"Whoever said the jungle is neutral ain't never been where I'm from..."
- — Trooper Larro, 93rd Catachan Jungle Fighters Regiment
A Scout is a specialist of the Imperial Guard dedicated to survival and reconnaissance whose primary role is to lead the way through arduous or hostile terrain, and to advise his or her comrades how best to do so. Blessed as they are with keen eyes and an innate sense for the lie of the land, the Scout is capable of finding a path through terrain others may have written off as impenetrable. Almost every regiment in the Imperial Guard has amongst its ranks men and women blessed with a nigh-preternatural empathy with the environment. Perhaps they were hunters before the regiment was founded and spent much of their lives alone in the wilderness. Perhaps they were rangers, responsible for guarding their master's lands from intruders. Maybe they were something far darker such as bounty hunters or even slavers, and learned to master the land and its ways to their own fell ends.
A Scout can direct his comrades as to which flora and fauna might be safe to eat. Most importantly, the Scout can use all of his skills to detect enemy ambushes, taking his cue from anything from an abnormal silence in the environment to an alien scent carried faintly on the breeze. Accomplished Scouts can direct their commanders to counter such tactics, launching a counter-ambush from an entirely unanticipated quarter. Thus, in matters relating to the exploitation of terrain, any commander who does not consider the advice of such individuals is a fool for not taking advantage of the knowledge and the unique insight they can provide about the field. Of course, the role of a Scout goes well beyond taking the point position when the unit is passing through difficult and dense terrain. Having received additional training in waging war in a wide range of environments the Scout must pass on the knowledge of every last threat the environment might pose to his comrades. In a galaxy that is host to an unimaginable number of planets over which humanity might make war, the variety of threats is great indeed.
On one world the primary threat to the troopers' well-being might be waterborne bacteria, while on the next they might be assailed by venomous airborne parasites. Some worlds are so inimitable to human life that death could come as a result of simply treading on the wrong patch of ground or touching the wrong type of plant. Even those planets not officially designated by the Administratum as Death Worlds might nonetheless impose as many casualties on an invading army as does the enemy, through extremes of temperature, native life forms, unpredictable weather patterns and a host of other vectors. Lastly, the Scout must be a master of stealth. Even in those regiments specialising in such tactics, the Scout must be an expert in all forms of camouflage and adept at silent movement, and he must pass on his skills to his comrades as much as he can manage. After all, the effective stealth of the group depends on the subtlety of each individual member.
Like most of the advanced roles a Guardsman might assume, the position of Scout is often one that individual troopers are born into. The regiments of the Imperial Guard are drawn from a staggering range of planet types and so every regimental Founding has amongst its number those unusually attuned to a specific environment. Regiments tithed from the natives of dense Hive Worlds are invariably adept at fighting through the cramped environs of any similar type of terrain, while those native to forested planets are often highly skilled at fighting in similar types of environment. Beyond the easily classified planet types are those troops raised from the staggering range of highly exotic environments to be found all over the Imperium. Such environments range from settlements adrift upon endless oceans of caustic sludge to cities slung beneath island-sized airships drifting through the upper reaches of the atmospheres of resource-rich gas giants. When possible, regiments are despatched to fight in warzones suited to their particular speciality, but in practice there are so many different types that this is rarely possible. However, regiments are frequently deployed to worlds beyond their expertise, and in those cases, they must trust such individuals to quickly assimilate the specifics of the terrain they are deployed to and to learn its unique features and dangers as rapidly as possible.
When there is the time and resources to do so, some regiments' Scouts are given special instruction on the terrain of a warzone the unit is soon to deploy into. This is only possible when the regiment's commanders have reasonably current intelligence, and otherwise risks backfiring. For example, a regiment despatched to reclaim a verdant Agri-world from the clutches of a marauding Ork invasion might make planetfall only to discover the entire surface blasted to ashes and choked with the poisonous effluvium of the barbarous aliens' ramshackle industries. In such a case, any training they had done to study the tactics and camouflage appropriate for the Agri-world would be wasted. Nevertheless, any reliable information about the terrain of an upcoming battlefront is incredibly valuable to a regiment's Scouts, whose skills rest particularly heavily on turning the terrain from a hazard into an advantage. Generally, this level of preparation is only possible when vast numbers of troops are being mustered and prepared for long-planned campaigns. In many cases, the regiments are pitched into unfamiliar warzones with little or no warning of what to expect, forcing the Scouts to adapt once on the ground.
Depending on the regiment they are serving in, the scouts may be informally recognised experts or they may be officially designated specialists. Often, a squad or platoon commander simply knows that one of his troopers is especially skilled at stealth work, adept in fieldcraft and blessed of keen sense of his surroundings. In veteran regiments such individuals might serve on the command staff, acting as dedicated officers and advisors in the service of the Colonel. Regardless of how they are organised, Scouts perform a number of battlefield tasks, many of them highly dangerous.
