Freddy Osuna is a Marine Combat Veteran and accomplished tracking instructor. He has taught with some of the best schools in the country and abroad and worked with everyone from LEOs, ESAR and SOF units.
Spending years perfecting his craft, Freddy is considered an SME (Subject Matter Expert) when it comes to tracking and the merging of old world skills with new technology and techniques. We caught up with Freddy to ask him a few questions about his tracking methodology, his book and the gear he uses.
What started your deep interest in tracking methods?
I’ve always had an interest in the survival/self-reliance skills industry; even attended my first formal survival/tracking school at the age of 13. As a boy I spent much of my time in the desert studying the tracks of coyote, bobcat, javelina, rabbit and quail. I taught myself to follow these trails for short distances in grade school. In 2002 I attended the USMC Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa Japan where I was first introduced to military survival/tracking training. Patrolling and small unit maneuver warfare was something I excelled in as a Marine serving with 1st Bn 6thMarines and 1st Bn 4th Marines. Later I would graduate Marine Corps Scout Sniper School where basic tracking is also taught and joined a community of likeminded bushmen who ate, shit and slept the hunting of gunmen. Since Vietnam the USMC Scout Sniper Community has preserved a visual tracking capability, some generations more so than others. In 2006 I coordinated with the U.S. Army Combat Tracker Course to provide a mobile training team for 1st Marine Regiments Scout Snipers. This was ran by the Tactical Tracking Operations School (TTOS). I was reinvigorated to the fact there may be work for me as a professional tracking instructor upon honorable discharge. I taught tracking while in active duty for TTOS. In fact when I got off of active duty I was called and asked if I would teach for TTOS fulltime. I have to thank TTOS for giving me my first civilian gig after getting out. I’ve seen this skill save lives while active duty in combat.
What would you say is the major principle behind the tracking method you teach and promote?
I would say my method is different because it is complete. Now what do I mean by this? There are many tracking schools in the U.S. and U.K. for that matter. The British have ran a survival/tracking school in Brunei since the end of WW2 largely based on jungle warfare. For this reason their 5-7 step tracking drill is designed for very thick vegetation and tight formations. Since 2003 they have updated to include other tracking concepts like the Rhodesian method gleaned from the Tactical Tracking Operations School as just one example. Tactical Tracking Operations School (Where I worked as a lead instructor 2008-2010) introduced to the USMC and U.S. Army in 2006 the Rhodesian method. Introduced by a former Rhodesian Selous Scout this method can be described as a highly dynamic, fast paced sign cutting and tracking technique designed for open desert terrain. The TTOS cadre and the British Royal Marines at Brunei have often shared ideas and if the Brits have gained from the TTOS method than TTOS has gained equally from theirs. There have been many other important innovators in tracking history like Ab Taylor for instance and Jack Kearney both Border patrol agents utilizing a very similar process to that of TTOS which I would describe as highly dependent on open terrain with natural or man-made breaks which trap impressions making it easier for the sign cutter to locate and ID. So historically we see a trend….terrain greatly influences tracking tactics development.
If there was one skill that you would say is the most important what skill would that be?
Oh man that’s a hard one. As I think back to the hundreds of mistakes I’ve made on animal and human trails in many environments, in so many different conditions, the one thing that pops up is self- awareness. Being able to continuously question yourself should be built into the system of any tracking training. Fitness, technical proficiency, survival, land navigation, marksmanship, intelligence, ingenuity — all of these things are important to a tracker, but humility is the most important of all.
What items do you carry in your bag for search-and-rescue missions?
I have various arrangements of equipment in my pack. I carry an equipment set which can hold me over for 24hrs without resupply. In my region we are afforded with the ability to resupply within 8 hours max which is a luxury allowing us to pack light and move fast. Essential items include those items necessary for sustaining my basic needs; food, water, shelter, security, fire. Instead of making a huge list with items most people are expecting to see, I will provide a list of items and their uses which may be unique to tracking only.
