The Mechanized Infantry Team Concept
So there you are at the Maneuver Captains Career Course (MCCC), a newly minted Infantry Captain whose career has consisted of serving either within an IBCT or SBCT formation. You’re halfway complete with the course and you’re anxious to find out what’s next. Then one morning while in your seminar class, you receive an email from HRC with an RFO attached. Finally! You open the message and the initial wave of excitement upon seeing the notification is slowly extinguished by the realization that your Company Command time will consist of deploying and maneuvering a combat platform you know nothing about. That’s right. You’ve been assigned to an Armored Brigade Combat Team. You, the lonely drop of Infantry Blue within an ocean of Armor Gold, will likely be the only Infantry Commander within a Combined Arms Battalion. Sure, you might be lucky and get to command a Company in the one Infantry Battalion within the Brigade, but the math is against you. So, what do you do? What does the inside of a Bradley even look like? What do Master Gunners do? And what the hell is an ESR?
These were exactly my emotions and feelings when I was at MCCC. I was an Infantry Officer whose experience consisted of Rifle Platoon Leader time at JBER, Alaska and then in the 3rd Ranger Battalion. Early during MCCC, I became aware of a new initiative being pushed by the Human Resources Command (HRC) regarding Infantry Officers and their prior formation type. This initiative, coined “The Vehicular Imperative”, essentially stated that the Army would force Infantry Officers to serve within completely different types of formations from what they previously had been assigned to. According to the Army, this measure would generate more eclectic combat leaders who are able to lead within any BCT. Upon reading my RFO, I slowly began to realize that I had absolutely no idea about mechanized operations. What I did know was the learning curve I was going to experience in my new assignment would be the steepest I’ve encountered yet- and I was correct. However, having now been a Mechanized Infantry Commander for the last 15 months, there are some things I have to tell you. Yes, commanding this type of formation is difficult. Your time will be a balancing act between two lines of effort that consist of crew stability and lethality on one hand, and dismounted training and proficiency on the other, and your aim should be to integrate both when able. In addition to this unique two-pronged training approach, I also found myself having to quickly become accustomed to commanding a tank platoon due to my Battalion Commander’s intent of organizing my Mechanized Company into a Team throughout our train up and for the entirety of our NTC rotation. What is a “Team” you ask. Great – you’re paying attention. I’ll explain. Along with a brief introduction to the Team concept, I’ll also provide some pointers that helped my Team throughout this phase in hopes of helping those who now (or soon will) find themselves in the position I was in.
ATP 3-90.1 states, “The company team is task-organized with mechanized Infantry and tank platoons based upon missions. Its effectiveness increases through the synergy of combined arms including tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles (BFV), Infantry, engineers, and support elements. Typically, an Armor company team comprises two tank platoons with one mechanized Infantry platoon. A mechanized Infantry company team comprises two mechanized Infantry platoons with one tank platoon. Effective application of the company team as a combined arms force can capitalize on the strengths of the team’s elements while minimizing their respective limitations.” One of the things I extrapolated when I first read this was the opportunity I saw in not only establishing a relationship with another Platoon Leader, but in creating a habitual relationship with the same platoon that was identified to be attached to my company. I reasoned that working with the same teammates over and over would allow us to build cohesion and to be more effective. My Battalion Commander agreed, and every time he configured us into Teams, I received the same tank platoon and always detached the same Platoon for the same reasons.
My Battalion Commander’s focus on early integration during our train up to NTC proved critical. By the time we arrived at Fort Irwin, both my Armor Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant were used to my way of commanding, knew what my expectations were, and felt comfortable cross-talking with their peers across the Team. Not establishing this relationship early on, or holding off on deciding who was going to be detached/attached, would have hindered rapport, and operational comfort and trust within the Team. If your Battalion Commander eludes to Task Organizing his or her Companies into Teams like mine did, I recommend you lobby to have the same sort of habitual relationships I was able to establish.
Once an Armor Platoon was identified to be attached to my Company, I instructed the platoon leadership to give my Infantry Soldiers a capabilities brief so we all understood how to incorporate our strengths. The discussion then veered into how we could collectively mitigate our platform limitations which resulted in us brainstorming TTPs that we wanted to work on. The conversation not only facilitated great ideas, but it created a buy in effect from across the organization that was beneficial to getting us started down the right path. After the capabilities brief, our tank platoon offered to show my Infantry Soldiers around their tanks so they could become familiar with the M1s. To note: Young Infantry Soldiers tend to remain stoic and indifferent when talking about tanks, but once they see one up close and are able to climb inside it, their dismissiveness is subverted in favor of pure excitement and awe. The combination of both these events (a combined capabilities briefing and Abrams familiarization) helped establish rapport in the nascent stage of my Team’s new relationship and set the foundation for our success.
