USMC Infantry Tactics

As one of the military’s shock forces, the Marine Corps has significant practice with various methods of movement and maneuver. The following article touches on their approach to both according to the USMC infantry manual.

Marine Rifle Squad Tactics

When it comes to patrolling, inserting, or moving to contact the formation you use as a squad or team is critical. Movements shouldn’t consist of clusters of guys walking and talking casually.

Troops should move in formations from point A to B and beyond. Formations are ways to organize troops to meet and contend with certain battlefield threats. There are a few basic formations that lend themselves well to combat based operations. These basic formations should be practiced before use.

Before we move into formations, we need to address a few important elements.
•             Dispersion
•             Sectors of Fire
•             Movement Under Fire

Each member of the squad or team should exercise proper dispersion. Dispersion is the distance between individuals in a formation. Dispersion between troops is usually 3 to 5 yards.

Dispersion is important because if a unit is attacked the distance between troops makes it harder for the enemy to engage them easily. Troops that are side by side are easily dispatched by a single burst of fire or a grenade.

The situation always dictates in tactical scenarios. Dispersion may change based on the terrain and available visibility. Closer dispersion is better for night time operations, and for thick environments. You may choose to utilize a wider dispersion when crossing an open area to avoid the greater potential for machine gun fire.

Dispersion may also change to use established cover. For example, in urban terrain environments, it’s great to have dispersion, but better to be behind cover. Never stand in the open when you can establish solid cover and concealment.

Sectors of Fire
One of the most important steps in utilizing a formation is ensuring everyone understands their sector of fire. I’d say it’s common sense, but there are too many PFC’s who get confused and start firing over other troop’s heads.

While we may not be using real weapons in milsim, it is still important to keep safety in mind and this means treating them as if they were real. It’s easy to fire over the head of a kneeling buddy; it’s not easy to know when he’s going to stand up and catch a burst from the back. In situations with weapons firing projectiles from paintball and airsoft guns it can be a slightly painful, but relatively harmless energy. With simmunitions or it’s going to be a very painful injury or even dangerous. The same can be said for blank fire, as there are plenty of opportunity for ear injuries.

Sectors of fire are assigned in formations to ensure efficiency of fire and to ensure no one gets caught in friendly fire. In a formation, the sectors of fire are almost entirely decided by the formation and who’s in front of you or who is beside you.

Movement Under Fire
Formations exist to get troops to the place they need to go. Knowing the proper way to move under fire will keep your fires organized and ensure there are no friendly fire incidents.

Specific movement procedures are up to the individual squad and team to train and utilize. Specific procedures include who is suppressing and who is moving, and who moves first.

Movement under fire is done in rushes. Squads are broken down into two or three fireteams, and fireteams are made up of four individuals. If it’s a single fireteam rushing, you’ll utilize buddy rushes. In buddy rushes two soldiers will rush forward while the two provide cover fire.

During a rush the soldiers moving need to ensure they do not cross into the covering soldier’s field of fire. The covering soldiers also need to pay attention to ensure if the rushing soldiers fall in their sector of fire they hold fire.

When rushing, they may move to be on line with the other unit, or bound to the next cover beyond it. Again, this is determined by unit SOP and METT-TC

Once the rushing soldiers are in position and returning fire, they yell “Set!” Now the two soldiers behind them stand and rush, passing the first set of rushers and obtaining a position forward of them. They continue this process until they’ve killed the enemy or forced them to hunker down.

If a squad is engaging an enemy, they utilize fire team rushes. Fire team rushes are used to get “on line,” and to assault the enemy. Due to nature of squad formations, the best way to assault is with all troops in a rough line. They should be in the Skirmisher formation we’ll talk about later.

When assaulting an objective, the teams should rush in a coordinated manner. You never want more than one team rushing at a time. So, if it’s a three team Squad, Team A rushes while Team B and C cover. Then Team B rushes while team C and A cover. Team B will pass Team A and announce “Set!” before team C moves. The cycle then repeats itself.

[Something to keep in mind is that while basic movement under fire is important to master, it is relatively useless unless incorporated into a battle drill. These drills are placed in unit SOP and exist to provide the unit with a pre-planned response to specific occurrences (like coming into contact with the enemy), enabling leadership to respond to the task at hand rather than attempt to manage their sub units in highly stressful and time sensitive environments – Ed.]



  • Allows Rapid Movement over terrain
    • Allow excellent fire to both flanks
    •             Easy to learn and easy to control
    •             Well Suited for Low visibility conditions due to ease of control.
    •             Provide poor front and rear protectionThe Column is a formation used for long movements or when the time is of the essence. Troops in a column should be staggered to allow the open fire to the flanks.

