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The Army Explained…

Ok. So in light of my upcoming deployment I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends and family wanting to know what I do and how it all fits together.  Terms like “Brigade Combat Team”, “Division”, “Battalion”, “Platoon”,  “Company”, “Platoon Sergeant”, “Platoon Leader” can all get kind of confusing for those that have never served before. I’ll do my best to explain how the Army is organized in hopes this can serve as a reference for those trying to make sense out of it all. (For my military readers out there… bear with me).

So… I’m going to walk the dog from the top down to little old me. I think that’s probably the easiest way for those that aren’t familiar at all with it.  We’re going to rely heavily on wikipedia for to provide some easy to digest pictures and definitions. Ok… so starting with the President of the United States (POTUS):





So POTUS is elected and appoints the Secretary of Defense which is approved by Congress…. which brings us to…



….The Department of the Army.  According to wikipedia:

“There are three Military Departments within the Department of Defense:

  1. the Department of the Army, of which the United States Armyis organized within.
  2. the Department of the Navy, of which the United States Navyand the United States Marine Corps are organized within.
  3. the Department of the Air Force, of which the United States Air Force is organized within.

The Military Departments are each headed by their own Secretary (i.e., Secretary of the ArmySecretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Air Force), appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. They have legal authority under Title 10 of the United States Code to conduct all the affairs of their respective departments within which the military services are organized.[25] The Secretaries of the Military Departments are (by law) subordinate to the Secretary of Defense and (by SecDef delegation) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

The Secretaries of the Military Departments, in turn, normally exercises authority over their forces by delegation through their respective Service Chiefs (i.e., Chief of Staff of the ArmyChief of Naval OperationsCommandant of the Marine Corps, and Chief of Staff of the Air Force) over forces not assigned to a Combatant Command.[26]

The Secretaries of the Military Departments and the Service Chiefs do not possess operational command authority over U.S. troops (this power was stripped from them in the Defense Reorganization Act of 1958), and instead the Military Departments are tasked solely with “the training, provision of equipment, and administration of troops.”[26]



Ok so this is where it gets tricky. So read that last little paragraph again.   It’s even a bit confusing for me here. But this is how I understand it. Right or wrong, if it’s good enough for me– it should be for you too. So while in Training cycles state-side the Army falls under FORSCOM for “training, provision of equipment, and administration of troops”.




BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) : FORSCOM is responsible for training and equipping Army units as they prepare for deployment.


United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) is the largest United States Army command and provider of expeditionary, campaign-capable land forces to combatant commanders. Headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, FORSCOM consists of more than 750,000 Active Army, U.S. Army Reserve, and Army National Guard soldiers. FORSCOM provides enhanced land power gaining operational depth and versatility through a mix of fully integrated Active and Reserve Component forces operating in a joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) environment. Its organizations are expeditionary, campaign focused, and tailorable to provide combatant commanders the required capabilities to be decisive across the range of military operations.

Using the Army Force Generation process (ARFORGEN),[1] FORSCOM tailors the resources and training of its units to meet the specific and constantly changing requirements of combatant commanders and, when directed, of U.S. civil authorities. Those requirements range from preparing soldiers to fight on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, to providing relief to disaster victims. The command remains at the point of the effort to transform the Army into a more deployable and maneuverable lethal force. This shift to a modular force design increases the number of units available to support regional combatant commanders. It will expand the available force pool and mandate a standard set of force structures organized and equipped to be interchangeable.

The capabilities of the new brigade-level formations – armor, infantry, airborne, air assault and Stryker – ensure greater flexibility and enhance FORSCOM’s ability to deploy trained and ready forces quickly.

FORSCOM has major units located at 15 installations, including the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. They present training scenarios constantly updated to reflect changing battlefield conditions and to incorporate lessons learned. Soldiers are presented with complex, cross-cultural challenges by large numbers of role players who act as combatants and foreign citizens. NTC and JRTC have urban combat landscapes and cave and tunnel complexes to simulate current and potential wartime environments.

Subordinate units


BLUF:  Responsible for employment of Army Units ONCE they are actually deployed.

Unified Combatant Command (UCC) is a United States Department of Defensecommand that is composed of forces from at least two Military Departments and has a broad and continuing mission.[1] These commands are established to provide effective command and control of U.S. military forces, regardless of branch of service, in peace and war.[2] They are organized either on a geographical basis (known as “Area of Responsibility“, AOR) or on a functional basis. UCCs are “joint” commands with specific badges denoting their affiliation.

The Unified Command Plan (UCP) is updated annually in conjunction with the DoD Fiscal Year and can modify areas of responsibility or combatant command alignments or assignments.[3] As of September 2011, there are nine Unified Combatant Commands as specified in Title 10 and the latest annual UCP. Six have regional responsibilities, and three have functional responsibilities. However, with the recent sequestration, there is talk about undoing the AFRICOM command, and sending it back to EUCOM and CENTCOM. There is also talk about joining NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM into AMERICOM or a different titled combined command.