In my pack along with other essentials: poncho, pack cover, OR weather proof shell, leg gaitors, 200oz of water, meals, survival kit, Heavy Cover inc mess kit, Downrange Tomahawk breaching axe, hammer, prye bar, extra socks, batteries, first aids kit. Tracking specific gear includes foot coverings made by Cat Paws, which I use to contain my own footwear pattern so as not to contaminate the tracks on a scene. I carry a cheap 500 lumen flashlight which is better than my expensive flashlights because it mimics the hues of natural sunlight better than any other flashlight I own. 10 small chemlight glow sticks for marking last known points at night, a measuring tape, Folding L-Shape ruler, neon survey tape for marking last known point for day time, line chalk powder for marking the ground. I also will use a tracking stick or trekking pole which I can attach a stream lite sidewinder head lamp for oblique lighting on the ground. A large signal mirror helps me to use sunlight during the day to resolve more detail in a track. Something unique to me is a line laser. A Z-Bolt c-trip green line laser can be used to track at night if using and only if using the Index Tracking method. A line laser reduces verbal communication, increases team orientation for where the track line is going and reduces target signature of a tracking team among many, many other enhancements. We teach this Green laser index night tracking (GLINT) technique at all of our courses. Finally, I always carry a set of binoculars in my pack and on my chest. I believe binoculars are the most underutilized item by search teams.
What tools are needed to successfully track a person and does it differ from environments?
Yes absolutely — experience in the environment your tracking in matters. Some environments are harder than others. A dense triple canopy jungle is the hardest of tracking terrains in my opinion. Its characteristics of dense cluttered vegetation and little penetrating sunlight, knee to shoulder height underbrush, soil moisture, heat, and uneven terrain will slow a tracker down dramatically. So many places for a bad guy to hide in waiting. The tools a tracker needs to deal with the worst of situations are the tools of the mind. A positive and enduring mental attitude is number 1. This positive and enduring mental attitude will keep you focused when you are experiencing friction. It will speak to you to fall back on your training. It will remind you of lessons learned in training and combat. This positive and enduring attitude is developed through realistic and efficient training. Although common practice, it is not realistic for a tracking school to have a policy of leaving purposefully placed footprints every 15-20 meters, so that students can make sure they are on the right trail. Once students begin to doubt your system of teaching, one of your “master instructors” (derogatory term) can lead them to one of these purposely placed tracks patting them on their back and sending them to fall on their face again.
What prompted you to write the book “Index Tracking: Essential Guide to Trailing Man and Beast”?
After teaching tracking for the USMC and the US Army for the biggest tracking schools at the time, I found there was a lot of questions I had which were not being answered. I found that the program we were teaching contained a lot of “fluff” and the strength of the instructors whom I greatly respect was not measured by their depth of knowledge in tracking but rather in the depth of their war stories and small unit tactics. So really what prompted me to write Index Tracking was my hope to introduce a new way of learning and performing the process of visual tracking. We started by first getting rid of the “fluff” and learned the hard way our selves.
What lessons do you hope readers gain from reading your book?
I hope they get a solid understanding of what it takes to become a tracker. Our Index Tracking method is based on a foundation of 3 pillars. These 3 pillars are like a progressive formula which collectively create a Greenside Tracker. 1st pillar establishing a standard for evaluating marks and impressions; 2nd determining precise directions of travel; 3rd individual movement/awareness. We evaluate and grade every single student in every single drill to come up with grade point averages. Imagine being graded quantifiably on how well you use your nose, ears, eyes and intuition. How well you age a footprint or scat. How accurately you can read directional indicators in a footprint.
Tell us about what projects you are currently working on?
Along with military and law enforcement consulting and classes, we just released our 2016 calendar and will be teaching all over the US. We were asked to provide tracker expertise to an instructional video “Driven 2” by director Chad Cooper of Infidel Body Armor, to be released Summer 2016. I’m doing more writing this year for RECOIL Magazine and Breach Bang Clear. Writing and hopefully finishing book 2 “untitled”, which I hope to release by Christmas. Other than that we are staying fluid. I am constantly researching and testing new concepts, attending other tracking schools I respect like John Hurths Tyr Group LLC and Tactical Tracking Operations School, survival classes with Tony Nester, and Terry Barney.