Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#44 of 253)

#44 – Maintain field discipline

Why I Wrote this Thought

As I have mentioned, I attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. One of the things that marks the West Point experience is the maintenance of and adherence to discipline in all things. One of the things that we were taught and had constantly reinforced was the necessity for maintaining field discipline. Things like wearing helmets and individual equipment correctly, communications security, security of personal weapons, tactical parking of vehicles, execution of the actions one takes every time you halt, were drilled into us. Then I left West Point and went to Ranger School where the same standards were reinforced. For that reason, when I got to my first unit as LT I had already developed a strong emphasis on maintaining field discipline.

What We Did in the Troop

This actually turned out to be one of the easier thoughts that I had to implement. As I’ve mentioned before First Sergeant Ollie McCoy was a great Troop, and later with me in a Headquarters Company, First Sergeant. All I had to do was mention field discipline and standards and he took it from there. He stressed the maintenance of discipline to the Platoon Sergeants and it was really never any problem. I think it was one of the strengths of our Troop as we went through numerous field problems and training events, to include gunnery. I do believe there is a direct correlation between the maintenance of discipline and adherence to standards and effective gunnery. So much of gunnery is about doing the little things right. So, if you’re develop a culture in which doing the little things right is a habit, it just naturally flows into gunnery training and gunnery excellence.

During My Career

I added it up once and during my career I was either a commander or Bn/Bde S-3 responsible for the training of 87 companies. The overwhelming majority of those companies throughout my career were strong in maintaining field discipline. I think that strength is one of the hallmarks of our Army. In six combat and peacekeeping tours in the Middle East and the Balkans I was always very impressed with how our NCOs and Soldiers maintained discipline and standards in the field and when deployed, especially the self-discipline they continually demonstrated.

That is not to say that there weren’t times that some aspect of field discipline that needed bucking up. For example, I remember a unit where our load plans for the vehicles were not being maintained. Them, as today load plans are extremely important, since in the chaos of battle, when time is compressed and you’re not thinking clearly, the ability to reach out and without looking and find something that you need is extremely important. So, in that particular case we made sure that the load plans were in the standard operating procedures, and that the NCOs enforced those standards in the field (since load plans may be great in the motor pool but often gradually deteriorate over time in the field or when deployed). As with most things in the Army the corrections came very quickly, and soon it wasn’t a problem anymore.

Applicability Today

Maintaining field discipline is just as important today as it was during the Cold War, perhaps even more so. We are an Army that spent much of the last two decades in a relatively narrow band of field tasks. Over that time we developed great expertise in the field skills and disciplines associated with patrolling, security of combat outpost or forward operating bases, convoys, and other tasks associated with counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.

But, there is another set of tasks associated with large scale combined arms ground combat operations. Those tasks are set in the context of a new operating environment and peer competitors such as Russia and China and near-peer competitors such as North Korea and Iran. Each of those tasks have associated field skills that relate to security and survivability against these threats that we haven’t had to deal with in a long time.
For example, for several decades we never had to worry about air attack. Now we do, both from potential fixed wing if we get in a large scale, but operation against the Russians or the Chinese; as well as from unmanned aerial systems which are employed by virtually any enemy we might end up facing. So, the maintenance of the discipline to have air guards up, who know what they’re looking fo,r who know how to report what they see, and know how to take actions is critical. Camouflage is also something that we haven’t practiced for quite some time and may be absolutely necessary to survival in the next fight.


Supervising the maintenance of field discipline remains an important role for the junior officer. As noted, that is accomplished through the authorities and responsibilities of the Non-Commissioned Officers (except for necessary on the spot corrections). I believe field discipline remains one of the strengths of our Army, and one we must continue into the future. In combat it’s the little things like field discipline that are the difference between life, death, and mission accomplishment.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#43 of 253)

#43 Teach Platoon Leaders the Principles of War

Why I Wrote this Thought

The Principles of War are kind of an oddity in our military culture. We teach them in our schools, and particularly in our pre-commissioning whether at West Point or in ROTC. And then for some reason, we never really refer to them again. We rarely talk about the Principles of War in units, when we were in training, or when we are out in field exercises. Yet, time and time again when we fail in some mission, it’s always relatively easy to trace that failure back to violating or ignoring one or more of the Principles of War. For example, failure to mass is often a reason that we are defeated during an attack; failure to use economy of force is a reason that we are often defeated in the defense; failure to ensure a focus on the objective is often a failure in many of our operations, even those that are non-kinetic. So, for that reason, I thought that it would be important to emphasize the Principles of War and their application to tactical operations to the lieutenants in my company.