If attacked at the front the troops in the column should shift forward and begin moving to the front to get on line with each other and prepare to assault through (or hold or pull back according to their leader’s decision).  This movement to the front should be done through rushes, and the squad or team should have an established SOP.


  • Easy to Control
    • Provides all around security and fire in all directions
    •             Is flexible
    •             Better suited for open or semi open terrain.The Wedge formation is a classic military patrol formation heavily favored for its adaptability. Regardless of the direction of attack, the Wedge can respond. In Squad movements, the wedge is an effective formation for the lead team.The Wedge allows the first team to easily obtain a base of fire in any direction and gives the rest of squad time to react and begin their assault.
  • Echelon Left / Right
  • Pushes heavy fire power in its respective direction
    • Designed for squad movements and to protect open flanks.
    •             Difficult to control
    •             Slow movementThe Echelon series of formations are designed for right and left engagements. They protect the flank of the movement and are best utilized when engagement is highly likely. They work well in three team squads. With the lead team forming a wedge and the 2nd and third team forming echelons.

Mastering the echelon movement is difficult, and it’s nearly impossible to use in situations that have low visibility. The echelon’s fields of fire are entirely to their respective direction, and assuming a forward rush is difficult to organize and utilize. When used effectively they are excellent for establishing a base of fire against a flank assault.


  • Provides maximum firepower to the front
    • Difficult to control
    •             Allows for rapid movement of forces.
    •             Can be utilized as right or left skirmishers.The Skirmishers formation is used when contact is highly likely, or when assaulting a position. Skirmishers push all the potential firepower to the front of the formation. Skirmishers as a formation starts with troops on the line, and ready to assault. It can move rapidly, but the patrol leader needs to ensure the team or squad is controlled during the movement.If you are utilizing skirmishers during a squad based movement, you can organize the skirmishers in a left or right position. If it’s a team movement the positioning is up to the patrol leader in terms of left or right.

The 180

After an Objective is conquered, the squad or team should immediately form an 180-degree perimeter facing the direction of the retreating enemy. This is to prepare for a counter attack. Once the 180 is formed the Team or Squad leader needs to ensure all troops are accounted for and have ammunition, water, etc.

Once the objective in secured you’ll prepare for counter attack. If you are supposed to sit on the objective for a long period it’s best to organize into a denser defense. This is often some form of 360-degree defense. After the objective’s taken the team or squad should continue with their established mission and conquer the next objective. After an attack it’s also wise to take a moment and check on your team’s ammunition, water, and other various supplies.

The 360

A 360 is a defensive posture that positions your squad into a circle to provide as much security as possible in every direction. A 360 is utilized after an objective is taken, or during a long halt in a movement.

Troops should attempt to utilize cover and concealment, and if possible assume the prone position. Squad leaders should establish overlapping sectors of fire and be at the center of the 360.

The 360 can be done in either a close or far 360. A far 360 pushes troops outwards from the center and has them maintain a dispersion of 10 to 15 yards. A close 360 will typically have troops at a 3 to 5-meter dispersion.

A far 360 established a wider ring of security but takes longer to establish. It allows troops to have wider fields of fire and have what’s often a better view of their surroundings. This is the security technique to utilize when taking a long security halt.

A close 360 is easier to establish and to control from the center. It’s also faster and best suited for shorter security halts.

The third security position is known as the cigar shaped 360. It’s used for very fast halts and is easy to establish. The troops maintain their dispersion and follow their team leader’s command to form a small, cigar shaped security position.

The 360 should be organized and not have random members of the squad interspersed within the squad. Members of fireteams should be next to each other. When the 360 is broken down, it’s done by individuals and teams.

So, the first team picks up first, begins the formation and orientates themselves to the direction of movement.

In any 360 or cigar shaped halt the troops should assume the prone position if the terrain allows for it. This makes them the smallest target possible and provides the most stable platform for shooting.

When it comes to halts my Squad’s SOP was anything less than 30 seconds we remained standing, anything from 30 seconds to 1 minute we took a knee. Anything longer than 1 minute meant we assumed the prone position is the terrain allowed.

Once they start moving the squad leader ensures everything is organized and signals when trailing teams are to move.

Train, Practice, Train
The key to successful movement, formations, and movement under fire is training. Training to rush, to simply walk in the formation and to move while under fire. Reading about it is not enough! Get out, gear up, and learn the tactics. That’s the only way you’ll truly understand their strengths and weaknesses.

-Almo Gregor