Monday, October 20, 2008

Army 101

Greetings again from Iraq. I know that many of you are not familiar
with the military and how exactly it operates and it organized. I
figure that such an explanation would prove useful. For this we'll be
looking principally at an Infantry Battalion, of which I am a part.

An Infantry Battalion is a sub-unit of a Brigade Combat Team that has
between 600 and 800 soldiers assigned to it. The battalion is
commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) who usually has around
eighteen to twenty years of military experience in the officer ranks.
The highest Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) is the Command Sergeant
Major (CSM) who assists the Battalion Commander in providing
leadership for the battalion, but also serves as the chief mentor of
soldiers on the enlisted and NCO side of the house.

An Infantry Battalion consists of three Rifle (Line) Companies and one
Headquarters & Headquarters Company (HHC). The three Rifle companies
each have between 140 and 190 soldiers assigned to it. HHC is a
larger unit because it combines the two specialty platoons (Mortars
and Recon) with a Medical Platoon, the BN Staff and Staff Sections,
and other attachments. Each company is commanded by a Senior Infantry
Captain (CPT) who has been through the Infantry Officer's Career
Course at Fort Benning. The senior NCO of each company is the First
Sergeant. He serves a similar purpose as the CSM, but at the company
level. Each company has an Executive Officer (XO) who handles most of
the administrative and logistical tasks for the company. Each company
also has three rifle platoons and one Weapons Platoon. In a Stryker
unit the three rifle platoons are equipped with ICV (Infantry Carrier
Vehicles) while the Weapons Platoon has Mortar Carriers (MC), Mobile
Gun System (MGS), and ICVs. More on the Stryker in another email.
Each Platoon is led by a Lieutenant (graduate of the Basic Course, LT)
and a Platoon Sergeant (a senior NCO, PSG). The Platoons are then
further subdivided into Squads led by, incredibly enough, Squad
Leaders. Squads are broken into teams that are led by, you guessed it,
Team Leaders. Each company has one Fire Support Officer and a Fire
support section. These field artillery soldiers assist in targeting,
fire missions, and non-lethal targeting. The Reconnaissance and
Mortar Platoons are generally led by more senior Lieutenants or junior
Captains because of their specialized mission set.

One of the larger elements in HHC is the BN Staff, the Headquarters
part of Headquarters & Headquarters Company. The BN Staff is managed
by the BN XO. The BN XO is a graduate of ILE (no idea what that
stands for) at Fort Leavenworth, KS. The other field grade officer in
the BN Staff is the S3 or Operations Officer. He is assisted by the
Operations SGM who has reached the Sergeant Major ranks and is
awaiting selection to become a Command Sergeant Major. The Staff
sections are organized so that each section has a specific purpose or
mission within the staff and the battalion. The S Shops (in
Battalions or Below) are used to designate the various functions each
one is designed to accomplish.

S1 - Personnel. The BN S1 or Adjutant handles personnel manners,
finance, mail, and other administrative matters. They have the
unenviable job of keeping track of all soldiers, where they are, where
they live, etc. The S1 in an infantry battalion is normally a junior
captain, though our unit has had a heck of a lot of turnover at the S1
position. Since it handles so much administrative paperwork, all the
previous S1's went completely insane.

S2 - Intelligence. I'm biased and think this is one of the more
important ones, other people disagree. Many believe that Military
Intelligence is an oxymoron, it all depends on who is doing the
analysis of the intelligence. There are some, where that axiom would
hold true. Just as common sense is in fact rare sense, sometimes
military intelligence is not intelligent. This is one of only two
officer positions not manned (by standards) by combat arms personnel
within the infantry battalion. The S2 Section is responsible for some
administrative functions (security clearances, etc), but is
principally concerned with analysis of intelligence to determine the
threat's MLCOA and MDCOA (Most Likely and Most Dangerous Course of
Action). Furthermore proper intelligence can by pushed to the
companies to drive Operations.

