The enemy soldier who shot me with his AK-47 was less than 10 yards away. As a point man in a Recon platoon in Vietnam, my job was to track the enemy through the jungle.
I had partially succeeded. We, Apache Troop, the 1st of the 9th Cav “Blues,” were working our way into an enemy base camp along the Cambodian border when the sharp, crisp and clean edges of the impact point of an enemy heel, foot roll and toe imprint caught my eye.
But just as I spotted the fresh sign, the enemy soldier who had made it panicked when he saw me and let loose a burst from his AK. The first few rounds caught me high in the left and right thighs and knocked me back and down. With through-and-through wounds I returned fire, managed to hit the soldier squarely—and briefly felt that immediate and giddy joy of survival when he fell. The feeling quickly faded when the others behind him opened fire. Thinking maybe that I was still on my feet they fired chest high and over me, which gave me time to fumble another full magazine into my M16. Sitting up in a growing pool of blood I returned fire as did the rest of the Recon Platoon behind me, who had taken over the fight. They and one gutsy South Vietnamese scout had provided me with all of the cover support I needed to safely crawl behind a tree.
It would be my 15th or so mission as a Point Man, my third Purple Heart, and a tracking lesson well learned. Then I had just turned 20, was dumber than a stump, and probably had an IQ in the low single digits. Still, I was smart enough to know there was something inherently wrong with the point-man-as-tracker approach to hunting armed men.
Years later, after attending one of David Scott-Donelan’s Tactical Tracking Operations School courses, my earlier suspicions were confirmed.
“The tracker cannot be the point man and effectively follow the spoor,” explained Jon Frantzen, the Chief Law Enforcement Instructor with TTOS.
Frantzen, a retired Deputy Sheriff and experienced woodsman and tracker added, “When you need to be bold and aggressive in closing the time and distance gap between your tracking team and the quarry it is essential to protect the tracker in addition to watching out for additional sign or spoor.”
Good advice. The lessons from the war, learning from Scott-Donelan’s group and working with various Native American Tribal Tracking teams as well as with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, gave me some valuable insight into tactical tracking.
One thing is this: Surround yourself with a good and competent team. Let’s face it, much of what we accomplish comes from the help and assistance of others. Another is the nice feeling to be had, knowing that there are extra sets of eyes and guns watching over you as you track, and finally there’s this: Your IQ goes up dramatically after you’ve been shot. You tend to listen more closely to others with more experience, and take training more seriously.
— Kregg P.J. Jorgenson