On the Employment of Scouts

Second of two essays by Hector of the Black Height

In my previous essay, I talked about my ideas on how to employ scouts in the advance. Let's look at other uses of scouts. There may be more uses than you'd imagined!

Scouts and Static Roles

If a unit is assigned a static role (say as a banner guard), scouts become immensely important. Scouts become the unit's advance warning system. Scouts provide all-around observation, especially if the terrain or vegetation blocks the view of the fighters anchored to a particular piece of ground.

In a case like this, the scouts can get really well organized. For example, if I was responsible for setting scouts around a banner guard unit, I would do the following things:

First I would guarantee all-around observation with a ring of carefully situated scouts. This would include a series of signals or runners to pass information from the forward observers to the unit holding the banner. I'd also try to make sure these scouts could see each other, so one could pass information to another quickly and quietly. This inter-visibility also would help ensure there are no "blind spots" in my observation plan. Establishing all-round observation, as part of the unit commander's all-round defence plan, would be my first priority.

Next I'd push observers well ahead to cover likely enemy avenues of approach. These people might have specific tasks ("Sit off to one side and count the first enemy unit to move up en masse. When they are past you, run back to Resurrection Point and tell the King.") or they could function as simple early-warning systems ("The second you see any enemy on this path, run down the trail ringing this bell.").

Finally, if my resources allowed, I'd post a lookout well away from likely enemy approaches, as a getaway. As soon as the banner guard is surrounded, or when the banner falls, or as soon as the guard commander gives a pre-arranged signal, the getaway will be off like a rocket to warn the King that the banner guard is in trouble. The getaway doesn't need to be too close; the farther away he or she is from the banner the better the odds are that the getaway's message will reach the King without being intercepted. Yes, the stream of dead fighters from the banner to Resurrection Point will let the King know that there's a hard fight happening there, but a getaway will get the information there sooner. Time is a commander's most precious asset! The getaway may also be tasked to go to another unit or location in the woods to obtain help; the getaway provides flexibility to the unit commander and the King.

Deep Reconnaissance

There is always a need for deep reconnaissance, looking for objectives like (in the Pennsic woods) the East's banner. In cases like this, the basics of scout control remain the same:

>>Ask the scout a simple question, such as "Where is the Eastern Queen's banner?"

>>Make sure the scout knows where to find the tasking commander.

>>Send multiple scouts; if you send five or six, three may find the banner and one may make it back to you alive.

In a case like this it is vital that the scout states how old his or her information is. A report of the banner's position fifteen minutes old may be very useful (in some Woods Battles the banners must be planted and cannot be moved thereafter). It may be utterly useless if the banner is captured and runners were carrying it towards safety; you can cover a lot of ground in fifteen minutes. Obviously scouts should be aware of twists of the rules like this before they enter the woods. That way they can pass relevant information to the commander.

Other Tasks

Scouts often are given secondary tasks. They are lightly burdened with armour and carry no weapons, so they generally are fleet of foot. Commanders love to use scouts as runners. Remember, a scout running errands or acting as a carrier pigeon can't be scouting the front or flanks! In battles other than the Woods Battle, scouts are the ideal runners. Runners should be handed to a commander as a personal asset; the runner should deliver a message, wait for a reply (if this is indicated) and then get back to his or her assigned commander. Senior commanders should have three or even four runners; that way messages can be sent in a stream. Time and space limit information flow. If a commander waits for a response to message #1 before sending message #2, the time factor more than doubles (trip there plus time to pass the message plus trip back). Concurrent activity multiplies time available.

Scouts are sometimes used as guides, in the woods and on the open field. An inexperienced scout may have trouble doing this in the Woods Battle, as it means going forward well ahead of your unit (typically out of Resurrection Point), getting a task and then standing still and waiting for the unit to follow up from behind. In a battle it's hard to stand still; your adrenal glands and neighbouring commanders both will be yelling at you to get moving and do something. Experienced scouts can be invaluable as guides. This role should be practiced, though; this sort of tasking happens on the fly, and the closer to the enemy one gets, the faster events seem to unfold. Having somebody know exactly where a unit is to plug itself in and the best way to get there means people will arrive faster and form up quicker; guides can make a very important contribution in the midst of the chaos of a battle.