What We Did in the Troop

I am a big believer that we have to teach our lieutenants to write effectively. So, one of the things I did was combine my desire to teach the Principles of War with the necessity to teach them to communicate effectively. So, I assigned each lieutenant a writing requirement to write about the importance of one of the Principles of War. I gave them one week, told them it should be two or three pages, and at the end of that time we would sit down together and discuss each of the Principles of War. Since there were five lieutenants in the Troop it took us two times to go through all the Principles. To be perfectly honest, I probably spent more of my effort on their writing then I did on the Principles of War (but that is a separate issue).

Another thing that I did was to add Principles of War to the checklist for AARs. That way, after each operation we would at least discuss how the Principles of War, or the lack of application thereof, affected our performance during the engagement, battle, or other tactical operation. I can’t say that it was always affective, but the officers did remember sometimes to bring up the Principles of War on their own and not have to be coached into doing so.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the things that I taught the entire Troop was maneuver warfare. I was a big proponent of maneuver warfare tactics at the Troop level, particularly given our reconnaissance and security missions. Maneuver warfare tactics such as “surfaces and gaps” are critical to the execution of our reconnaissance functions. So, when I was teaching classes to the Troop on maneuver warfare or when we were doing sand table exercises to reinforce some of the maneuver warfare tactics, I tried to relate them back to the Principles of War.

For example, the maneuver warfare concept of “recon pull” could be related back to the Principles of War of the offense of and maneuver. The offense principle from the standpoint that you want to be able to exploit the initiative and by following reconnaissance elements that are having success we are in fact exploring that initiative. Maneuver from the standpoint that we want to maneuver from a position of advantage and recon pull provides the capability to move to that position of advantage by signaling the direction that the maneuver units should go to achieve the best effect. We were able to have these discussions around the sand table in the Troop area when we were conducting our classes on maneuver warfare.

During My Career

I’d like to say then I kept up with teaching the Principles of War in each of my assignments throughout my career, but that wouldn’t be very true. I still believe in the Principles of War and their applicability to modern combat, even in the 21st-century. Certainly in each of my assignments whether I was an Operations Officer, a Planner, Chief of Staff, or Commander I would sometimes think about the applicability of the Principles of War to whatever mission we were executed. My later career included: major combat operations, peacekeeping, and counterinsurgency operations. The Principles of War certainly applied to each of those very different mission sets. So sometimes I would ask myself or ask the staff how the Principles of War applied to what we were doing. In particular I remember when we were engaged in peacekeeping in the Balkans having a discussion with my Task Force staff on that very subject. But, in all honesty I probably thought about the Principles of War less often than I should have.

Applicability Today

I am absolutely convinced that the Principles of War apply as much today in the early 21st-century as they did in earlier centuries. Certainly, we are engaged in different operations than that which marked the 19th and 20th Centuries. While today we still contemplate large scale ground combat operations incorporating Divisions, Corps and Armies, our understanding of such future battles and campaigns has expanded to be much more multi-domain; incorporating cyber, space, and the human domain. But, none of that means that the core principles of surprise, security, simplicity and unity of command do not still apply. There may be different nuances or applications, for example the principle of security has to be considered differently when one is talking about cyber or space


I remain convinced that understanding and applying the Principles of War is critical to the planning, execution, and even contemplation, of any operation at every level from the lowest tactical level on up. We must continue to teach the Principles in our professional military education, but perhaps more importantly we have to reinforce them in the training and leader development we conduct in our units. This includes accounting for the Principles of War in our AARs, in our leader development programs in units, and in our map exercises and tactical or operational decision exercises. Constant reinforcement is necessary so that considering the application of the Principles of War to military operations becomes second nature.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#42 of 253)

