Academic journal article Military Review

Transformation: Victory Rests with Small Units

Academic journal article Military Review

Transformation: Victory Rests with Small Units

Article excerpt

[T]he poor devil in the army is marching tremendous distances, he is in the mud, he's filthy dirty, he hasn't had a full meal, he makes his maximum exertion before the fight, and [he has had] a minimum of sleep and a minimum of well-prepared food, and then he fights in a place he has never seen before, and probably goes into it in the hours of darkness. His communications are not fastened in by some contractor like Westinghouse [on] a ship. His communications are mobile and have moved about and generally go into place during the night or very hastily in the daytime. He may never see them. He may work with artillery he never lays his eyes on, which labors far in the rear and with communications that carry back reports of targets. So we almost never have completely trained infantry.

We came more near it in this war than in any other, but we were under great disadvantage. [O]ther services had volunteers and we did not. It [is] a completely mistaken illusion that [the infantry is] easy to train. It's been easy to badly train, and it's been badly trained in every war we've had. I made a Herculean effort to see it was rightly trained in this war. And if I hadn't had a very friendly Congress with me, I never would have gotten by with it, because they thought I was ... doing too much in the way of preparations with these men.--General of the Army George C. Marshall, quoted in General Paul F. Gorman, The Secret of Future Victories (Arlington, VA: Institute for Defense Analysis, 1992)

ALTHOUGH FIELD artillery claims to be the g of battle, the infantry has long called itself the queen of battle, so it is logical to look at the infantry as the maneuver base for operations in the contemporary operating environment (COE), especially in stability operations and support operations (SOSO) like Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

Ultimately, putting boots on the ground is the infantry's reason for being. Operational experience in OEF and OIF supports this claim, as does a decade of rotations at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). Indeed, JRTC operations group commanders maintain that the key to success at the JRTC is to concentrate on platoons. That dictum carries special weight because, of all the combat training centers, only the JRTC places observer-controllers at the squad level. Sister service training centers concentrate on companies and above.

Since 2002, the JRTC has concentrated exclusively on mission rehearsal exercises (MREs) for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The common core challenges facing squad, platoon, and company leaders during those MREs include--

* Troop-leading procedures.

* Rehearsals.

* Precombat inspections/precombat checks.

* Delegation of tasks and responsibilities. (1)

The same challenges have dogged small-unit leaders at the JRTC for the past decade. The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), especially in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, has documented in combat what the JRTC has been saying for years: small units--the infantry platoon and squad--are key to success in the COE, especially in SOSO.

The GWOT's demand for infantry has led the Army to increase its number of infantry-like formations by assigning infantry missions to armor, artillery, engineer, and even air defense artillery units, and the mission complexity facing infantry formations has challenged infantry leaders from squad to brigade. SOSO are a squad and platoon leader's fight. Succeeding in that fight requires companies to take on command and control (C2) and information-handling missions once left to battalions and at times even brigades. The COE's pillar of noncontiguous operations has been applied at squad, platoon, and company levels.

Former U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) commander in chief General Paul F. Gorman notes that "teamwork within the squad is more important than any individual quality, and can help decrease casualties. …

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