Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#52 of 253)

#52 – Use MOPP Suits Often at Work so Soldiers Get Used To It

MOPP Maintenance

Why I Wrote This Thought

During the Cold War there was a significant threat that Russia would use either chemical weapons or tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield. Accordingly, we had to be prepared to fight and conduct our missions wearing our mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear. We also had to be able to use our chemical and radiological reconnaissance, detection, and decontamination equipment. Basically, we had to be able to fight and conduct every mission to the same standard whether we were wearing our normal uniforms or our MOPP gear.

As a LT I had been to all the NBC courses and had been through both individual and collective NBC training to include extended operations in MOPP gear during field exercises. I had enough experience to know that without extensive training and repetition military tasks and missions could not be conducted effectively in MOPP. Most MOPP training that was conducted at the time was for short periods and quick offensive or defensive engagements such as an assault or defense of a battle position. The key I believed was that all company tasks, to include maintenance, refueling, rearming, long-distance movements and Troop Leading Procedures (TLP) had to be conducted in MOPP sufficiently often as to gain expertise and comfort.

I mention TLP specifically because that is a cognitive effort and just thinking is hard if you are unaccustomed to wearing MOPP. Rather than thinking and planning about the upcoming mission you find yourself thinking about how uncomfortable you are. Even drawing graphics and writing notes for FRAGOs is tough in the rubber gloves.

What We Did in the Troop

So when I was a Tank Battalion Commander I was lucky to have as my CSM the Trooper who had been the Armorer in the Cavalry Troop I commanded. As a CSM one of the first things he said to me after the change of command was, “You aren’t going to make us where MOPP every Thursday again are you?” Because, that is what we had done in the Troop. By wearing some level of MOPP one day every week our Soldiers and leaders became effective at doing their job so encumbered.

We kept the normal training schedule, the only thing different was the uniform. If your platoon was performing maintenance services on vehicles or weapons, you wore MOPP. Conducting a monthly inventory, you wore MOPP. Training for the Tank Crew Gunnery Skills Test, you wore MOPP. Patrol training in a local training area, you wore MOPP…you get the idea.

Now, we would not wear MOPP 4 all day long, as that would have been sadistic, or as we say today, toxic. We usually only had full MOPP 3 or 4 with our masks on for an hour a day. We varied it so that the Soldiers got used to the different MOPP levels. Or sometimes we would wear just masks and gloves to practice detailed tasks such as assembly/disassembly of weapons with small parts under difficult conditions. We always ensured lunch was at the lowest MOPP levels so Soldiers could relax and eat.

Another thing was that every Thursday PT in the morning was in MOPP. Soldiers had to be able to run distances and perform physical tasks while wearing their MOPP because they would have to do that in combat. Had dinner with some friends just this past week, one of whom had been a LT in the Troop and he was telling the others about having to run PT in the snow in Wildflecken Germany wearing MOPP 4. He laughs about it now, but still emphasized to the others its importance at the time.

Each Thursday we also trained in one NBC related task. That might be how to operate the decon apparatus or check for contamination with a dosimeter. It might be how to go through MOPP exchange if you were in a contaminated area for a long time. Or it might be how to put out the chemical detectors or send a NBC report over the radio. Repetition of tasks is the key to acquiring skills and by doing one task each Thursday we got those reps.

Home Station Training provided a start point for field training. In force-on-force field training exercises at the Troop level we might not win in MOPP 0, but we almost always won in MOPP 4. And when we went to Hohenfels for Squadron-level training our Troopers were able to accomplish their recon and security missions even in a NBC environment.

Lastly, we sent every Soldier, NCO and Officer we could to as many NBC schools as we could. Our training NCO was always on the prowl for slots in any NBC school that some other unit might not be able to fill and the 1SG had a standing list for who was next up to attend each of the various schools. In my mind the fastest way to build confidence in a Soldier is to send them to school for formal training in a subject. And once trained they are inclined to maintain that expertise by reading the latest doctrine or articles in journals and wanting to master each new piece of gear as it is fielded.

What I Did Later in My Career

During my first stint as Battalion S-3 I had a commander who was willing to go with once a month rather than once a week, so we took a similar approach, just not quite as often. The second time I was a Battalion S-3 and then Brigade S-3 was after the Cold War had ended. For Desert Storm everybody got excited that Saddam might use chemical weapons, so almost from the moment units were alerted in CONUS there was continuous training in MOPP.

