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Old 02-13-2009   #1
tankersteve
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Default Size of the Platoon and Company

There was a pretty good-sized thread about squad composition that eventually petered out. However, some thought that the platoon should be the focus of the discussion. Near the end of the afore-mentioned thread, some commented on a 40-man platoon being too large.

My question: What is the optimal size of a platoon? And then, how large the company? Is there a known or preferred (I am sure) maximum? Where do effectiveness and span of control intersect and where do they diverge?

I am primarily focused on the infantry platoon and company. However, comments on other forces would certainly be of interest.
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Old 02-13-2009   #2
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Default Platoon size

I like playing with MTOEs a bit, seeing how much more effectiveness I could generate (suitable for full-spectrum operations, sustainable in combat, etc) if I was in charge of the military for a day.

An Army mech platoon is often 40 or more men:

12 men to man the Bradleys
3x 9-man squads
PL, RTO, Medic

Theoretically, you can't fit that many dismounts in the back of the Bradley, but the 2 platoons I worked with in Iraq always had room for "1 more". Especially after a mission. And this was definitely a result of higher (division) really getting the platoons up to full strength (and even beyond) which caused one platoon sergeant to comment that he had never been in a full platoon before.

A typical Marine platoon would probably have similar numbers, although with much larger squads.

I am more inclined to go with Wilf's idea of multiple fire teams but I would like to align them in 2 sections. However, my platoon is 45 men, including the HQ element. I have 2 20-man sections, with 3 6-man squads/fire teams in each section and a small section HQ. Is 40+ men really too big for a platoon?

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Old 02-15-2009   #3
1258dave
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Default Idf?

Does anybody have any feedback on the IDF MTOE and task org for Gaza? Or general comments about the IDF SQD/PLT/CO?

Also, any feedback about the British experience in "up" and "down" armoring units for Operation Banner? (support to civil authority in Ulster)

My understanding is that units would rotate to Ulster and fall in on wheeled armored vehicles. So a light unit from the UK would "up" armor, and a mech unit from the British Army on the Rhine would "down" armor. Sounds like OIF/OEF.

Since that is what we have been doing, and probably will be doing, that should be part of the discussion about PLT/Co size.
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Old 02-16-2009   #4
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Default

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Originally Posted by tankersteve View Post
]I am more inclined to go with Wilf's idea of multiple fire teams but I would like to align them in 2 sections. However, my platoon is 45 men, including the HQ element. I have 2 20-man sections, with 3 6-man squads/fire teams in each section and a small section HQ. Is 40+ men really too big for a platoon?
The idea behind the Fire Team Group, was Lt Col Jim Storr's, and I merely modified it. The whole point is to loose the section level of command. You go Coy - Pltn - Fireteam. Yes, you can Task Org into multiples, but that is task organisation and so specified by the task.

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Does anybody have any feedback on the IDF MTOE and task org for Gaza? Or general comments about the IDF SQD/PLT/CO?
The IDF has fairly ad-hoc platoon organisation, depending on Brigade. Platoons are basically 36 and organised either as 3 x 12 man sections of 3 fire teams, or much like a US Platoon of 36, except they only have one M240/FN-MAG, and not all fire teams have SAWs/LMGs.

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My understanding is that units would rotate to Ulster and fall in on wheeled armored vehicles. So a light unit from the UK would "up" armor, and a mech unit from the British Army on the Rhine would "down" armor. Sounds like OIF/OEF.
To simplify 30 years of operations, all units on Op Banner re-roled to the Light role and were supported attached specialist armoured vehicles (Saracen and Pig). Later on it became a bit more complicated, (Saxon was an standard issue vehicle) but the basics still stand.

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Since that is what we have been doing, and probably will be doing, that should be part of the discussion about PLT/Co size.
Is should, but rarely is.
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Old 02-16-2009   #5
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Default Flexibility

Sounds like the Brits almost formalized the process of task organizing for the mission in Ireland. For US forces, it seems to be fairly ad hoc. However, most people I think tend to forget that the light units getting HMMWVs and MRAPs is just as much of a 'change' in status/capability, as a heavy unit trading down to the same platforms. In fact, since the heavy guys have mechanics, they might have an easier time doing it. I won't say the same is quite true for armor guys to start dismounted patrolling.

