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Thread: Fundamentals of the Battle Captain

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default Fundamentals of the Battle Captain

    RTK has written on his experiences using the framework of the 28 Articles, and I felt that same framework could be used to offer some lessons learned on the battle captain system that my unit applied during its 2004-2005 rotation.

    I can't lay claim to any degree of enlightment, but I'd like to think that towards the end of our deployment, our "council of captains" (S-3A, AirO, FSC, FAC, and SJA) had gotten into a sustainable groove.

    Article 1: Know your turf – Ltcol Kilcullen makes reference to developing a mental model of your area of operations. Try as we might to study imagery, review the maps and gain situational awareness, it took us in excess of three months to realize that battle captains need to physically see the battlespace with the naked eye. We eventually caught helos which flew over the turf, or went out when the Bn cmdr went forward to check on the companies.

    Article 2: Diagnose the problem – A battle captain’s problem is not the same tactical problem a company or platoon faces. He needs to move information (reporting) as quickly as possible, have a clear understanding of what needs to happen when a CCIR is tripped, when he must roust the QRF out of the ready room, and which means of communication to use in order to expedite a casevac request. Battle captains have to share lessons learned and offer ideas, and get the rest of the COC staff in synch so that they do not add to the friction when troops are in contact.

    Article 3: Organize for intelligence – The critical detail here is that COC staff need to be organized to maximize the capture of information for analysis. Do not let the S-2 staff stray out of reach of your daily battle rhythm. Because current operations and intelligence sections often report what should be the same information, up two separate paths, patrol, raid, and contact debriefs must be conducted with S-3 and S-2 representation. The patrol leader may conduct a more detailed debrief later with the intel rep, but ops has to reserve the right to final review of follow-on reporting offered up by the S-2. I’ve been queried by the night Regimental-level battle captain on significant events tidbits that the Regt S-2 briefed, but Regt Ops did not know. It is an unnecessarily painful experience.

    Article 4: Organize for interagency operations – Even if the battle captain doesn’t organize anything regarding interagency ops, he should know where these folks live, and stop by for a chat when they are on the FOB. A fellow battle captain and TF IO officer introduced me to the civil affairs HQ responsible for our AO. A couple of visits helped us explain matters to the company commander who was justifiably frustrated that his recommended pump house project hadn’t seen movement for several weeks.

    Article 5: Travel light and harden CSS (Combat Service Support) – All I can speak to is the travel light piece, and you’ve got to maintain the ability to revert to pens, maps, and acetate to fight the fight. For hardening, don’t let digital comms rest on a single point of failure. Test back-up systems regularly.

    Article 6: Find a political / cultural advisor – I found that the contract linguists are a remarkable source of ground-truth information, if you only listen to them. A lot of what they say has to be taken with a grain of salt, because they love rumors, but after you’re done with the shaker, they still provide a lot of context. You’d be surprised what you can pick up over a cigarette and cup of tea.

    Article 7: Train the squad leaders, then trust them – Get your COC people to as much formal and informal training as possible, even if it means foregoing multiple COC exercises. The Battle NCOs may think that steady state ops are mind-numbing, but when you have rockets impacting around the COC, troops in contact, and a developing casevac situation, a properly trained NCO truly shines. My battalion had an ops idiot savant who amazed me daily with his ability to pull in COP feeds, re-wire the COC after displacement, and sense when things needed to happen. He was a graduate of an operations specialist course, and it paid off during both deployments.

    Article 8: Rank is nothing, talent is everything – See article 7. If the square peg won’t fit into the round hole, keep searching until you find a fit.

    Article 9: Have a game plan – Treat the deployment as a marathon, not a sprint. Rehearse your actions in garrison and develop a rough plan to support ops in the AO, but don’t become enamored with that plan. Don’t be afraid to employ tricks you pick up during the RIP/TOA. It wasn’t until we’d been in country for over four months and had fought Fallujah v.2.0 that our battle captain system really started to click and run smoothly. During a RIP in Ramadi, we even stole some TTPs from the Army.