But, after no chemical weapons were used in Desert Storm and the 90s were focused on peacekeeping the focus on NBC training waned, admittedly with good justification. We would do some good NBC training and MOPP practice in the run up to a CTC rotation, but that was about it.

The pattern was repeated for the invasion of Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Concern and training for the use of chemical weapons prior to and during the invasion and then waning interest after no chemical weapons were employed and we transitioned to COIN.

Relevance Today

Today, we are preparing once again for potential large scale combat operations against countries that have and might employ nuclear, biological and chemical weapons against our formations. While the threat isn’t the day-to-day one that we faced during the Cold War, it is still there and it requires effective training to overcome. In my opinion each unit ought to have a regular, sustained program to build NBC-related skills and to build the Soldiers’ and leaders’ confidence they can execute their missions successfully under contaminated conditions. It doesn’t have to be once a week, but it ought to be comprehensive and designed into the annual training program. Because, if you are called with no notice to deploy and fight, it is too late to try to build the expertise and confidence necessary to fight, survive and win in a NBC environment.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#51 of 253)

#51 – Use the 1SG as Logistics and Administration Lead

Why I Wrote this Thought

As a lieutenant I was both a Tank Company XO and a Cavalry Troop XO. In those positions I saw that our First Sergeants (1SG), like most everyone else, are good at some things and not as good at other things. Some 1SG were very good at administration, some very good at logistics, and some very good at tactics. And many were good at all three. But, my thought here was connected to a recent blog about the Executive Officer (XO) being a battle captain. In order for the XO to be a battle captain, the 1SG had to run the troop logistics and administration in combat operations so that the XO was free to focus on the tactical fight. This did not absolve the Executive Officer of their responsibilities with regard to administrative and logistics matters, but rather during the actual engagements with the enemy allowed him, or today her, to focus specifically on those.

What We Did in the Troop

As I’ve said before, during the first two years of my command, both in the Cavalry Troop and then later in an armored battalion Headquarters Company I had the same 1SG. First Sergeant Ollie McCoy was tremendous in every aspect and role of the First Sergeant’s duties. Not only was he a superb leader and trainer, but he was also excellent at running troop administration and logistics, both at home station and in the field. So, I was lucky in that regard and it was easy to employ the Troop XO as a battle captain. 1SG McCoy had a unique ability not only to manage the Troop logistics trains during an exercise or field problem, but also to have a sixth sense that told him the direction of the flow of future engagements or operations. This enabled him to anticipate where to position our logistics elements, and what type of support was going to be needed as the battle or operations progressed. He demonstrated this time and time again, even during REFORGER exercises in which multiple divisions were conducting a free-play force-on-force fight and the flow of the battles was not known ahead of time.

What I Did During My Career

After the Cold War ended, the U.S. Army really only executed two large scale, highly mobile, long-distance operations. Those were Desert Storm and OIF 1, the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Most of the rest of our experience over the last 2/3 of my career was from fixed locations, whether that was peacekeeping in the Balkans, or counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the opportunities to exercise company-level logistics over time and distance were limited. The main source of such training were the rotations to the Combat Training Centers (CTC). One of the enduring lessons learned from almost every rotation at a CTC is the initial inability of company level logistics to support the operations over time and distance. But, usually by the end of the rotation this situation is much improved.

Relevance Today

With our Army focused today on regaining competence in large-scale ground combat operations the necessity to master company-level logistics and administration during combat operations is clear. The role of the 1SG is still to be the lead for those operations, which carried with it the responsibility to ensure they are trained and that they have the opportunity to train their team. This places a requirement on home station training to develop company-level logistics and administrative SOPs for the field vice garrison and to exercise those SOPs in training with sufficient frequency to ensure effective sustainment of operations. Platoon STX and gunnery can be used as opportunities to train and exercise company-level logistics and administration if planned ahead of time and enabled by the Battalion Commander, CSM and staff.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#50 of 253)

#50 – Max planning will reduce operations to simplicity. Max repetition of tasks in training will ensure rapid response to unforeseen circumstances. Use immediate action drills.

Why I Had This Thought

When I first took over my platoon as a young Lieutenant I had a tendency to over complicate tactics. I think as a consequence of reading a lot of military history while I was growing up and then the military art courses that we were taught at West Point that I saw myself as a great tactician or future great general. It took me a while to realize that at the platoon and company level the tactics need to be relatively simple. Basically, you have a base of fire, a maneuver element, and a reserve. And that’s largely true whether you’re in the offense or the defense, because even in the defense local counterattacks by fire are a form of maneuver.