#42 – Must make use of rewards and punishments to reinforce the types of behavior I am seeking

Why I Wrote This Thought

I think what is interesting is that rewards is the only word I underlined in any of the 253 thoughts I recorded in my little green notebook. That suggests to me that my intent was to use more rewards than punishments in my future company commands. Was I reacting to using too many punishments when I was a lieutenant? Was I seeking to counteract my own experiences at the Academy, in Ranger School and in my first Battalion when punishments were emphasized as the means to bring about performance? Was I rebelling against a perceived zero-defect Army? Frankly, I no longer remember, but what I learned in the four decades since I was commissioned is that rewards ought to be the first consideration, they work better than punishments in most cases, and that most leaders, and certainly I am one, feel better about rewarding people than they do punishing them.

What We Did in the Troop

So, my intent to focus on rewards did not start off well when I took command of the Cavalry Troop. I took command when the previous commander was relieved because he had not conducted a urinalysis two years. As a result, when the Brigade Commander directed a troop-wide urinalysis more than 70 Soldiers and Noncommissioned Officers tested positive. The positive tests for drug abuse forced me to conduct a significant number of UCMJ actions almost immediately upon taking command. Since those UCMJ actions resulted in punishments, I was behind the power curve of what my original intent was. It took almost three months to go through all the judicial and administrative actions and return to a normal state.

During the remainder of my Troop and subsequent Headquarters Company command I am not sure if I used more or less rewards then most other company commanders at the time. I tried to recognize those Soldiers and NCOs who did well, as well as coaching my lieutenants and senior NCOs to do the same. Where I did improve I think was in helping soldiers to realize their goals while in the Troop and the Army.

I tried to know three things about each Soldier: what was their goal in the current position that they held, what was their goal for their career or enlistment in the Army, and what was their in life. I can’t say that I succeeded in knowing that for every one of the Troopers, but when I had an opportunity I asked. I found that such a conversation only took a few minutes in the field, around the barracks, in the motor pool or at training. I also had conversations with the LTs, so that they would seek to know the same things.

One thing I did make up my mind to do was to help our Soldiers to be able to achieve their goals. One of the actions I could take was to help prepare or position them for their next position, one that would be better for them in terms of what they were trying to achieve in their career. For example, my own driver was an excellent Soldier, one who was technically competent, and a good leader. He was clearly the best driver in the battalion to which my Troop was attached. When the Battalion Commander needed a new driver I asked my driver if he would like to move up and drive for Battalion, and he said yes, so I made it happen. I gave up a great driver (and for a while had a very poor driver) but it was for the good of the Soldier and for the good of the unit as a whole, so I was willing to make the sacrifice.

Throughout My Career

This was a practice that I developed while I was in Troop command, but one that I carried through for the rest of my career. I tried to always look for opportunities to position Soldiers in jobs that were better for them, even if it was a loss for our unit. One of the things I was confident of was that someone else in our organization would step up and fill the gap. Therefore, letting a Soldier go to position it was better for him and better for the Army was an easy call. One of the last things I did in the Army was to help my gunner in Iraq get into Green to Gold.


If there is an area that I think I could’ve done better, it would’ve been in recognizing those actions that took place external to our Troop to the benefit our Troop. Sometimes I would see certificates of appreciation from companies, troops or battalions to external agencies that have supported them. And, I would think… I wish I had done that. I wish I had recognized the Garrison support that we received by providing them a similar certificate. Later, when I was a Field Grade Officer and a Battalion and Brigade Commander, I did better. I tried to remember to give certificates to everyone who had supported us and recognize them as publicly as much as possible.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#41 of 253)

#41 – Have races with the FDC, me against them. Have mortar crews race against each other to increase the speed and accuracy of putting data on the guns.

Why I Wrote This Thought

There are two types of mortar fires, planned and unplanned. As the name implies planned are prepared ahead of time, when there is time to do things more regularly and slowly. In contrast, unplanned fires usually emerge during the flow of battle and hence must be shot quickly, often when the element calling for fire is in trouble and has to be rescued or when a fleeting target is going to only be available for a short period of time.


