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Tom Rozman: Reconstituting an Overseas Platoon on a Mission of High Sensitivity

Reconstituting an Overseas Platoon on a Mission of High Sensitivity:

Second in a series by Tom Rozman

An infantry rifle platoon forward deployed in an operational theater had been brought to zero strength due to replacement shortfalls to fill out the company’s other platoons.

On arrival of a new platoon leader and an influx of replacement soldiers, the platoon was reformed. A quarter of its strength would be soldiers of the host country’s army.

The Army was experiencing racial tensions at the time.

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Shortly after reforming the platoon, and before the platoon leader had been able to fully develop cohesion in the platoon through aggressive training–the battalion was diverted from a planned gunnery exercise to a new operational mission. Intelligence had determined that a group operating in the country planned to make an attempt to penetrate a weapons holding location somewhere in a missile unit’s area. This area extended over a large portion of the country. Six of the battalions platoons were to be dispersed to six of the possible target sites. It was a high priority mission.

It was a cold northern latitude winter and the battalion’s platoons flew from their division’s airfield one at a time by helicopter to their assigned locations to augment security. The platoon was the last to deploy. Its helicopter touched down and the platoon loaded its equipment and personnel. As the helicopter prepared to take off, major hydraulic failures developed and the aircraft had to shut down. The platoon unloaded from the aircraft to await a replacement.

More than an hour later a second aircraft set down on the division airfield and the platoon again loaded. In the dark of late evening in February the aircraft flew at 8,000 feet for some two hours to a hill top landing zone. It was late very late on arrival.

The platoon leader had received billeting information and moved the platoon to the billets. He than instructed the platoon sergeant concerning rationing the platoon, disposition of equipment and restricting the soldiers to the billet for the night until he, the platoon leader, obtained further guidance from the battery commander. The platoon leader than reported to the battery commander at his designated location.

As it happened, the battery commander was located at the lounge of the installation’s officer’s quarters. Seven of the battery’s officers were gathered to hail the incoming executive officer and farewell the outgoing executive officer.

The platoon leader received a partial briefing from the commander with a more detailed briefing to follow in the morning. He returned to the platoon to provide additional guidance then rejoined the battery’s officers to make further acquaintance and to learn more about the site. The battery commander had removed to the village adjacent to the installation by that time.

About an hour after returning to the site, the phone rang. The battery commander wanted to speak to the platoon leader. The battery commander reported that he had encountered the platoon sergeant in one of the two establishments in the town apparently inebriated or other wise compromised by a substance, standing on a table, inciting a racial situation. He stated that the sergeant was disrespectful and not following his orders. The platoon leader and the outgoing and new battery executive officer immediately proceeded to the establishment. On arrival, the platoon sergeant could not be located even with a search. In the event, it was determined that he had sheltered with a sergeant of the battery that was an acquaintance.

For the next three days, the platoon sergeant was absent without authority and could not be located. The incident and actions being taken were reported to the platoon’s acting company commander by radio and to the battery commander in the morning’s meeting. The battery commander expressed his concern about the incident given the sensitivity of the mission indicating stronger actions that might have to be taken given the sensitivity of the mission. The platoon leader later updated the battery commander on the platoon’s situation—specifically that the acting platoon sergeant had fully assumed the platoon sergeant’s duties and the platoon was prepared to perform its mission of augmenting patrols and other additional security requirements beyond the battery’s organic infantry platoon’s mission based on the battery commander’s guidance.

At this point the platoon’s parent company acting company commander had appeared at the site and been briefed further on the platoon sergeant situation. He met with the battery commander for additional consultation. The platoon sergeant still being absent without authority, following disciplinary action was discussed but would not be acted upon until return of the company commander from leave in a few weeks. The battalion chain of command was acting cautiously as racial tensions had several months earlier led to the relief of the preceding company commander when a contingent of soldiers refused to obey orders and marched as a protest on the division headquarters.

The mission continued. The platoon sergeant returned after several days. The platoon leader engaged the platoon sergeant in a frank discussion about the situation and emphasized the imperative that the mission was sensitive, critical and had to be accomplished. The platoon sergeant was advised of recommendations that had been made stating that the platoon sergeant’s conduct moving forward might serve as mitigation for subsequent proceedings. The platoon sergeant responded by performing his duties over the remaining four weeks and a focus on mission, training and physical training as well as insuring that the soldier’s support needs were met led to excellent subsequent mission performance.

The platoon sergeant, a very tall and well set up and handsome man of some 14 years of service had recently come from a large training center as a drill instructor. He was a multiple tour combat veteran. But he did have an attitude that could again produce a situation like the one experienced in the village.

On return of the battalion to its previous mission and station the platoon sergeant was relieved—but minimum disciplinary action resulted. The platoon proceeded to come together and with aggressive training and attention to the platoon’s soldiers, it became one of the battalion’s strongest platoons. The good soldiers of the platoon responded to the fair, positive and forthright leadership of the platoon leader and the emphasis on team and hard training. The platoon was so highly thought of by the battalion that it was selected as the base unit for a provisional platoon from the battalion selected for riverine training in a restricted area in the northeast of the country on a 27 mile long dammed lake.


Previous articles from this series:

Tom Rozman: Leadership Approaches That Get the Job Done