Join Date: Mar 2006
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.