Wilf, while trying not to sound like a giant asskisser, I was hoping to hear from you. Is 36 men OK, but 45 too many? Where do span of control and effectiveness intersect and where do they diverge? I like larger formations - had to do too much with little ones and know the pain. I know there is a limit - you seem to be a good source on previous research - but what has been shown?

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Old 02-16-2009   #6
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Wilf, while trying not to sound like a giant asskisser, I was hoping to hear from you. Is 36 men OK, but 45 too many? Where do span of control and effectiveness intersect and where do they diverge? I like larger formations - had to do too much with little ones and know the pain. I know there is a limit - you seem to be a good source on previous research - but what has been shown?

Tankersteve
I think I should point I'm not more qualified on this question than many others, however my current research would indicate the following,

A Fire team between 3-5 seems good. 6 may be a bit big.
Given that most people can control up 5 entities, then a the platoon would seem to be 6 x 5 man fireteams, organised around one level of command. This is my preference, however, 36 man platoons seem to work perfectly well if you include two levels of command, and that may apply to 45. There is no really right or wrong answer. It's the method and how you train in light of that method. Personally I see great merit in getting rid of one level of command.
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Old 02-16-2009   #7
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Default Lessons from Ulster?

There is an earlier thread which may have suitable links for 1258Dave's question: http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=1377

From my outsider's recollection the UK Army, particularly in the early years of "The Troubles", deployed units from all arms on short tours of duty, six months IIRC and there was a very comprehensive training schedule eventually developed. The vehicles used were "old warhorses", notably the Humber "Pig", alongside Land Rovers and much later Saxons. Re-roling was difficult, say for an air defence artillery unit (from Germany) compared to a non-mechanised infantry battallion and comments on this do appear in the open literature. There were a large number of units on garrison duty, for three year tours (with families in barracks); mainly infantry, engineers, helicopters, signals and SOF (later not with families). A timetable was available so units knew - within operational needs - when they would go to Northern Ireland.

Most non-mechanised infantry units only had Land Rovers and virtually no armoured vehicles. Armoured cars were attached, not integral.

Hope that helps - from an outsider and read alongside insider Wilf's comments

Last edited by davidbfpo; 02-16-2009 at 09:47 PM. Reason: Piecemeal writing
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Old 02-17-2009   #8
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Default Thanks

David,
Thanks. I keep forgetting that British Army units were, and are, stationed in Ulster (like 1st (US) AD in WWII). From my reading it sounds like it took over 5 years for the British government to really get a system in place (including rebuilding the Police, getting rid of the B-Specials, and standing up the UDR) - and then about 3-5 more years for the "Internal Security" systems to really have an impact.
Am I reading this right?
Also ,what was your general impression of the UDR operations? Was that a generally successful model for internal security? I know there were problems, but my impression is that the UDR played a vital role, despite the problems.
From your on line info this sounds like your area.


Will,
How does the 12 man sqd work?
Is the SQD LDR part of one of the fire teams?
Is the medic organic?
What does the PLT HQ look like?
Why only one MMG (PICKEM DEEP, the P=pairs right?) and why not a SAW in every fire team?
And the big question: what is the impact of conscription? If any?

Seperate question: have you seen tests with a PLT built with 6 x 5 pax Fire Teams?

Thanks.

Last edited by 1258dave; 02-17-2009 at 04:33 PM. Reason: more questions!
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Old 02-17-2009   #9
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Default Part reply (Wilf may follow)

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David, Thanks. I keep forgetting that British Army units were, and are, stationed in Ulster (like 1st (US) AD in WWII). From my reading it sounds like it took over 5 years for the British government to really get a system in place (including rebuilding the Police, getting rid of the B-Specials, and standing up the UDR) - and then about 3-5 more years for the "Internal Security" systems to really have an impact. Am I reading this right? Also ,what was your general impression of the UDR operations? Was that a generally successful model for internal security? I know there were problems, but my impression is that the UDR played a vital role, despite the problems. From your on line info this sounds like your area. Thanks.
"The Troubles" lasted a long time and it simply took a long time for the violence to be contained and reduced to an acceptable level. Violence came from both sides of the communal divide and sadly some collusion by local security forces. This was mainly the UDR and one UK report cited 5-15% had strong links with Protestant paramilitaries; collusion was rarely found in the RUC and to my knowledge not in the regular Army.

