Ascensión: A Tale of the Mexican Drug War (Fictional Intelligence)


Small Wars Journal is pleased to present an excerpt from Ascensión: A Tale of the Mexican Drug War  by Small Wars Journal-El Centro Fellow Michael L. Burgoyne.

This fictional account—or FICINT (Fictional Intelligence)—describes the security situation in Mexico in an accessible manner.

Here the situation in Mexico is described through the lens of fiction and intelligence to depict future conflict scenarios grounded in reality.[1]  Is it ‘criminal insurgency,’ ‘civil strife,’ ‘crime wars,’ ‘non-international armed conflict (NIAC),’ or something else. Burgoyne seeks to inform the policy and operational debate surrounding insecurity and criminal armed groups (CAGs) in Mexico in this text.

Comments from the author:

In 2020, Mexico suffered over 35,000 homicides, marking another year of exceptionally high rates of violence that are comparable to a war zone. Mexican transnational criminal organizations drive the violence in Mexico and play a key role in the over 70,000 annual drug overdose deaths in the United States. Yet, Americans lack an understanding of the complex security situation just south of the border.

I am thankful to Small Wars Journal-El Centro for the opportunity to present an excerpt from, Ascensión: A Tale of the Mexican Drug War.  I wrote the story as modern day western designed to bring the reader into a violent and complicated world where there are no easy answers. While the story is fiction, the events depicted are drawn from reality, which is documented in the accompanying notes section. These notes also include references to outstanding scholars that provide excellent analysis of the ongoing conflict in Mexico.

Finally, this excerpt is augmented with a brief interview with Alexei Chevez, a Mexican scholar and security practitioner with a deep knowledge of the nature of the internal stability struggles in Mexico.

My hope is that this work of fiction provides an engaging way to understand the very real and daunting security challenges the Mexican people face.

Stay Alert, Armed and Dangerous!


Civilian Operator 101: Mantracking


How to Track a Human

(click on above link to be re-directed)

Here is another good article on Tracking/Counter-Tracking from the Small Unit Perspective (You can download the entire .pdf from the link below)

Visual Tracking and the Military Tracking Team Capability: A Disappearing Skill and Misunderstood Capability

Some other good books on the subject:

  • Combat Tracking Guide by John Hurth
  • SAS Guide to Tracking by Bob Carss
  • Tracking: Signs of Man – Signs of Hope by David Diaz
  • Tracking Humans by David Diaz

As far as actually LEARNING the skill-set, you gotta get out in the field to do that.

I would highly recommend Tony Nester over at Ancient Pathways. Tony is the real deal and offers a Top notch program all the way around.

Stay Alert, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!

Guerilla Warfare History: 32 Battalion Operations in the South African Border War


32 Battalion Operations in the South African Border War

For the Military Historian and Civilian Operator alike, the study of the African Bush Wars are excellent primers on Guerilla Warfare.

Stay Alert, Armed and Dangerous!

Civilian Operator 101: Hybrid Warfare Historical Study


Russia’s actions in the Ukraine has brought new attention to the concept of “hybrid warfare”. The uptick of interest has been spurred by the waging of hostilities on multiple levels and specifically the seeming novelty of using irregular, political, and information operations in conjunction with more traditional coercion. Such tactics are meant to identify, exacerbate, and create divisions in societies that can then be exploited by an adversary seeking to advance an objective or at least constrain a state’s ability to act decisively.

While much of the scholarly discussion – when it is not focused on whether hybrid warfare is an actual development or simply a bundling of old ideas – has dealt with the implications for Eastern Europe, it is important to note that the United States has been targeted by foreign governments using aspects of “hybrid warfare” since the beginning of the Cold War and in some cases even prior to the commencement of that era. Not only the Soviet Union (by which Russia’s actions seem to remain so heavily influenced) but China and smaller states such as Cuba directed efforts at creating unfounded dissension and even violence within the United States.

Given the likelihood that foreign efforts to disrupt U.S. political discourse – in furtherance of stymying decisiveness about decisions regarding developments beyond its borders – will continue, it is worth examining the paradigms that a foreign government endeavoring to manipulate U.S. policy might attempt to create. First, a foreign power may seek to nullify voices which it perceives to be hostile to its interests and may use means as drastic as murder to do so. Reducing the impact of U.S. constituencies undercuts policymakers’ by giving them a seemingly diminished mandate to justify difficult decisions. While working to nullify certain voices, foreign governments attempt to unleash others that seek to undercut the legitimacy of the U.S. government. Of interest to foreign governments seeking to chip away at the U.S. government’s ability to act are voices which contribute to three broad categories of activity: lawlessness (i.e. those individuals and organizations that are an active affront to authorities); militant and extremist movements (e.g. Cuban collusion with leftist radicals during the 1960s and 1970s); fomenting distrust of the U.S. government (e.g. Soviet encouragement of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy); and portraying the U.S. government as indifferent and weak when it comes to the needs of its population – a theme usually accompanied by the token gesture of a foreign government, such as Venezuela in its subsidized heating oil program.