Each unified command is led by a Combatant Commander (CCDR),[4] who is a four-star general or admiral. CCDRs exercise combatant command (COCOM), a specific type of nontransferable command authority over assigned forces, regardless of branch of service, that is vested only in the CCDRs by federal law in10 U.S.C. § 164.[5] The Chain of Command for operational purposes (as per the Goldwater–Nichols Act) goes from the President through the Secretary of Defenseto the Combatant Commanders.



Current Combatant Commands……  I will fall under AFRICOM while deployed to Africa.  Africa Command = Africa… too easy right?

Emblem Command Acronym Role Established Headquarters
Africom emblem 2.svg United States Africa Command USAFRICOM Geographic October 1, 2007 Kelley BarracksStuttgartGermany
Logo of United States Central Command.png United States Central Command USCENTCOM Geographic January 1, 1983 MacDill Air Force BaseFlorida
USEUCOM.svg United States European Command USEUCOM Geographic March 15, 1947 Patch BarracksStuttgartGermany
United States Northern Command emblem.png United States Northern Command USNORTHCOM Geographic October 1, 2002 Peterson Air Force BaseColorado
United States Pacific Command.png United States Pacific Command USPACOM Geographic January 1, 1947 Camp H. M. SmithHawaii
United States Southern Command Logo.svg United States Southern Command USSOUTHCOM Geographic June 6, 1963 MiamiFlorida
United States Special Operations Command Insignia.svg United States Special Operations Command USSOCOM Functional April 16, 1987 MacDill Air Force BaseFlorida
USSTRATCOM.svg United States Strategic Command USSTRATCOM Functional June 1, 1992 Offutt Air Force BaseNebraska
US-TRANSCOM-Emblem.svg United States Transportation Command USTRANSCOM Functional July 1, 1987 Scott Air Force BaseIllinois




From here on down it’s pretty linear and easy to follow:


First… What is a Division?  Glad you asked…

10,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Usually consisting of three brigade-sized elements and commanded by a major general, divisions are numbered and assigned missions based on their structures. The division performs major tactical operations for the corps and can conduct sustained battles and engagements.

This is how 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, KS is broken down:




Which brings us to…

2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team

“The Daggers”



What is a Brigade you might ask?

-3,000 to 5,000 solders. A brigade headquarters commands the tactical operation of two to five organic or attached combat battalions. Normally commanded by a colonel with a command sergeant major as senior NCO, brigades are employed on independent or semi-independent operations. Armored cavalry, ranger and special forces units this size are categorized as regiments or groups.



The brigade combat team (BCT) is the basic deployable unit of maneuver in the US Army. A brigade combat team consists of one combat arms branch maneuver brigade, and its attached support and fire units. A brigade combat team is generally commanded by a colonel (O-6), but in rare instances it is commanded by a brigadier general. A brigade combat team carries with it support units necessary to sustain its operations away from its parent division. BCTs contain organic artillery support, formerly received from the division artillery (DIVARTY).

Currently, the U.S. Army is converting its brigades into the new Brigade Combat Team (BCT) Program.[1] In this program, divisions that previously had not deployed individual brigades due to lack of integral support have now been restructured. The 1st Armored Division25th Infantry Division, etc. now have the ability to deploy one or more BCTs anywhere in the world. These BCTs will be able to stand on their own, like a division in miniature. The soldiers assigned to a BCT will stay at their assignment for three years; this is intended to bolster readiness and improve unit cohesion.


There are 3 major types of BCTs:

1. IBCT – Infantry Brigade Combat Team

2. SBCT- Stryker Brigade Combat Team

3.ABCT- Armored Brigade Combat Team  <– 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (my unit is this)

You can read all about the different BCTs here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigade_combat_team

But for the purposes of this we’re going to focus on what I am… so this is how an ABCT is organized:



The 2nd Brigade Combat Team as of 2008 is composed of the following:


1-18 Infantry Battalion “The Vanguards”


Follow my Battalion on facebook here:




What is a Battalion?

-300 to 1,000 soldiers. Four to six companies make up a battalion, which is normally commanded by a lieutenant colonel with a command sergeant major as principle NCO assistant. A battalion is capable of independent operations of limited duration and scope. An armored or air cavalry unit of equivalent size is called a squadron.


So this is kind of getting into familiar territory.  It is common for a junior officer (Captains, 1st and 2nd Lieutenants) to hold multiple jobs while assigned to the same Battalion.  Normally, that’s about 2-3 years with each job lasting 6-18 months give or take.