An aspect of the integration process my Battalion chose to include, and for good reason, was to identify at least one platform-specific mechanic to be a part of the Team package as well. Doing this provided the gaining unit the mechanical expertise needed to help identify and validate faults on the pacing vehicles that were attached with a maintainer from another Company’s FMT who knew the ins and outs of the vehicles in the attached platoon. Identifying this mechanic early on in the process allowed to begin incrementally developing my Bradley maintainers so they could become familiar with the platform and help with the installation of parts.
One final note on the integration process: The very first thing I told my Armor Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant was an admission that I flat out was not familiar with tanks at all. However, if we were going to be successful, I expected each of them to be ambassadors of their platform. This meant that I expected (and needed) them to speak up. Establishing this role immediately laid the foundation for each of them to be comfortable in making tactical recommendations, or to ask for specific logistical requirements during field problems.
Fighting the Mechanized Infantry Team
For the purposes of this primer, I will focus only briefly on specific problem sets I encountered and how I employed my Team during NTC rotation 21-10. For those who want a more in-depth reading, I’d recommend turning to ATP 3-90.1 to begin your studies. My philosophy from the onset was to protect my M1s at all cost, but to not shy away from having my Abrams lead the way at times. This sentiment was predicated on my realization that our Abrams crews were better than my own. With the diminishing of the 11M, it makes sense that Armor Soldiers, who have trained on the same platform since AIT, be slightly better on their platforms than 11Bs who have little to no Mechanized experience- which most of my company lacked. My game plan during NTC was to balance between preserving my Abrams crew’s lethality, and employing them to their absolute fullest advantage.
The Enemy AT Threat
My persistent tactical focus during NTC was to make contact with the smallest element possible-especially when the S2 templated enemy AT capabilities across the battlefield. Without resorting to the METT-TC platitude, I always focused on integrating my dismounts and vehicles whenever possible. This technique was even more relevant across tough terrain where I was expecting an enemy AT threat. Again, the idea in this form of tactical integration so was to combined my Team’s strengths while addressing weaknesses. Dismounted enemy with AT weapons systems and enemy attack aviation are a tank’s worst nightmare. To address the former, I conducted defile drills to allow my dismounts to clear ground prior to exposing or committing my vehicles. The hardest thing about the defile is the patience it requires to conduct it successfully. However, if you have the operational time to do so, then do it! You’ll become even more dependent on this tactic if the Battalion’s mortars are tied up elsewhere and you’re attempting to preserve your combat power prior to being committed.
I highly recommend all future or current Mechanized Infantry Commanders read an article by CPT John W. Miller III titled, “Clearing the Defile: A Doctrinal Discussion” which appears in the November-December 1994 edition of Armor Magazine. CPT Miller gives an in-depth study on the tactic and opens the article with a dramatization of the drill’s importance and the tactical significance it has on a formation. I’ll let CPT Miller’s article to the heavy lifting for me on this specific topic, however, the most important aspect of being able to conduct a defile is in your ability to synchronize movement on multiple fronts simultaneously. In addition to your ability to accomplish this, your dismounts MUST have the ability to talk to back to the formation. Having sensors on the ground unable to send sensory reports back to their units is just a waste of energy and puts your dismounts at risk to be isolated without being mutually supported. Again, this should make sense if you think about the defile as a way of using the smallest element possible to make contact with the enemy and to develop the situation ahead.
My first step was always to establish a Vehicle Drop Off (VDO) point either outside the enemy’s furthest Maximum Engage Line that I templated, or behind cover. Doing so allowed my dismounted troops the time on the ground needed to assemble and orient themselves prior to clearing. Once ready, my dismounted troops would clear ground by Phase Line which would then trigger vehicular movement up to a Phase line the infantry cleared with leaving at least one Phase Line between elements. Think of it as a slow slinky effect. The infantry leads the way while vehicles are arrayed in a tactical formation scanning their sectors. Once the infantry reaches a trigger, a Phase Line in my case, vehicles then maneuver up to a Phase Line that’s already been cleared while the infantry continues their movement. For an even more effective defile drill, and one that covers more kilometers or deeper dead space, I employed my Raven to help paint the picture and orient my dismounts towards dug-in enemy positions. I’ve learned many Mechanized Infantry Commanders either forget about their organic UAS or don’t have the operators to fly it. Regardless of the reason, ensure you set the conditions during your train up to be able to employ your Raven when needed. One of my goals during command was to be able to use ALL of my organic capabilities. If you manage your people right and set the conditions early you’ll be able to do so.
