Michael's Dispatches

Counter IED Course in Norway: Day One


03 September 2012


The Norwegian military is conducting CIED (counter-IED) training, and I was lucky to be invited.  The course is run by Pencari LTD.  The instructors are recently retired British Soldiers/Marines that I got to know at the British tracking school in Brunei, on Borneo.

This course will last two weeks, and we just finished Day 1 of training.  Each day after training, I will try to publish something.  This may not always be possible because some training is at night and there will be time demands.  Please also excuse that these brief dispatches will be unedited.  And I am jetlagged and will be tired after training, so please read this at risk.

This class consists of eight students.  All are combat veterans of Afghanistan and/or Iraq, and some have similar experiences elsewhere.  Two students are US Marines.  One is recently retired EOD, and the other is an active duty “Gunny” with six combat tours behind him.  (Five in Iraq, one in Afghanistan.)  The six Norwegians are engineers and between them there is considerable downrange experience.  And so there is not a single beginner in this class, and the instructors are expert trackers and retired military men.

When we came to the base today, a Norwegian officer gave me some ground rules, but they know my work and so the ground rules are to use common sense and if you have a question make sure to ask regarding OPSEC.  And so if we come across anything that is questionable, I will run it past my Norwegian hosts, but in reality there probably will be no security issues because this training is not secret.

This class is not so much about tracking but what they call GSA.  GSA is Ground Sign Awareness.  GSA is essential for becoming an expert tracker, and GSA usually is all that is needed to spot IEDs.  I have had only three weeks of professional tracking training (by the British military, and specifically by these instructors in 2009), and so I am far from expert.  However, after the British tracking school, I was sold on the value of tracking and GSA for saving lives in Afghanistan.  All of the combat veterans that I know who have had tracking or GSA training, are completely sold on the value for saving lives and killing bad guys.

But one thing you learn early on in tracking training is that it is like a martial art, in the sense that there are very many styles and philosophies for tracking.  There are many ways to crack this egg.

The British Army finally is taking tracking (GSA, actually) seriously, as are the Norwegians, Dutch and Danish.  This inexpensive training can save a ton of American lives, but we do not take it seriously.  Actually, the Marines seem to be taking it more earnestly.  To be sure, I think we Americans do not take it seriously in part due to misunderstanding the value, and we think it is some kind of magic art and we prefer things that use batteries instead of simple eyeballs.  And do not forget the part about it being so inexpensive.  This training is dirt cheap, and contractors can’t sell billions of dollars of gizmos.  The fact is, the number one detector of IEDs continues to be the human eye, but our training in this field is pathetic.  It does not cost enough.  Now, if we could market it along with selling bionic eyeballs that take pesky humans out of the equation, Congress might be demanding the military take it.

Today the class started at 0800, and we had a couple hours of classroom work and then went to an indoor sandpit that the Norwegians use for training.  (Winters here are severe, and there is no way to do winter training in the sand outside.)  We then conducted more classroom work and headed out to the field.

The Norwegians brought a small, black moose-tracking dog.  He only weighs about 20 pounds, maximum, and is very energetic.  Maybe I am the first American that moose dog ever met, but he sure was happy to say hello and wanted to play.  Then he started digging a hole for some reason that only moose-dog knows.  In any case, we did not see any moose.  They say there are sometimes bears here, but not often, and that wolves are taking hold.

Among the various topics covered today was detecting when people are walking backwards, as when laying command wire to an IED. Sometimes the instructors would talk for ten minutes about a single track, and then would ask students to explain every detail of what they were seeing.  Flattening, disturbance, regularity, discoloration, transfer, etc.  We practiced a bit on estimating enemy strength.

Rena, Norway is north like Alaska.  And so the sun hangs low in the sky, which can be great for tracking.  Generally speaking, you want to keep the track between you and the sun so that shadows will pop out.  If you walk around a track as a test of the importance of sun position, you might be surprised.  When the sun is to your back the tracks can vanish, but then as you circle the track you might see that sometimes there is no way you can miss it, while other times (unless you are Mr. Expert) there is no way you will see it.  Again, as a general rule, it is best to keep the track between you and the sun.  And if it is noon on the equator, you might want to take a tracking siesta until the sun goes lower.