When traversing especially arduous terrain, it often falls to the Scout to lead the way. This is a balance however, for the lead man is also the most vulnerable and few commanders willingly expose such skilled and valuable troopers to undue risk. Most Scouts are loath to let another take their place at the head of the column, but if ordered to they maintain a position close behind from where they can keep a watchful eye out for danger and pass on advice to the lead trooper. In this way, units with an accomplished scout in their midst soon learn some of his skills and become adept at operating in a wide a range of environments, from dense jungle to creeping mist. Scouts are often assigned the duty of detecting enemy ambushes, a task they are expected to oversee rather than perform themselves. Some prefer to reconnoitre terrain in which the enemy is likely to be hidden in person, but most commanders insist a decoy is sent ahead under the Scout's orders to flush out hidden enemy troops. While callous in the extreme, the Scout is far more valuable to the regiment than the troopers assigned to the decoy duty.
Scouts often play a key role when it comes to patrolling duties. While many operations the Imperial Guard take part in are gruelling meat grinders where hundreds of men are herded towards the foe or placed in his way, others are more subtle. Sometimes a regiment is tasked with patrolling an area where rebels or Heretics are suspected of operating, and doing so requires a whole range of skills, many of which the Scout is very knowledgeable in. Such so-called suppression operations often involve day and night sweeps of potentially hostile regions, the intent being to flush out and engage enemy elements hiding amongst the population. A regiment's Scouts are invariably vital to this role, advising unit leaders on which routes to take, how to avoid likely ambush sites and how to recognise and respond to an imminent enemy action. Of course, while many of these operations take place in densely populated human cities, others are carried out deep in the wilderness and potentially against a xenos foe operating unseen far behind the Imperium’s lines. Such tasks test the mettle of even the most veteran Scout, making him a pivotal weapon in the regimental commander's already formidable arsenal.
The degree to which individual regiments formalise the designation of individual Scouts amongst their ranks depends very much on a range of factors, from ingrained tradition to necessity. At their Founding, almost all regiments have in their ranks individuals with the background or predisposition to make them ideal in the role of Scout, whether or not such a specialisation is recognised. If these experienced individuals survive past their first few battles they are likely to become key members of their units, their skills propagating throughout the ranks as the regiment fights battle after battle. Plenty of regiments are wiped out during their first operation of course, but those that survive their first exposures to the nightmare drop zones and crater-pocked battlefields of the late 41st Millennium are likely to become the stuff on legends on the worlds of their Founding.
Some of the most famous Scouts in the Imperial Guard are those belonging to the renowned Catachan Jungle Fighters. Every single Jungle Fighter is an expert in operating in perilous jungle terrain, for none would have survived past infancy were this not the case. Even amongst the fearsomely accomplished Catachans, however, there are those recognised as experts in surviving and fighting in the most arduous of jungles. Such men and women are looked upon with awe even by the gruff Catachans, who in matters of stealth and fieldcraft acquiesce to their every word. When deployed in this manner these so-called "Catachan Devils" range ahead of the main force, engaging enemy ambushers, launching surprise attacks, setting traps and, when possible, herding the enemy into the most dangerous of terrain so that the jungle itself does the killing, serving as the Catachans' most effective ally.
There are plenty of other regiments that make extensive use of troopers skilled in fieldcraft, and not all of them have skills that relate to dense terrain such as jungles and forests. Scouts serving in the Armageddon Steel Legions are experts in operating in the sort of polluted wastes that plague their homeworld, often leading enormous armoured columns through terrain rife with all manner of unseen perils, from mutant cannibals to quick ash. Many Vostroyan Firstborn regiments have amongst their ranks individuals highly adept in the art of city-fighting, having served in the militias that guard the city-sized manufactoria of Vostroya from invasion. Regardless of the terrain in which they were raised, Scouts are primarily experts in adaptation, their core skill being the ability to transpose their expertise from one warzone to the next. In so doing, they not only keep their comrades alive for longer, but ensure the regiment becomes a veteran, even elite formation capable of facing any foe the galaxy can throw at it.
- Standard Imperial Guard Regimental Kit
- Cameleoline Cloak - Cameleoline material is made up of mimic fibres that blend the coloration of the wearer into their surroundings and are the garb of choice for Scouts and Snipers.
- Mono Knife - Mono weapons have specially fashioned blades with superfine edge a single molecule thick that can easily cut through armour and never lose their edge.
- Magnoculars - Magnoculars are powerful vision aids that magnify distant objects. More advanced, high quality magnoculars can also do such things as give range read-outs, detect heat sources, calculate target location positioning, and take pict-captures of a view for later analysis.
- 4 Smoke Grenades - These explosives release a dense smoke which obscures basic eyesight and optical-based systems. They do not block detection systems that use heat or other spectral bands outside of normal human eyesight, but are much more widely available and easier to construct.
- Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 183, 188, 197, 202
- Only War: Hammer of the Emperor (RPG), pp. 74-77