S3 - Operations. This staff section is led by the Operations Officer
(an ILE graduate like the BN XO). This section is responsible for
manning Current Ops in the TOC with the Battle Captain, Battle NCO,
Battle RTO (Radio Telephone Operator). From here the Current Ops
manages the battle and tracks the companies on the battlefield. The
Plans Section is led by a Captain who is responsible for the planning
of future operations, production of the Daily FRAGO, and sometimes
serving as Slide B----. The military is completely and wholly owned
by Bill Gates and Microsoft. We recently were forced to move to
Microsoft Office 2007 (I hate it!). Powerpoint is the bane of our
existence, but without it, we don't know how to function. The dangers
of technology writ large appear in the military. The S3 section also
mans the TAC, the vehicles that the BC, S3 and CSM use to move around
the battlefield. They serve both as PSD (Personal Security
Detachment) and as drivers and vehicle crews. Operations and
Intelligence work together in what the miltary likes to call FUSION.
The miltiary likes the word Fusion and uses it way too often.
Operations is probably the most important staff function, though
intelligence does drive operations in the COIN fight (Counter
Insurgency, more on that at another point).

FSE - Fire Support Element. It is often considered a part of
Operations. The FSE is led by the FSO (Fire Support Officer), a Field
Artillery Captain. He is assisted by a Targeting Officer, another
Fire Support Officer. The principal role of the Fire Support Section
is targeting, both lethal and non-lethal. In lethal targeting they
work in conjunction with the S2 shop. For non-lethal targeting they
work in conjunction with the S5 shop. They also plan Fire Missions
involving Indirect Fire (Fire that is fired in an arc with observers
such as mortars and howitzers). They are the link with Air Assets
like AWT (Air Weapons Team - Helicopters) and Fixed Wing (Jets).

S4 - Supply. An Army lives on its Stomach. So said the Emperor
Napoleon. The S4 shop deals with the logistical needs of the
battalion, which include chow and water. The Supply Section keeps us
stocked on office supplies (there isn't an easy button, just a at
times limiteless government credit card), orders vital parts for
vehicles and weapon systems, and helps quality of life with various
funds used to make purchases for all sorts of operations. The S4 is
usually a junior combat arms captain.

S5/9 - Civil Military Operations. This is the Hearts and Minds Guy.
His non-lethal targeting piece revolves around Civil Military
Operations. This involves assisting local nationals in standing up
business since businesses and a functioning economy reduce the need
for someone to fall into a terrorist group or an insurgency. He also
coordinates with the Local government on products that require funding
that will benefit the widest section of the population. In COIN
operations, the S5/9 is a vital component because the vast majority of
operations are non-lethal.

S6 - Signal. The Signal Officer (a Signal guy) is the chief
communications officer of the battalion. With his section he
maintains the computer, radios, and other digital systems that are
vital to the Modern warfighter. We are very reliant on computers.
When our SIPR (Secret Internet is down) we really become listless and
are prone to the "good idea fairy". The S6 is the protection against
this dangerous threat to sanity. He also keeps the NIPR (normal
internet) lines up so I can write long entries like this that put you
to sleep).

Chaplain. No unit can succeed unless its Spiritual needs are met.
This is the mission of the BN's only non-combatant. The Chaplain
oversees the spiritual and psychological health of every soldier in
the Battalion. He does not carry a weapon, but rather ministers by
presence to the soldiers. He does get a bodyguard, called a
Chaplain's Assistant.

Deployed in Combat the Battalion receives a number of other
attachments that consist of mechanics, cooks, Human Intelligence
Collectors, and other specialties.

The Counter-Insurgency fight is fought at the Battalion and below
level. I'm a little biased, but I think I've got the best Battalion
in my Brigade Combat Team.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this... : )

Phil Sandoval said...

Great information. Please email me at ( I would love to talk to you about coming on my show to talk about your faith and experiences as a soldier.