In the case of unplanned fires speed is extremely important, but at the same time accuracy must be achieved. Much of accuracy with mortars is determined by the precision with which the data is computed and then applied to the guns. Since mortars are the most responsive fires system available to a company or troop, they were most likely to answer a call for fire (CFF). Therefore, I believe one of my responsibilities was to ensure that the Mortar Platoon Fire Direction Center (FDC) could rapidly and accurately compute the firing data and apply it to the guns.

Training ought to be fun, and one way of making it fun is to make it a competition. Once the FDC and crews were trained to standard we could use races as a competition to see who was fastest. Such races would be conducted for both time and accuracy. The reason for competing myself was threefold. First, Soldiers love to compete against and beat an officer at anything. It gives them bragging rights and allows them to demonstrate their skills. Second, it demonstrated to the Soldiers that I was technically proficient (at least in the area of computing fire data). The Soldiers need to be confident that their officers are competent and the more times that is demonstrated to them, the more confident they become. The third reason was that if I established a good relationship with the Battalion Mortars they would get to know me and when I wanted some support for my unit, I was already halfway to getting such support.

What We Did in the Troop

It turned out I took command first of a cavalry troop, which had its own organic mortars. But, cavalry mortars operate both as a section of three guns and at times individually with one mortar supporting each platoon (particularly in a screen when we were spread out over a wide front and wanted to ensure each platoon had at least some coverage). Plus, the mortar section in a cavalry troop had no FDC, just the three guns. Each gun was expected to compute and fire their own data. One of the three guns did have a senior sergeant, in our case a very experienced Sergeant First Class (SFC).

So, when the mortars were training in computing fire data I would stop by and have races, myself against each of the three guns, It would only take a few minutes and we would use the SFC as the referee to time us to see who was fastest, but also to check for accuracy. I enjoyed it and it kept my skills up and the Troopers enjoyed it too. Sometimes we would also have the SFC give us a particularly hard problem to really test our skills, such as firing from a higher altitude to a lower one.

But, the troop mortars weren’t the only ones I was concerned about. We were attached for training, and possibly for war, to a tank battalion that had a mortar platoon. I didn’t often see them in garrison, because they were at the other end of the post and our training schedules were usually different, but I did see them when we went to major training areas for gunnery or maneuver training, or when we were out for major field training exercises, such as REFORGER, or when we were alerted and deployed to the field for a few days for readiness.

So, I took advantage of seeing them in the field to stop by and have a race against the Battalion FDC. The first time they probably thought I was weird, since no other Captain who wasn’t their Commander ever visited them. But, once we had a race and had some fun and a laugh the next times were easy. The Soldiers and I looked forward to it. I was careful to ensure the Mortar Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant were OK with my stopping by occasionally and I was careful not to interrupt training or operations they had ongoing. I didn’t make it a habit, and probably only did so four or five times during my stint as Cavalry Troop Commander. Then, when I took command of the tank battalion Headquarters Company the Mortar Platoon was under my command, so it was an easy transition.

Applicability Today

The Army of today has significantly less artillery than the Army of the Cold War and separate cavalry troops are a thing of the past. Thus, as we prepare to fight peers such as China and Russia, or very capable near-peers such as Iran and North Korea, tube and rocket artillery is going to be even less available than in years past to support the small units making contact with the enemy. That means we are going to be even more reliant on mortars to respond to our unplanned CFFs, or to adjust from a pre-planned target as the flow of battle dictates. So, the requirement for rapid and accurate computing of firing data and the application of that data to the guns remains today.


So, what if you don’t know how to compute firing data. I don’t know if that is taught in the Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) or not. If you don’t know how, go ask the mortars to teach you. They will enjoy teaching, they’ll respect you for asking, and you’ll learn more about indirect fire (and frankly something I believe every small unit leader must know). And, the first time you beat them in a race to compute firing data it will be an even sweeter victory (plus your Soldiers will be able to say – we taught the Captain how to compute fires).

Competing against the Soldiers in a company doesn’t have to be about mortar firing data, it can be about anything. The goal remains to build the Soldiers confidence in your technical competence, to build a strong relationship with those you lead or who support you, and to enable the Soldiers to demonstrate their skills. And, you can have fun at the same time. And OBTW, I lost more times than I wo

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#40 of 253)

#39 – Cross train scouts, tankers, infantry and mortars for adventure and training.