    Article 10: Be there – As a battle captain, you can’t be there if you are exhausted. Those days will come for sure, but the companies outside the wire deserve better, and if you are starting a 12 hour watch after only fours hours of sleep because you were playing Xbox, then you are simply negligent. Build a duty rotation like Marine Security Guard duty. Try to give the battle staff time off, if possible. At one point when we were in Ramadi for a few months, our rotation had it where the battle captain and his NCO could have 36 hours off, after a 3-day duty period. It keeps everyone rested and maintains their sanity. You will need it when the worst days come. Another component to “being there” is to have a semblance of depth. My TF had to split to support the Fallujah fight, and we learned the hard lesson that we did not have enough well-trained battle captains to do so without incurring more risk than we needed to. The senior personnel went forward and the junior guys did a stellar job, but they had to violate the first point in this paragraph.

    Article 11: Avoid knee jerk responses to first impressions – I’ll trump RTK a bit and say that initial reports are wrong 99% of the time. Every time you press an RTO for more details, the urge to embellish creeps in and reporting morphs into speculation. Give the unit 30 minutes to submit a follow-up report, and preferably after the senior man on the scene has made his assessment of just what the hell happened. In a running gunfight, remember that silence on the net probably means the commander has a helmet fire going on. He is busy…give him some space.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default Part 2

    Article 12: Prepare for handover from day 1 – Not much to add here.

    Article 13: Build trusted networks – This goes back to Article 4. You are nothing more than a one-trick pony if you don’t know what the current IO theme is, where CAG elements are operating, or don’t go down to the company areas every now and then to break bread. When you get the chance to go forward to “see” the battlespace, try to discuss current ops with a squad leader. It’s a little thing, but it goes toward building trust that you can get the dustoff bird in because you are not just another Fobbit.

    Articles 14 and 15: Start easy and seek early victories – The RIP/TOA will be the first challenge, but if you can hit a homerun there, you should be okay. There are really no easy and early victories, but rehearse your staff’s actions so they flow like water when a casualty requires evacuation to a higher echelon of care. Be the smooth operator when you pick up the handset, and if you can handle the stress of a troops-in-contact situation like a radio DJ, you will instill confidence in the guys on the ground.

    Article 16: Practice deterrent patrolling – Deterrent patrolling is high-level math, in terms of the battle tracking and coordination required. Check and double-check to make sure that adjacent units know what is going on. Sit down with the patrol leaders whenever possible, and don’t just know what the route looks like, but ask him where he expects to make contact. Know what his SOP is for breaking contact or going firm, and how he would prefer to make link-up with the QRF. You owe him that much, so don’t be the distant voice in a box that has to develop situation awareness through multiple radio calls.

    Article 17: Be prepared for setbacks – Bad things do happen, but the battle captain needs to internalize his emotions until he is off watch. It doesn’t matter if you have a KIA who was your number one NCO when you were a company commander. You’ve got to help the company clear the contact. Take a deep breath, throw in a dip or light up a Marlboro…Do anything to stay focused until the patrol is back inside the wire.

    Article 18: Engage the women; beware the children – When it’s 2 am and you get a call from a company, reporting that their attached HET has an informer who is ready to give the 411 on a local and active IED cell, but she wants to be relocated or placed into protective custody with her four children, you need to have a script/plan or the moment will slip away.

    Article 19: Take stock regularly – Regardless of what the battle captains and NCOs are doing, pull them in for a daily update brief. Too much gets lost between multiple change-over briefs. Ask the S-3 to attend and give his take on the current and future ops picture. Even better, invite the CO. You may be surprised how much information he can confirm or deny based on his rounds outside the wire

    Article 20: Remember the global audience – Nothing to add here, other than that this should be common sense. If you have greater access to the NIPRNET in the COC, keep your peers informed.

    Article 21: Exploit single narrative – Although you won’t have a narrative to worry about, you will be expected to be in the know, based on your proximity to the unit’s planners. Provide context on ops to your peers when appropriate, but if you simply don’t know anything more that what you heard in the OPORD, don’t embellish.

    Article 22: Local forces should mirror enemy, not ourselves – If you don’t know what coalition partners are doing within your AO or in adjacent battlespace, you’ve violated Article 16. Fire yourself and seek a position monitoring the clearing barrel at the entry control point.

    Article 23: Practice armed civil affairs – Even if your unit doesn’t have a supporting CA element, or the one you do have is over-tasked, work the interagency theme and appreciate what the CA folks like to know. Try to glean relevant information during the debriefs, and make sure it gets to the people who can act on it. If you aren’t sure if that’s within your lane, clear it with the S-3, but don’t sit on your thumbs and expect it to occur by magic.

