Understanding what a Military Technical Advisor can do for an author

Within several genres, there is a need for someone to provide insight into the confusing world of the firearms and military procedures. Specifically, within the apocalyptic and post apocalyptic genre the need is great. Editors are excellent to have, proofreaders for feedback, beta/test readers as a test market are all resources that an author should employ. But, rarely do all these people catch something that will jump out to a MTA (Military Technical Advisor).

As an author myself, I know that it can be difficult to get the right blend of action and realism within a novel that will hold the reader’s interest. Working within the above mentioned genres, that need is even greater.

Over the years I’ve read a lot of novels that deal with apocalyptic events, everything from advanced alien races invading the earth to hostile nation states conducting that same operation on a smaller scale. Some of those novels were well detailed with accurate Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) in regard to the military units depicted within those works while others fell short. The difference between those novels is how well the author performed due diligence research and didn’t rely solely on Google or other sites that are questionable in their information.

For those of you who are not aware of TTP, these methods are usually non-classified movements and procedures that a military unit will conduct during the course of their operations. They train with these TTPs just about 24/7. Doesn’t matter what kind of unit it is, there are always TTPs to adhere to. Finding out what they really are can be a chore but they do exist. If an author is going to create a character or a set of characters that are part of an elite unit/team/element, then that author needs to perform enough research to make that unit perform as it should by extrapolating from known real-world TTPs. What this means is if your main character is part of SFOD-D, that’s Delta Force for those that don’t know, TTPs would be very similar to Special Forces TTPs as Delta recruits from those units. Sure, SFOD-D will then improve upon what has been learned but the TTPs could, generally, be very similar to what one would find related to US Army Special Forces operations. SFOD-D is the official designation according to the Department of Defense (DoD) for Delta Force. However, the name does change among the operators. Delta has had a number of names and acronyms assigned to it over the years but it still remains SFOD-D ‘officially’ nod, nod, wink, wink.

Let’s say that an author has created a group that is supposed to be part of Delta, an operational element. Then the novel progresses to the point of an apocalyptic event, say infection, a global pandemic resulting in zombie like creatures roaming the world with small pockets of survivors. This is a basic premise and has been used quite successfully in the past.

Here we are with a unit made up of seasoned special operators as Delta does not take the newbs, the Ricky Recruits straight from Basic but seeks out experienced operators that have quite a few years in harness with all or the majority of those years in Special Forces or some kind of US Army Tier 1 unit. Delta does not normally recruit outside of the US Army as in recruiting from other branches of service. Not saying it can’t happen or hasn’t happened, but it would have to be a truly exceptional case for it that to occur. All the branches of service have some rivalry about what they do and like to keep their own personnel within their ranks. All branches have some sort of special operations unit. The Air Force has AFSOC, the Navy has SPECWAR, the Marines have MARSOC and even the Coast Guard got into the special operations arena some years back.

With that established, we can now move back to the topic.

Here’s an example from popular fiction but I won’t identify the novel or author. Some might recognize it and some won’t. That’s really not important. What is important is how the description of events was portrayed and what is wrong with the overall concept of operation.

The premise is this: A Delta element is assigned to recover sensitive personnel from a CDC type lab, a multi-story building inside a secure compound. The element has access to air in the form of a Black Hawk, the designated insertion and extraction platform. The element arrives on station, sees the perimeter is overrun with infected and does what?

Realistically, the element would not do what the author had them do.

Here is what the author did:

The helo went into a hover nowhere near the main building. Instead, the senior NCO an alleged high-speed operator with over 10years of SOF experience and now a Delta operator had his element fast rope into the compound. That means the helo went into a hover over hundreds, maybe thousands of infected so the element could dangle down like bait on a hook and the helo thumping away at hover, literally ringing the dinner bell. This type of insertion made it impossible for any door gunners to provide any type of fire support for the deploying unit.


