st SFOD-D, often as “outer cordon” forces as seen in the movie Black Hawk Down. Room clearing was seen as sexy and cool, and it spread to the Rangers and then to Army Special Forces. These units had higher priority and more training resources than conventional units, but not as high as 1st SFOD-D. Nevertheless, their adoption of room clearing suggests that they felt confident that they could meet the high demands of the drill. Along the way, the link between hostage rescue and room clearing faded, because those units as a rule didn’t do that. Room clearing became a battlefield task. By the late ‘80s, as leaders from the Rangers rotated back into conventional light infantry units, they brought a mania for room clearing with them. Battle Drill 6—“Enter and Clear a Room”—now became enshrined in doctrine. Not to be outdone, even the Marine Corps bought in.
After 9/11, it was all the rage. Iconic footage of four-man stacks kicking in doors became commonplace. One famous image from Iraq saw a blood-soaked Marine first sergeant, pistol in hand, being carried out of a building in Iraq. Commanders were shot running into buildings. And lots of privates.
There’s no question that urban combat is dangerous and demanding. But that’s not a reason to be tactically inept. The US Army learned lessons from extensive experience with urban combat in World War II, about the importance of fires, high explosives, and soldier protection. Tanks would often accompany infantry to deliver devastating fires before soldiers entered buildings (as seen in the Brad Pitt movie Fury). Infantry squads and platoons would blow “mouseholes” through walls rather than run through doorways, and used hand grenades before entering rooms and buildings. The Russian army resorted to the same tactics after suffering cruel losses in its initial foray into Grozny in Chechnya. In the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004, US forces lost ninety-five killed and 560 wounded in a matter of days, many while entering buildings. Yet these experiences did little to dampen the enthusiasm for Battle Drill 6. Today, memories of Iraq and Afghanistan are fading. But our love for room clearing continues unabated.
The simple truth is that conventional units will never achieve the level of proficiency required to effectively enter and clear a room or building with a modicum of safety using the four-man stack. They just aren’t given the resources—the bullets, the time—to be that good. As the saying goes, they are the chainsaw, not the scalpel. In the shoot house, no one is firing through walls (unlike in the movies, bullets go through walls—just check out the footage of Waco). No one is boobytrapping stairwells. And no one is shooting back with live rounds. In the real world, the first man through the door into a room occupied by the enemy usually gets shot in the face.
There is of course an argument that we can’t just level every building or compound that may be occupied by the enemy. But there are alternatives. Surrounding a building and executing a tactical callout is one. Exercising tactical patience and catching the enemy in movement or outside the building is another. Persistent observation and engagement by drones or attack helicopters is yet another. When all else fails, the discriminate use of high explosives in a room or building is always preferable to launching a young soldier through a doorway and into fire. It is certainly true that unintended civilian casualties may ensue, and everything possible should be done to avoid them. But that risk is the unfortunate price of any decision to fight in cities where the civilian population is present. Commanders face horrible choices in these scenarios. But maximizing soldier risk instead of minimizing it is always the wrong choice. Let’s leave stacking up to the high-end special operations units, and get back to the chainsaw.
Richard D. Hooker served five combat tours, culminating with command of a parachute brigade in Iraq. He is a 1981 graduate of the US Military Academy.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Capt. Ellen C. Brabo, US Army
Bold, concise, and historically accurate. Consider also that not only are line infantry units training on battle drill 6, but other formations are as well, to include tank crewmen, artillerymen, combat engineers, and probably others. These formations do not even have the equipment on their MTOE to execute doctrinally correct room clearing, yet we persist.
Even if needed in a counterinsurgency environment, clearing buildings in this way in a high intensity conflict (a dated term, I know, but still useful) environment is generally inappropriate. A 120mm HEAT round, artillery piece in direct fire mode, GMLR, or other similar methods are more appropriate. It is also often appropriate not to clear the building at all, and simply render the building irrelevant by means of maneuver.
The article is convincing that troops are overused as a room-clearing tool, but not that team room-clearing is an unhelpful skill to know and practice. Training should get much better at simulating the use of explosives or supporting fires rather than defaulting to the easily-trained, nondestructive team entry, but there will still be plenty of situations the drill will be helpful.