Scouts can be used as combat water-bearers, depending on the rules (at some wars noncombatant water-bearers aren't allowed into the woods or onto the battlefield). It's always a good idea for anyone to carry water, especially into the woods (fighters and scouts included). A combat water-bearer will be worrying about watering the fighters, not the tactical situation. Watering the fighters maintains fighting power forward and is valuable service; it's not scouting per se, though. If a scout wants to bear water forward or is handed that job, that scout should make sure his scout commander or unit commander knows he or she has changed roles. Even if a scout wants to bear water and sneak'n'peak at the same time, it's hard to move like the wind with umpteen pounds of water sloshing around one's neck.

Real Dangers

Please note that, even in a static role, scouts will cover many miles, uphill and down, when working for a unit commander with some curiosity about his or her immediate vicinity (like me). Scouts must keep themselves well watered. People assume fighters are the most tired, over-heated people in the woods. Fighters tend to move in a straight line and then stand still; scouts run over the same ground again and again and again. Be careful of heat exhaustion and heatstroke! Don't go into the woods without knowing the symptoms of both. Another reason scouts should deploy in pairs is so they can watch each other for symptoms of heat illness and, if necessary get IMMEDIATE help for a scout who goes down due to the heat.

Commanders responsible for the employment of scouts should rotate their scouts from time to time. In the advance scenario I've sketched out above, the scouts working the front should be swapped from time to time with the scouts on the flanks, so everyone gets a quieter duty once in a while and can have a breather. Know your people; don't bore the track-and-field star with static sentry duties while the over-weight well-wisher is running up and down that steep hill again and again, all the while wondering just what the symptoms of heart failure are, anyway...

Stating the Blatantly Obvious

One point should be made. A scout who is dead is no help to anyone. What's the old saw? "There are old scouts and there are bold scouts but there are no old, bold scouts"? Scouts should always have an escape route. Scouts working local tasks for an affiliated unit should never be so far out front that they can't retreat safely behind their own shields. This isn't to say that scouts should be too careful. In the woods we pay for information with dead fighters and scouts; the "good stuff" costs more to obtain. However, don't waste your "life". If you have a partial report and the East is pushing scout-killers forward, get partial data back to your boss. That complete report is no good to anyone if you have to carry it straight back to Resurrection Point. Ask any commander: some data always is better than none at all.

If you are tasking scouts and you want them to discover something valuable, what you want to know the opposition will want to conceal. Expect losses. If you want to find the enemy's approach route on the flanks, send two or three scouts and expect one back. If you want to find the Eastern banner, send as many scouts as you can and hope one makes it home intact.

Scouts are the eyes of the army. If a scout or team of scouts can pass timely, accurate information about the other side of the hill back to unit commanders, we have the eyes of eagles. If commanders have to guess about the threat ahead, our army is blind. We have been puzzled for years by the East's ability to move quickly. Perhaps eagles move faster than the blind? Do they use their scouts better than we use ours, especially in the local reconnaissance role?

In Conclusion

Scouting is an art, as are most of the fine points of melee combat. Scouts are above all communicators. What they see is irrelevant unless they tell somebody about it. The main criterion of scouting success is good passage of information. The scout and his or her commander should practice together a few times until they both know what the other expects; clear direction and clear reports should be at the top of each other's lists. Master Erik and his scout organization can teach interested scouts and commanders the SALUTE format for passing information, and SALUTE is a good mnemonic for complete information passage. It's not the only information format available; SALUTE may not suit you the scout or you the commander. Practice and experiment, and once you find a good method that works when all concerned are tired and hot and distracted, stick with it!

Scouts can be irrelevant if they don't know what to report and how. Scouts can be irrelevant if their commanders don't know what to ask scouts to do. Each should have some idea of the other's job. Each should talk to the other about the battle to come and, to cement lessons learned, the battle past. This is how scouts and commanders learn, and how we will build and maintain a neglected portion of the Army of Ealdormere, our Corps of Scouts.

Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.