By Capt. Russell J. BakerJanuary 2, 2019
Capt. Wingit sips on his morning coffee at the battalion's field trains command post (FTCP). The battalion has just finished issuing a hastily prepared change-of-mission fragmentary order (FRAGORD), and Capt. Wingit, as the forward support company (FSC) commander, is staring down at his scribbled notes, wondering what to do next. He begins to jot down his ideas into an Army-issued green notebook, glancing back and forth between his notes and the preprinted five-paragraph operation order (OPORD) template located in the reference pages in the back.
When his first sergeant enters the tent, Capt. Wingit informs him of the new mission and orders him to let the distribution platoon know that it will have to kick out a logistics package (LOGPAC) to a new logistics release point sometime today. The first sergeant quietly nods and heads out the door. "Well, that takes care of the warning order," Capt. Wingit thinks to himself.
After about an hour, Capt. Wingit pulls in his platoon leaders and reads them his notes from the battalion's OPORD briefing. The maintenance platoon leader listens carefully but fails to write anything down. The distribution platoon leader quickly jots down the commander's comments but doesn't notice that the graphics hanging on the map haven't been updated to reflect the new mission. The headquarters section doesn't have a representative in attendance. "Any questions?" asks Capt. Wingit. Silence.
Later that day, after waiting at the wrong logistics release point for over an hour, the LOGPAC is destroyed by an enemy special purpose forces team that recently entered the area of operations. The FSC headquarters section, monitoring radios that had not been updated with the new communications security fill, sits listening to radio silence as the FTCP's entry control point attempts to report enemy movement to the front.
Meanwhile, as Capt. Wingit visits the battalion's maintenance collection point, a parts clerk from the maintenance platoon politely reminds him that a high-priority part is still waiting to be pushed out on the next LOGPAC. "They left over three hours ago!" a frustrated Capt. Wingit replies. The battalion's attack stalls due to the missed resupply. Capt. Wingit quietly asks himself, "What went wrong?"
Although this story is completely fictional, it is similar to events that happen during nearly every rotation at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC). Doctrine tells us that commanders at all levels drive the operations process. But a poorly planned operation is doomed from the start.
FSC commanders routinely fail to realize the importance of the Army's planning methodology for company and smaller units. By failing to train their companies in basic troop leading procedures (TLPs), FSC commanders are stunting the growth of their subordinate leaders, introducing unnecessary stress and confusion, and risking mission failure for the entire maneuver task force.
This article aims to describe methods that FSC commanders can use to ensure their formations are ready to execute TLPs upon receipt of mission.
POOR TLP EXECUTION
FSCs training at JMRC are generally observed to be weak at executing TLPs. Most FSCs do not even attempt to conduct formalized TLPs. Those FSCs that do simply go through the motions without a firm understanding of why they are doing so or what the outcome should be.
As an example, a company-level after action review (AAR) during a recent JMRC rotation revealed that an FSC failed to make good use of its time. The battalion was unable to issue a warning order (WARNORD) because of the time constraints of the upcoming mission.
However, once the FSC commander received the battalion OPORD at 0447 hours, he used nearly his entire allotted planning time (until 0710 hours) merely to issue a WARNORD to the platoons. One platoon leader began issuing her WARNORD immediately upon receipt of mission but was interrupted when the opposing forces aimed an indirect-fire attack at the FTCP at 0726 hours.
After the FSC regained control of the situation, no further TLPs were conducted at the company, platoon, squad, or section levels for the duration of the time available. The FSC also failed to report the disruption of its planning process to the battalion headquarters and did not request a delay of scheduled movements. This resulted in the convoy missing its specified departure time.
Of note, no one in the convoy had received even a rudimentary mission briefing before crossing the line of departure. The convoy leader did not conduct any rehearsals. He did not even attempt to talk through the convoy's actions on contact.
The vehicle commanders conveyed that few Soldiers understood their task and purpose. Only one proactive vehicle commander had an updated map and could describe the general time line of the operation. Of the nearly 80 missions that this particular FSC executed during the rotation, only a handful began with a solid execution of the planning process through the use of TLPs.
The purpose behind TLPs is relatively straightforward. Army Doctrine Publication 5-0, The Operations Process, tells us that TLPs are an Army planning methodology used to help leaders at the company and below levels begin the operations process. Efficiently executed, TLPs can help commanders quickly develop a plan so that subordinates can properly prepare for and accomplish their missions.
