Last post we covered the main protagonist in this play of arms, the PL (Platoon Leader, don't forget to keep track of the abbreviations and acronyms listed here) but in this section we will cover a support position that is just as important. The military is well known for pairing an inexperienced leader with someone to advise and assist that has more knowledge and occupational maturity. This position relative to the PL, is of course the Platoon Sergeant (PSG).
The Platoon Sergeant plays such a strange part in this drama. Some liken his job as being the mommy to the PL's daddy. I've seen this inverted in some units though so am unsure if it is appropriate. But going to the text we see first that the PSG is second in command, leads in the PLs absence, but most importantly and often- supervises administration, logistics, and all maintenance. You might have heard that common quote "“Amateurs study tactics, armchair generals study strategy, but professionals study logistics" but it absolutely applies here. It is incredibly hard to move a patrol through hostile terrain in the presence of the enemy, conduct missions, fight, and win. But to do this all the while making sure that your men have everything vital to those tasks is tough. That is the PSG's task though. He plans most of this by preparing and briefing Paragraph 4 (Sustainment) of the OPORD, which we will be covering in great detail soon.
Also important to this is the task of organizing and controlling the command post (CP from here forward). This command post isn't really the place for the PL, because remember this job requires a lot of time being at the critical tasks associated with the movement and employment of his squads and teams. The CP is a place where his leaders gather when congregated or planning. The PSG ensures that the PL doesn't have to do all this leading and also run the CP at the same time. The CP waits for him under the PSG's control for when he needs it. Think of it like this, the PSG is continually making sure that the PL just has to pick up things and use him. He's like a tactical butler, but not your normal butler. Think Alfred from Batman kind of butler who keeps unit in shape and ready for the PL's commands.
Now in this description of the CP you see two other important acronyms. The first to tackle is unit standard operating procedure (SOP). SOPs vary somewhat from one unit to the next, and each are going to modify things according to their experience and culture. Everything on the Line usually devolves to how the unit SOP outlines. Even material found in this Ranger Handbook is subject to modification down at the unit level.
The next acronym is nearly a nemonic device. It is a way to analyze nearly everything in a current situation by breaking it down into six variables. These variables are: mission, enemy, terrain/weather, troops/support available, time, and civil considerations. This is referred to all the time by Line troops, usually as some catch all phrase to bookend a comment. Said like "you should always do _____ considering of course unit SOP and being METT-TC dependent." It isn't meant as a cop out as much as just a reminder that you should review these items constantly when organizing a unit or action, planning an action, or essentially doing anything. All plans are subject to change according to considerations to your mission, the enemy you face, the terrain and weather you are enduring, the troops and support you have at hand, the time you have left to accomplish your mission, and what affects and effects you might have on the civilians residing in your area of operations (AO from here forward).
His next task is rather mundane sounding but crucial, and again bolsters the notion that his most important work prior to engagement is logistical support and administration. He works with the SLs (who are subordinate to him and the PL) to get them supplies from the 1SG (First Sergeant, think PSG but one level up) or the XO (Executive Officer, an assistant to the commander of the next unit up). Mail and supplies are vital to a unit's morale and sustainment, so of course he is tasked with it. Again notice that commanding the troops are left to the PL, but the PSG is making sure the troops are ready and able for that for when the time comes.
The third bullet should remind us of something we saw in our examination of the PL. When we talked about the PL earlier you might recall that we brought up how the PSG is going to plan and coordinate the CASEVAC plan. Part of that plan and support involves two parties that will be discussed soon and later respectively, the patrol medic and aid and litter teams. Now just as earlier the PSG is not going to directly address casualties like the medic will and should, he is just here to make this go as smoothly as possible. Taking and dealing with friendly casualties in a controlled manner is extremely difficult, so it makes sense that the most experienced and steady leader facilitates it.
Accountability is an often overlooked key task to units, and seems unnecessary to many who haven't been involved in military service. You might think that Soldiers can keep track of their people, weapons, and equipment just fine but it is strangely difficult to perform. People wander off or lose contact with their patrol. Weapons go uncleaned or missing. Equipment is left behind or not made ready. Again the PSG is responsible for preventing this, often through periodic inspections or requests for inventory, called "sensitive item checks." The casualties and replacements portion should seem in line with what we have already discussed as a part of the PSG's duties.
