February 28, 2021

Your Smartbooks and Battlebooks, by G.P.

During in-processing to Army Basic Training many years ago, my fellow trainees and I were issued two little books. They were cheaply-made and thin, about 3” x 5” with the longer dimension being their width. One had an orange paper cover, which was for all basic trainees. The other had a white cover, that was for trainees in the specialty of combat engineer. These were always to be carried in our pockets over the next three months.

The contents of these pocket-sized books were cram sheets for the material we were supposed to be learning. They were the condensed and most crucial items that could otherwise be found scattered in a shelf full of military manuals. The little books had diagrams and sketches to illustrate the minimal texts. During any idle time, the drill sergeants expected us to at least be pretending to review the material in the books. Sometimes we would be quizzed on the information, and almost all of it was material that we would be tested on sooner or later. These little books were called smartbooks. The U.S. Army still uses that term, and at least one civilian publisher does, as well. The more recent iterations are thicker and published under the title Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks (SMCT.)

The intent was always to convey needed information as economically and conveniently as possible. The information is usually technical in nature: arming and disarming landmines, specifications of US weapons, diagrams of tactics, how to install barbed wire obstacles, and so forth. Smartbooks are still being produced by the U.S. Army. For example, there is now a doctrine smartbook that provides a 120-page summary of official training and operational doctrine.

Civilian equivalents exist, of course, such as Glover’s Pocket Reference or the Ugly’s Plumbing and Ugly’s Electrical references. And there are lots of examples exist in the academic world of test prep and study aids, naturally. Many of us will remember using flashcards to improve our recall and understanding of different subjects.

A Smartbook for Preppers

What would a smartbook for preppers look like? It would contain all kinds of handy information for review and reference. Like our pocketbooks from basic training, it would need to be “All killer, no filler.”

  1. Specifications and maintenance procedures for vehicles, equipment, and weapons. If it’s normal for you to have work done by someone else, you’ll want a backup. Tune-up guide for a compound bow? How to make a bowstring, or a rowboat? Construction guide for basic structures.
  2. Area maps, with information attached or included; i.e., vegetation, topography, population densities, land use, groundwater and drainage, transportation networks. Understanding your physical location is huge. Where can you see the farthest? Where is the nearest open water? Nearest powerline right-of-way? What highways and railways are nearby?
  3. Industrial parks, shipping terminals, or mechanical or construction shop areas near you. It would be very valuable to have information about a coal pile or a hydraulic press nearby as just two examples.
  4. Foraging guides, perhaps with butchering diagrams. Recognize what foods are available around you instead of passing them by. How does someone set snares, footholds, live traps, and juglines? How do you prepare acorns or cook a turtle?
  5. Year-round weather data for your area. If there’s a nearby area that is notably different because of altitude or water availability, that microclimate info might be valuable too.
  6. Medical guides for first aid and trauma care. Not a whole set of books – procedures that might be likely to be needed. Care for the sick and injured.
  7. Calorie and nutrition information on various common foods. This will help decide where to spend limited resources.
  8. Tree recognition and BTU table for various woods. What is the best return for your effort in locally available firewood?
  9. Important administrative material: deeds and titles, passport title pages, insurance information, creditors & debtors, utilities, pensions, bank and/or brokerage accounts, maybe key points of your medical history.
  10. Gardening data on growing seasons, pests, soil amendments. A half-dozen tables of planting time, growing seasons, pest control, propagation etc. could make the difference for your gardening efforts. Same for animal care: veterinary info, special feed tips, breeding, and the like. How do you shell and grind corn, season cast iron, etc.
  11. Communications: radio frequencies for various emergency services, commercial vehicles, weather stations, and much more. Situational awareness is a huge key.
  12. All types of special considerations that might apply to you: mountaineering procedures if you live in mountains, border crossing procedures if you live near a frontier, transferring fuels, basic facts about ships and aircraft – the possibilities are too numerous to list.

A smartbook for my refuge location includes local government and utilities contacts, topographic maps, frequencies for emergency services, barge and air traffic routes, a fishing map for a large nearby lake, vehicle service procedures, and some preparation ideas for corn, soybeans and winter wheat – the three major food crops that are grown and stored locally. Foraging guides for medical and food plants would be a good addition. Procedures for processing hides would be good, too.