Why I Wrote This Thought

One of the unfortunate truths about war is that Soldiers and leaders are killed or wounded. Each time that happens it creates gaps in the capabilities of a squad, crew or section. There are no positions in any organization that are not required and we never have all the people we really need. So, cross training is a way of mitigating the effects of losing Soldiers or not having enough people in one MOS or another. Another impetus for this thought was my reading of military, and more specifically small unit’s in combat, history. It was amazing how often leader’s had to take advantage of the personnel at hand, regardless of MOS, to win a fight or restore the situation.

What We Did in the Troop

Once I took command of the Troop I rapidly realized I needed to expand my thinking. It wasn’t only the scouts, tankers, infantry and mortarmen who needed cross training. The ground surveillance radarmen, Stinger crews, mechanics, truck drivers, supply clerks, and commo guys all needed cross training too. So, the first thing we did was make sure everyone in the Troop could drive, and was licensed on, the four basic vehicles: the Jeep (today a HMMWV), the 5-ton truck, the tank and the M113. We did not yet have BRADLEYs (they came the next year) and scouts, mortars, GSR, Stinger, maintenance and commo all operated from M113s. We were able to take advantage of field problems to get the folks the required driving experience on each vehicle.

The next thing we did was train everyone on all the weapons in the Troop, even if that particular machine gun, anti-tank weapon, mortar or Stinger was not assigned to their squad, crew or section. Admittedly we used the simulators for most of the anti-tank and Stinger training and sub-caliber ammunition for mortar and LAW (light anti-tank weapon) training, but we accomplished the goal of at least familiarizing everyone with all the weapons. Much of this we conducted as supplementary training events on scheduled ranges, or by setting up simulators in the motor pool so NCOs could train Soldiers on the anti-tank weapons when they had some spare time. We even set up a mortar sub-cal range using the pneumatic inserts in the Troop area between the barracks to get everyone trained.

Anytime we could get more ammunition from any source, we took advantage of it. My own belief is that you can never train live-fire too much and that usually the combat troops get the lion’s share of live fire. For that reason if we managed to get some extra machine gun ammunition we would usually have the mechanics, commo folks, or clerks fire so that they became more proficient. They never reached the proficiency of the infantry and scouts, but I think it helped. Plus, Soldiers join the Army in part to shoot weapons and the look of satisfaction on a mechanic’s face after he hit a target firing from high up on a M88 recovery vehicle was well worth the hassle of scrounging and accounting for ammo.

Applicability Today

I am absolutely sure this type of cross training remains valid today. We have improved our Basic Training so that Soldiers are more familiar with most of the small arms the Army uses than in the past. Also, we can use simulators such as the EST to practice firing the weapons found in a company. But, I expect most of our Soldiers have never touched, and perhaps never seen, a STINGER. But, we face potential enemies who, unlike the Taliban and ISIS have many and capable aircraft. A day of familiarization and a chance to practice with the simulator might be exactly what you need one day when the Stinger Gunner is wounded and the only person who can engage a fast mover making a bombing run on your company is the Supply Sergeant. The same is true of the other weapons and vehicles in the company team.


Like the previous post, this type of training starts by resolving to do it and getting it on the training calendar. A couple of keys. You have to be creative in resourcing and that may mean borrowing (legally) from other units. You can’t wait until the whole company can be trained at once, you have to be willing and able to train a few at a time. You have to be energetic about finding other sources of ammunition besides your annual allotment and then working the bureaucracy to get, store, use and account for that ammunition. And, you have to develop your subordinate officers and NCOs so they can plan, prepare and execute this training on their own. You can’t be the single point of failure or the only inspiration. If all this comes about, you can be sure that you have enhanced the survivability and mission accomplishment of your Soldiers and your unit when they do go to war.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#39 of 253)

#39 – Use Tanker’s PT test and Military Stakes for esprit and training.