Morale, discipline, and health seem to be a strange tasking to undertake for a patrol member's job, but the health of these three factors are directly causal to the success or failure of a unit. Napoleon is famous for saying:
"An army's effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined."
Motivated Soldiers fight better. If you and your comrades have low morale and are not dedicated to the mission, it will be half assed and results will be less than ideal. It might even get someone killed. The same can be said for discipline. People who haven't served sometimes misunderstand discipline and believe that Soldiers are just mindless robots, but truthfully it is usually quite the opposite. And often during combat operations people begin to make poor or incautious decisions. Someone has to keep them reined in, and that person in a platoon level patrol is a PSG. Health has obvious implications to combat performance.
Task organized elements are parts of a patrol that are not normal to regular operations. They are typically organized from within the unit, and as the name implies are organized for specific tasks. The sub-bullets listed here for examples are parts of the unit during key tasks for combat patrols. We will examine them in greater detail later but should take a look at them for a minute before we move on to other tasks.
- Quartering party- this is a group that is tasked with holding down an area before the rest of the unit can occupy the area. This is a key task when moving a unit the size of a platoon that will be discussed often later.
- Security during withdrawal- when a unit is leaving an area it is extremely susceptible to attack. The security element is tasked with keeping this unit appraised of the situation and fighting a delaying action on any attackers during this vulnerable time.
- Support during raids/attacks- the support element is responsible for applying suppressive fires, which is one of, if not the most important tasks during a raid or attack
- Security patrols during night attacks- night time is a difficult operational environment and during night attacks placing and effectively using security is paramount to success. The PSG ensures that the elements that are charged with preventing the attackers from being attacked, are appropriately used.
By now you should begin to understand the purpose of the PSG. He is not leading the main effort but makes sure it is ready. He is not completing many of the tasks but ensures the completion. Gaining supplies and distributing them to those who need them are his charge. When the PL is busy completing or executing the plan, the PSG is busy trying to make it go as smoothly as possible. He keeps things organized, tidy, and on time.
Movement and halts are two vulnerable times for a combat patrol. The PSG is helpful to the PL and the unit by focusing on control and security during these times. During movement the PSG ensures that someone is watching the rear (as nearly everyone is looking forward or to the sides) and that the movement is controlled (so that units don't lose contact by beginning to lag behind or get too far ahead). During halts he allows the PL to focus on the purpose of the halt (like a map check or radio transmission) while he checks and maintains the security of the element. He also just does whatever the PL needs to keep things operating, remember he is Alfred to the PL's Batman/Bruce Wayne.
Danger areas will be covered extensively later on, but for now it only important to understand that they have a far side and a near side. Meaning, you start on one side of them (the near side) and cross over them (to the far side). The PSG is in charge of the near side while the element crosses and helps the PL further by keeping accountability (usually by counting the number of heads that begin the crossing) during this difficult maneuver.
Actions on the objective vary depending on the objective (the major task and position of the patrol) but certain tasks are always key and performed by the PSG. An example of some actions on the objective that are shared with raids and ambushes are tasks that are performed at the objective rally point (ORP). The ORP is probably going to be an entire post on its own, but for our purposes here think of it as the final place to get ready before you conduct a raid or ambush. It's a place to get ready for something big. At the ORP the PSG will help the PL move the element in and get them positioned correctly. This of course includes security emplacement. Since everyone needs to have their makeup on and their dance shoes tied before the date, the PSG helps organize this effort.
On other objectives outside of the ORP preparation the PSG also helps maintain security of the overall element. This is pretty much everyone's concern but the PSG probably has the most experience with this out of anyone in the patrol or the element, so they are going to be ever vigilant and diligent in maintaining this security.
When fighting, ammo and other supplies are going to be unevenly expended. The PSG is responsible with making sure that periodically these supplies are evaluated and, if needed, redistributed. This is normally referred to as performing "consolidation and reorganization."
When a unit fights it hopes to create casualties from the enemy's ranks, but just as often it suffers losses of its own. These can come in the form of wounded in action (WIA) and killed in action (KIA). Before these casualties can be sent to the rear or home for burial respectively, they must be taken from the battle or using our recently acquired operational parlance, the objective. At the objective the first place these casualties are taken is the casualty collection point (CCP). We will cover the role of the medic soon, but just for now know that the medic and the PSG will be there side-by-side caring for these wounded or fallen Soldiers.
