So You Want To / Write the Squad

So you've got an Action Movie, or maybe a Spy Thriller. You've got the badass main character. But they can't do everything themselves, surely? You need The Squad.

Basics

Squad in this context means a small unit of specialists formed to carry out a task. This guide is really intended for post-WW2 military or law enforcement squads, but there's no reason why the tropes can't be used for 20 Minutes into the Future, or High Fantasy. Note, a squad in a NATO military is a 10-15 man unit; the Five-Man Band that video games like to call squads are actually fireteams, and there are most usually 2, sometimes 3 of them in a squad.

Choices, Choices

To make up a squad, you have to decide a few things...
  • Time period. This decides several factors, such as equipment, squad roles (not much use in having a computer hacker in German-occupied Paris), and even factors like gender and race of the characters.
  • Setting. Similar to time period, this helps to shape the type and role of the squad. A post apocalyptic band of survivors wouldn't usually have access to air support, for example. Special forces, such as Delta, the Navy SEALs, and the British SAS are a rich source of squad based adventure.

Roles

So now you've decided where and when your squad will operate, it's time to find out who.
  • The Leader. This is usually the main character for some reason. Often a Sergeant Rock, he gives the orders, keeps the squad in line, and is responsible to those higher up in the chain of command.
  • The Automatic Rifleman or Machine Gunner. Responsible for the heavy weapons side, normally a belt fed Light Machine Gun. Due to the size and weight of these weapons, as well as the sheer volume of fire they put out, it's normally The Big Guy (Reality Is Unrealistic, in real life this job sucks, so it is often given to the newest member of the squad, who might well be the youngest! This is to not only to keep ranking FNG's within arm's reach of either the leader or his second, but also because the New Meat is least able to avoid the fun chore of lugging a dedicated MG plus the ammunition plus spare barrels.) — Also usually a very headstrong, hot blooded character.
  • The Communications Officer. Often also The Smart Guy and The Lancer. Responsible for keeping in touch with home base, other units, and assets like air support and artillery. In modern settings, this is one of the roles that can be filled by a female soldier. In some forces, such as the SEALs, this can be an Air Force NCO attached for this purpose (the 2010 Medal of Honor reboot has a good example of this).
  • The Medic. Another candidate for The Smart Guy, the squad medic is highly trained in battlefield first aid, and sometimes becoming a flat out Combat Medic. This role is similar to the Communications Officer in that it can be an attachment from another service, and is another role that can be filled by a woman. This role also be given to The Chick, allowing them to carry out the function of The Heart or developing a Team Mom tendency.
  • The Designated Marksman. Yet another role fitting for The Smart Guy. This is the squad level of the sniper, still focusing on precision shooting, but with less emphasis on camouflage and concealment. Can be either Cold Sniper or Friendly Sniper.
  • The Breacher. The squad level version of the Demolitions Expert, his job is to get in (and out) of the various buildings that the squad may encounter. Comes in two flavours, the Demolitions Expert EOD specialist type, or The Big Guy who is more likely to use battering rams or hammers for a Dynamic Entry.
  • The Grenadier. This is another candidate for The Lancer, and is often second in command. Responsible for using a handheld Grenade Launcher to attack far away targets. In SWAT teams, can often be found with a tear gas launcher to provide a non-lethal option. Occasionally The Big Guy would carry out the job with an absurdly huge gun, or a stash of grenades.

Props Department

Squad members usually all use similar weapons to allow for sharing of ammo, but some exceptions apply.
  • The Leader, Communications Officer, and The Medic will usually all be equipped with a carbine or submachine gun. Good examples of this include the M4 and the AK family of weapons.
  • The Designated Marksman will likely use a larger caliber variant of the standard assault rifle, such as the M110, or an older model battle rifle such as the M14. Scopes, bipods, and match-grade ammunition are also necessary. For ranged combat, they may resort to using sniper rifles such as PSG-1, AWP, or even M82A1.
  • Machine guns such as the M249 or M27 are used by the Automatic Rifleman to provide covering fire, but in some situations, such as close quarter fighting or in a SWAT team, they may not be issued. Occasionally, if the machine gunner in question is The Big Guy, they might access to Miniguns.
  • The Breacher is likely to use a shotgun, either as a main weapon, or a smaller sawn-off secondary weapon, in addition to breaching charges and battering rams.
  • Some units issue pistols to each member of the squad, but in less elite units such as Rangers or Marines pistols are only issued to officers and specialist troops such as medics.
  • The Grenadier will either use a M4 or AK family of weapon with a Grenade Launcher fitted underneath, or a larger standalone type, be it M32 MGL, or rocket launchers like AT4 or RPG-7. Alternatively, a stash of grenades and C4 are popular for people who embrace the power of explosions.

Prop Department

Guns guns guns. The equipment of a squad depends on their service and era. Avoid the temptation to avoid just throwing together every single cool or rare firearm. Real squads have to worry about logistics, availability, permission, support, training, and so many other things which dictate the arms they use. This is something to be especially wary of for squads from countires which technically have accepted and do have a wide variety of small arms, like Russia, but only produce a few of them in meaningful numbers and issue even fewer of them widely. Occasionally special forces get to use non-standard weapons, but if they do, it's almost certainly something that takes a standard issue round if not the standard magazines, too. Think Delta operators using the HK416, which is a limited issue weapon that uses both the 5.56x45 round and the STANAG magazines of the M4. A more extreme example from real life is the USMC's MARSOC approving the 9x19 Glock 19 (not an issue weapon, but uses the issue 9x19 caliber) for use by special operations marines in place of the standard US military 9x19 Beretta M9 or MARSOC's own 45ACP M45a1 (modified M1911). Cool personal weapons are the exception and not the rule, and as time marches on, standardization becomes increasingly =strict. A team composed of a guy with an M4, a guy with an M14, a guy with a SAW, a guy with an M240B, and a guy with an M1014 would be a logistics nightmare, because 5 different weapons use 3 different calibers, none of them can share feed systems (the SAW can sorta use M4 magazines suboptimally), only 2 weapons are optimized for quick fire and maneuver, 40% of the weapons lack versatility, 3 of the weapons have reduced firepower and increased weight compared to alternatives. What is far more plausible is three guys with M4's, one with an M14, and one with a SAW. Even all the various roles are likely to have the standard rifle, with the exception of the primary machinegunner and possibly the designated marksman. In reality, a NATO squad of 10 members often has 8 riflemen and 2 machinegunners. The grenadier is integrated with the squad leader. If there is a designated marksman, then there is likely only 1. Dedicated breachers are of an invention of media than reality — yes, someone may have either a standalone shotgun or a shotgun attachment on their rifle, but the standalone shotgun is seldom the only weapon they carry.

Costume Designer

Camouflage, body armour, and helmets are order of the day, with SWAT and counterterrorist teams using black or dark blue for intimidation in dark situations. Individual variations are minor - having each character in a completely different outfit is very rare in real life in any kind of outfit with even minimal regimentation.

The Greats

  • Medal of Honor and the latter Battlefield games are great examples of squads with varied roles and individual characters, especially the Bad Company series. Another good example in video games is Star Wars Republic Commando.
  • Zero Dark Thirty is a good reference for the use of marksmen and breachers, as is American Sniper.
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