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WHAT NOW, BATTLE CAPTAIN? The Who, What and How of the Job on Nobody's Books, but Found in Every Unit's TOC

by CPT Marcus F. de Oliveira, Deputy Chief, Leaders' Training Program, JRTC

Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Fort Polk, LA.
Brigade preparing to attack to the south.
    0546: Three enemy T-62 tanks and one BMP begin moving north out of their battle position to conduct a spoiling attack.
    0632: Low-Level Voice Intercept (LLVI) team picks up enemy radio transmission indicating three armored vehicles are moving.
    0727: REMBASS string activates; armored vehicles moving north. Reported to Brigade CP and logged.
    0800: REMBASS string further north activates. Reported to Brigade CP and logged.
    0817: BDE O & I net receives report of enemy armored vehicle movement from 1st Battalion (closest to the line of contact). Brigade Assistant S-2 monitors report, checks grid on map, goes back to work.
    S-2 RTO responds to 1st Bn that Command Group is in a meeting; he'll get them the message later.
    Armor Team LO monitors report; plots on his map.
    0823: Operations Sergeant Major receives the report. Logged into journal, but never posted because SGM interrupted by another matter.
    0833: 1st Bn attempts to pass the spot report on the command net. Negative contact.
    0835: 2d Battalion commander (adjacent to 1st Bn) calls the brigade commander on the command net attempting to send 1st Bn's report; he reports three T-62s and one BMP have crossed the line of contact, and the 1st Bn CP was under attack. Logged.
    0902: The battle captain returns from the targeting meeting and checks the journal. "*& that's 30 minutes ago!" He yells to the brigade commander, gets his attention, and explains what's happening.
    0906: The brigade commander attempts to contact the armor team commander and the aviation task force commander. Negative contact.
    0907: FA battalion S3 (located near the rear of the brigade sector) reports seeing three enemy tanks advancing; attempting to engage.
    0908: Armor Team commander: "I'll be on the move in 5 minutes."
    0910: Aviation commander: "No aircraft in the air; attack team at the FARP."
    0927: Armor team commander: "On the move."
    0930: 1st Bn commander: "SITREP. Personnel loss light. Catastrophic loss of communications equipment and wheeled vehicles."
    0932: Aviation commander: "Attack team ready to go after enemy tanks."
    0952: FA battery sends grid on enemy tanks; brigade commander launches JAAT.
    0955: 1st Bn reports CP overrun; combat trains overrun. Catastrophic losses. . . .

. . . and the timeline continues on a typical brigade's typical day during a Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) rotation.

The typical lack of experience in brigade staffs negatively impacts the brigade's ability to synchronize combat operations. Most captains on brigade staffs are recent advanced course graduates, who bide their time on the staff waiting for a company command.

The impact on the brigade is significant if the newly arrived officer is assigned as the brigade staff "Battle Captain." With little or no training and experience, many recent advanced course graduates find themselves assigned into battle captain positions that don't exist on any TO& and aren't addressed in any doctrinal publication. Yet all brigades and many battalions now use a "Battle Captain" in a variety of ways.

This article is written for those officers who now find themselves titled Battle Captain. It explains what's expected of you and how can you best go about preparing to execute your duties to meet those expectations. Additionally, how to shape the expectations of your commander, executive officer and operations officers so they can make the best use of the person who is now the Battle Captain.

Typically the person slotted as the battle captain is either a newly assigned, recent advanced course graduate, or a first lieutenant waiting to punch out for an advanced course. On rare occasions, the battle captain will be a previous company commander.

Especially in the case of the newly assigned captain or the lieutenant waiting to go to an advanced course, the common denominator is a lack of knowledge and experience about the intricacies of controlling a brigade command post and helping to synchronize the myriad of assets available to the commander.


1) Assign a "high speed" noncommissioned officer as the battle captain, or at least as an assistant. NCOs are among the great underused assets in TOC operations.

2) Assign the chemical officer as the battle captain. These officers will provide some assignment stability and many have the additional duty of the USR, so they already understand what goes on in the brigade.

Regardless of who is assigned, their duties and responsibilities need to be clearly defined, and then they must be trained and equipped to perform the mission.


