Small Wars Journal


Wed, 02/23/2022 - 1:42pm


By Keith Nightingale

Since the inception of today’s special operating forces, breaching into houses and buildings has been a basic requirement.  Thousands of hours and rounds have been expended in determining the best way to breach, clear and control a complex. It all begins with a door.  The nature of the door may change, but the methodology remains consistent.  The technique and its effect have a profound effect upon the people we pay to open the door.

The force plans to hit with overwhelming intensity-that is both lifesaving and risk reducing. Sometimes that requires a creep in the dark as the most ancient of thieves. Sometimes it requires a grossly overwhelming overt force. In both cases, there is always the thought of a thousand eyes, muzzles and malign thoughts staring at the breachers. The broken OPSEC of the mind.

The occupants may be asleep, benign to the event, or absolutely prepared and waiting. The structure may be neutral or rigged with high explosive. People may be in shock and compliant or resisting to the bitter end with knives and hatchets. You never know.  But you think about it. Then and now.

The breachers execute the kinetic effect of their entrance on the human body with all the sophisticated material that can be employed. Once human forms take on the appearance of red raggedy parts-a butcher shop gone bad. The image suppressed but always remembered. The angry movies of the mind.

The evil nature of a room with its bomb materials, suicide vests, bloody mattress frames and battery cables is suppressed as focused work is done. But, not really. It is lasting.  It is why the door was opened. You did well while doing badly to them. One less market desecrated. One more citizen soldier returning home standing up. This is the space of evil farmers sowing perverse seeds. You remember what the door once secured.

The heat of the moment changes you to a snarling wolf, lining up the men, separating the women and children-eyes switching from compassion to pure hatred as each scene passes.  Some sweat, some defecate and all wonder. What will you do? The rules apply but will you follow?  Only you know in the heat of that moment.

Frustration builds as you know they are deeply darkly evil, but without judicial quality proof, they will be released to ply their trade-ready for the next door opening. The urge to put a bullet between the eyes is matched by the deeper ethos you carry as a soldier. The finger slides to the receiver. For now.

Returning, the door openers recede to a secure, peaceful environment to digest what happened, might have happened and will happen.  Debriefings, psych evals, ordnance checks, chow, showers, notes and sleep. Coffee, pills and conversation satiate the beast unleashed inside. For now, it retreats, but must emerge shortly, again-to open the next door.

Life is adrenalin laced-always keeping the edge. The approved drug of choice. Shooting, reading reports, examining photos and videos, conversing in the team room-this is what keeps the edge and maintains life as a possibility.

Tomorrow, a new door. Now the Green Zone. Later the Red Zone.  Geography does not define-You are always in the Red Zone.

About the Author(s)

COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.



Fri, 11/18/2022 - 8:07am

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