The application of military planning doctrine will not guarantee mission success, but it will at least move a unit in the right direction. Further, with a solid understanding of this most basic planning methodology, leaders will more easily understand the "why" behind their higher headquarters' planning methodology, the military decisionmaking process. This understanding serves as a solid foundation for subordinates' service at higher levels of responsibility.
By failing to execute TLPs, FSC commanders are risking a lot more than simply mission accomplishment. In a recent end-of-rotation AAR at JMRC, three junior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) stated that when FSCs fail to conduct proper TLPs, subordinates become confused about why missions are ordered at the last minute. Soldiers are not given enough time to prepare their equipment for the mission.
When NCOs are unable to answer their Soldiers' most basic questions about a mission, morale begins to decline and Soldiers learn to distrust their leaders. This adds more stress to an already challenging environment. Only the most irresponsible leaders would willingly allow this to happen to their formations.
LEADER DEVELOPMENT FAILURES
The reason most FSCs struggle with the company planning process is failure within all three domains of leader development. First, logistics leaders simply have not been exposed to the same intense, small-unit-focused schools and exercises as their combat arms peers. Sustainment courses in the institutional domain focus more on staff work and number-crunching instead of training techniques at the company level and below.
Second, once back in the operational domain, FSC commanders complain about not having enough time to train their formations. Logisticians often run support missions by focusing on the administrative tasks and failing to treat them as real-world tactical convoys. This is because of the pressure to support the battalion's primary training priorities (such as the mortar training and evaluation program, platoon live fires, and company combined arms live fires). FSC OPORDs are discounted in favor of the battalion's logistics synchronization matrix (if there is one).
Third, because these problems are so ingrained within the tactical side of the Logistics Corps, FSC commanders struggle to find positive examples upon which to model their company orders process, which stunts self-development. One recurring example is the FSC commander who fails to delegate tasks that could easily be done by other personnel within the company.
The best FSC commanders observed at JMRC are those who are able to discern which tasks they can delegate and which they cannot. The first thing to understand is that a commander (or any leader for that matter) should focus on accomplishing those things that only he can accomplish.
Every minute an FSC commander spends making copies of his graphics for his subordinates, building a terrain model kit, or looking up the weather forecast to include in paragraph one is one less minute that he could spend planning the actual concept of operation and synchronizing actions between the brigade support battalion and the supported maneuver battalion.
BUILDING ORDERS GROUPS
One method of delegating planning tasks is through the use of orders planning groups, or "orders groups." Depending on how the battalion trains are arrayed, an FSC commander could organize an orders group consisting of some combination of the following personnel: the FSC first sergeant, executive officer, headquarters platoon sergeant, field feeding team NCO-in-charge, distribution platoon leader or platoon sergeant, maintenance platoon leader or field maintenance team chiefs, S-1 and S-4 personnel, radio telephone operators within the command post, and company supply sergeants.
The FSC commander would immediately assemble this group upon the receipt of mission and issue a WARNORD. This WARNORD should consist of key information to allow subordinates to begin their own planning and preparation. The WARNORD kicks off a series of actions similar to a battle drill to enable the rapid production of the company OPORD. While the subordinate units issue their WARNORDs, the FSC first sergeant would begin determining logistics considerations for the upcoming mission.
The FSC executive officer would create an initial planning time line, balancing key company events against anticipated higher headquarters, operational, and enemy activities. The FSC commander could then lead the orders group through a detailed mission analysis based on mission variables.
This analysis helps to determine how the FSC fits into the brigade's mission. Good mission analysis, even at the company and platoon levels, makes it easy to determine the right course of action.
Once subordinates finish issuing their WARNORDs, they would regather at the FSC commander's position to review the analysis. They would then collectively begin to generate a plan that could both meet the commander's intent and accomplish the mission.
Once the commander decides on the plan, the orders group would begin working on predesignated task lists to produce the company order. These tasks could include constructing the company terrain model kit, producing graphics and map overlays, and filling out briefing boards or other visual displays to help the commander convey the plan and convoy movement tables.
The orders group technique allows the commander to focus his time and effort on understanding the company's role in the overall fight. With this understanding, the commander is now free to lead his organization through the development of a course of action that supports the intent of the battalion commander. He has now delegated tasks that would otherwise consume a great amount of time.
Orders groups also allow as many subordinates as possible to be included in the planning process. The company's senior NCOs are empowered and able to share their wealth of experience when developing the plan. Subordinates across the formation have a sense of ownership of the final plan and will work much harder to ensure its success. Finally, subordinate units have a deeper understanding of the commander's intent and are able to begin parallel planning much sooner.
