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by SFC Terry O'Donoghue

3 April 1968: "Dear Mom and Dad ... Our primary danger is not Charlie himself, but the mines and booby traps he sets. This morning the second platoon took fourteen casualties, including one killed when they set off two mines."

--A Long Time Passing, by Myra MacPherson

This was part of a letter Second Lieutenant Robert Crawford (Mike) Ransom, Jr. sent to his parents. Second Lieutenant Ransom died on Mothers' Day in 1968 in a U.S. Army surgical hospital.

It seems everything in the Army has a standard, everything, that is, except for lane and bypass markings. Doctrine tells us that marking the breach lane or bypass is a critical component of obstacle reduction. Effective lane marking allows the commander to project combat power through the obstacle quickly, with forces and command and control intact. Lane marking gives the assault force confidence in the safety of the lane and helps prevent minefield casualties. But HOW are these lanes and bypasses to be marked?

As it stands now, a commander can use just about anything to mark a lane or bypass. For the last several years, observer controllers (O/Cs) at the National Training Center (NTC) have observed everything from hand-emplaced minefield marking system poles attached to the end of the left-hand rail with engineer tape between them, to traffic cones, bicycle flags, and tippy toms. The only thing that has not been observed is the use of the marking standards set forth by NATO in the Standardized Agreement (STANAG) 2889.

There are two critical components to any lane-marking system: the patterns and the device used. Lane-marking patterns are the location of the markers indicating the entrance, the lane itself, and the exit. The marking device is the type of hardware employed to mark the entrance, lane, and exit.

Standard lane-marking patterns help the commander in two critical aspects of moving a unit through a lane. Lane markers, when used correctly, help the unit position its forces for quick and efficient passage through an obstacle. A combination of lanes and traffic control points gives the commander greater mobility in the forward and rearward movement of his forces. A lane marking system that is effective will enable a commander to maintain the tempo and momentum of the attack. Recognizable lane-markers help the commander ready his forces to change from a combat formation to a column formation to pass smoothly and quickly through the lanes. The entrance and exit marking devises must be highly visible to a tank commander from 100 meters away, while the handrail markers must be visible to the buttoned-up driver from 50 meters. Both the far recognition markers and the final approach markers should be visible to the tank commander from 500 meters away, giving him plenty of time to relay critical information to his troops regarding the maneuver formation. Past experiences have shown that this cannot be accomplished by the use of traffic cones or bicycle flags.

The Army must train its soldiers to use the marking devises and lane patterns agreed upon by NATO in the STANAG. By using the standard red and white NATO marking devises and the standardized lane patterns, all NATO forces can easily recognize the upcoming breach. This will ensure that any NATO commander can smoothly maneuver his forces through the obstacle without sustaining any unnecessary casualties. If the NATO standards are used Army-wide, then soldiers transferring to a new unit or engaging in any NATO mission will readily recognize the lane markings and patterns and will not have to relearn new ones.

The author proposes a change in marking to that which is stated in FM 90-13-1, in accordance with the NATO STANAG 2889 marking. The changed diagrams are provided below.

For limited visibility operations, NATO uses white or green lights to illuminate the markers. The same effect can be achieved by using green chemlights on the markers, one on each of the handrail markers and two on each of the entrance and exit markers. The lights should be visible from a minimum distance of 50 meters under most conditions, and should last at least 12 hours. This should not present a problem using the 12-hour duration chemlights and proper night vision devices.

NATO marking devices can be obtained with the Minefield Marking Set #2 (NSN 9905-01-019-0141). Each set contains enough NATO markers to mark 200 meters of lane and lights needed for limited visibility, which can then be replaced with chemlights when needed.

As it stands now, the majority of lane marking in the field is done using nonstandard marking devices. Before using nonstandard devices, commanders should remember that in accordance with FM 90-13-1, markers must be quick and easy to emplace and dismount, minimizing the need to expose the soldier outside of the carrier. Markers should be able to withstand the rigors of the terrain, the weather, and the battlefield. They should be visible under any circumstances and should also be easy to modify when visibility is limited, using minimal addition of manpower and equipment. If we employ NATO STANAG standards for lane marking and marking devices, all the requirements will be upheld.

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