A patrol base is a special place. It isn't always possible or good for an element to leave friendly lines, conduct a mission, and return in one easy or quick patrol. In order to dwell in hostile territory or move longer distances it is sometimes needed for them to host a sleepover or temporary resting place "behind enemy lines" so to speak. The place they temporarily stay is a patrol base. Knowing this and remembering the tasks the PSG had at the ORP you shouldn't be surprised to hear that his responsibilities and tasks are very similar. Namely, he helps occupy, establishes and adjusts the perimeter and security, enforces noise and light discipline (read: he keeps people quiet and from turning on unneeded and exposed lights), ensures camouflage, assigns sectors of fire (read: tells people where they can, and more importantly where they cannot shoot), and keeps everyone ready for action.
A patrol base is an excellent place and time for him to perform his consolidation and reorganization task as you might imagine, so this is listed. But the thing he is most worried about accomplishing in the patrol base is what is called the security plan. This security plan is a race against the clock for the patrol. Everyone is going to want to rest, eat, and just chill out. But if you have read ahead you see that this is the last things on the plan. Before the patrol can do this many other important things must be done. Think of this as a chore list before you can go out with your friends and play outside.
The first task of the patrol base is to ensure that the crew served weapons have interlocking sectors of fire. For most patrols the crew served weapons are the large machine guns. You want these to have interlocking sectors of fire so that they can engage the enemy in a continuous 360 degree blanket of fire, and if possible can hit the enemy from multiple angles.
This interlocking sector of fire idea is great but cannot always be easily accomplished. Sometimes there is some dead space between the crew served weapons. Most often there is some terrain feature that blocks fires from the patrol base. In this dead space it is best to employ claymore mines. These mines are directional and are set by Soldiers in places like this because they can be set off remotely and blanket an area with hundreds of steel balls traveling very fast. If you don't know what these things do you should look them up. It's pretty incredible.
With nearly any important job there is usually paperwork, and in this patrol base you should make some range cards or sector sketches. These might not seem important but as you will learn later there is a fair amount of shared duty during this sleepover party, and you want anyone to be able to man a gun and have an idea of the ranges, dead space, and limits of fire concerning each gun. A range card or sector sketch does this. It is also a helpful way of seeing how the guns and claymores are laid out, and are important in ensuring that you have appropriately tied everything in for security.
An alert plan is really just a way of deciding who will be awake and on guard at any given time. As there are things that must be done in the patrol base you can't have everyone working or pulling security at the same time, so you make a plan that says who is going to do what and when they are going to do it. This makes sure that you don't get caught with your pants down so to speak.
There are also times when you have to evacuate the patrol base quickly. Most often the PL and PSG come up with two locations that the patrol should move to in the case they are "blown out" of their patrol base. This is a colloquialism for shit going really sideways, like when you are attacked in the middle of the night by an overwhelming force. By making a plan for two different locations you can hopefully announce this to the patrol and have a place for everyone to meet up together to regroup and fight back or just get the hell out.
A withdrawal plan is similar to the evacuation plan but usually involves less chaos. Usually this withdrawal plan takes the patrol to the next item in the security plan, which is to select and have an alternate patrol base. If you are noticing a lot of redundancy in all this planning you're catching on to some of these principles. There is a lot of planning for contingencies and having backups in patrolling.
After all of this is done a maintenance plan is enacted. This centers mostly on cleaning and ensuring the function of weapons, especially the crew served machine guns. You don't want all your major weapons taken apart at the same time when the enemy decides to attack your patrol base, so you make a plan to perform this one by one, and while supported by other weapons, typically squad level machine guns. But all weapons should be cleaned and ready before you move to the other parts of the security plan, which are finally focused on each individual Soldier.
Hygiene, food, water, and rest are the final items to be considered in the security plan, and in that order. Health is hard to maintain under the conditions of patrolling, so people should take this time to change socks, wash key body areas, and brush teeth. They should also get some calories and some water in them. And hopefully after all this work the patrol and lay down and get some sleep. This is all done according to the alert plan of course, which typically doesn't go below a 33% security level, meaning that at least one third of the element is on guard at any given time.
Over three thousand words here on what is arguably a position just as important as the overall leader of the patrol. The PSG is a vital role in a patrol and is typically the billet where the most experienced Soldier resides. Just like any great relationship it is important that the PL and the PSG are working together in their separate, but equal responsibilities to keep the patrol alive. Next, we will cover the other leadership positions and finally get into some serious stuff, operations.