The intelligence effort appears to have taken longer to get right and still causes controversy e.g. Omagh bombing and whether GCHQ helped (Try: http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/fr...00/7868236.stm. )

The UDR initially had a significant Catholic minority for a few years, now often overlooked, but by its end it was 99% Protestant. Through out it was mainly a mix of full-time and part-time, locally recruited soldiers - with a cadre of regular UK Army officers and NCOs. IIRC their main role in later years was in the rural areas, the RUC handled the urban areas and rarely had UDR support. Being in the UDR could not be easily hidden in the rural areas and they paid a very high price, often even when retired or had left the UDR (264 dead).

I suspect the UDR initially was a quick fix and politically motivated - to keep loyalist support in uniform. Their existence after many years enabled the UK Army to reduce its numbers and extended "Ulsterisation" in policing to the military in the mid-1970s it was eleven battalions strong and 57,000 served in its history. I am not aware of how vital a role the UDR played, nor can I readily locate an expert comment.

My judgement or comment reflects the fact that the main focus throughout "The Troubles" was that the "hardcore" Republican areas were urban, where the UK Army handed primacy over to the RUC in the mid-1970's, so the UDR's value was not crucial IMHO.

In the rural areas the UDR had an active role long after primacy was handed to the RUC, but the regular UK Army dominated intelligence and surveillance roles.

Many other factors had a part in ending "The Troubles".

Late addition: On my bookshelf and relied upon for much of my response is this book 'Testimony to Courage - the Regimental History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969 - 1992', John Potter, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 02-18-2009 at 07:46 PM. Reason: Extended composing and adding source book used
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Old 02-17-2009   #10
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Default Udr

David,
Thanks for the response. I realize that building an organization like the Ulster Defense Regiment, and the Home Service Force of the Royal Irish Reg, was a stop gap during the worst part of the war ("troubles") that turned into the "least bad" solution long term.

It is easy to forget that the British Army executed Operation Motorman in 1972 for 6 months with a 28k+ pax Division- not counting the UDR or the Royal Ulster Constab. Add it all up and the Government forces were probably putting close 40k (or more?) armed personnel on the streets (police, Regular Army, UDR, HSF etc).

As an "Full Time" Army National Guardsman - I am always interested in how other "reservist" or "Home Service Force" units organize and operate.
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Old 02-17-2009   #11
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Originally Posted by tankersteve View Post
My question: What is the optimal size of a platoon? And then, how large the company? Is there a known or preferred (I am sure) maximum? Where do effectiveness and span of control intersect and where do they diverge?

I am primarily focused on the infantry platoon and company. However, comments on other forces would certainly be of interest.
Something that has always interested me...

To answer (part of) the original question, there appears to be a some research evidence that indicates something like 150 people should be the maximum size of a "community", as a rifle company is. Studies were done on various groups by different researchers, and often came to this conclusion, whether it was military company-echelon units, religious communities, or business units within a commercial company. There may be a sort of limit in the way that human brains are "wired" in the average person. Beyond that limit, not everyone "knows" everyone else, and knows where they fit in the organization (i.e., at any given moment you could glance at someone and think "that is so-and-so, from 1st platoon). From personal experience, in a unit that was brought up to full strength at 144, I'd say that did seem to be pushing closer to the limit (this was before I read any of the studies). I also recall support and HQ companies that were massive, up to 300+ personnel, and talking to folks in those companies, the units simply didn't have the same cohesiveness.

Given that units are often notoriously under- strength, and need to be able to absorb casualties, I can't see a reason to make it much less than 150, either. In fact, I'd pack a few more in, just in case. I'd rather have too many, than have a company that melts away too quickly. I would definitely divide the company into at least four platoons (with a smaller fifth "weapons" platoon or section), just so the company commander can have more tactical options beyond "one up, two back" and "two up, one back". From what I have seen, a good company commander can handle five or six platoons just fine, and a bad one can hose things up, even if he only has two platoons to worry about.