During my platoon leading time as a result of the various training exercises that we conducted and then our experience at Fort Irwin I realized that simplicity was the key, and moreover repetition of tactical tasks was the key to success. Do simple things, but do them very well. The other thing I learned is that when the situation goes in a direction you did not anticipate, well trained units that can execute simple tasks, rapidly and effectively, are able to regain the initiative, survive, and win the engagement.

What We Did in the Troop

Basically, a cavalry troop can be given one of four missions. They can have a reconnaissance mission, a security mission, an attack mission, or a defense. Reconnaissance is further subdivided into three types: route, area, and zone. For a cavalry troop that is part of a larger force, such as a battalion task force or a brigade, the most often used recon mission is zone reconnaissance. Second most often used is the route reconnaissance, and in my experience except during counterinsurgency operations the area reconnaissance is almost never used by a mounted force. Similarly, the security missions are subdivided into three types: screen, guard, and cover. For the defense company-level organization such as a cavalry troop will most often defend a battle position. Rarely is a company-level organization given an area or mobile defense mission. So, the tasks that our cavalry troop had to master basically were route and zone reconnaissance, screen and guard, defense of a battle position, and hasty attack.

The theme of this particular blog is really simplicity and part of simplicity at the company/troop level is in standardizing to the extent that you can the task organization. Within the cavalry troop we had scout sections, tank sections and mortar sections. Generally, we kept the mortars consolidated at the troop-level to provide general support to the troop. But one of the things that I’d learned as a lieutenant was that in general terms reconnaissance missions and security missions both use similar organizations. In order to provide a wide front for a screen or guard or a zone reconnaissance the troop generally broke down into small pieces. The smallest element was the scout section which in the 80s consisted of two tracks; one armed with a TOW, which we still used today, and the other armed with the DRAGON which has been replaced by the JAVELIN. The tanks were broken down into two sections of two tanks each in each platoon. We paired tanks and scouts together so the maneuver elements of the platoon generally were two sections of two scout vehicles and two tanks. The platoon leader then was actually maneuvering two sections of four vehicles each. And so across the troop we had six of those sections.

We could then execute all three of the reconnaissance missions (route, zone, area) and the security missions (screen, guard, cover) using the same organization across the troop. This simplified our operations and our training greatly, as it enabled us to train using these small sections and we focused much of our training on this sectional training. Our best opportunities for troop-level training were when we went out for an alert, or when we were doing our training in Maneuver Rights Areas. Maneuver Rights Areas were portions of Germany that had been set aside for military training, since the Kazernes (German word for posts) were relatively small and did not have training areas of their own. We might have one or two days a month that we could do troop-level training after an alert was called and we rolled out to our Maneuver Rights Areas. That one or two days of troop-level, or company-level, training a month is probably consistent with what company-level organizations have even today. But, it did give us an exercise opportunity for training our sections and platoons and how we commanded and controlled troop-level operations.

One good thing about training sections is that you only really need a very small opposing force element. This can be a fire team, or even just one tracked vehicle, or back then a jeep, today a HMMWV. All you really need is the threat signature to be able to train the section element.

In our case, since we were defending Germany, our most important missions were the security missions screen, guard, and cover. So, once a month we tried to put the troop out on a screen line or a cover mission and then exercised the sections. The platoon leaders would go forward and turn around and pretend to be the enemy using their M113 platoon command vehicle, and sometimes we’d use our troop headquarters elements, such as the Supply Sergeant and his clerk in their jeep, or even the First Sergeant in his Jeep. We only really needed about three or four teams of OPFOR to exercise the whole troop because each team could probe, then retreat, and then probe again somewhere else. Not only did this exercise the sections in their battle tasks, but through their reporting and actions on contact it enabled us to exercise the troop-level operations, which included calling for and coordinating indirect fire, reporting, maneuvering troop elements, etc.

Generally, our focus was on actions on contact. At the time the Army had just introduced the idea of training for the seven forms of contact (now I think there are eight). These included: direct fire, indirect fire, chemical, air, obstacles, electronic warfare and NBC. Even a small, one-vehicle OPFOR could engage the section that was being trained with many of these forms of contact, using direct fire (blank simulators), artillery simulators, smoke grenades, and even jamming by putting the radio on a single frequency and putting the microphone close to the speaker and keying it. This enabled us to train the sections in the basic forms of contact internal to the troop. Using the platoon leaders, First Sergeant, and myself, as the OPFOR had the advantage of providing for a ready-made critique and After Action Review. This was because the leaders themselves as the OPFOR were able to observe the sections response to these forms of contact. Usually in the one or two days of training that we had we were only able to exercise each form of contact once or twice, but since we were rolling out to an alert every month in the year, that meant that over time we were training each of those battle drills 15 to 20 times. This provided sufficient repetition to actually get good at those absolutely critical tasks.

