Episode 97 S3-16
Communicating with Hand Signals
The Walls of Freedom Ch 16
L. Douglas Hogan
When it comes to tactical hand signs there is one key to success. You have to practice, practice, practice! Understanding tactical hand signals is not some thing you can learn on the fly. You must be taught these signals before you go out relying upon them. There would be no worse blunder than heading out with a leader who is communicating fluently with hand signals and you can't understand a lick of it.
Tactical hand signals allow you to relay technical information without letting the other party know of your existence. Stop, go, up, down, male, female, dog, piston, rifle, and vehicle are just a few of the important things you can communicate to your team about. Tactical hand signals are different that the hand gestures our parents and crossing guards taught us as children. For example, the stop signal is not a hand held up with a palm pointed at you. It is a arm held up with your hand in a fist. A hand held open with fingers spread would signify the number five. The go command is not a finger pointing on ahead it is an arm making the motion of a double karate chop in the desired direction.
Your leader holds his hand up in a fist. Then his hand shows one finger held up. Next his hand points with two fingers to his eyes. Finally, he points out in a direction. Your leader just messaged you a tactical hand signal sentence. This example means that we need to stop because he saw one person in the direction he indicated.
Like any communication method there are pros and cons to using tactical hand signals. This communication method allows for silent communication. Especially, when you have small teams of 2-3 people scouting and area. Using this method allows for the relay of complex information like how many weapons and people is the group approaching. However, there is no set in stone hand signals and they may very between groups in a survival situation. This could lead to miscommunication issues when melding groups together. Also, you have to have a line of sight with your fellow team member in order to utilize this communication method. In large groups the message is relayed down the line much like the game of "telephone" you may have played as a kid. The premise is this the person in front relays the message to the next in then. They in turn, relay the message to the next person in line and so on and so on. The message is likely to become distorted along the way and the person at the end of the line must rely upon this distorted message for direction. The final problem with this communication method is these hand signals are easily forgotten if you do not practice. It is much like learning a second language, if you don't practice it, you will not be able to use it.
A helpful hint from Doug on how to make practicing these tactical hand signals easy is to laminate them and carry them in your pack. You could make the signs into cards that would be lighter to carry and last you a long time. You want to practice the signals with your group when you are out in the woods and basically anywhere that you won't seem out of place throwing up hand signals.
Here is an example of how you may approach a potentially friendly lookout with your group and if the lookout doesn't know you. First signal to your group with one finger held up and then make a sign like binoculars over your eyes. Then hold your thumb and index over your head in a forty five degree angle to signal he is armed. Have the group seek cover and set snipers to cover you or an ambassador. When you or the ambassador approaches have your weapon slung to indicate that you are capable of protecting yourself but you are approaching in a peaceful manner. You will want to have a plan B just in case things go badly.
If you are approaching a friend of yours or another member of your group in the dark, it is advised to call to your friend. If she doesn't know your voice or name, you should have a password for the group to use. Change this password often and if someone presents an old code, you know they either have been missing or are now a potential hostile.
Another example of where a password system like this could come in handy is if you have been taken hostage. Your captives have a gun on you and want you to use your password to get into your group. You should have a challenge password or hand signal that indicates you are in distress. For example you could say it was a "sweaty" walk or hold up an okay sign. The word "sweaty" or the okay sign would be a signal to your allies that you need help. You want to pick something that will not seem out of place or send up warning flags in the minds of your captors.
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