Dividing 150, or 160, or more, personnel into four rifle platoons (+ HQ and weapons) means each platoon will have to have maybe... 30 to 36 personnel. As an aside, I don't see a convincing reason that any other company-level unit design can't stay strictly within the 150 limit. Rifle companies are special, in that they are expected (and historically do) take more casualties than other unit types.
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Old 02-17-2009   #12
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Default I agree with your organizational points, Sabre

but I'd rather be ten people short than one man overstrength. Overstrength consumes resources and effort; understrength works harder and poses fewer personnel management problems while easing the control problem.

A rifle squad exists to put at least a man or two left functional on a piece of ground, the difference between six and nine men will be one guy instead of two; got to an 11 man squad and you get maybe three. Got to any other mission and anywhere from five to nine is adequate for most things...

For mounted units, overstrength means crowded vehicles among other things...
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Old 02-18-2009   #13
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Default The answer I was looking for

Sabre, that was the kind of info I was looking for. However, since we are so rarely up to full strength, I am interested in a company design of just (and it's close) under 200, with the four platoons being approximately 45, with their medic and FO. I wonder what things can be done to bring larger organizations to have a closer feel of community. Obviously, training hard together and having competitive sports outside of training will help bond a military organization. But would it suffice for a company that is that robust? I had a tank platoon attached to a Marine infantry battalion in Ramadi, and the weapons company was right at the 200-man mark, and seemed to have good cohesion.

I understand the desire to have more platoons, but that requires more officers and more NCOs and ends up with less Soldiers. There is a fine line out there somewhere between what the average new LT can control and what will overwhelm him. However, with fewer leaders, I see the ability to be more selective in our leaders.

Ken, you have to remember, there is always room for 'one more' in a Bradley, especially when going back to base. (I have personally been in the back with 10 not-so-small infantrymen, while towing a disabled Bradley) Being fat on personnel, to me, is never an issue, and I definitely disagree with you on that point. Being short of troops requires me to go to the boss, lay out my whole troop-to-task, and explain that while I CAN do his latest mission, this is what will suffer or not get done.

Note: as a tanker, I have had to deal with the 63-man company, plus attachments and maintenance and been tasked like an infantry company. I was substantially plussed up in Iraq, and didn't have major difficulties accomplishing my missions. However, it made me very partial to more robust organizations. The problem with the tank company is the size of the platoons, though. While they are effective on a tank, they don't offer much for the PL to maneuver with and do not work well off of the tank.

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Old 02-18-2009   #14
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Default We can differ on that.

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Ken, you have to remember, there is always room for 'one more' in a Bradley, especially when going back to base. (I have personally been in the back with 10 not-so-small infantrymen, while towing a disabled Bradley).
Believe me, I've seen that. Though primarily a light inf type by strong preference, I've been Cav and Mech -- but we're talking M75 and M113 here...

Though this probably isn't the place to get into 'can you top this one?' That's better done over a drink...
Quote:
Being fat on personnel, to me, is never an issue, and I definitely disagree with you on that point. Being short of troops requires me to go to the boss, lay out my whole troop-to-task, and explain that while I CAN do his latest mission, this is what will suffer or not get done.
As I said we can disagree. However, I do have a question; serious and no disrespect of anyone or anything intended. Why would you have to go to your Boss and do that? Why have you been given a mission as if someone above is not cognizant of your PFD strength?
Quote:
Note: as a tanker, I have had to deal with the 63-man company, plus attachments and maintenance and been tasked like an infantry company. I was substantially plussed up in Iraq, and didn't have major difficulties accomplishing my missions. However, it made me very partial to more robust organizations. The problem with the tank company is the size of the platoons, though. While they are effective on a tank, they don't offer much for the PL to maneuver with and do not work well off of the tank.
Tanks -- been there done that, too -- obviously are different on the matter of strength; a tank pretty well has to be full. I've always contended that Tank Cos ought to have the Security section in Co Hq -- four full crews -- as potential replacements; they'll be necessary in MIC or hotter. Infantry, OTOH...
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Old 02-18-2009   #15
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Originally Posted by 1258dave View Post
Will,
How does the 12 man sqd work?
Is the SQD LDR part of one of the fire teams?
Is the medic organic?
What does the PLT HQ look like?
The 12 man squad works just like the USMC arrangement except, as far as I can tell, the squad leader is IN one the fireteams. Don't know about the medic. I think every platoon has one, and not sure about the PLT HQ, though based on what I have heard from the class of 67' 73' and 82, an officer carrying his own radio, IS a platoon HQ!
Quote:
Why only one MMG (PICKEM DEEP, the P=pairs right?) and why not a SAW in every fire team?
I'm still exploring this one. THis is my general impression, based on talking to folks. Something critical to understand is that the IDF is extremely informal and adapts to circumstance very quickly. No two platoons seem to be the same!
Quote:
And the big question: what is the impact of conscription? If any?
The impact is that the infantry gets very high quality manpower, and places for the infantry are oversubscribed in some units.
Quote:
Seperate question: have you seen tests with a PLT built with 6 x 5 pax Fire Teams?
The UK tested 5 x 4 man fire teams and it worked extremely well, in the attack - but that was the only thing tested. The 6 x 5 man teams is merely an enhancement
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Old 02-18-2009   #16
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Sabre, that was the kind of info I was looking for. However, since we are so rarely up to full strength, I am interested in a company design of just (and it's close) under 200, with the four platoons being approximately 45, with their medic and FO. I wonder what things can be done to bring larger organizations to have a closer feel of community. Obviously, training hard together and having competitive sports outside of training will help bond a military organization. But would it suffice for a company that is that robust? I had a tank platoon attached to a Marine infantry battalion in Ramadi, and the weapons company was right at the 200-man mark, and seemed to have good cohesion.
Tankersteve
Heh, when I design a rifle company, I end up with 180ish personnel.
USMC Rifle Co's clock in at what, just over 180?
Army Rifle Co's are (with FO's and medics) just under 150.