What I Did Later in My Career

This thought of using simplified organizations, tasks, repetitive training, and battle drills was a staple throughout the rest of my career, and has consistently remained a priority for the Army at the small unit tactical level. Even at levels above the Troop, primarily at Battalion Task Force level, the principal still apply.

When I was a Major we left behind the defense of Europe when the Cold War ended and turned our attention to Iraq and more broadly CENTCOM after Saddam invaded Kuwait. At the battalion level we organized our four companies into combined arms teams, and then used the standardized formation we called the “Desert Diamond” which was a lead company, two flank companies, and a trail company with Battalion command element and mortars in the center and Battalion trains trailing by 5 km or so. We could maneuver the Desert Diamond in order to react to contact out of that diamond using standard operating procedures and Battalion Task Force-level battle drills. For example, the lead company almost always set a base of fire, the flank companies would maneuver to envelop the enemy and the trail company would be a reserve. The principals and SOPs applied whether we encountered the enemy head on, or from the flank, or in theory even if we were engaged from the rear. After months of repetitive training in the desert and the execution of Desert Storm, when we went to the National Training Center we employed the Desert Diamond. Of all the rotations that I ever did at the National Training Center, that one was the most successful in terms of being able to defeat the Opposing Force (OPFOR). In that rotation for two weeks every one of our battles was conducted as a series of out of the Desert Diamond.

When I went to Battalion Command, we spent most of the time deployed in the Balkans. There the mission changed from warfighting to peacekeeping, but the principles remained the same. If you are executing a peacekeeping mission, you spend a lot of time conducting patrols, checkpoints, and reacting to different forms of contact. Although it was peacekeeping we still had the potential for direct fire against us from snipers, so we had to be able to execute those battle drills. Also, at the time Yugoslavia was the most mined place on earth, so we had to be able to execute actions on contact with mines, and our platoons performed that task almost on a daily basis. There were new forms of contact, for example when a vehicle was approaching a checkpoint. Even though it was a civilian vehicle, in theory it could be full of soldiers, or contraband weapons, or other threats. Still another form of contact was that with groups of protesters, or rioters, who were often armed with sticks, bricks and stones, or other hand-held, non-military weapons. Our troopers had to be able to respond to this form of contact, protect themselves, and continue their peacekeeping mission. So, we had to develop new battle drills on how we performed new tasks, train in the field on those battle drills, and then execute them when confronted with those threats to the mission.

Applicability Today

By the time I was a Colonel, Brigade Commander, and later Chief of Staff in Iraq the threat had again changed. Post-9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan there was a significant IED threat, indirect fire threats from mortars and rockets, and direct fire small arms threats. Again, the principles remain the same. We organized our patrols and convoys to be able to counter the most likely threat which was IEDs, but also to be able to react to the direct fire threats. The development of simple battle drills for reacting to, avoiding, or clearing IEDs was unfortunately done on the fly after the campaign had already started. But, small units developed those SOPs, and then trained repetitively on our Forward Operating Bases before sending out patrols and convoys. At the same time, in CONUS we developed the formal training processes, SOPs, and integration of new systems for use at home station in preparation for deployment. Again, the principles of this thought: simple plans, standardized organizations, effective battle drills, and repetitive training are the keys to what all small units ultimately have to achieve, so that they can make contact with the enemy, defeat that enemy, and then continue their mission.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#49 of 253)

#49 – Make the Company Executive Officer the Battle Captain

Why I Had This Thought

This is an example of a good idea that has been overcome by events. In the early 1980s we did not use our company executive officers as battle captains. Instead, their role then was almost exclusively logistics. Since then of course things of changed. Today the expectation is that the XO will be the Battle 2IC and perform duties such as serving as the company net control station, external coordination and leading the company command post if one is established. But I think my experience still merits discussion.