Why I Wrote This Thought

Adventure training was something that grew out of the initial years of the All-Volunteer Army. The sense was that if Soldiers didn’t enjoy their first enlistment they wouldn’t re-enlist and when they went back home it would hurt recruiting. I don’t know if that was in fact the case, but that was the way we thought about it at the time. When I was a lieutenant, I was the only Airborne Ranger in our battalion. Tankers and scouts rarely had the opportunity to go to Airborne or Ranger School, which was a shame because both were great developmental experiences regardless of MOS. As a Ranger I knew how to rappel, rock climb, maneuver a small boat, etc. So, for adventure training in our platoon we went rappelling and later rock climbing at some of the local parks, and also went canoeing on the river that ran through post. The Soldiers seemed to like it and hence I planned on repeating as a company commander.

The Tanker’s PT test was a unit vice Army-wide initiative. It consisted of tank-crew related physical tasks such as throwing the tanker’s bar (a very long and heavy crowbar) like it was a javelin, throwing a track block, rolling a huge tire from a GOER (big ammunition and fuel transport vehicle the Army no longer has), racing to climb onto the tank then down inside through the turret, then down and out through the driver’s escape hatch, etc. It was fun and both individuals and crews competed. We conducted the Tanker’s PT test in my first battalion and I wanted to replicate it.

What We Did in the Troop

For most of the time I was a Cavalry Troop and then armor Headquarters Company Commander we were stationed at Wildflecken. Wildflecken was in the mountains of northern Bavaria, and as such had its own ski slope. Moreover, for much of the year our actual defensive positions to defend against a Soviet attack were covered by ice and snow. So, it was natural that our adventure training centered on winter sports. We could march the troopers down to the ski slope and ski for a day of adventure training. We couldn’t force Soldiers to ski, but for some reason they all “volunteered.” Or, we would have platoons go out and execute their defensive plan on snowshoes, pulling sleds with their gear. The First Sergeant would set up a cookout using the Troop Mess for the end of the day and we would finish up on a high note after a day of hard work.

In cavalry circles there used to be a tradition called the Cavalry Stakes. This was basically an obstacle course that required land navigation, endurance and then the execution at various points along the course of cavalry-related skills, such as making a call for fire or call for MEDIVAC, making a radio call using an improvised antenna, setting the headspace and timing on a .50 cal, or other tasks. This was conducted as a competition with points for land nav, time to complete, tasks correctly executed first time, etc. Soldiers, NCOs and officers who performed best were recognized and given plaques. We only did this once while I was a commander, had I been more effective in scheduling we might have done it more.

The tank battalion our Troop was attached to conducted the Tanker’s PT test as part of their annual Organization Day, so we piggy-backed off their efforts, rather than conducting one ourselves.

Applicability Today

One of the things to understand is that the Army of the 80s was not as physically fit as the Army today. Unlike today’s motivation in every branch to be physically fit, some Army leaders and many Soldiers prided themselves on not working out. PT at most was executed three times a week, and even then with little rigor. So, adventure training and military stakes were a way to enhance physical fitness as much as they were a way to have fun.

Today’s Soldiers and leaders are far more physically fit than probably ever before. Most individuals and units work out every day, eat better, are more informed about the science of exercise and physical fitness and maintain their health better. But, that doesn’t mean that adventure training, military stakes and MOS-related PT tests don’t have their place. Soldiers need a break from the monotony of daily PT and garrison training. Serving in the Army ought to be fun (at least some of the time), and these type events are great morale builders. Moreover, in planning, coordinating and executing these types of training the NCO and officer leadership is exercised and developed; and if you approach it correctly you can harness the creativity of the Soldiers in designing the tasks.


So, I do think there is a place for adventure training, military stakes and MOS-related PT tests in today’s Army. The key as a company commander is you have to get it on the training calendar. That is the first, and most important step.

Thoughts Going Into Company Command (#38 of 253)

#36 – Make FIST have target list and give to platoons. Use hasty bracket adjustment.

Why I Wrote This Thought

Maybe it was because my Dad was an artilleryman. Or, maybe it was because I was inspired by the week of field artillery training we had when I was a cadet at West Point. Regardless, I have always been drawn to the unique combination of military art and science that is indirect fire. That, and if you are armor, infantry, cavalry, engineer, signal, air defense, aviation or any other branch, it is artillery that is going to get you out of trouble when things are looking bad.

