This article comes from Von Steuben Training & Consulting. Von Steuben offers training in North Carolina and occasionally in other states, inspired by Major General Von Steuben’s training of colonial volunteer troops during the American Revolution. They specialize in team-based tactical training.
If you look at a photograph of a squad of US Marines, you will see that everyone has the same uniform, weapons, optics, and load-bearing equipment (excluding special weapons like automatic rifles). This is partly due to logistical simplicity of the military buying a single piece of kit for everyone, and partly due to effectiveness on the battlefield. If you need to use your buddy’s weapon, you can because it’s exactly like yours. If you need to strip ammo and radios off of your buddy so he can be MEDEVAC’d, you know where everything is because your gear is set up the same way.
For the Minuteman/prepared citizen, however, it is not always feasible to achieve this level of uniformity. This does not mean that the concept is discarded, just that we need to take a different approach when working with other volunteers in a team. In this article I will describe the advantages of standardization, how to approach this topic with your team, and a list of goals to strive for.
The first benefit of standardizing a given piece of gear is logistics. Gear breaks, gets lost, or gets used up all the time, so if you need to replace something it is much simpler to have everyone stock up on spares of the same item. This applies to consumable items like ammunition, batteries, water filters, etc.
Another benefit is the ability to use your teammates’ gear. If everyone has the same water filter and yours gets clogged, you can borrow your teammate’s filter and already know how to use it. This applies to items that have a learning curve to operate, such as weapons, optics, radios, etc.
Finally, standardizing how gear is set up allows us to retrieve something from each others’ packs/vest without hunting for it. If you left your packs at the ORP and you get told to grab your buddy’s extra water from his pack, you can retrieve his canteen from his pack without using a flashlight to hunt for it, which would give away your location.
I must note here that there is a point where standardization can go too far. I have been in many a unit where uniformity was enforced purely for uniformity’s sake, with no gain in combat effectiveness. In fact, I have seen cases where it actually detracted from our combat effectiveness, forcing everyone into a cookie-cutter standard that didn’t work well for anyone. If you seek to impose a standard on your group, it had better yield a tangible benefit that you can explain to your people. This brings us to the next topic; getting your people on board.
How to sell standardization to your group
Notice I used the word “sell.” That’s right, in an all-volunteer group of minutemen, you can’t force anyone to do anything. People tend to be resistant to change, especially when you are asking them to fund that change out of their own pocket. This means that you need to practice good leadership and get them to want to make the changes you are proposing.
First, don’t propose a ton of change all at once. You need to approach this gradually, one standard at a time. Start with something simple and cheap, like having everyone’s IFAKs in the same place on their kit. That one’s an easy sell because everyone should already have an IFAK, and the argument of “if you get shot, I need to know how to find your chest seal” is quite compelling. Once everyone agrees to that, you can slowly move on, one “great idea” at a time.
Second, you need to be willing to make changes yourself, not just demand them from others. If all you do is insist that everyone buy the same stuff you already bought, people will start to think that you’re just trying to validate your own purchases (because you are). This is how you lose your group. It helps if you are willing to show your commitment to standardization by replacing something you have with something that one of your teammates has. Lead by example.
Third, have open group discussions on the topic. Allow your people to make suggestions and have friendly debate on what to standardize and how. Don’t ever make a unilateral decision regarding gear unless it is something that risks getting you killed (like a cheap NVG with an always-on IR flood). If your people feel like they have a say in the goings-on of your group, they will stick around. The moment they lose that feeling is the moment you lose your team.
Finally, understand that you will not win every battle. Sometimes people are stubborn, or they can’t afford the fancy gadget you want them to buy. Learn to recognize what battles are not worth fighting, and move on. If you can get some people to your side but not all, that’s okay too. Over time, peer pressure has a silent way of getting the holdouts to make the changes you want without you looking like a jerk.
Realistic goals for a Minuteman/Jäger team
- Ammunition and Magazines: Standardizing weapons is unrealistic; everybody loves to put their own personal flair on their weapons, and every shooter is different. However, if everyone’s guns take the same bullets, then you can use each others’ ammo stockpiles when you can no longer make a run to the gun store. Magazines are critical as well. If you conclude a gunfight on a patrol and one guy has a single mag left, the team leader needs to be able to redistribute ammo so that everyone has about the same number of rounds. This is especially true if you have an automatic rifleman in your team.
- Rifleman’s kit contents: You should try to set a minimum amount of gear that everyone has on their kit to ensure that the whole team has at least the rifleman’s essentials. Don’t be too specific, but try to maintain a minimum amount of kit so that nobody shows up for a patrol without something critical like water or a tarp. Don’t try to have everybody get the exact same chest rig/plate carrier, you will lose that battle. Focus instead on the contents of everyone’s rigs.
- Medical gear location: As I stated earlier, this is probably the most important thing to standardize. Your personal IFAK and tourniquets are for you, not to use on someone else. If you use your tourniquet on your buddy and then you get shot, you are screwed. Make sure everyone has their medical gear in the same place on their kit. Tourniquets (at least 2) should be reachable with both hands, and not buried in an admin pouch. Once you get everyone on the same page here, take it a step further and have everyone get the same exact IFAK with the same contents. While you’re at it, make sure everyone knows how to use everything in your IFAKS.
- Radios: This is not critical, but it is beneficial. If your designated radio operator goes down, everybody in the team should be able to grab his radio and use it effectively. If you all have different radio models, you can work around this if you train with each others’ radios. However, it is much simpler if everyone uses the same device.
- Other consumables: Batteries are a big one, especially radio batteries. Same as ammunition, if you run out of AAs for your NVG you can get some from your teammate. If your light, laser, etc. uses some exotic non-rechargeable battery, you’re SOL when you run out. By the way, you should carry enough extra batteries to replace all the batteries in your gear at least once. For example, if you have a PVS-14 (1x AA), a headlamp (2x AA), and a Baofeng with a battery pack (4x AA), you should have at least 7x AAs in a ziploc bag somewhere on your kit.
- Clothing: I may step on some toes here, so I’ll keep it blunt. If you’re all wearing the same thing, it greatly reduces the chance of a friendly fire incident. However, it also makes it easier for the enemy to positively ID you as targets. Having a uniform technically makes you a “privileged combatant” under the Geneva Conventions if you are captured, but you would be relying on your captors giving a damn about the Geneva Conventions. Consider the threat you face wisely before deciding to throw on military fatigues.
Hopefully at this point you see the benefits of having some level of standardization in your group. I would like to caveat by saying that these are ideals, and not always possible. At the end of the day, when you step outside the wire to patrol, you take the team that you have, not the team that you want. That said, you have a responsibility now to make yourself as ready as possible for when that day comes.
If you or your friends are just getting started acquiring gear, I wrote a guide for what you should get and in what order so you can make the most of your limited funds. Another great way to figure out if your gear works well is to take it to a class. Get training now while you can still afford to travel. God only knows what will happen in the coming months.
Semper Paratus. Semper Discens.