Most battle captains will find they may do no more than post maps, fill out journals and answer radios. They will not be required or expected to battle track, enforce unit orders, manage information in the command post or make decisions based on commander's intent when the CO, XO or operations officer is unavailable. In command posts where this is the case, the unit will come to a screeching halt when the CO, XO, or S3 is asleep, away from the command post, or become casualties.

The battle captain should be capable of assisting the command group in controlling the brigade or battalion. Remember, the commander commands the unit, and the XO is the chief of staff; BUT, those officers and the S3 must rest. They will also get pulled away from current operations to plan future operations, or receive orders from higher headquarters. The battle captain's role then is to serve as a constant in the CP, someone who keeps his head in the current battle, and continuously assists commanders in the command and control of the fight. That may sound easy enough until one takes into account the complexity and intensity of C2 in an infantry battalion, or greater yet, in a brigade task force. Contrast these complexities to the normal inexperience of the battle captain, and it is easy to see why synchronization problems occur too often.

Specifically, the duties and responsibilities of the battle captain can be divided into three major areas:

    Information Management
    Military Decisionmaking Process
    TOC Operations

Impacting on the success or failure of these duties and responsibilities is the amount of authority given and earned by the battle captain.

Information Management
Brigade and battalion CPs process an inordinate amount of information that must be managed and filtered to provide the commander with the information necessary to:
    see the battlefield
    make critical decisions
    effectively execute operations

The focal point for information management in the CP is the battle captain. If the unit doesn't have a system to manage the information flowing in and out of the CP, STEP 1 is develop a system.

Regardless of the system in place, someone must enforce the system. The battle captain is that enforcer.


  1. Information output: The battle captain should control all information, pertaining to all the sections and units, that leaves the CP by approving all reports and major messages that go to higher and subordinate headquarters. RESULT: Ensures consistency, accuracy and timeliness. Reduces duplication of work by ensuring requests for information (RFIs) passed to higher headquarters cannot be answered locally.
  2. Information input: Monitor information coming into the CP to stay abreast of the current battle from the perspective of all the systems assigned to, and supporting, the unit.
  3. Monitor adjacent units to gather more information and to ensure flank security.
  4. Current operations status: Ensure maps and charts used to track current operations are current and continuously updated.


The battle captain has the responsibility to monitor subordinate compliance with orders. Battle captains must be forceful, and should have the authority to push units for compliance, and to ask units why not? if they aren't complying. The battle captain then informs the command group of unit compliance status.

Understanding the communications architecture and knowing how to operate the various communications components comprise a major part of the battle captain's information management duties and responsibilities. In addition to his personal capabilities, the battle captain is responsible for ensuring all in the CP know and understand the communications architecture and how to operate the systems.


Cross-train personnel on as many pieces of equipment as possible. Too often only one person knows how to operate a particular piece of equipment (the tactical FAX, for example), and if that person is unavailable, the equipment remains unused.
Military Decisionmaking Process (MDMP)
The battle captain impacts MDMP in two major ways. First, by orchestrating the staff battle drills necessary for the agility demonstrated by high performing staffs. Second, by assuming the lead for staff planning in those instances where the commander and primary staff are not present. Almost all units have staff battle drills in the SOPs to speed the decisionmaking process, but most units do not use them, or train them.


The TSOP should include staff battle drills for those situations requiring a quick, accurate response, such as learning indirect fires. If such drills are not currently part of the TOC annex to the TSOP, the drills should be developed and included.


  1. To make sure all TOC personnel understand the drills, they must be practiced until they become routine.
  2. Each shift must execute the drills as a team, led by the battle captain.
  3. The drills must have a beginning and an end; the TOC element must follow the drills through to completion to achieve the desired learning.

In those instances where the S3, XO or plans officer is unavailable, the battle captain will have to lead the remaining staff personnel through the required planning.


  1. Have a set of planning aids reflecting the unit's planning SOP (including a quick decisionmaking process). Miniature (8.5 x 11 inch), acetate fill-in-the-blank planning charts work well.
  2. Authorize the battle captain to send FRAGOs resulting from this planning.
  3. Use NCOs to assist in the FRAGO preparation and issuance. NOTE: Most units do not allow NCOs to even type FRAGOs, even though in garrison they plan, coordinate and write MOIs for unit runs, changes of command, fiscal year ammunition forecasts, etc. USE THEIR SKILLS IN THE TOC.
TOC Operations
The battle captain typically supervises the staff NCOs in the conduct of CP duties. Since NCOs should be more heavily utilized, the battle captain should push NCO battle staff training at home station. The NCO duties the battle captain supervises include:
  • preparing staff journals; updating maps and charts; tracking CP information flow.
  • updating the tactical CPs maps and charts concurrent with the main CP.
  • conducting shift changes with shift-change briefs.