Well, I need to close down for now.  The instructors are out emplacing IEDs (not real ones, of course), that we will be training with tomorrow, and they left us with a homework assignment that I must study.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    AG · 9 years ago
    Interesting Mike. Ya know, our Military could probably learn mucn from ranchers or Indian trackers in this country....but like you say...if it doesn't have batteries or cost a bunch of money it can't be good. Good luck.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    peter · 9 years ago
    Thanks Michael. As the old saying goes, KISS--keep it simple stupid. Or. there are diamonds in your own back yard.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    23rd of Foot · 9 years ago
    Out in Afghanistan, we're putting far more importance on GSA as a CIED tool, than the use of technology! Certainly where I am, more devices (and caches) are found using GSA which is fairly simple and easy for soldiers to learn. look forward to hearing more on this.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Ross Elder · 9 years ago
      [quote name="2 rd of Foot"]Out in Afghanistan, we're putting far more importance on GSA as a CIED tool, than the use of technology! Certainly where I am, more devices (and caches) are found using GSA which is fairly simple and easy for soldiers to learn. look forward to hearing more on this.[/quote]

      My unit went through MULTIPLE CIED courses prior to our arrival in Afghanistan and went through a final, brief CIED course between our first stop and our final destination. The last one stressed GSA as well as behavioral analysis types of observation. (this one was taught by former EOD personnel) Other than some electronic counter-measures, our eyes were the only tools we used. We were shown multiple, coolness factor 7 gadgets during our courses, but we weren't issued them once we hit the ground, so much of our training was just wasting time when we could have been doing more visual tracking.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Abat · 9 years ago
    Good stuff Michael. Awareness of the sun position to ground searching is the reason that I am usually successful in finding arrowheads. I can easily see how it applies to ground disturbances such as IEDs. Fortunately a missed point does not take your leg off so my mistakes are forgiven.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    robin yatess · 9 years ago
    fascinating stuff!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Abdullah Youssef · 9 years ago
    Mike, and your co-respondents,
    Thanks for this really useful information; I didn't realise just how useful GSA is to you and thought all those pesky IEDs we keep laying were being found by your electric gizmos. It will remind me to make sure we train better to hide our tracks and develop some additional methods to keep these GSA boys on their toes; maybe I need to send some of my emplacers on one of these courses?
    I'm certainly looking forward to hearing how you get on with the rest of the training.
    Regards and good hunting.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      EOD · 9 years ago
      Almost everything regarding both IED-warfare and C-IED can be found through open sources. Your sarcastic comment, although you mean well, is misplaced. These are standard techniques that is even tought to the Afghan National Security Forces.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dee · 9 years ago
    There is an excellent tracking school in the USA under THE TRACKER "Tom Brown". From what I have read and heard, our military could learn alot from him not just about tracking but also camouflage technics. But then would common sense training fit in with todays military????

    Thanks for excellence in writing Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Hercdriver · 9 years ago
    During the Rhodesian War, the Selous Scouts and some members of the RLI were excellent trackers, many having grown up in the bush. The enemy body count was quite impressive due to these skills. A video game isn't the same as looking at one little misplaced leaf and determining that something wicked this way went...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cathesthewind · 9 years ago
    When I was with the 82 Abn, 2/504 we had a fine trooper with us by the name of Henry Lujon. Now Henry was a full blooded Navajo and his tracking skills were consumate and put to great use.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    EKO · 5 years ago
    Dear Colleague,

    that was very nice experience, let me asking something, in this course, is it available for international students? FYI, I am from Indonesian EOD unit and looking forward to conduct scholarship course related to EOD/IED matters.

    thanks in advance for your attention and support.

    Best Regard

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