We have, over the years, discussed any number of times the organization of various Army units, for instance the organization of a Heavy Brigade Combat Team, with its maneuver battalions, fire support, and what not. We’ve discussed the generally triangular organization of most echelons of the Army. We’ve often discussed the relationship between a unit commander and his subordinate and superior commanders.
What we haven’t gotten around to is discussing the staff.
Let’s take a moment to consider the Combined Arms Battalion (CAB) of an HBCT. Per FMI 30-9.5, the interim field manual that first described the CAB of the HBCT. The CAB primarily consisted to two companies of Armor, and two companies of Mechanized Infantry. And so, our Battalion Commander, a Lieutenant Colonel, had four* immediate subordinate company commanders, who are Captains.
While each company has a headquarters element, the battalion is the lowest echelon in the Army that has an actual staff. The staff is responsible for planning and monitoring the execution of the mission under the direction of the Battalion Commander, and his guidance.
Unlike, say, the department heads of a warship, who both have a staff planning function, and exercise leadership over their departments and subordinate divisions, the staff does not exercise command over the subordinate companies.**
So who are the staff officers?
Our Battalion Commander has three different types of staff-
- Personal Staff
- Coordinating Staff
- Special Staff
Personal Staff- The Battalion Commander has at least two personal staff, though he may have more. The Command Sergeant Major is on his personal staff, and is his key advisor on issues regarding the NCOs and enlisted personnel of the command. He is also very often his eyes and ears throughout the command, and advises on issues of morale and command climate. The other personal staff is the Battalion Chaplain. The Chaplain, in addition to his religious and counseling duties to the members of the battalion, has a staff responsibility to the Bn CDR to advise on unit morale, as well as moral and ethical issues the Bn CDR faces. In addition, the BC might also have a Personal Security Detachment, and an interpreter as personal staff.
The Coordinating Staff are what we tend to think of when we actually think of the Bn staff. They are organized along functional lines, and while there have traditionally been four staff sections, there are now routinely five, or even more, even at the battalion level.
The staff sections at the battalion level are:
- S-1 Personnel
- S-2 Intelligence
- S-3 Operations and Training
- S-4 Logistics
- S-6 Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (C4)
Quite often, the battalion will, depending on its mission, also be authorized an S-5 Civil Affairs staff section.
In addition, of course, the Battalion CDR has an Executive Officer (XO). The XO serves as the Chief of Staff, supervising their work.
The S-1 Section is generally concerned with what your employer would call HR issues, such as ensuring the troops get paid, evaluated, promoted and decorated. On a darker side, they are also responsible for the administrative issues relating the casualties and replacements. The S-1 officer is typically a Captain, and also serves as the unit Adjutant. He is assisted by the Personnel NCO in Charge (PNCOIC), typically a Sergeant First Class, and several personnel clerks.
The S-2 Section both collects and analyses information from the subordinate units, and receives and disseminates intelligence from higher commands. The S-2 Officer is typically a Captain, and is assisted an S-2 NCO, typically either a Staff Sergeant or a Sergeant First Class, and perhaps another Intelligence officer, and one or two enlisted personnel. Depending on the unit mission, the S-2 may also be augmented with additional teams for specific roles, such as a Human Intelligence (HUMINT) exploitation team.
The S-3 Section is by far the largest and most influential of the coordinating staff sections. It is concerned with planning operations during wartime, and a comprehensive training plan during peacetime. The S-3 Officer is a Major, the third most senior officer in the battalion. He has a number of subordinates:
- The Assistant S-3- generally a post-company command Captain- he is the principal assistant to the S-3, and is a key planner in developing Courses of Actions (COA) during the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) which is the method used to generate an Operations Order (OPORD).
- The S-3 Liaison Officer- generally a Captain, he is the liaison to higher headquarters (generally the HBCT headquarters) who lets the battalion know what HBCT wants done, and lets the HBCT know what the battalion is doing. He also coordinates with adjacent units.
- The Chemical Officer- usually a Captain of the Chemical Corps- provides input on how best to defend the battalion against the effects of enemy chemical weapons, and also plans how best to employ smoke. As there really haven’t been many threats of serious chemical warfare recently, the Chemical Officer also tends to get stuck doing a lot of the housekeeping tasks the S-3 shop faces.
- Combat Engineering Operations Officer- Generally a Captain of Engineers, the CEOC advises the S-3 (and the CDR) on the best use of available Combat Engineer assets, and on mobility, counter-mobility, and force protection.