What We Did in the Troop

The key I think to using your executive officer as a battle captain is actually your First Sergeant. While this may seem backwards, the fact of the matter is, that if your First Sergeant cannot handle the company logistics and administration in combat your executive officer will not be free to focus their energy on being a Battle 2IC. I was fortunate in the Cavalry Troop in that First Sergeant McCoy was an excellent logistician. Moreover, he was a superb leader, one who could keep the many company level logistics and administrative functions operating effectively even in the midst of rapid operations. Many First Sergeants are able to handle logistics when stationary, operating from home station, or from a Forward Operating Base. Others excel at conducting high tempo maneuver operations, able to maintain the momentum of the company or troop by keeping the logistics moving and functioning affectively. Some are excellent at both. This takes training, but it also takes standard operating procedures that are understood by both the line platoons and the company logistics elements, and it takes leader development. That leader development in the Troop included terrain walks that were focused on logistics, and map exercises, where we talked about echeloning our trains and how to jump our logistics forward as the troop moved, particularly given the wide dispersion of a cavalry troop conducting a zone recon or a wide screen, guard, or cover. Such missions truly test the capabilities of the company or troop logistical leaders. A strong First Sergeant and effective logistics frees up the XO to serve as Battle 2IC.

Simply put, my first XO in the Troop was not up to the task of serving as battle 2IC. He simply didn’t have the leadership skills, the technical expertise, or the prior training necessary for him to be able to perform the myriad of tasks associated with being a battle to 2IC. I figured this out almost as soon as I took command of the Troop. His performance during the first alert that we had when we deployed to our readiness Assembly Areas and prepared to conduct our Covering Force mission in the event of the Soviet invasion told me all I needed to know. So, I had to make a decision on what to do about it. Part of that was to start looking for a new XO, but part of it also was to figure out what could he do and how could he contribute to the Troop command and control. In the end I settled on battle tracking. It’s am important requirement at the company or troop level, it was within his capabilities, and it would take some of the burden off myself and our small command element.

My second Troop XO was far more capable, and in fact eventually commanded a battalion in combat in Iraq. He was smart, spent the time necessary to learn our doctrine, and had been a good platoon leader before moving up to XO. All that was necessary was to train him so that he could perform the command functions if necessary. One of the things that I did was to make a decision that as often as possible he would command the Troop during operations. I threw him into the deep end, by putting him in command for our first alert deployment after he had taken over his XO. After the alert was called, and while the troop was marshaling in the motor pool, I told him that he would take the troop out to the assembly area and through the first tactical operation. What I did then was to monitor the nets, observe the Troop from various vantage points along the deployment route and as they moved into the initial Assembly Area, and then as the Troop established security. When that was complete, I took him off to the side and we sat down and had a little mini After-Action Review. He had done well, but there were a few things that he could do better and we talked about this. He was the type of XO that took the lessons to heart and made the changes that he needed to, and learn the things that he needed to, in order to not repeat his mistakes. And frankly, I learned from watching the Troop from the outside as an observer, as opposed to normally being inside and responsible for the Troop’s operations. I saw some things in our standard operating procedures that I wanted to talk over with the First Sergeant and correct before the next alert.

I think one of the most important skills that a young leader must master at the company level is how to position themselves on the battlefield in order to be able to see the engagement or operation as it unfolds and to envision where it’s going to go next, This enables them to map out in their mind how they’re going to move from one position of observation to another, in order to be able to not only see, but also to influence the operation as it is carried out. There is also the necessary teamwork between the Troop Commander and the XO, so that as the two of them position themselves and move across the battlefield they can see not only the largest extent of the troop, but also the critical locations and actions. The two of them have to work in tandem to accomplish this, and that takes practice. During our Troop Leading Procedures, the XO and I would map out where we thought our initial positions were going to be, not only with which element we would be located, but also what specific locations we expected to occupy and which routes to get there. Typically, this planning did not hold up after the first or second location because of the fog and friction inherent in each operation, but the act of planning and thinking all the way through the fight was important from a training perspective.

What I Did During My Career

I carried on with this line of thinking throughout my career. As a Battalion Commander I made a significant effort to train my XOs to not only manage the fight, but to command it if something happened to me. This included turning command of the Task Force over to the XO, both in training at Hohenfels and while deployed and executing active peacekeeping operations in Bosnia. I see preparing your XO to replace you in command during an engagement, battle or operation as one of the key leader development tasks of the commander.

Applicability Today

Like most of my thoughts from when I was headed into company command in 1982, this one remains as applicable today as it was then. That our Army has codified the role of the XO in doctrine reinforces this fact. The challenge remains that in our PME BOLC focuses on preparing officers to be Platoon Leaders and CCC prepares captains to be Company Commanders. This puts the burden of preparing a 1LT to be an XO who is also the Battle 2IC squarely on the shoulders of the company commander.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#48 of 253)


Why I Had This Thought

One of the things I learned in the cavalry was the absolute necessity to maintain flexibility throughout an operation. Since we all know the no plan survives the first shot, and the enemy always has a vote, we have to be able to rapidly adapt to the situation and overcome the obstacles that are presented to us. In execution I found that operational graphics such as axis of advance, battle positions, and directions of attack were measle sheet 5too limiting. They assumed the battle was going to go in a certain way, and it almost never did. So, more flexible graphics were needed to enable us to react to the situation as it emerged.

