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The Command Post SOP: Blueprint for Success
by CPT Eric R. Price and CPT Jay A. Hedstrom

Six very short months have passed since you left the Advanced Course and were assigned as an assistant S3 in a divisional combat engineer battalion. In that time you have been instrumental in developing the battalion's training plan which culminates with the battalion's first NTC rotation in two years. Today, as you updated the battalion commander, the following thoughts raced through your mind:

  • The battalion changes command in just two weeks.
  • Three key staff captains recently took command, leaving lieutenants to pick up the pieces.
  • The battalion operations NCO just arrived last month.
  • Enlisted personnel turbulence within the Headquarters Company is high.

Your chest tightens as you realize for the first time that only two staff exercises remain prior to the rotation. The battalion commander reminds you that with the new S3 having just arrived, you are the senior, most experienced man on the battalion's battlestaff. Heading back to your office, you mentally wargame ways to pull the staff together in the short time you have left to prepare..

In today's Army of rapidly-changing missions and high personnel turbulence, the integrating and quick training of new personnel are prerequisites for success. Many engineer battalions have worked very hard to develop, refine, and execute simple battle drills at the squad and crew level. Limited training resources have resulted in focused platoon battle tasks and company mission essential task lists. However, many of those same units have spent very little time organizing their command post (CP) operations, or, when they have, have not committed the results to paper.At best, these units must reinvent the wheel every time a new commander, executive officer, or S3 assumes his duties, rather than building and refining an existing product. Worst case, the unit has to reestablish procedures every time they deploy their CP. In either case, the CP staff spends an inordinate amount of time managing their internal operation rather than focusing on timely and effective command and control (C2) of combat operations. This diminished C2 directly affects the success of combat operations. Units, such as the one mentioned above, often arrive at the NTC unprepared to execute the key staff battle task of operating the battalion tactical operations center (TOC). Experience indicates that battalions with a well-established command post standard operating procedure (CPSOP) for their main, rear tactical, and administrative CPs are better able to cope with the rapidly changing conditions of today's battlefield. As a result, those units tend to be more successful conducting combat operations.

This article provides a method for the development and implementation of a basic CPSOP by the combat engineer battalion's battlestaff. The method presented here is applicable to all of the battalion's CPs. It focuses on establishing the CPSOP around six basic TOC functions, identifying the key supporting tasks and related tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) for each of these functions, and presents a suggested method for organizing and implementing those TTPs.

CPSOP DEVELOPMENT

There are many different ways to arrive at a workable SOP for your command post. Regardless of the method used, each member of the battlestaff should first turn to doctrinal manuals. It is important not only to understand your own duties and responsibilities, but those of the soldiers around you. However, while many manuals provide an overview of TOC operations, few provide any detailed guidance to assist personnel in establishing and implementing a workable SOP. The authors developed the CPSOP by starting with the six basic TOC functions because of their belief in the axiom, "Form follows function." In other words, decide up front what functions the TOC must perform to be successful, then identify the methodology to best accomplish each function with available resources.

The six basic TOC functions discussed are not found in any Army Field Manual, but have been identified in CALL Newsletter No. 95-7, Tactical Operations Center (TOC), May 1995. This newsletter is an excellent source of information on how to assess your current command post operation and develop a training plan for improvement. The six TOC functions are:

  • Receive information
  • Distribute information
  • Analyze information
  • Make recommendations
  • Integrate resources
  • Synchronize resources

Despite the term "six 'TOC' functions," all of these functions actually apply to the main, tactical, and rear CPs. (All references to TOC in this article relate to the combat engineer battalion's CPs.) To ensure that all essential tasks and supporting TTPs are addressed and fully integrated in the final product, it is imperative that all staff sections and other CP personnel be involved in the development process. Begin by gathering the personnel from each of the battalion's CPs to discuss each of these functions. Work closely together to determine the essential tasks that support each function. Additional tasks may be identified based on a unit's specific experiences and mission. Because each of the functions is dependent on the others, some tasks may not fit well under any particular function. List those tasks separately, as they will be addressed further when organizing the CPSOP.

Below is a more detailed description of each of the functions and the supporting tasks as identified in CALL Newsletter No. 95-7. As a minimum, these should be included in the CPSOP.

Receive Information. Receive information through standardized reports and orders from subordinate, higher, and adjacent units. Supporting tasks include:

  • Receive messages, reports and orders.
  • Monitor the tactical situation; track the battle.
  • Monitor location and activities of friendly units.
  • Update TOC charts/heads-up displays (HUDs).
  • Update maps and overlays.
  • Maintain a TOC journal.

Distribute Information. Control the distribution of information within the TOC; report information to subordinate, higher, and adjacent units.

  • Submit reports.
  • Control message traffic flow.
  • Conduct retransmission operations.
  • Conduct relay operations.
  • Publish and distribute orders.
  • Conduct shift change, command, and information briefings.

Analyze Information. Consolidate reports and conduct battlestaff analysis as part of the military decision-making process (MDMP).

  • Consolidate reports.
  • Conduct predictive analysis using collected data.
  • Develop timeline.
  • Conduct MDMP/Orders drill.

Make Recommendations to the Commander. Submit recommendations to the commander based on the analysis of information collected.

Integrate Resources. Coordinate the integration of the unit's activities with that of subordinate, higher, and adjacent units.

  • Conduct ABE and TAC operations.
  • Produce annexes for higher headquarters order.
  • Receive and integrate engineer and combined arms attachments.

Synchronize Resources. Synchronize the unit's activities with that of subordinate, higher, and adjacent units.

  • Conduct LNO operations.
  • Coordinate with other units.