This is how my BN is Organized:




MY OLD JOB…. PLATOON LEADER 3rd Platoon C Company “Chaos Company” 1-18 Infantry (August 2012- September 2013)


An Armored Company is comprised of 3 tank platoons and 1 HQ platoon


What is a Company?

62 to 190 soldiers. Three to five platoons form a company, which is commanded by a captain with a first sergeant as the commander’s principle NCO assistant. An artillery unit of equivalent size is called a battery, and a comparable armored or air cavalry unit is called a troop.




So these guys in other words…



I was a Platoon Leader in 3rd PLT of that unit… so basically looks like this:

What is a Platoon?

16 to 44 soldiers. A platoon is led by a lieutenant with an NCO as second in command, and consists of two to four squads or sections.




I was responsible for 4 x M1A2SEPv2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks and assigned equipment worth about $26 million. And the health, discipline, morale, physical fitness, combat readiness and lethality of 16 soldiers.  Their general well being and that of their families.

In other words… these guys:






These were my non-commisioned officers working with the South African National Defense Force during Shared Accord 2013 (from Left to Right in the american uniforms) SFC Dobbs– my Platoon Sergeant (PSG), 2nd in command and right hand. Technical and Tactical expert and primary source on advice and counsel for me on leading the platoon. SSG Wood, Tank Commander for #3 tank (the PSG’s wingman).  Yours truly the Platoon Leader… and my wingman, SSG Warren, who took over for SSG Arnett (pictured above center).  Together the NCOs and myself provide the leadership and direction for the platoon.  They comprise my closest working relationships and pretty much are the reason I love my job.





Here a video from my year with 3rd PLT Chaos Company:






When I returned from Shared Accord in South Africa. I attended a 5 week course called Infantry Mortar Leader and then left Chaos Company for Hammer Company (HHC) to take over the Mortar Platoon.  Mortars are an indirect fire weapons system. The Mortar Platoon provides the only indirect fire capability at the Battalion level.  Mortars (“Punisher”) together with the Scout Platoon (“Ghost”) (responsible for surveillance and reconnaissance and employment of Sniper teams) are the only two “specialty platoons”. They are usually led by senior Lieutenants (meaning lieutenants who first served in another platoon prior to taking the job) and work directly for the Battalion Commander in support of all the maneuver companies (Attack, Barbaric, Chaos, and Dog). Essentially, we act as liaisons and advisors assisting the maneuver units accomplish their missions by providing them with “specialty” assets that they do not have organically within their companies.  Usually, who gets our help and how much help is decided by the Battalion Commander based on what he is trying to achieve.  Sometimes we work for Battalion directly. Sometimes we get pushed down or “attached” to companies to help the Company Commanders directly.  It depends.  We’re flexible.  We also work with and through BN “Fires”  which is composed of a team of Field Artillery Officers and Senior NCOs responsible for planning the indirect fires (mortars, artillery, rotary and fixed wing aviation assets, etc) for the BN.  Each Company has a Fire Support Team or FiST (usually a Field Artillery LT and 2-3 soldiers) responsible for advising, assisting, planning and executing fire missions at the company level.


The Mortar Platoon is part of Headquarters and Headquarters Company. HHC is composed as follows:

  • Scout Platoon
  • Mortar Platoon (me)
  • Medic Platoon
  • S1- Personnel  (in charge on managing soldiers, awards, evaluations, also acts as an aide to BN Commander)
  • S2- Intelligence (in charge of Intel… maps, recon, imagery etc.)
  • S3- Operations (handles most of the planning, writes orders, coordinates training and operations)
  • S4- Logistics  (beans and bullets and helps manage property and maintenance)
  • S6- Communications (pretty much the IT guys)

Together “S1-S6” compose the “S” Shop.  Which is all the staff positions responsible for advising, assisting, and planning for the Battalion and Battalion Commander

The Mortar Platoon is about 20-28 people. 4 x 120mm mortar systems, vehicles and tracks worth about $6.5 million.  Primary purpose is to provide Indirect Fire Support for the BN and Maneuver companies.  Can also act as a maneuver infantry platoon when indirect fire is not needed.  My job is to train, assist, mentor, lead, equip, develop combat readiness, and plan operations for any and everything the mortar platoon might be tasked to do. In addition, together with my Platoon Sergeant we act as the subject matter experts and advisors to the Battalion on what the mortars can provide in support of maneuver companies and platoons.

mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as (mortar) bombs at low velocities, short ranges and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber.


The platoon is organized like this (when we’re on tracks that is… which is rare)









So there you have it. In a nut shell.  This took a lot longer to write then expected but I hope it helps provide some light and a reference to “civilians” wanting to know a little bit more about what it is we do and how it fits in the big picture.  This was a little simplified…. but it gives a general overview and I hope will at least help clear up some of the lingo and translate everything reasonably well.







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