You're perfectly correct, sir. Even flight crews. I'm not kidding!
May God help us all.
Of all the stuff I've read in my career, this is the one I've kept.
Page 4, Infantry Letters. "Thinking About Future Combat" Written by Arthur Durante from the Infantry School.
If you look at the 10th Mountain Division video, the soldiers didn't lower their carbines as their comrades entered the next room; they just kept them up and aimed, meaning they were indeed pointing at the backs of their comrades.
Can the problem be fixed? Absolutely. Does it need SOFs to do room clearing? Absolutely not! Cops keep their guns up because cops often arrive solo (bodycamera footage with no backup cop in sight), but when cops arrive for a Mass Shooting, they communicate and know how to raise and lower their guns in coordination with other cops from other agencies even because the cops are TRAINED in CQB and room clearing. On a Marine or Army fireteam, the communication or movement is enough to make the rear team members lower their carbines or point towards another area for 360-degree coverage. It's the trainer's fault for not teaching proper 10th Mountain CQB gun coverage techniques. Yes, it needs MORE TRAINING, but should not state specifically that Special Forces get all the room clearing training. Conventional forces still have to learn room clearing of "Weapon up, down, up, down, up, down" and one can learn this in a realistic squad video game or a simulator as well.
The author has combat experience so he is knowledgeable, and yet I am surprised that he didn't mention having a local cop, federal Agent, sheriff, PMC, or retired Vet come in, even volunteer for a lunch reward, to teach the 10th Mountain proper CQB and room clearing techniques. The 10th doesn't need to fly to some fancy MOUT Shoot House to learn good CQB and spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars doing so. I don't agree…I think ALL soldiers and Marines need to learn CQB and room clearing techniques, not just SOFs, and perhaps the best teachers aren't infantry trainers, but cops who are called to respond to Active Shooters each day, week, month, etc. Off-duty cops can have the time, budget, patience, and skill to teach CQB to the infantry masses.
This article's photo is accurate in showing proper room clearing with carbines down and aimed at areas where there are no friendlies.
I also think that the US Army needs to start training driving and firing M1A2 SEP tanks off US Army landing ships and boats onto the shore to support the Force Design 2030 Marines that now have NO M1A1 tanks. If the US Army thinks soldier CQB is a problem with aiming at comrades, imagine M1A2s pouring out of a US Navy EPF, LSV, or USAV's lowered ramp and having loaded 120mm gun barrels pointed at the back of friendly tanks and masses of suppressed Marines! The US Army better learn to beach a LSV, lower the ramp, and have masses of armed tanks drive off in an orderly fashion ready to shoot-on-the-move and fight once the ramp lowers. A LSV can carry perhaps nine M1A2 SEP tanks. No enemy is going to wait for the US Army to "catch up" to planned formation fires, and a skilled enemy will exploit weaknesses and mistakes seen and made. Even a video game or simulator can teach this, or even using 20 golf carts fanning out from a golf cart barn.
One problem I pointed out in my cell at JOINT URBAN WARRIOR '07 was that the military was misusing Special Forces units in Iraq and Afghanistan by insisting on using them as raiders to execute the capture of high-profile targets rather than using them properly as embeds with local militias to train and organize them as effective local security forces (which IS the primary function of an A-team, whether in a FID or irregular warfare role). Instead of leaving such raids to regular infantry units, or even Ranger units, we diverted specialists needed for the training and coordination mission and left training of indigenous forces in the hands or what in many cases were unprepared reserve component troops from a variety of MOS's that had absolutely no training or experience in the mission.
SEALS, Delta, and Rangers may be appropriate for such raids, but it is a waste of a more valuable resource to use Special Forces teams as commandos instead of as diplomats, trainers, and force multipliers as they are specifically trained to be in the Q-course. In fact, it would be an excellent idea to separate the selection pathway and MOSs of Delta operators from the Special Forces pathway, as the skillsets and mentality required for the differing missions are quite different and in fact may contradictory.