We successfully defiled my Team on the western side of Red Lake Pass, throughout the Central Corridor, the Iron Triangle, and through Debnam Pass and was successful in preserving my combat power while destroying well-entrenched enemy positions with my dismounted AT-4s and Javelins. Read CPT Miller’s article and start getting your formation used to executing the defile drill. Also, build your AT capability and teams early on. Your AT personal should be well acquainted with their CLUs, Javelins, and AT-4s by the time they arrive to LSA SANTA FE. If not, you risk losing a key capability and degrading your lethality.
One of the biggest hurdles I faced during the early days of operating in a Team construct was realizing just how logistically burdensome it was to keep our tanks in the fight. This is probably why I found the Armor Officers in my seminar group at the maneuver course to be better logistical planners in their OPORDs than me and most of my Infantry peers. Bottom line: Tanks consume way more fuel and POL than your IFVs. Get used to it now and anticipate needing more ROMs and submitting heftier LOGSTATS than what you would usually need and submit if you were Bradley pure. My initial expectation that my Tank Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant be ambassadors of their platform was premised on the fact that I knew nothing of what they needed to keep their vehicles in the fight. What I found to be successful at maintaining my tanks was the juxtaposition of a great First Sergeant and XO who were always in communication with our tank platoon, and our attached 91A to my FMT. What also helped our maintenance system was an accurate accounting of parts and faults on the Equipment Status Report (ESR). These updates were usually sent via JBC-P twice a day and my XO was sure to keep my maintenance understanding as updated as possible.
I highly recommend that in conjunction with the one for one swap of at least one 91A, you work with your own FMT and instruct them to coordinate with the tank company maintenance team to acquire tank parts for easy or anticipated fixes. Get these parts loaded into your own contact truck. Doing so will allow you to fix easy faults nearer to the FLOT instead of losing a pacer and possibly your M88 to the UMCP for hours if not days. (Our Battalion maintenance architecture consisted of having our M88 and contact truck with the Company while the rest of the FMT was co-located at the UMCP.) The same logic we used for having at least some tank parts forward with the Company was used for M1A2 POL such as FRH. Again, having some quantity of POL as close to the FLOT allowed us to keep our vehicles in the fight. Preemptively having lubricants and oils with the Company proved critical when we found out just how much POL our tanks consumed and our LOGSTATs quickly were focused on the requesting and projecting of these to keep our horses healthy.
I’ll leave you with some final thoughts. I highly recommend all Infantry Officers who do not have any experience within an ABCT attend Bradley Leader Course, and the Maneuver Leaders Maintenance Course at Ft. Benning, GA before their PCS. Both of these courses will give you a thorough introduction to the main platform you’ll command, as well as expose you to the maintenance ecosystem you’ll soon find yourself in. Also, I found my time as the Battalion’s Maintenance Officer (BMO) extremely helpful in preparing me to learn how to manage a maintenance program. Usually, the BMO position is manned by a maneuver Captain. If able, volunteer to serve in this position. Remember, your lethality will be 100% correlated to how well your vehicles function. If you can’t maintain them, you can’t leverage the unique capabilities your Company possesses.
My experience commanding a Mechanized Infantry Company within a CAB-A was initially daunting. I faced a steep learning curve and a maintenance culture that I was both unprepared for and had no experience to rely on unlike the Armor Officers in the Battalion. Writing a primer, by definition, is not intended to be an exhaustive account. However, I hope the information contained within this short article helps those who find themselves in a position similar to the one in which I found myself. Although being a part of this type of formation is vastly different than what I experienced in my previous units, I ensure you that the developmental opportunities I encountered (and hopefully you do too) commanding a Mechanized Company, and Team, were extremely rewarding- both professionally and personally.
Pat Serrato is an Infantry Officer currently commanding Cobra Company, 4-70th AR, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. Pat has previously served as a Platoon Leader and in various staff positions within both 3-509th PIR, 4-25th in Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and in 3/75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia. Pat is a GRADSO recipient whose next assignment will be as a graduate student at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies to pursue a Masters in International Public Policy.
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