    Article 24: Small is beautiful – For the battle captain, small details are beautiful. Be the duty expert at conducting a good debrief.

    Article 25: Fight the enemy's strategy, not his forces – The enemy’s strategy is to wear you down. If you can implement elements of the points listed above, you will help the companies to get inside of his loop.

    Article 26: Build your own solution, attack only when he gets in the way – “Combat operations do not win COIN. For a company, since combat operations are what we've trained for, they're our comfort zone. CMO, IO, economic development, and the sustainment of security forces are all bigger moneymakers in COIN than combat operations. It's tough to get to work, but more productive once you do.” – RTK. If you don’t understand some of the finer points of non-kinetic ops, you may actually be a hindrance to the guys outside the wire. This should be part of your continuous PME, and actually long before you stepped in country.

    Article 27: Keep extraction plan secret – Self-explanatory and nothing to add here.

    Article 28: Keep the initiative – Collaborate with your counterparts, battle NCOs, and the Ops Chief to get better every day. If you think you’ve developed the smoothest COC going, remember that the day may come where all previous watch rotations pale in comparison to the hell that breaks loose. Do your best to be prepared for it.

    Our system's success would not have been possible if the battalion commander didn't empower the battle captains to make decisions. He drafted a series of well-thought CCIRs and gave sufficient latitude to deal with emerging situations without waking either him or the S-3 up constantly.

    Although we were never allowed to take a company off task or change mission, we were given considerable freedom to alert and deploy the QRF, coordinate support between adjacent units, etc. The converse would have been a group of officers who simple moved yellow canary message sheets around all day until a decision was made.
    Last edited by jcustis; 02-06-2007 at 08:44 PM.

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    Default USMC Battle Captains: Coy level officer or Battalion Staff?

    And here I thought the role of the Battle Captain was just to keep Battalion off of the Company Commander's back in battle, silly me...

    jcustis, i'm not quite clear on just how the USMC LAR Bns uses its Battle Captains; is there one in each coy (that's what we have in each LAV/Stryker rifle coy in the RCR, now) and this is what appears to me what you're describing, or are the Battle Captains actually part of the Battalion Staff and are attached out to companies? In Canadian Army, both the mechanized rifle company and the tank squadron, the OC is on the coy/sqn/combat team net and monitors the bn/reg net, the 2 i/c takes care of the A1 echelon, and the Battle Captain is nearby the OC and is on the bn/reg net while monitoring the coy/squ/combat team net. Is this the same as USMC (LAR Bn)?

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    The battle captain in the US Army is the "Watch Officer" in USMC speak. He is the "floor manager" in the battalion Headquarters/TOC/CoC, charged with monitoring all current operations, syncronizing assets, and notifying the chain of command of all developments.

    Although normally called "battle captain", I have seen senior NCO's, warrants, lieutenants, and captains fill the role at BN level, and at BDE it is almost always a CPT or a Major. The marines use a Major or a senior warrant as the "Senior Watch Officer" (SWO) from my experience, and the Army is moving that way given all the assets managed by a BCT in OIF. Hence many BDE CDR's (such as mine) are placing post-command commanders in the role instead of the normal junior captains.
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Smile Grade creep...

    Forty years ago in many Bns / Sqns, that was the job of the OpSgt during the day and the Asst Op Sgt at night. Surprisingly, with an at least similar or possibly even higher combat optempo, with less technology and a radio handset at both ears while another net blared over the speaker on the remote, most did it pretty well...

    Those were also the days of an Officer shortage and a 3-shop with three Officers, four NCOs (the senior a MSG) and three Specialists -- the 2 had one Officer, two NCOs and one specialist.

    In those days, at Bde, the job in my observation was done usually by two LTs or CPTs in rotation and with the two NCOs as back up. The Bde 2 and 3 shops were only slightly larger (S3 5/4/5 and S2 2/3/3) than the Bn crews.

    I understand the staff sections have grown a bit...

    Some commanders were reluctant to give NCOs that much responsibility, some had weak NCOs and thus those tended to use Officers but I think those were the exception rather than the rule.

    IIRC, the Armor guys adapted the Battle Captain idea from the Bundeswehr. In it's formative days in the early '50s, they had a Hauptmann Tk Co Cdr -- and an OberFeldWebel, old experienced WW II vet at the time, who actually fought the company from a Hotchkiss PC just back of the contact line while the Hauptmann led the Panzers...