1. We are not the police.
2. Who are the hostages in the room that justify the room clearing?
The Enemy? ??
Level the building or maneuver around.
I’m surprised we didn’t get to “Bunker Clearing “ – in fact that very thought means we should remove Battle Drill 6 from the common syllabus.
This is an excellent article. Its only deficiency is that at first glance, it’s about room-clearing tactics and techniques. But Mr. (Colonel?) Hooker is making a bigger, more important point which some other commenters appear to be missing: the US military all too often rolls off the lane and into the gutter of stupidity.
Stupidity has come to permeate and dominate everything. Stupidity at multiple levels is causing us to lose wars. Stupidity has totally incapacitated IFV acquisition FOR DECADES. Stupidity makes a person miserable after being on Fort Hood only a few days. Stupidity causes all too many talented people to leave the service. As for that, the soul-crushing procedures for leaving active duty should be replaced with exit surveys and interviews which could at least begin to gather data on what our people really think about the military. Stupidity is not caring about what our people think in the first place!
But the stupidity goes far beyond personnel mismanagement. The entrenched attitude that rank insulates and isolates a privileged few from the stupidity allows the rot to spread into everything. Instead, the military needs to identify and promote the Leaders who:
1. Tell all subordinates they’re paid to think.
3. Make it clear that anyone, even any E-1, can raise their hand and be heard if they think what’s going on is unsafe or stupid.
4. Understand that stupidity is the most corrosive influence, and that it leads to every negative outcome from disrespect to waste to gross inefficiency to unlawful behavior.
The sources of stupidity are myriad, and beyond the scope of this article or this comment. The very fact that one idea can slip out of context and result in the level of stupidity described in this article is appalling. Its readers should understand that.
Want to start winning wars again? Don’t be so concerned with specific terrain (e.g. the Arctic) or specific weapons (e.g. computers). Begin to understand that stupidity is our greatest challenge.
This is absolutely correct. It gets to the problem that was observed in Vietnam – commanders trying to micromanage battlefields instead of defining objectives and allowing troops in the field to adapt to the conditions they observe in order to achieve those objectives. It has long been demonstrated that a doctrine of Auftragstaktik results in superior unit performance when compared to tight command and control – not just in achieving missions, but in adapting to adversity and rapid reconstitution of units deteriorated by attrition and adversity on the battlefield (look at how rapidly Bittrich was able to reconstitute effective Kampfgruppe from the badly mauled II SS-PanzerKorps at Arnhem).
Rigid control and formulaic tactics, on the other hand, make a force predictable and easily hindered by unanticipated obstacles inherent in the fog of war. The Canadian Army in the Second World War, for example, placed an almost religious devotion on Battle Drill – the intensive training of individual soldiers to carry out standardized actions, but placed almost no emphasis on combining such routines into effective unit operations. As Field Marshal Montgomery noted in criticism of the Canadian training practices, "It does not seem to be understood that Battle Drill is really a procedure, applicable to unit and sub-unit action. The company still has to be taught how to carry out the various operations of war." Officers and NCOs were not trained on how to use units to take or defend objectives using the tactical routines taught in the Battle Drill courses, and this left units relatively inflexible in achieving objectives. Basically, it was a reversion to the older idea of tactics (as exemplified in the Civil War era field manual "Hardee's Tactics") of defining tactics as the drill and process of employing a weapon rather than the idea that tactics is defined as the means to achieve a specific objective.
Learning basic drill IS important for a soldier or small unit to give them a toolbox to develop tactics to achieve an objective. However, the translation of drill to tactics requires soldiers and leaders with the ability to select from the toolkit in order to optimize tactics to the actual situation facing the unit in achieving a SPECIFIC objective. Effective tactics requires training the soldier AND the unit leaders on how to optimize their OODA decision cycle, and concentration of rote drill alone forfeits proper use of the Observe and Orient portions of the decision loop.
This is one of the best comments on military topics i have read since a long time. Perfect to the point. Winning is not about fancy equipment, not about drills, not about superior shooting skils, but about simple common sense, which to beware in such a stressful situation like combat is difficult enough.
