Reorganizing a Mechanized Infantry Company

Reorganizing a Mechanized Infantry Company

5th in a series by Tom Rozman

A mechanized infantry battalion had deployed its companies for a month each in sequence by air to a desert training and gunnery center over 2,000 miles from its home installation.  It deployed a forward command and control element to that center organized around its battalion operations officer, a major.

With this battalion forward element a substantial part of the battalion’s combat vehicle fleet had been transported by ground to the site with a reinforced  maintenance capability.

The company teams, each consisting of one of the battalion’s mechanized infantry companies and roughly a third of the assets of the battalion’s headquarters and combat support companies, on deployment and arrival at the center, conducted four weeks of continuous maneuver and gunnery training in a desert environment.  In some cases movements across the desert floor ranged to almost 200 miles in a single movement.

As well, the battalion had been selected to support an Army new equipment test for the projected next generation combat vehicle for the mechanized infantry.  Companies A and B were designated on return from the desert  to support the test for four months.  In meetings with the battalion’s executive officer (XO) prior to the deployment to the desert training center the participating company commanders learned that shortly after return they would engage in initial train-up and validation for acceptance as test units.

From the XO’s comments, Company B would train to operate as the friendly force that would operate existing vehicles and the new vehicle using a pre-production model series of the vehicle-the idea being to develop comparative data.  Company A would accept three tank sections from the parent brigade’s tank battalion and some other assets and reorganize as a Soviet motorized rifle battalion (MRB).  It would then retrain to deploy tactically as a Soviet ground force being validated prior to acceptance as the other test unit.

The two companies would then engage in roughly four months of continuous force on force engagements at 150-200 miles of movement per week, a demanding level of operations for armored tracked vehicles. The vehicles would have laser devices installed on their weapons systems that would send a signal calibrated to that weapon’s effect on sensors affixed to the engaged vehicles.  If the weapon signal indicated a catastrophic kill on engaging a particular sensor, a whoopee light on a pylon installed on the vehicle would activate and a smoke grenade also affixed to the pylon would pop, visually indicating the kill.  The pylon also instantly transmitted a data signal to pylons ringing the “battlefield” that captured the kill data—which vehicle engaged with what weapon the vehicle that had been killed and the exact locations of both on the digital map developing for that particular scenario.  The building data base would be used for analysis, particularly comparative analysis, to compare the new system’s performance with the predecessor system.

The XO then stated that the companies would be required to maintain a 95% vehicle operational availability during the test.

As the magnitude of the mission mapping out for the companies over the next five months of the back-to-back desert deployment sank in, the Company A commander realized that the vehicle availability rate required was unrealistic with current spare parts stockage levels and parts availability and time to receipt if requisitioned per the parts system in place.  This would be especially the case after operating the vehicles for a month in the desert.  Parts such as shocks would likely fail en masse at some point not too long after the vehicles were returned from the desert due to the corrosive effect of the fine granular sand getting into lubricants and creating a very damaging abrasive.  The Company A commander asked if the test plan allowed for an infusion of parts most likely to fail above the parts “normal operations demand history based system” in operation.  The XO responded that no special measures were planned and the companies would have to make do with the parts replacement system as is.

Company A proceeded to execute the back to back operations but paid special attention to emphasizing the strengthening of its maintenance capabilities by ensuring its maintenance section was fully manned with aggressive additional training sandwiched into the extensive level of operations that developed.  As well, the company used all means possible to generate parts stockage to the level of need anticipated.

Company A experienced a most successful desert deployment gaining much useful experience in keeping its vehicles operational under demanding circumstances.  The company returned from the desert and initiated reorganization and aggressive training to operate as a Soviet MRB.  At this point, the company, already an over strength unit over its 187 man authorized establishment, was assigned a further mission.  It was selected to retrain some 20 non-commissioned officers as a result of an Army reorganization.  The NCOs were over strength in their military occupational specialties and had accepted the Army’s offer to retrain and reclassify as infantry non-commissioned officers.  The expanded company was now operating with its tank elements at a battalion strength of some 250 troops.

The company was aggressive in its training as a Soviet MRB and applied an approach that fully engaged all NCO leaders in the mission.  Throughout the extended missions the company conducted a focused internal leader development program that made maximum use of available NCO courses, extension courses in specialized areas and encouraged all soldiers to pursue post high school civil education through the education center on the installation.  By these means the company   developed  a superb company wide pool of highly competent soldiers and NCOs that operated to the principle that every soldier be prepared to assume the role of his leader.  The company tracked every soldier’s promotion potential and diligently assured any soldier who had earned promotion be promoted, even if it meant leaving the company.  These policies assured a high level of morale in the company and commitment to mission (years later the commander worked with company soldiers who had subsequently been appointed as warrant officers and commissioned officers who attributed their advancement to the policies in the company).

The company received a high evaluation assessment as a test opposing force and was accepted for test.  The test proceeded and the company performed its demanding mission beyond expectation.  Two developments illustrate.  Early in the test while the company was conducting a long road march to a testing site, the shocks of the company’s APCs began to fail en masse.  Because of previous initiatives the new shocks were available and crews and mechanics were skilled at replacement.  The company’s vehicle availability rate at 95% did not falter despite the heavy and constant use.

The second example, the company became so proficient due to its aggressive training, leader development and team approach that on an unscheduled battle scenario excursion, the company’s attack proceeded so effectively that the attack’s result may have been a catalyst for later developments on the prototype vehicle that led to an upgrading of anti-tank capabilities.  The company’s attack was so effective that only one of its 7 tanks received a catastrophic kill before the company began overrunning the Company B position.

The company performed its 4 month opposing force mission to a very high level of mission accomplishment.  It met and exceeded the 95% vehicle availability requirement and became extremely proficient at representing a Soviet MRB in tactical attack.  The high performance of this unit under sustained and demanding mission operational requirements was unusual. The mission tempo was such that many units so tasked would need longer and more substantial periods for recovery to continue with mission.

A postscript: this unit in quick succession moved on to a second phase of the test, support of a National Guard mechanized infantry company, signing over its vehicles to the Guard company and then administering an ARTEP to that company, as well as accommodating a comprehensive week long no notice IG inspection that on unannounced alert of the company, deployed all four of the company’s platoons on different missions for evaluation (the company was rated the top unit of 32 units evaluated in the brigade).

Such success with a heavy and demanding schedule of complex missions was only possible by aggressive training measures, ongoing expanded professional development of leaders, engagement of those leaders in a team approach and effective delegation—any detachment of the company functioned at the highest level of performance, no matter what the mission assigned.  The results spoke for themselves.

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