    The Army has also done away with the Ops and Intel NCO MOSs in the combat arms -- not a smart move IMO. Some guys make great ops NCOs, more make great First Sergeants; a few can do both well but most cannot. Some can't do either well and should be relived for cause before they hang around long enough to get promoted...

    What worked then could work now but times change and I have little doubt things are better today; I mention all the above only so some will realize that talent and not rank can be used as a criteria for most things -- particularly in event of personnel shortages and even more particularly in combat. Especially in combat...

    Long as it works...

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    Default I see it's not quite the same...

    I see, so the Battle Captain in the US Army is whoever is the Duty Officer at the time in the Bn TOC (or BGD HQ for that matter), and apparently the USMC Watch Officer (how very naval) is basically the same.

    Evidently the Battle Captain in a Commonwealth Tank Squadron (Company) or Mechanized Infantry Company is not the same thing as the US Army Battle Captain or the USMC Watch Officer (both battalion or brigade level Duty Officer). The Battle Captain is somewhat more like, but not identical too, the Senior NCO in the German Tank Company that Ken describes. In short, a Commonwealth Battle Captain acts as a sort of filter between the Company/Squadron OC who is fighting his command and Battalion/Regimental HQ, while the Company/Squadron 2i/c is with the Coy/Sqn HQ.

    Just goes to show that the same term can have very different meanings in the same langauge. As Churchill said, Britain and America are two people divided by a commmon language.

    Thanks for the info, gentlemen. It cleared up quite the confusion on my end.
    Last edited by Norfolk; 10-08-2007 at 01:29 AM. Reason: Erratum: 2i/c at Coy/Sqn HQ; CSM/SSM commands A1 Echelon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    In short, a Commonwealth Battle Captain acts as a sort of filter between the Company/Squadron OC who is fighting his command and Battalion/Regimental HQ, while the Company/Squadron 2i/c is with the A1 Echelon.
    FYI, the role you describe is usually handled by the Company XO (2IC) in most units. The CO "commands" the company, and talks to the BN CO when necessary regarding major issues, but focuses on fighting his company. The unit XO usually keeps BN informed with routine reports and traffic.
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    Default Seems Commonwealth divvies up US XO functions between 2i/c and Battle Captain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    FYI, the role you describe is usually handled by the Company XO (2IC) in most units. The CO "commands" the company, and talks to the Bn CO when necessary regarding major issues, but focuses on fighting his company. The unit XO usually keeps BN informed with routine reports and traffic.
    Yes, and I was confused when I first encountered jcustis' posts on the Battle Captain - I was unaware the US had them in the Commonwealth sense, and I wondered if things had recently changed as a result of battle experience in Iraq and A-Stan. I now see that the US Army Battle Captain or USMC Watch Officer is the same as the Watch/Duty Officer at Bn/Rgt/Bge HQ in Commonwealth Armies.

    I had known of, as you point out, the roles of both the Company CO and XO in the US system, and I was quite lost when I saw this thread about the "Battle Captain", and I assumed that some new innovation had been made in the USMC somewhat along Commonwealth lines, presumably as a result of recent battle experience. I had no idea that the US Army had "Battle Captains" (but I now know what the usage of that term in the US Army is).

    In the Commonwealth system, there are 3 officers at Company/Squadron level:

    The OC (Officer Commanding - 1i/c if you will - a Major) commands the infantry company or tank squadron in battle ("F" Echelon) and listens in, but only responds when very necessary to, the Bn/Reg radio net, while actively using the Coy/Sqn radio net himself to control the fight.

    The 2i/c (a Captain, but sometimes a Major himself as well) takes care of the Coy/Sqn HQ and Admin (Coy/Sqn Logistics in general: the Company/Squadron Sergeant Major commands "A1" Echelon, not the 2i/c - my error - front-line resupply, casevac, and HQ defence, while Company/Squadron Quarter-Master Sergeant commands "B" Echelon - CQ/SQ - stores, etc.). I think the 2i/c listens in to both the Coy/Sqn radio net and the Bn/Rgt net. The 2i/c (or CSM/SSM) may lead an armed resupply body to, and casevac back from, the front line ("F" Echelon).