That element then engaged the infected on the ground using a judicious amount of ammunition and what was referred to as suppressive fire. Hate to point out that the infected were not shooting back and had a distinct lack of tactics so suppressive fire was basically a waste of time. What the element did was engage the hostile force on that opposing force’s home turf thereby eliminating any advantage they may have had over that hostile force. Advantage being the ability to use tools, aircraft and superior tactics.

Seriously, WTF?

This is not a Black Hawk Down event where more units fast rope down and secure the perimeter. No. This element is operating with very limited support. The air crew, the aircraft and that’s about it. There’s no QRF on call to respond when they get their tea bags in hot water.

The sensible course of action, and adhering to common sense TTP not to mention established doctrine, would be, if the senior NCO was truly a 10 year veteran of Special Forces and now a member of Delta, hover over the roof of the building, maybe even have the helo touch it’s wheels on the roof, insert the element, gain access to the roof door, then move down to secure the personnel, the real objective of the mission. Once the mission objective had been achieved, move back up to the roof for the extraction. Not go all Rambo and mow down the infected inside the perimeter, needlessly wasting your unit’s finite amount of ammunition and jeopardizing the safety of the unit. After all, this is an apocalyptic event; the survivors are going to want these special operators around for a while to provide some form of security. Not to mention the skill set this type of personnel brings with them.

That method of insertion, the roof, is safer. It does not overly hazard the element, the air crew or the aircraft. Anyone who has ever been in the military knows that you use the assets on hand with the intent to not jeopardize the safety and security of your team by performing something that will massively increase the risk and deplete the limited resources your unit has on them. One can only carry so much ammunition and in a target rich environment as described, any other option for insertion would be a senseless, waste of time, personnel, and ammunition. Moving down from the roof is a sound tactic given the assets on hand.

Inserting by fast rope might look really cool in some Hollyweird film and might add some tension to the written scene but its stupid and extremely out of character for a SF operator with that many years in service. It’s totally out of character for someone who is supposed to have made it through Delta selection.

Those of us with military experience read books like this one and almost face palm at the stupidity of the actions.

If one breaks down the movements: we have helo insertion to the roof (safest, most effective method). Gain access via roof door, again most efficient use of resources and personnel. Descend stairs, securing access doors and clearing the stairs on the way down. Control the battle space and it’s a limited battle space as it’s a stairwell. Locate high-value personnel, extract said personnel using a reverse of the entry method. Done. Mission accomplished, minimal expenditure of ammunition and increased safety of not only the entry team but also of the high-value personnel who are civilians and most likely have no weapons training as they are supposed to be lab rats.

As depicted, moving down from the roof is far easier than pushing through hordes of the infected and engaging them on their turf and outside in the open where they have the numerical superiority. Sun Tzu anyone? Sure, hallways and stairwells provide chokepoints for the infected but those same locations work bath ways, they limit the number of infected that would be encountered. Securing the stairwell doors on the way down to the basement makes the mission flow smoother with decreased risk.

The roof insertion allows the helo to then orbit the site and using its extremely loud sound signature, and door guns, draw the infected away from the building and engage them instead of hovering overhead and literally ringing the dinner bell.

The series of novels written by the author who had this scene in one of his recent books, is action packed apoc fiction but not good action packed apoc fiction. Sure, the author has sold more books than most, and his name is floating around out there but, damn it, man, do some above average research so your characters don’t come across as mentally deficient and lacking basic tactical thought processes.

Sadly, what I just described happens a lot within all genres. While an author might be able to pump out several action novels within a year so their name remains common at dinner table discussions, taking the time to get it right and putting out fewer books of better quality, might be a better option.

Preventing the above listed issues is what a MTA is for. If you’re an author who has a military thematic element within your book(s), or an author who has contemporary firearms within your work, you might consider talking to a Military Technical Advisor, especially one that specializes in assisting authors.

That conversation would be far more effective than using Google for research.


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