How Army Reconnaissance Jobs Work

By: Thorin Klosowski

Reconnaissance is an important component of the Army.
Reconnaissance is an important component of the Army.
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Picture yourself deep behind enemy lines with a small detachment of three or four other soldiers. You're nestled behind shrubbery in a densely forested area where you can't be seen. You've been here for three days, binoculars trained on a target, watching for enemy movement. This is an Army reconnaissance job. These missions aren't glamorous, but that doesn't make them any less important than other duties of Army soldiers.

The primary goal of Army reconnaissance is to gather intelligence and scout out enemy areas [source: FAS]. We're not talking about espionage though, which involves spying within an enemy camp by infiltrating the opposition's ranks or pretending to be someone you're not. Reconnaissance is the collection of two types of intelligence from afar: terrain-oriented and force-oriented. Terrain-oriented recon focuses on the weather and terrain of a region to determine its potential effectiveness for incoming troops. Force-oriented recon centers on evaluating the combatants, activities, equipment, assets and high-payoff targets of an enemy force. After the soldier collects the information, it's relayed back to a commander or, in some cases, acted upon by the unit doing the reconnaissance. It depends on the nature of the situation and the experience of the soldiers.


Recon has been an important part of warfare since battles began. Gathering intelligence about a location has the potential to save lives and prevent further escalation of a conflict. Because of this versatility, many reconnaissance forces are also trained to handle counterterrorism, call in air strikes and secure areas with limited man-power. By their very nature, these missions aren't publicized or attributed to a particular group.

We'll examine how reconnaissance jobs work and how they affect combat scenarios, but first let's take a look at how you earn a spot in a recon unit.

How to Get Army Recon Jobs

If dangerous, high-speed work interests you, you're probably wondering how you can get into an Army recon unit. There are a number of different methods, but let's start near the bottom of the list.

Most infantry battalions have a scout section where you can get the majority of your initial training. When you enlist, you'll have to select your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). An MOS that deals directly with reconnaissance is a Cavalry Scout (MOS 19D) [source: Army Info]. As you might imagine, scouts are usually chosen for their ability to think and act quickly, ascertain information without being seen and their memory skills. Scouts can be assigned many different roles. For example, the Cavalry Scout 19th Delta Armored Reconnaissance Specialist is a person who acts as the eyes and ears of a squad, relaying all information to a commanding officer. If you're physically able and willing to accept the inherent danger involved with this job, you can enter cavalry scout training, which includes a 16-week course at Fort Knox, Ky. [source: Go Army].


On top of doing reconnaissance, you'll also likely be in charge of a few other aspects of Army operations. These responsibilities might include navigating for a unit during combat, manning listening and observation posts, collecting data and classifying routes. You'll also need to be trained and skilled in creating and maintaining camouflage.

Beyond selecting a reconnaissance-oriented MOS, you might also be interested in the Special Operations Command, which consists of several different sections that cater to reconnaissance.

You have to have an E-4 enlistment rank, be qualified in an MOS and in Airborne before you can apply [source: U.S. Army]. Understand that these forces represent the best of the best -- there are no guarantees of being accepted.

If you qualify, you'll go through a series of training sessions, each differing depending on the unit, but that usually include training in crawling, walking and running. After an assessment test, you'll move on to an orientation program specific to the unit you're trying to be a part of. Finally, if you complete months of training and endure grueling tests, you'll be a part of the unit.

Army Ranger Recon Jobs

If you are an Army Ranger you have a good grasp of reconnaissance.
If you are an Army Ranger you have a good grasp of reconnaissance.

The Army Rangers might be one of the most famous units in the Army, but like the rest of the Special Operations Command, we don't know too much about them. That's because the unit's missions tend to fall into three categories usually best kept secret: airfield seizures, special operations raids and urban combat. Recon is so important to the day-to-day activity of the U.S. Army that the Rangers have a detachment solely devoted to it -- the Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment (RRD). All Rangers are skilled in reconnaissance, but RRD is the cream of the crop when it comes to navigation and assessment skills [source: Go Army].

In general, Rangers played an integral role in Vietnam in collecting long-range intelligence in hostile territory [source: Lock]. Operating in well-concealed observations posts, the Rangers were often relied on to keep track of enemy movements in the jungles, where troops could easily slip through undetected.


Rangers operate in small teams of three to four men and spend their time gathering intelligence, surveying equipment and reporting troop actions. That surveillance enables them to call in air strikes on specific targets and relay up-to-date and accurate information to incoming troops and commanders. Often these detachments have orders to avoid confrontation at all costs and to move undetected to confirm or deny pre-existing intelligence.

While much of what they do remains behind closed doors, that doesn't mean the members of the RRD haven't received commendations. On Nov. 10, 2001, a detachment parachuted into a drop zone in Afghanistan in order to secure and establish a landing strip [source: Go Army]. This mission included a free-fall parachute run, as well as tactical deployment in a small area to secure an integral point for future missions, a pretty common trait among RRD jobs. Many of the RRD's missions have paved the way for successful troop actions, and it's not uncommon for Rangers to meet up with infantry and continue on their missions, meaning they need to be skilled in a wide variety of ways.

For lots more information on Army reconnaissance, Rangers and other military jobs, continue on to the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Army Info. "Branches." (April 25, 2011)
  • "Delta Force." (April 13, 2011)
  • Blaess, James Sergeant First Class. "The Roles of MI NCOs in the 75th Ranger Regiment." Military Intelligence. (April 12, 2011)
  • Cavalry Scouts. "Cavalry Scouts." (April 13, 2011)
  • FAS. "RSTA Mission Areas and Tasks." Federation of American Scientists. Dec. 26, 1996. (April 13, 2011)
  • Go Army. "Cavalry Scout." (April 13, 2011)
  • Go Army. "Special Troops Battalion." Go Army. (April 11, 2011)
  • Lock, JD LTC. "The Vietnam War." Army Ranger. (April 11, 2011)
  • Special Operations. "Ranger History." Special Operations. (April 13, 2011)
  • Special Operations Recruiting Battalion. "Special Forces." (April 13, 2011)
  • U.S. Army. "Ranger." U.S. Army." (April 13, 2011)