What We Did in the Troop

It is important to note that we only used flexible graphics inside of our troop boundaries. Because our higher headquarters squadron, battalion, regiment, brigade would talk to us and direct us in terms of their graphics we had to make sure that we adhered to what we were given by them. But, within the Troop we maximized the use of TRPs and checkpoints to gain flexibility through our graphics.

Instead we employed what we called “measle sheets.” Basically, we put a TRP anywhere that we thought we might engage the enemy and we put a checkpoint any place we thought we might have to go. Locations for TRPs included key terrain, chokepoints, potential enemy avenues of approach, and likely enemy positions. Similarly, locations for checkpoints included places that we might engage the enemy from, avenues we might move along, locations we might defend from, and locations that would provide good observation.

measle sheet 5

Needless to say, at times locations such as key terrain would be both a TRP and a checkpoint. It was important to distinguish between the two because many, if not all, of our TRPs were going to be planned and coordinated for indirect fires with our supporting artillery units. Thus, we had to be crystal clear both internally and externally what was a TRP, both in our planning and in our communications during an operation. In the chaos of battle not every transmission is heard completely or correctly or by the intended receiver, so whatever can be done to avoid confusion should be done. Thus, any communication that mentioned a TRP was automatically about engaging the enemy; any that mentioned a checkpoint was about our maneuver.

What I Did Later in My Career

So, Major during the Desert Storm era, LTC during the peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and, Colonel during OIF/OEF. I found that flexible graphics worked whether you were trying to control rioting Serbs in Bosnia or conduct a cordon and search outside Baghdad. You never know how the operation is going to turn out and the opponent invariably does something unexpected. Flexible graphics enabled Boyd’s OODA Loop in action. Observing a new situation we could describe it to each other. Graphics enabled us to rapidly Orient our elements in new directions. TRPs and Checkpoints enabled us to rapidly make and communicate Decisions, and enabled subordinate elements to Act based on a verbal FRAGO.

Additionally, the very act of building a measle sheet generated a mindset in the unit of flexibility and adaptability. Everyone was less likely to get target fixation or be wedded to a single COA. At battalion and brigade levels we paid more attention to branches and sequels about what might happen than we would have if our graphics only represented one single option.

Applicability Today

I believe flexible graphics based on TRPs and Checkpoints remain as important today as ever before. Certainly the fluidity and unpredictable nature of the Hezbollah hybrid tactics in the 2006 War in Lebanon and/or the 2014 Russian operations in the eastern Ukraine suggest that if we engage in conventional land combat we must use graphics that will enable flexibility. Additionally, in an era when EW or cyber may negate or degrade our mission command systems, a measle sheet may be the best way to rapidly transition from digital to analog command and control. And of course, developing flexible graphics for every operation and training exercise contributes to developing flexible and adaptive junior officers and NCOs and a unit culture that is better prepared to react to and overcome the surprise that inevitably emerges at some point during every operation

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#47 of 253)

#47 – Make everyone believe that if we can’t do it ourselves it won’t get done; especially in war

Why I Wrote This Thought

This is probably one of the poorer phrasing of these thoughts. I fully recognized the interdependence of units both by echelon and laterally, as well as the interdependence of functions. What I was trying to emphasize was self-reliance. Coming from a cavalry unit that normally operated independently down to the junior NCOs level, such self-reliance was absolutely necessary. Throw in the likelihood that Warsaw Pact forces would probably jam our comms nets and try to isolate units with fires or maneuver and there was a distinct possibility we would have to fight on our own.

What We Did in the Troop

Self-reliance is a product of self-confidence and self-confidence comes from mastery of the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) of our profession. Self-confidence also comes from the experience of being by yourself and having to make decisions and act on your own.

Cavalry Troops often operate in wide screens or area recons with individual scout squads led by Sergeants operating independently out of sight of other members of the Troop. These two missions provided the greatest opportunity for developing self-confidence and self-reliance. For that reason, any time we had Troop-level training in a training area or at a training center we tried to execute at least one of those missions. We also took advantage of the ranges at Wildflecken to execute tank or scout Gunnery Tables in which individual crews were firing, such as then Table VI (individual crew stationary) or Table VII, (individual crew on the move).