Shift-Change TECHNIQUES:

    1) Run two shifts for 24-hour operations.
    2) Conduct a formal shift change with a comprehensive brief by the outgoing shift to the incoming. Shift personnel work as a team, and outbrief as a team.
    3) If possible, the whole shift should overlap by at least 30 minutes.
    a) The oncoming personnel gain a thorough understanding of the current situation from their counterpart.
    b) The two battle captains can exchange information about current and future operations.

To successfully conduct their duties and responsibilities, battle captains must have access to, and an understanding of, the following:

  • Unit and higher HQ SOPs.
  • All current OPLAN, OPORD and FRAGO issues by his unit and his higher headquarters.
  • Current battle execution aides, i.e., synchronization matrices, execution checklists, execution matrices, OPSCHEDs, etc., to track current operations.


Typically forgotten are subordinate plans and graphics. The battle captain cannot track subordinate units adequately without their graphics and an understanding of the concept of operation. A subordinate commander, in the heat of battle, will refer to points on the battlefield from his graphics (he's more comfortable with them since he designed them). Have subordinates bring their graphics to the rehearsal. The battle captain can check them for accuracy and then issue consolidated unit graphics. The same technique applies to the targeting matrix for indirect fires.

Battle captains also need a firm grasp of the commander's intent and his guidance as it impacts on the planning, preparation and execution of each mission. Most battle captains will say all they are told is, "Don't call out the reserve, and wake me if something important happens." While for some leaders this may literally be true, and for others such statements are "tongue in cheek," the proactive battle captain will collect and record the commander's guidance that is continually given daily. Not only must the battle captain collect this guidance, but he must also get clarification for any portion he does not understand. The clarified guidance must also be passed to subordinates.


  1. To ensure the battle captain understands upcoming operations, have him sit through key portions of the planning process (mission analysis brief, course-of-action decision brief, wargaming, OPORD issue).
  2. Commander's Critical Information Requirements (CCIRs) may be formalized in writing, or may be picked up in his verbal guidance, or interpreted by listening to questions he frequently asks. In the latter two cases, an astute battle captain can capture the CCIR and ensure the wheels are set in motion to meet those requirements.
  3. If the battle captain doesn't know, but thinks he needs to know, he must ask!

A knowledgeable, savvy battle captain can and should be a force multiplier by ensuring effective and integrated action in the command post. The greatest contribution the battle captain makes is in anticipating events and setting conditions for success of the task force.

Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Fort Polk, LA.
  • 1400: The brigade is executing an air assault on an enemy objective by one of its subordinate battalions. The brigade is controlling the air assault.
    Bde S3 is forward in a ground tactical command post.
    A TOC shift change had been properly completed at 1300.
  • 1401 First lift is in the air; LLVI intercepts an enemy call for fire. Logged. Battle captain directs the calls be monitored; directs MI company plot the location of the enemy FDC; alerts fire support element for fire acquisition radar, firing batteries, naval gunfire support to monitor enemy grid when reported and prepare to fire the target.
  • 1402 Battle captain calls air assault element and pre-clears that grid location, based on that battalion's reconnaissance element report; calls Bde commander and reports what has occurred and actions taken so far. Gets permission to fire counterbattery if the enemy firing unit is acquired.
  • 1404 First lift of air assault force lands; enemy fires three mortar rounds and fire acquisition gets the firing grid. Brigade's supporting artillery monitors grid and fires the target, destroying TOW enemy mortars, the crew and stocks of mortar ammunition.

All of the above actions take only 4 minutes. RESULT: The battalion conducts the attack and stays in the vicinity of the objective the next six days. During that period, the battalion suffers no casualties from enemy indirect fires.

The true example given above shows the value of a battle captain who anticipates, and smoothly knows the actions to take in a turbulent time. This is truly a combat multiplier for the entire brigade. Battle captains and battle staffs that are properly trained can and will anticipate the needs of the task force and set the conditions for success.
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