- The S-3 Sergeant Major- The S3SGM both serves as the NCO in Charge of the battalion Command Post (CP), supervising all enlisted personnel via their staff section NCOs, and advises the CDR and S-3 on doctrinal and technical issues. He is responsible for setting up, striking, and moving he CP.
The S-4 Section coordinates the logistical support of the battalion. The S-4 Officer, typically a Captain, designating routes for resupply, times of LOGPACs and working with the Forward Support Company and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander to establish the combat trains, and sustain the battalion with fuel, ammunition, rations, and parts. The S-4 Officer is assisted by an NCO, generally a small section of enlisted personnel, and occasionally by an assistant S-4 Officer.
If assigned, the S-5 Section is responsible for Civil Operations, and coordinating Civil and Military Operations.
The S-6 Section is the Signal Section of the Coordinating staff, and is responsible for establishing voice and data networks for the battalion, to include retransmission sites and Local Area Networks, and establishing the datalinks for the various Army battle control networks, such as B2C2 and Blue Force Tracker.
In addition to its own organic assets, our battalion will normally have access to outside supporting fires, either from supporting artillery, or tactical airpower. And that brings us to the third type of staff, the Special Staff.
There are generally two Special Staff Officers assigned to the battalion.
The Fire Support Officer (FSO)is assigned to the staff, but associated with the artillery battalion of the parent HBCT. He is responsible for planning and coordinating not just the fires from the artillery battalion, but all supporting fires from outside the battalion, be it from the HBCT’s artillery battalion, units outside the HBCT providing supporting or reinforcing fires, allies or even Naval Gunfire Support.
The Air Liaison Officer (ALO) is an Air Force officer assigned to the staff who leads the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) and coordinates all Air Force support to the battalion, and all close air support.
So, how does all this work?
Typically a mission begins with the Battalion Commander receiving a Warning Order from his higher headquarters- That is, the HBCT commander gives him a heads up that a mission will be ordered soon. For instance, Attack OBJ Budweiser to seize the terrain No Later Than 2400 hours 30JULY2016. The Bn CDR quickly passes this information on to both his staff, and to his subordinate company commanders, so they can begin preparations.
Upon receipt of the HBCT Operations Order, the staff will receive guidance from the Bn CDR as to the general outline of what he has planned. Importantly, the CDR will issue his Commander’s Intent- that is, what is the end state goal of what he wants to achieve.
Based upon that, the S-3 and his assistants will begin the Military Decision Making Process, and formulate a plan. They’ll take advice from the various assistants, and from the other staff sections as to what is possible, what is likely, and what is likely not possible. The FSO and the ALO will plan to synchronize all available fires with the plan of maneuver to maximize combat power, while the S-2 tells just what the threat forces likely are. The S-4 will begin planning how much fuel and ammunition is needed, and how to get it to the maneuver companies, before, during, and after the attack. The S-1 will let the staff know just how many troops are available for the mission,and in coordination with the battalion medical platoon, arrange for care and evacuation of wounded, as well as the disposition of any Enemy Prisoners of War (EPW) taken.
The XO will coordinate all these activities, ensuring that the staff is staying true to the CDR’s guidance and intent, and then the staff will generate a tentative Operations Order (OPORD) for the CDR’s review. Upon approval, or revision, the OPORD will be published, and the CDR and the staff will brief the OPORD to the subordinate companies, who will in turn generate their own OPORD for their company’s role in the mission.
During the actual attack, the CDR and the S-3 Officer will place themselves on the battlefield where they can best observe and influence the fight while the Assistant S-3 serves as the “battle captain” at the CP, ensuring the various moving parts are staying in synch.
Staff sections at the battalion and BCT level are numbered with the prefix “S” for “Staff.”
Those at the division, corps, and field army level, are prefixed with “G” as in “G-3” or “G-4” because they represent a “General Staff”, that is, a unit lead by a general officer. Those staffs supporting a Joint Command are prefixed with “J”. So the Operations and Training Officer for CENTCOM would be the J-3.
A typical Army officer might spend as much as half his career serving in one staff position or another at the various level of commands, and almost certainly more time as a staff officer than as a unit commander.
*There’s actually quite a bit more to the CAB than just the four companies, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll save that for another time.
**Though sometimes, it dearly feels like they would like to try.