The goal was to build the self-reliance of our individual crews, squads and teams and our lowest level leaders, the Sergeants (E-5) and Corporals (E-4). Putting them in the position of being isolated and having to make decisions on their own developed in the Troop what today we call mission command. Back then, because we still used the term command and control, we called this approach mission orders or mission tactics, after the German term auftragstaktik.

Besides the training situations, there is a leader role in developing self-reliance and that is in demonstrating trust in subordinate leaders. I was lucky in this regard because my commander, then Lieutenant Colonel, later Lieutenant General, John Sylvester demonstrated his trust in me. He gave the Troop missions and then let us figure out how to execute. At times he accepted risk and provided top cover when we made mistakes, but that empowered us in a way that was highly effective. I tried to emulate him and over time learned how much supervision is just enough.

Another technique I used was battlefield circulation. While I would check in with the Platoon Leaders, I spent far more time with individual scout squads or tank crews on the screen line or engaged in a route recon. Having them explain their task, execution and assessment and listening to their opinions increased their confidence and frankly my confidence they could accomplish the mission.

What I Did Later in My Career

I found that in straight tank or mech infantry units the opportunities to develop self-reliance were more difficult to come by. This was in part because tank and infantry units seldom operate independently in single vehicles. That said, when we executed peacekeeping missions in the Balkans in the 90s much of our missions consisted of squad or platoon checkpoints, observation posts or combat outposts. I found as a Battalion Commander I had to coach company commanders to develop self-reliance and trust and that started with demonstrating my own trust in their independence and decision making.

And of course, the counter-insurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan required independent patrols, checkpoints, OPs and outposts. So, the requirement for self-reliance at the smallest unit levels has not gone away.

Relevance Today

Today as the Army transitions from a counter-insurgency focus to a large-scale combat operations focus the tendency is to prioritize larger unit training over small unit. But the opportunities are still there. Take for example a rotation at a Combat Training Center which is 14 days of force-on-force and live-fire training. If one is thoughtful, there are enough opportunities during the rotation for each crew, team or squad to execute some task independently, whether that is an OP, reconning a route, setting out a point obstacle or any of the many other tasks that only require a small element to complete. The key is having that crew, squad, or teams plan, prepare and execute the task and then visiting them while they are performing the task not just to check performance but to demonstrate trust and build confidence.

Over the years I have seen many units try to make gunnery tables “tactical,” with the firing elements starting in assembly areas, moving tactically into an attack position and then conducting the actual table. This works well at the platoon level, since the tables are designed that way and the throughput is only three day and three night runs. At the lower tables for individual Abrams, Bradley, Stryker, etc. it is extremely difficult to have quality tactical training because the throughput is 14 or so day and night runs, and the company leadership is consumed ensuring everyone executes the live fire table. So, all too often the tactical portion is briefed to higher, but in practice hurried, with limited supervision and more check the block than trained to standard.

A way to build self-confidence using live-fire gunnery is to work to schedule the odd ranges that are not being used for the gunnery densities, or out of cycle. Then, find some ammo. You don’t need all the ammo to fire an entire table and to a certain extent it doesn’t matter which range or which table. You are trying to build self-confidence of an individual crew or team to plan, prepare and execute a mission, react to various forms of contact and engage the enemy live-fire. Engaging with just machine guns is just as effective as main gun for this purpose. This takes hard work by the battalion staff, detailed coordination with higher, and developing company leadership teams that can do more than one thing at a time. But, in the end the result is self-reliant junior leaders who will be more effective if you are called to combat and who will be better leaders for their entire career.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#46 of 253)

#46 – Concentrate on max utilization of supporting arms (ARTY, ENGR, ADA). Advance coordination and training for subordinate commanders is a must.

Why I Wrote This Thought

Like today’s forces in the Baltics, the US forces that were in Europe in the 1980s were significantly outnumbered by the Russians they might potentially have to fight. At the time, NATO was outnumbered approximately 10 to 1 in main battle tanks. With corresponding numbers of Soviet motorized infantry, this meant that we could not hope to win a direct fire fight. For that reason, the ability to integrate combined arms was paramount. We had to be able to employ engineer obstacles too slow or fix our enemy in order to have more time to destroy that enemy with direct or indirect fires. That also meant that we had to be able to effectively employ indirect fires on the enemy when they were stopped, very rapidly and very precisely. Moreover, those indirect fires and direct tires had to be massed at the same place and at the same time to have the maximum effect on the enemy, both physically and psychologically (and of course seeing massed fires on a target has a positive psychological effect for anyone who has witnessed it).