Assembling Local Want Lists

In practice, one might build a list of “wants” for foraging and barter. It would not be good to trade for something you couldn’t use or to miss the chance to get something that you could use. If one is already out and about, why not be in a position to make trades. If foot patrols are part of your future, that is an opportunity as well, if you know what to look for:

  • “Wilson Road from Pepper Road. Thompson place, 2d on right. Use driveway and call out from wood line. Morning is best. Trades eggs for firewood or chicken feed. He’s looking for a wheelbarrow.
  • Morris place, 3d on right. Slap branch against tree outside fence to get attention. Has good German Shepherd pups, not sure what he’ll take for them.

And so on.

Trade info might look like this: “Someone with a herd of goats needs a tractor tire size ___”, or “I have an M9 with no magazines and someone I know has plenty of magazines but is only willing to trade for certain medications, and now someone tells me that their aunt just passed away and left a drawerful of meds”. Every supply room scrounger knows the importance of this kind of knowledge.

Action Plan = Battlebook

If you are thinking that this is getting more into the area of a working notebook and not a reference and self-teaching resource, then you’re right. Somewhere in here our information becomes specific and prescriptive. We are not feeding our minds anymore; we’re following some kind of action plan. This is a different kind of reference. At the Army Officer Basic Course, my fellow lieutenants and I put together these books, called battlebooks.

A battlebook contains all kinds of specific information related to whatever operation you’re involved in. It starts with the actual operations order, then includes a list of tasks that you’re trying to accomplish, what resources you have to get things done, the needed data, communication plans, how to get support, etc.

Here is a summary example: “Your platoon is acting in support of _____ as they set up a helicopter refueling point. At this date/time group you will move from location A to phase line AA. When supporting fires end, move forward on this azimuth. Medevac is called in on frequency ____. Call battalion HQ on freq ___ to get artillery or close air support. At FARP Lima Quebec, perform perimeter guard for the Forward Support Company as they set up the fuel point.”

Everything in the battlebook supports this operation: commo plans, various supplies for the platoon, maps of the operational phases, plans for the units two levels up, what kind of reports you’ll be making upward, and all the rest of it. You can see company commanders walking around in the middle of an operation checking the 5 x 7 cards that they have in a little accordion file on their chest.

A Prepper’s Equivalent

For a prepper’s purposes, maybe it’s an exact plan to get from location A to a more secure location B. Where is resupply possible along the way? Where can the group rest? Where is medical support if needed? Who needs to be notified when we leave? Alternate routes? How do we get info on conditions ahead?

If you’ll be moving into a borrowed boat or RV or cottage, then you need to know how the utilities work. What kind of supplies do you need to get together? Do you plan to conceal the place? Maybe you’ll want to make up a range card to plan your defenses. Where will help be, if you need it?

Do you see the value of this detailed planning? When you’re tired, stressed, hungry, children are crying, you’re not clear on what’s going on around you – check your instructions. The fact that your orders are self-generated makes them more valuable, not less. Don’t underestimate your ability to forget key steps or even simple information. If you were a soldier given orders to secure a property or to move to a different location or to provide emergency help to someone nearby – what would those orders look like?

These books can take different forms, maybe just a folder on your laptop or a note set on your smartphone. You could put together a pretty good battlebook by just writing out a set of steps on numbered 3″ x 5″ cards. My smartbook is mostly a set of documents in an old office accordion file, with a couple of topographic atlases and a bunch of data in a computer file. A basic presentation folder could be all that you need. Office and school supply stores will provide whatever you need.

Documents protectors can preserve important papers. Backpackers and infantrymen use a product called Map Seal to waterproof paper sheets. It’s a clear liquid that’s brushed onto the surface and left to dry. The sheet will get a little wrinkled, you can iron it flat again if it bothers you.

In Review

The smartbook is a collection of information that you don’t normally need but want to have handy in case things get squishy. The battlebook is a specific set of procedures and plans with supporting technical information, meant to answer the needs of various scenarios. Schedules, contact lists, battle drills, supply checklists and Standard Operating Procedures (here’s how we do this…) can all be parts of this book.

There’s nothing complicated about any of the foregoing. It is just working through the questions of what kind of information do I want to have “just in case” and what kind of plans do I want to put together ahead of time. They are an essential library and a basic plan for various contingencies, and you’re the one who decides what’s in there. Just remember our rule:  “All killer, no filler.”

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