Indirect fire planning has two purposes. One is to make sure that you have the targets developed and that they have been coordinated with the guns and that observers, fire direction centers (FDC) and guns/mortars are all prepared to execute each target. But, there is another and perhaps more important purpose. And that purpose is to think your way through potential engagements, understanding how you will maneuver, fight and employ combined arms to accomplish the mission, defeat the enemy and protect the force. Fire planning is a key catalyst for thinking through the fight because it forces you to consider what you want to accomplish at that point in time and space, how fires will contribute to accomplishing that objective, and how fires will be integrated with the other warfighting functions.

Thus, each target must be considered and developed deliberately and completely.

What We Did in the Troop

Perhaps no graphic control measure is better for training and educating than a single target reference point (TRP). Used as an artillery target, it enables a leader to train subordinates on almost every facet of tactical operations. During the Cold War we spent much of our time planning how we would defend West Germany against the Warsaw Pact forces. Some of the planning was done in garrison, pouring over maps and considering how we would fight each hill, each valley, each danger area, each village and on and on. Our covering force mission started with a delay, but included both defense of battle positions and counter attacks. Each of those tactical operations, applied to each of those different types of terrain, required the integration of fires with maneuver and the other war fighting functions. And so of course we spent much of our time in artillery fire planning.

In our Cavalry Troop we were blessed with a great Fire Support Officer, then Lieutenant, later Colonel, Buzz Munster. Buzz was one of the most technically competent field artillerymen or women I ever met. As such, he was able to coach myself, the lieutenants and sergeants on how to employ indirect fires to best advantage. I never met anyone who is better at selecting individual targets in support of specific purposes.

Our General Defense Plans (GDP) were updated every month. Updates were required for a variety of reasons, including: new intelligence coming in about potential Soviet tactics, operations, or deployments; changes to our own capabilities; changes to NATO defense of plans; new doctrine; or even civilian aspects such as new construction by the Germans. Each company or troop had a battle book, that included all the details for their defense, or in the case of our troop the Covering Force mission. But, in addition to deliberate planning, the monthly updates to the GDP offered a tremendous opportunity for leader development. Each update allowed for serious and deep professional discussions about how we fight, our capabilities, our enemy, our allies, and all the factors that go into an engagement or battle. Accordingly, I took at bottoms-up approach in which the Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants would do their planning and then we would review it at the troop level. This enabled our platoons to have input to the actual plan, but at the same time offered tremendous opportunities for professional development. And, in many cases that all started with a single artillery target.

We would gather in my office or in the day room and each Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant would present their updates. When they got to the targets, the 20 questions would start. Say for example a target was placed on top of a hill, a favorite place to put targets by military everywhere. What do you expect to see at the target? What enemy will be there? Will it be tanks or motorized infantry that will engage our forces? Will it be an observation post to call artillery fire on us? Will it be an air defense unit trying to shoot down our helicopters or fast movers as they counter attacks? Might it be a communication or a retransmission site? What they expected to see at that target went a long way towards determining what type of fires we would need to employed there. When we first started, the Lieutenants and Sergeants First Class had rarely thought about those questions, but with each successive month they came to the update better armed with the answers.

Next, we would talk about exact positioning of the target. If it was against tanks or motorized infantry that might engage us, how would they deploy along at hilltop? If it was against an anticipated enemy observation post, where could we position the target best to be able to obscure our positions or suppress them? If it was an enemy air defense element, where would they be positioned to engage our helicopters as they moved through the valley or our fast movers as a transit our area of operations? If it was a retrans state where would it position best for coverage? The highest point on a hill is not necessarily, in fact is almost never, the best place to position your TRP. A hundred meters north, south, east or west may not seem like much, but it can be the difference between destroying or suppressing the enemy, or hitting nothing but dirt. Often as we considered a particular target it turned out that there might be multiple uses. In that case we would determine the location that had the best likelihood of serving multiple purposes.

As we advanced in our leader development we began to consider whether the TRP was stand-alone; or was part of a group or series? If the latter, how does this TRP support the intent of the group or series and is it positioned correctly to achieve that purpose? Does it need to be moved to better support the group or series?