Once the company understands who is responsible for what actions, it needs to know what the company's standards are. Otherwise, the commander will simply have delegated a long list of tasks without the subordinates understanding exactly how to execute them.
The best way to ensure a common standard in the planning process is to create and use standard operating procedures (SOP). It does not have to be a regurgitation of the battalion's planning SOP; it should be an easy-to-read description of the company planning process presented as a chapter in the company's tactical SOP (TACSOP).
Commanders should use common templates for everything they expect subordinates to complete in order to ensure the company can rapidly produce its order. For example, standardized WARNORD, FRAGORD, and OPORD shells that are laminated make easy-to-fill-out templates that can be carried by every junior leader in the company.
The headquarters section can maintain the company terrain model kit and train Soldiers on how to build it to the published standard. The graphics that are expected to be present on everyone's maps should be described in the SOP. Sample planning timelines and key events that must happen within that time line should also be included. Standardized rehearsal scripts for common missions will keep everyone on track when the unit begins rehearsing the plan.
Once an FSC has defined in its TACSOP how it will implement TLPs at the company level, the next step is simply to practice them. Ideally, FSCs should practice TLPs in conditions as similar to combat as possible. The best opportunity would be at a company-level field training exercise, where the training environment can be tailored for the unit's specific mission or operational environment.
Even if a dedicated company-level training event is not possible, a typical FSC will be busy conducting multiple support missions in any given week. FSCs should treat all of their routine support missions as opportunities to improve their full operations process. Even mundane logistics tasks present training opportunities for the creative FSC commander.
Commanders could assign a leader to conduct TLPs for the next week's command maintenance Monday. The distribution platoon leader could enforce TLPs before every ammunition draw, delivery, or turn-in. The food service section could plan how it will support the next battalion training event with hot chow. The headquarters section could produce an order for the company's next physical fitness test.
The type of mission does not really matter; chances are the junior leaders are already doing some type of mission planning process regardless of the task they have been assigned to complete. The point here is to enforce the now standardized company planning process and templates and to ensure every leader is completely comfortable with them. Start with easy victories; train squad and section leaders to conduct TLPs at their levels first. Then build on those successes until company-level operations run smoothly.
Units wanting to improve their orders production ability dramatically should adopt a more focused training glide path. A great place to start is the company's reception and integration program for new arrivals. This program, codified in a company-level SOP, will help train new arrivals to understand company standards.
Specific to the company planning process, every incoming Soldier should be taught the basic five-paragraph OPORD and be issued a laminated OPORD template for use in future training exercises. Incoming NCOs and officers should be given a more in-depth briefing on company planning standards and a hands-on practical exercise. Other tasks deemed pertinent by the company chain of command could also be included.
Every training exercise should be thoroughly planned, and company leaders at every level should become accustomed to issuing OPORD briefings and conducting rehearsals. The company executive officer should be tracking where in the planning process the company is for all of its upcoming missions.
During company training events, the commander should practice the orders process by issuing change-of-mission FRAGORDs to the platoons and evaluating how they conduct planning at their level. The commander should use AARs after every mission to see what parts of the planning process the company needs to improve. This feedback will help the unit revise the TACSOP as needed.
At a minimum, commanders should use the training and evaluation outlines called Prepare an OPORD at the Company, Platoon, or Squad Level (071-326-5626) and Conduct Troop Leading Procedures (71-CO-5100) in order to ensure subordinate units are conducting mission planning to standard. Commanders should regularly conduct TLPs at the company level with the company orders group.
If an FSC commander feels confident in his unit's ability to rapidly produce mission orders, it is highly recommended that he request an external evaluation by either the battalion operations officer or brigade support battalion executive officer. This will keep him honest about his actual level of training readiness and ensure that his planning process will easily nest with that of both the supported maneuver battalion and the brigade support battalion.
TLPs are a vital part of the operations process for FSCs. Properly executed, TLPs not only assist the FSC commander when planning for a mission but also empower his subordinates. Armed with knowledge about the upcoming mission, NCOs are able to initiate movement and prepare Soldiers and equipment. OPORD briefings give Soldiers a deeper understanding of the plan and increase their confidence.
The teamwork that is necessary to produce an OPORD creates a sense of ownership in the plan and helps subordinates visualize the upcoming mission. But TLPs, like every other collective task, need to be standardized and trained on in order to ensure mission success.
Capt. Russell J. Baker is the FSC observer, coach, trainer for the Timberwolf maneuver training team at JMRC in Hohenfels, Germany. He has a bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary.
This article was published in the January-March 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.