I don't know that 150 is a "hard" limit, but stray too far away, and at some point (perhaps past 200?) things will not go so smoothly.

Perhaps cohesiveness was a poor choice of words. I think that it is more about "knowing" everyone. In combat, that means details about them that could be very important. I catch sight of someone, and I should know their name, so I have a better chance of getting their attention, and I know where they fit in the organization (that is so-and-so, from 1st platoon - and what the heck is someone from 1st platoon doing there???), and hopefully, I know a little about them (perhaps some idea of how agressive they are, any special skills, etc). I can envision situations where these little details can make a big difference.
I'm not sure that there is too much that you can do to enhance things for a large organization - one with, say, 300 pax. How could you change the 3-to-6 span of control, for example? At battalion and above, you can have a staff to handle all of the "moving parts", but not really at company and below.

That's my understanding of it, anyway.

As a side-note, I find it interesting that the Army seems to be loath to add additional leadership at the company or below level (e.g., a company gunny), which in the current BCT designs would have "cost" 6 to 12 people in total, but will happily add 40 staffers to each BCT...
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Old 02-18-2009   #17
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Default Interesting. My hip pocket design had 191...

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Heh, when I design a rifle company, I end up with 180ish personnel...I don't know that 150 is a "hard" limit, but stray too far away, and at some point (perhaps past 200?) things will not go so smoothly.
However, lately I've been rethinking that as some comments here triggered my recall of being in a ROTAD Rifle Company in the 101st long time ago. Four Rifle Platoons, weapons Platoon and Co Hq for a net (IIRC) of 233. It was definitely unwieldy...
Quote:
As a side-note, I find it interesting that the Army seems to be loath to add additional leadership at the company or below level (e.g., a company gunny), which in the current BCT designs would have "cost" 6 to 12 people in total, but will happily add 40 staffers to each BCT...
True. Really dumb -- but true...
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Old 02-19-2009   #18
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I've got two thoughts about the light rifle company:

1) Don't put Designated Marksmen/sharpshooters in platoons and squads full time. Instead, have a DM squad in the company weapons platoon led by a senior staff sergeant for training and administration. Attach a couple of teams out to each platoon for operations as needed. The platoon leader can further attach them out to squads if needed.

2) Would it be so hard for the Army to have a WO program similar to the Marine Gunners? One WO weapons specialist per rifle company? Perhaps leading the weapons platoon? Seems to me he might also temporarily take over a rifle platoon if the situation demanded; rifle platoon leader casualties, etc.