As mentioned earlier, some tasks that must be covered in the SOP will not fall neatly under one of the six basic TOC functions. Rather, these tasks are related to the overall operation of the CP and therefore support all of the TOC functions. Once tasks are organized into the final CPSOP, it will become clear where these "miscellaneous" tasks should be addressed. Some of these tasks are:

  • Identify task/purpose of each CP.
  • Setup and dismantle CP.
  • Establish mission-dependent CP configurations.
  • Establish guard, sleep and shift manning plan.
  • Monitor radios.
  • Conduct life support for TOC personnel.

Once all essential supporting tasks have been identified, outline the TTPs used to execute each based on doctrine and your unit's way of operating. If you currently have no method for executing an identified supporting task, brainstorm a method and commit it to paper. Remember that this will be a working document, so try new things. It is important, however, that the TTPs you develop do not conflict with other established SOPs for your unit or your supported maneuver unit. Once TTPs for each supporting task have been identified, the next step is to organize tasks into a logical sequence to develop the layout of the CPSOP.

CPSOP ORGANIZATION

The six basic TOC functions provide a good method for identifying supporting tasks, but because each of the functions are interrelated, it would be difficult to use them to organize the supporting tasks in a final SOP. Instead, look at the tasks using Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. The sections of the CPSOP are then designed around answering one or two of these questions. Organize each section by addressing the TTPs that support each task as it relates to all of the unit's command posts. Use subparagraphs or subsections as necessary to provide detailed information regarding TTPs that are specific to only a particular command post. An example format follows:


TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. Command Post Overview (Why) - a brief description of the how and why of each CP.

  • Mission of each CP within the unit (TAC, Main, Rear, Combat Trains Command Post, etc.)
  • Task / Purpose of each CP
  • Battlefield laydown/locations of CPs

II. Duties and Responsibilities (Who, What) - a definition of the specific role each person plays in CP operations in terms of mission requirements.

  • Manning / Shift makeup and schedule
  • Life support for CP personnel
  • Roles and responsibilities of all CP personnel to include:
    • Battalion Commander, Executive Officer, Command Sergeant Major
    • Primary Staff and staff NCOs
    • Support Staff and staff NCOs
    • ABE
    • Battle Captains/Battle NCOs
    • LNOs
    • RTO, Drivers

III. Command Post Layout (Where) - a detailed description of the CP's physical properties.

  • Physical layout of CP vehicles, extensions, briefing tents, sleep tents, and antennas
  • Locations of maps, HUDs, equipment, equipment storage, supply storage, and personnel
  • Alternate CP configurations
  • Integration with supported unit CP
  • Security plan
  • Communications or other links with adjacent CPs
  • Required items such as maps, overlays, charts, orders books, manuals, and supplies

IV. Command Post Operations (When, How) - a clear description of routine actions during the planning, preparation, and execution phases of combat operations. Lay this section out using the six basic TOC functions as an outline. It should address:

  • Information Management
  • TOC Charts/HUDs
  • Battle-tracking procedures
  • Maintaining the command post journal
  • Briefing formats
  • Standard unit timelines
  • TDMP procedures
  • Reporting procedures
  • Shift change procedures
  • Displacement procedures
  • Integration procedures
  • Retrans/Relay operations

V. Standardized Charts/HUDs (How) - examples of each tracking or information chart to be posted in the CP. These should be standardized across all CPs within the unit.


Another method of organizing the CPSOP is to first list the main, TAC, and rear CPs and then discuss the manning, layout, and operation of each. This approach, however, can lead to redundancy and a sense of compartmentalization. By first addressing tasks in the CPSOP by Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, the focus is on the fundamentals of command post operations, and detailing the differences between each type follows. This method can ease the transition of personnel from one command post to another within the unit, which often happens when units "surge" personnel to the main CP just before a battle.

CPSOP IMPLEMENTATION

The last stage in the process is to train and implement the CPSOP, thus turning written products into true TTPs for the entire battalion battlestaff. While there are many approaches to achieve the desired results, ideas found in CALL Newsletter No. 95-7, Tactical Operations Center, may again be helpful. Those ideas include -

  • Conduct CPSOP classes. Conduct classroom training for command post personnel on tasks such as the TOC journal, battle tracking, reporting procedures, TDMP procedures, displacement procedures, and setup/tear down. These classes will familiarize everyone with the procedures outlined in the new CPSOP.

  • Make the CPSOP part of garrison operations. Take tasks from the CPSOP which mirror current tasks performed in garrison and make them part of the daily routine. An example would be to train battle-tracking skills by maintaining a status board of the battalion's companies in the S3 shop using command post heads-up displays. In addition, use RTOs to answer the phones, maintain a staff journal, and pass on messages using the same message forms used in the CP. Train subordinate units to submit reports in garrison using the report formats found in the tactical SOP (TACSOP).

  • Set up the command post every month. Exercise load plans, storage plans, and multiple CP configurations. Coordinate for the simultaneous setup of all the battalion's CPs to conduct communications exercises (COMMEX) and TOC exercises (TOCEX) on a regular basis.

  • Integrate CP operations into routine unit training. Do not limit yourself to setting up the command post only during field training exercises (FTX) or command post exercises (CPX). Use routine training events such as firing ranges, land navigation courses, etc., as training opportunities for the CP. Set up battalion CPs to support company training events to provide training to both company and battalion CPs.

  • Revise and improve the CPSOP as needed. Use all of the training methods above to validate the CPSOP. Reassess the TTPs developed, and update as necessary. The CPSOP must be a "living" document if it is to meet the changing needs of the organization.

CONCLUSION

Observations at the NTC suggest there is a direct correlation between the ability of units to conduct synchronized and efficient CP operations and their level of success executing combat missions. It may be true that a unit's tracking charts will not make the breach get through, but accurate information does give the commander and staff better opportunities to take advantage of situations as they develop on today's fast-paced battlefield.


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