Another combat multiplier that was absolutely necessary was air defense. Again, like today, we were facing an enemy with sophisticated air forces and attack helicopters, and the capability to have at least air parity over our forces. This meant we were extremely vulnerable to attack from the air. Integrated air defense on our part was an absolute necessity for survival. Still another supporting arm that was important in was NBC. At the time there were far fewer thermal sights on the battlefield and limited capability to see through smoke. Accordingly, we could employ smoke to screen our forces for protection. For all these reasons, the integration of combined arms at the lowest levels was extremely important, hence this thought.

What We Did in the Troop

In the Covering Force Area in the General Defense Plan for NATO our Troop could expect to be attacked by a Soviet Motorized Rifle Regiment. That meant that our 12 tanks, 6 TOW guided missiles and 6 Dragon guided missiles, plus 3 mortars would be expected to delay, if not defeat 31 Soviet tanks, more than one hundred BMP fighting vehicles, 3 battalions of infantry and at least a battalion, if not a regiment of 4 battalions of Soviet artillery.

In the last post I referred to our battle books. The act of creating these battle books, thinking all the way through the Covering Force fight, and integrating all of the combined arms into that fight, was a start point for understanding and developing the capability to best employ our supporting arms. Similarly, every terrain walk that we went on we would spend a significant amount of time in the most minor details of how to integrate those supporting arms.

We would physically walk the entire length of each obstacle discussing its desired effect, and how that effect would be achieved through mines and wire, or in some cases felled trees in the form of abatis (we even knew exactly which trees would be blown down and had pre-cut charges to do so). We would stand on the obstacle and look back toward where we were going to cover that obstacle with both observation and fires. We did that in the daytime, we did it at night, we did it during periods of low visibility such as the fog that so often blankets Germany in the mornings, and we did in the rain and snow that can significantly affect optics. As necessary, we adjusted the primary, secondary and tertiary observation positions for each obstacle, as well as the primary, alternate and secondary firing positions for every weapon system that was expected to cover that obstacle, or engage the enemy as they were halted, turned or slowed by that obstacle.

And when I say we, I don’t mean me as troop commander. I mean each LT, each Platoon Sergeant, each Squad Leader, each Tank Commander, and each tank, TOW, Dragon, and machine gunner. Collectively, every one of us had to know how we were going to fight every obstacle in our sector. It was not unusual to see a small group of leaders or a platoon walking the defensive terrain or pointing at some spot of ground and having a discussion. If that sounds like it took a great deal of time and effort, it did, but then we worked at defending that piece of ground for roughly forty years, and such detail was literally going to be the difference between life and death if WW III ever came,

We did the same to the same level of detail for each artillery target in terms of effects, observation, cover by direct fires and alternatives. For air defense we had a STINGER section and our machine guns, which wasn’t much. Still, each Trooper knew the air routes for both fixed wing and helo into our positions from 360 degrees, and the ranges for engagements. And, we were confident that our tanks could shoot down the Russian attack helicopters with our tank main guns, which was a task in both tank gunnery training simulators and on the ranges.

What I Did During My Career

I think from a training standpoint one of the greatest impacts of the Combat Training Centers has been the emphasis in the defense on building Engagement Areas. The detailed planning, coordination and preparation we did in preparing for defending Europe against Russian invasion was repeated hundreds of times throughout my career, each time we went to Ft Irwin, Hohenfels, or Ft Polk for a rotation. Not only did we practice the integration of combined arms in the defense, in countless live-fire and force-on-force battles we experienced what worked, what didn’t and through the AAR process learned what we needed to do to improve.

As a Battalion and Brigade 3 and Battalion and Brigade Commander, I still took my subordinates out on terrain walks and talked the details of integrating combined arms while actually on the terrain; at home stations at Hood, Knox and Germany; and even while deployed in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Iraq. I firmly believe that such walks have the advantage over field training in that there is not the pressure to perform one has in a STX or FTX. You can have candid discourse over details and exchange ideas, approaches and application of doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures.

Applicability Today

There can be no doubt that as the Army and Joint Force shift focus back to large-scale combat operations that the ability to integrate combined arms at every echelon remains paramount. Young leaders in platoons, companies and battalions will still benefit from getting out on the terrain and learning the nuts and bolts of our trade. The company commander who masters the skill of leading a terrain walk will not only be able to develop subordinates and make their unit better, but will be able to take that skill with them during successive assignments throughout their career.