Next, we had to consider how the target fit within the broader squadron or battalion Covering Force missions and plans. Is there a squadron or battalion target close by that conflicts with ours? If so, can we deconflict so that both the higher headquarters and our troop or company objectives are achieved? Does our target need to be grouped into a group or series with those from battalion, squadron, or other headquarters? Are we looking at the target for suppression, while another element looks at it for destruction or obscuration? Each of these issues are resolved during the planning process, particularly if you are blessed with a great fire support officer. But, for my purposes I wanted the Lieutenants and the Sergeants First Class to be thinking about these issues. That was the main effort of these mini-LPDs.

Applicability Today

Today, much of our Army is in transition. After 17 years in which the main effort of the Army was preparing for and executing counter-insurgency operations, we are gradually shifting focus towards large scale combat operations against peer competitors. In other words, after chasing terrorists and insurgents through Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, we are now considering and preparing for, how we would fight the Russians, or the Chinese, or the North Koreans, or the Iranians. This transition applies very much to the fires war fighting function. For the last 17 years we were primarily employing one gun of fires to shoot one stationary target, usually a bad guy who was holed up in a building, a vehicle or someplace else. Much of our planning and coordination for the last 17 years then was focused on avoiding collateral damage, i.e. not hurting civilians, and ensuring that our particular fire mission was legal in all aspects. We were blessed with the luxury of having time to do deliberate planning and to go through all the necessary coordination because we were controlling the tempo of operations and therefore we were able to determine when and where we would employer or indirect fires. That is not to say that there weren’t times that we were shooting at a higher rate, or in a very time compressed planning and execution schedule, or that we didn’t employ more guns to shoot suppressive or killing fires if necessary; for example, to defend one of our combat outposts. But as a general rule fires were employed in a limited fashion and for very discrete purposes.

However, today most of the Army is engaged in preparations for future conflict in large scale combat. Not all, as we still have forces in harm’s way in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But, at our Combat Training Centers and Home Station we are re-learning how to employ distributed, massed fires, in a compressed schedule, against a moving enemy, who is firing back at us with indirect fires. That is an entirely different training requirement.

And, like all training, we need to begin with the basics. And the basics start with a single indirect fire target, and the 5Ws of putting that target on the map. In that respect, little has changed since I was a Troop Commander on the Inner German Border 30 years ago. The good news is that conducting leader development in fires planning takes almost no resources whatsoever. For the initial work, all you need is a map, protractor, and an alcohol pen, I would start the training using just those tools in the crawl phase having discussions such as those outlined above. Then in the walk phase, I would add in those digital apps that you can apply to fires planning, to integrate cognitive thinking with the mechanics of our mission command systems (and OBTW, every officer ought to have a basic knowledge of how AFATDS works – an excellent class for your FIST to give).

Then in the run phase I would go out onto the terrain. If you’re smart about it, you can just use the map of your local installation for the fire planning, and then walk out your back door and go look at where you drew the targets. So, you do the map recon first, plan your fires, and then look at them on the ground, as if conducting a leader’s recon from the Troop Leading Procedures. You can discuss the target, while you’re standing on that target on the actual terrain. That is the best way to learn. So, if one of your lieutenants said that they were going to have their primary observer for the target at a certain grid, you can stand on the target and look back towards that grid to see if you can actually see from there to the target. Or does the point of observation need to be adjusted? If you planned on using a linear target for smoke, you can have two of your leaders go to the ends of where the linear target would be and then consider whether that particular target as laid out on the map would accomplish your purpose. All of this cost nothing more than a little bit of your leader’s time. But, what will happen is that when you engage in collective training for Platoon Situational Training Exercises, or Company Fire Coordination Exercises, or Battalion Simulations Exercises; or when you deployed to the Combat Training Center; your leaders will be ahead of the game. They’ll already be able to plan and coordinate fires, so you can focus training on the combined arms integration that can really only take place in large scale collective training.


The bottom line is that today, like yesterday, company commanders can conduct a tremendously powerful leader development session simply by focusing on the detailed planning of a single target. The key is to get into a professional discussion on the 5Ws of that target and to conduct multiple reps so that each time the quality of the thinking about both the art and science of combined arms operations improves.