Stairways can be dangerous due to the multiple angles that need to be cleared. It is always preferable to descend rather than to ascend, for that very reason. Another critical reason is that tacaids like frag grenades work better when dropped from above. It's very tricky to deploy a frag over your head and hope it doesn't deflect off a rail or wall and come back on your team!
You may have an element behind you, however, stairwells can generally be cleared by two people. Support is preferred for managing doorways you will be bypassing.
As the point man, to minimize your exposure to those many angles above you, climb (or ascend) stairwells from as close to the wall as you can while still giving your cover man an angle at the landing or any openings on your immediate 6 o'clock. You are only moving forward until there is a ledge or landing over your head that forces you to move up the stairs backwards. Take the stairs slowly and check all new areas thoroughly.
While the point man is moving backwards, the cover man will move up close to him in nearly a chest-to-chest formation. The cover man will be positioned to the side of the point man that gives him the best view of the doorway or landing that the point man can no longer cover.
The key to this is moving only as fast as you can safely clear things that become visible to you. Ascending stairwells and stealth are not always possible depending upon the design of the stairwell. In most open stairwells hugging the outside wall is a huge disadvantage because the enemy above can see your feet before you can see his.
As you reach the next landing and continue up the stairwell, the EL must leave a trailing man on each uncleared doorway or floor, or must have the uncleared doorways wedged, if possible. Generally, the EL or back-up will wedge or stay behind. It's best to avoid using the point man, cover man or rear guard to place wedges in the stairwell.
If you have to clear upwards, it's always best to traverse to the top of the stairwell and clear the upper floors before clearing the lower floors.
If it's not possible to secure a door leading to a stairwell, it's best to leave a man to cover it. Prevent movement of tangos through the structure whenever possible.
It's always good to control the center of the stairwell shaft whether you are ascending or descending, however, if stealth is a concern you should descend along the outside edge to use the stairwell structure for cover whenever the design allows it. To control the center of the shaft, the team should be hugging the rail as close as possible without flagging your weapon over the edge. You do not want to give the tangos any indication of your present location. If you are already compromised, controlling the center allows your team to get the first shots off. At that point, flagging your weapon is no longer a concern. Use any means to be the only team firing over the railing. As we said before, make good use of any tactical aids you have.
When descending it can be advantageous to use some form of leapfrogging your way down. The point man can hold on a good vantage point while the rest of his team passes behind him. When the cover man stops at the next good vantage point and begins covering, the point man can now catch up with the element and become the new rear guard and so on until you reach the bottom of the stairwell.
When you get to the bottom, don't forget to clear the area under the final set of stairs. It's a great ambush point. The person who reaches the bottom first, should clear this blind spot as soon as he gets cover from the second man down the stairs, who will now be watching the doorway that is at the bottom of the stairwell.
Lt. Col (Retired)
22nd [SAS] Elite Virtual Regiment