Read the Remainder at Small Wars Journal

Health and Fitness: The Physically Adaptive Combat Athlete

Although this is obviously aimed for military application, I think it gives the Civilian Operator a great springboard template to base his Physical Fitness training regimen off of, especially if you want to integrate small unit tactics. -SF



The Physically Adaptive Soldier: Creating the Combat Athlete

Darrell E. Fawley III

As the Army transitions to a more flexible, adaptive force able to operate with little or no forewarning across a broad range of physical environments and levels of conflict, its physical training program remains rigid and fixed.  While espousing the need for the capability and capacity – to include endurance – to accomplish the mission in a complex environment, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, The US Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World makes no mention of physical fitness.[i]  However, to have a force that can operate in a diverse range of geographic conditions and climates and perform tasks across a broad range of military operations, physical fitness will be key.  While functional fitness is the regime du jour, adaptive fitness is the concept that will prepare the Army to fight and win in a complex world.  Units should develop physical training programs that focus on developing the combat athlete and the Army should adopt policies that foster adaptive fitness for its direct combat units.

The Combat Athlete

By definition, the uncertain future operating environment will contain a set of challenges that are unknown.  However, the range of potential conflicts and physical tasks is knowable.  Soldiers, though, don’t know the exact climate and geography they will operate in and do not know the exact physical tasks required, thus they must have a much broader base of fitness than doctrine or common programs offer.  While Field Manual 7-22, Army Physical Readiness Training, explicitly states that “[p]hysical readiness is the ability to meet the physical demands of any combat or duty position, accomplish the mission, and continue to fight and win”, the manual remains a one-size-fits-all approach to general fitness in most aspects.[ii]  There are many things to like about the manual, however, it does not set a path toward adaptive combat fitness. Combat or operational soldiers need to be prepared for the demands of any environment and any situation.[iii]

While regional alignment eliminates some environmental uncertainty, it doesn’t provide enough certainty to train for one specific place.  A regionally aligned brigade could fight in a set of diverse environments within their region. The African continent alone has six climate zones before even looking at the unique geography of individual areas.  Unlike a soldier who in the past may have prepared for a year to fight in the mountains of Afghanistan or the desert of Iraq, current soldiers need a broad level of a fitness that will benefit them in any potential environment.  Thus, they need a level of a fitness that will allow them to quickly adapt to the unique challenges they may face.  How do they do this?  Simply put, adaptive fitness.

Why Something New?

In recent years, there has been a wide body of fitness programs that operate under the banner of functional fitness with many of them claiming to be good for military athletes, of which CrossFit is certainly the largest and most well known.[iv] Some of these, such as Military Athlete, actually take into consideration what a combat soldier may need to do and build that into their programming.  However, many of these programs require a large amount of equipment that would be unfeasible in this budget environment with which to outfit units.  Put another way, they are gym based.  Further, while revered by some and reviled by others, CrossFit has proven effective in creating fitness.  The problem is that CrossFit has crossed into the realm of sport and is more about showing off the general fitness of its athletes than any discernable, useful fitness.  The average combat athlete has no need to be able to do a muscle up, an overhead squat, a handstand pushup or a double under, no matter how worthy these accomplishments may be.[v]

While practice has diverged from theory in CrossFit, the principals remain solid.  For example, one of CrossFit’s fitness models is that an athlete should be able to perform well no matter what physical task he or she is assigned.[vi][vii]  Called the “Hopper Model”, under this philosophy, given an infinite list of potential physical tasks, a well-trained athlete should perform to a high standard at any randomly chosen event.  For a combat soldier, there is not an infinite number of potential physical tasks, but there are a large number of tasks that a soldier may have to perform.  The sample list below shows a number of tasks that may need to be performed in combat wearing a full load to include the Army Combat Uniform, IOTV/Plate Carriers, ACH, weapon, PPE and other gear.

  • Conduct 3-5 second bounds while advancing under fire,
  • Patrol over long distances in rough terrain carrying combat gear plus extra equipment,
  • Drag a casualty to safety when the casualty is loaded down in full combat gear,
  • Drag a SKED litter or carry a litter for long distances,
  • Carry a casualty alone or with assistance,
  • Pull himself into a window, pull another soldier into a window or scale a wall,
  • Move over, around, and through obstacles,
  • Manually breach a door with his body or crowbar,
  • Move through a trench crouched,
  • Throw a grenade or grappling hook,
  • Change a tire,
  • Lift casualties into a helicopter or vehicle,
  • Move cases of water, bags of feed or grain or other heavy objects to distribute to locals,
  • Scale a steep slope,
  • Run 300-500 meters while reacting to indirect fire dismounted.
  • Engage in hand-to-hand combat,
  • Engage moving targets with elevated heart rate.

Read the Remainder at Small Wars Journal