    The Battle Captain (3i/c, if you will - an experienced Captain) accompanies the OC to the front line ("F" Echelon) and joins him in the battle. Think of the Battle Captain as a sort of Company S-3, maybe that's the easiest, but not the exact, way to describe his function. The Battle Captain is on the horn to both Battalion/Regiment HQ (sitreps) and decides which messages are for the OC's ear, and to Coy/Sqn HQ and sends orders for ammo/fuel resupply and casevac to the 2i/c. The Battle Captain deals with the Bn/Rgt S-3 and other requests for info, leaving the OC to concentrate on the fight. If the OC is killed, the Battle Captain assumes command of the Coy/Sqn until the 2i/c arrives from Coy/Sqn HQ. The Company/Squadron Sergeant-Major CSM/SSM takes command of Coy/Sqn HQ in that event.
    Last edited by Norfolk; 10-08-2007 at 01:32 AM.

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post

    The 2i/c (a Captain, but sometimes a Major himself as well) takes care of the Coy/Sqn HQ and Admin (Coy/Sqn Logistics in general: the Company/Squadron Sergeant Major commands "A1" Echelon, not the 2i/c - my error - front-line resupply, casevac, and HQ defence, while Company/Squadron Quarter-Master Sergeant commands "B" Echelon - CQ/SQ - stores, etc.). I think the 2i/c listens in to both the Coy/Sqn radio net and the Bn/Rgt net. The 2i/c (or CSM/SSM) may lead an armed resupply body to, and casevac back from, the front line ("F" Echelon).
    Very interesting. The role by the 2i/c above is performed by the company First Sergeant in Combat, and a combination of the XO and 1SG in garrison. I know certain light infantry units reverse that, with the XO running logistics and the 1SG up front. The XO in Tank/Cav/Mech units has a fighting vehicle, wheras the 1SG gets a HMMWV and an APC, and hangs with the supply sergeant.

    I knew many foreign armies used Majors as company commanders. (the Iraqis do) I didn't know that they had two assistants in addition to the platoon leaders, I guess it makes sense.
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    Default Just to confuse the issue...

    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Very interesting. The role by the 2i/c above is performed by the company First Sergeant in Combat, and a combination of the XO and 1SG in garrison. I know certain light infantry units reverse that, with the XO running logistics and the 1SG up front. The XO in Tank/Cav/Mech units has a fighting vehicle, wheras the 1SG gets a HMMWV and an APC, and hangs with the supply sergeant.

    I knew many foreign armies used Majors as company commanders. (the Iraqis do) I didn't know that they had two assistants in addition to the platoon leaders, I guess it makes sense.
    Until the LAV-25 and Styker arrived in rifle coys (until then both Light and Mech with either LAV-1 or M-113), the arrangment was more backwards. The OC, warning order in hand, formed the lads up on the line of departure, handed control of the company over to the 2i/c, then returned to the rear Coy HQ to work on the plan for the next mission. The CSM was at Coy HQ and took care of most things there. The CSM at Coy HQ was fine by me, but I could never get over the OC handing off to the 2i/c moments before starting the advance-to-contact, and heading to the rear to go to work on his next plan. WE didn't have a Battle Captain in the rifle coys until the arrival of the newer LAVs.

    I think things are much better with the new arrangement.
    Last edited by Norfolk; 10-08-2007 at 03:53 PM.

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    This articles are truly fundamental. If you think about it is simple truth! Best of all I liked article 8 "rank is nothing, talent is everything" I wish people nowadays would realize it and I personally feel the same way. I know many people with no rank, but who are talented and will go far. On the other hand, there are many, who are highly ranked, but are absolutely boring in daily life, that's sad.

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    Council Member RTK's Avatar
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    I had nearly forgotten about this. Jcustis did a great job on this work and as I head to a squadron I'm going to dust this off and hand it to my battle captain and NCO this summer.
    Example is better than precept.

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    Wow, it's been a while RTK. I had not noticed you returned a few weeks ago.

    I have to admit, shamefully, that I'd I forgotten about this one. I would have dusted it off and shared it with the watch officers as they geared up for my last deploy, but...

    I did have a few chats with them during dinner at the chow hall during some specialized staff training, but never went into this depth. They fared well enough though, and performed very well across the deployment.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    I just ran across an article in the Marine Corps Gazette that I think is a good adjunct to these Battle Captain principles. It has been posted online here, and focuses on small unit combat reporting.

    http://www.mca-marines.org/gazette/a...mander-and-coc

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