No, sorry. The stupid you see is actually the manifestation of self interest in levels above the line units, the interests of men who do not pay the price. We don’t have micromanaging from 10,000 miles away because they’re stupid- they are just looking after their self interest, from a desk. They just don’t care.
Look after your self interest, and your soldiers. If the “leadership” can be selfish- so can you.
Learn. Or die stupid.
Absolutely correct….all of this "Rambo" style training is detracting from the real task at hand. If there anything worse than no training, it's poor training, because poor training leads a soldier to believe they are capable of performing tasks that they really aren't, they therefore attempt the task and end up creating casualties among themselves instead of the enemy.
First problem I see in the captioned picture are Soldiers wearing sunglasses or maybe dark ballistic glasses going into an interior room. Utter nonsense. I also see fingers off triggers which is a good thing, I think its productive for Soldiers and Marines to spend some time on room clearing exercises as it reminds them to be careful of the guy next to them. Muzzles up or down or at depressed ready, fingers off triggers, quick peeks, scanning for dangers are all good to know no matter the battlefield. Rushing into buildings and interior rooms in non active shooter or hostage situations in not good.
Why clear a room at all when you could put bars on the doors and wait for the occupants to run out of water and food and be forced to surrender without a shot fired?
Because they learned room clearing in Ranger school.
When the tactic is used occasionally it is effective. When it's doctrine it's predictable. Predictability costs lives. Our enemies are counting on us to be more observant of the conventional laws of war than they are. This is the battlefield leader's dilemma. When push comes to shove ruthlessness wins. Platoon leaders do not write letters to the survivors of collateral damage.
I served 23 years in the infantry (1974 – 1997) and never once practiced or executed room clearing, stacking or Battle Drill6. Had never heard of Battle Drill 6 until I read this article. Ironically, I just finished reading “House To House” written by a MOH winner awarded for his actions during the 2nd Battle of Fallujah; SSG David Bellavia. Very heroic actions by his unit clearing dozens of buildings. But I wondered throughout my reading of the book why? Why were we clearing each house by sending vulnerable infantrymen into extremely dangerous situations. Wasn’t there another alternate? Read SSG Belavia’s book if you want to learn how dangerous and probably stupid room clearing is as a tactic for regular line infantry units is; much less other types of units.
I’m a huge fan of using a howitzer in a direct-fire capacity, but there’s a genuine need for conventional troops to know how to enter and clear a room. Beyond that, they need to be able to clear stairwells and hallways.
The doctrine may have started with the Israeli hostages, but the need didn’t. Look at Son Tay, or any numerous cases in history. Granted, Son Tay wasn’t executed by conventional joes, but the character of the element matters less than the interests of the mission.
Should we not train legs on flanking maneuvers because Dick Winters was airborne?
The solution is to train better, not train less.
No, this isn’t possible now.
Room clearing must become malpractice and banned except for hostage rescue and we go back to MOUT. Room clearing must become anathema.
Let me introduce you to the 21st century army. You are thinking, as if reason had sway.
It does not. Not in this army. Lawyers run the Generals, the Generals are focused on numero one – their careers- a million dead would not sway them.
The Generals must be threatened that if casualties are taken from room clearing they are done, and possibly prosecuted.
The Generals will then threaten the Colonels, who threaten the Captain’s, who threaten the PLs and NCOs.
Then room clearing will end.
Then unnecessary deaths and casualties will drop, at least from room clearing.
This is the army if the 21st century my friend. This is how it works.
One main problem with the room-clearing drills is, that the soldiers go into the rooms even then there is not need for that. Many rooms can be "cleared" from the outside – and i do not mean throwing grenades into every one of them. Another problem is the equipment of the soldiers which hinders them in free, fluid and silend movement.
With helmets, vests, chest rig and bulky weapons, the soldiers are quickly exhausted, overheated, dehydrated, overworked and then they usually storm much too quickly into rooms which they actually do not have under control and cannot bring under control.