Does the Army have enough SFCs and SSGs for an Infantry WO pipeline? Is this feasable?
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Old 02-19-2009   #19
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Default Troop to Task

Ken,

This usually is more of a garrison requirement, but frequently in OIF, a new mission would arise. Sometimes this was from the Good Idea Fairy, sometimes it supported improving the security in the populace. And it became difficult for the battalion HQ to track the things I was doing. For instance, in Tal Afar, some of my tasks in my company were:

Maintain limited visibility overwatch all night, every night along a 3.5 km stretch of the outer ring highway, the MSR for the brigade FOB. 2 tanks could do this, but we usually split the time into 2 4-5 hour periods, thus consuming a whole platoon.

Maintain random nighttime patrol presence in some of the neighborhoods - prevented the bigger booms by never giving the enemy a chance to emplace HMMWV-killing (or bigger) IEDs, such as 3ACR had previously in my sector. Now in hindsight, don't think this was the best way to do it, but my method then was through a pretty high optempo.

Each platoon partner and conduct a joint patrol with IA every single day. Later, this got turned into every U.S. patrol had IA with it.

Patrols during the day, focused on a neighborhood, looking at gathering atmospherics, looking for ways to interact with the neighborhood, etc. We were not experts in COIN but we kind of understood that talking to the locals was important. This was pre 3-24 (COIN manual) so we fumbled alot. We should have been gathering info like census and complete demographics.

Assist my Fire Support section with IP partnership, sometimes requiring a squad or platoon for patrols or training.

Maintain 24/7 COP defense - nighttime visits to local houses or random patrols, 4-man guard force.

Escort EOD in sector. I had the EOD team living with me (for good reason, unfortunately).

Maintain QRF ability at +10 minutes (usually quite less). If I had 2 platoons in sector, I could designate either to be the QRF. If only 1, then I had to have one from the COP.

Maintain liaison with IA battalion, assisting however I was able. Lots of visits, lots of chai, lots of planning, discussions, getting to know (and genuinely like) each other. Many combined operations, including everything done at a larger scale.

In addition, other things that came up were:

Some actionable intel, with night-time cordon and search.
Escort TPT or THT (I liked TPT, never found value with our THT, but that is a discussion for another thread).
Hospital liaison visits, IP station visits, Sheik visits, CMO projects (quite a bit - bn cdr wanted money spent!), Cave and ravine searches, joint training opportunities, new patrol base recon, admin movement support (meetings at bn hq, hauling generator back to the FOB, etc).

My BN CDR was pretty good about managing missions with his companies, but sometimes things came down that didn't get a lot of mental muscle from the staff. I was always taught that you didn't say you couldn't do something, you said that I can do the mission but here is what I won't be able to do or do at the same level. In Iraq, you have many directed missions, but so many that you pick up on your own, due to variances in each company AO, that the battalion doesn't always realize how busy you are.

Sorry for my long post, but I found it rather cathartic. There is the haunting that every commander lives with after his combat tour, about what he did and didn't do, and how he could have done things differently. Being at NTC, and reliving Iraq every month, can be a mixed bag for this.

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Old 02-19-2009   #20
Ken White
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Default Thanks for the detailed answer, Steve. Always good to get my

limited knowledge expanded.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tankersteve View Post
My BN CDR was pretty good about managing missions with his companies, but sometimes things came down that didn't get a lot of mental muscle from the staff. I was always taught that you didn't say you couldn't do something, you said that I can do the mission but here is what I won't be able to do or do at the same level. In Iraq, you have many directed missions, but so many that you pick up on your own, due to variances in each company AO, that the battalion doesn't always realize how busy you are.
Understand all the missions and can visualize most ( I hate Chai... ). Thanks. Only comment to that is that IMO your Bn doesn't need to know what you're doing in anything near total knowledge but should be enough aware that barring an urgent situation, they wouldn't task you to do things that degrade the total mission. I didn't say that well but I'm sure you know what I mean -- adding that I wasn't there so that's just a generic comment.
Quote:
Sorry for my long post, but I found it rather cathartic. There is the haunting that every commander lives with after his combat tour, about what he did and didn't do, and how he could have done things differently.
I know. Some things 42, 58 years ago I still wonder about -- and know what I should've done in others. I appreciate the length and detail.
Quote:
Being at NTC, and reliving Iraq every month, can be a mixed bag for this.
I can imagine but my spies tell me you guys are doing good stuff out there now. Units still try to do too much and I'm sure Joe gets as much jerk around due to that as ever but it's better than its ever been. You guys do good work.

Thanks again for the education.
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