Screaming, sweating, stressed and overwhelmed can only end in disaster when you face a more capable opponent.
For example, I used an old Russian sniper periscope in action, which aroused immense general astonishment. Every conceivable junk was lugged around, but there was no such simple, simple piece of equipment. And since I was silent, the enemy in the room hadn't even recognized me.
Instead, the drill leads to the fact that one announces oneself loudly long in advance, and finally rushes senselessly into an uncontrollable situation. A good example of how tactics and procedures are simply adopted in areas where they simply have no place. The excessive influence of special forces on infantry can become a problem in this way.
I would agree with you if every war were to be fought in a rural area.
Unfortunately, that is not the case, and clearing buildings is an essential part of combat in urban areas – unless we were to revert to things like the Second World War practice of clearing buildings with point-blank fire from a 155mm howitzer (as was done by Courtney Hodge's First Army in Aachen). Since the Second World War, it has been the exception to the rule for a conflict to NOT involve clearance of enemy troops from built-up areas – even in Vietnam, significant fighting occurred in Saigon and Hue (my father, a Green Beret during prior Army service with Sage's 10 SFG(A), was armed and armored for the Tet actions as an Air Force augmentee for the 377SPS at Ton Nhut when I was less than a year old). Even the First Gulf War saw the need for troops to clear the buildings in the recaptured town of Khafji and Kuwait City.
It would be negligent for the Army to send infantry into action in the modern world WITHOUT training in urban warfare, including clearing buildings. Neglect of such training in the Second World War resulted in significant casualties to both American soldiers and non-combatants. We should no repeat that same mistake. Having seen how the ideas of Jomini advocating pure destruction as the key to victory (long forming the culture of the Army since before the Civil War) are flawed, and that Clausewitz was correct in that war is a political action and actions have political consequences, it is foolish to revert to deficient training that can do more harm – kinetically and politically – than good.
The Jomini-Clausewitz argument is long overdue, sir.
The USMA seems to have an undying hard-on for Carl, but only in theory. Everything about the way we fight is almost textbook Jomini, which makes sense for a bureaucratic system – we fight like a giant bureaucracy because we are a giant bureaucracy; the Pentagon remains the largest office building in the world for a reason.
The most invigorating debates in the milblog universe center around Clausewitz vs Sun Tzu – but the real, immediate discussion is better served by looking at Jomini. Du Picq probably deserves a look, as well.
We spent too much blood the last 20 years to care about bad TV and social media Karl. As for WW2 – we won.
We should return to their practices, and start winning again.
Had we fought this way we’d be reading Clausewitz in German, which would be our first language. We’d have lost the war by Italy, never mind Normandy.
We have to ask who’s lives are more important, ours or the enemy? Or his civilians?
Now the people who made these decisions none of our lives or the enemies either were important, just their careers, just their public image, just their stock options. They were giving orders from those selfish motives, not misplaced humanity.
We should learn from our leaders and be selfish as well, the justifiable selfish motive of self preservation. So perchance- don’t clear the room, level it, and if your “leadership “ doesn’t like it tell them to lead the way – they can be lead on the stack.
I would draw a distinction between urban warfare in general and BD6 specifically. The former should be avoided where possible as extremely casualty intensive and likely to incur high civilian casualties and collateral damage. But at times it may be unavoidable.
In such cases room clearing by conventional soldiers is the worst tactical choice in my opinion, for the reasons I outlined in my Article.
Excellent insight and historical overview. I would say, firstly it was a TRAINING event which by design has expectations of failure. There are many more keyboard commandos out there that will weigh in with opinions than actual ones. Second, we have to take into consideration ROE requirements in reduction of collateral damage in the examples/timeframes used. Resources available, including appropriate training, impact capabilities as well. Lastly, while I don't believe everyone needs to make Battle Drill 6 its mainstay, it is still a viable tool and should be trained where required. Yes, it is sexy. But it's ugly and costly. Its a tool. We just need to ensure we hone other tools as well. Urban warfare isnt going away any time soon and regardless of if we like it or not, we should not give up the lessons learned in blood only to have to relearn them in the future at more cost. T