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The Nerve Cell of an Organization

by CPT Fredrick J. Hannah

An O/C shares his experiences and documented observations on the set-up and start-up of a tactical operations center (TOC), its functions, and the duties and responsibilities of TOC personnel.

From high-intensity conflicts (HIC) to garrison operations, the tactical operations center (TOC) is the nerve cell of an organization at any level. Tactical operation centers have an immense amount of responsibility to their commanders and organizations. Effective TOCs afford commanders the greatest likelihood of making the "right decision" to counter enemy efforts. Inadequate TOCs too often lead to "decisions" that leave the organization vulnerable.

Unfortunately, there is not a single doctrinal manual currently published that can assist organizations in establishing a TOC. FC 71-6, Battalion and Brigade Command and Control, Mar 85, detailed the role and functions of the TOC and its personnel, but it is no longer published. There may be a few remaining copies of FC 71-6 within the Army's inventory; each S3 is urged to obtain a copy if possible.

TOC Establishment

There are many variations of TOC configurations within the Army. Each one is designed to fit the commander of the organization. Unfortunately, very few commanders are present when their TOCs are established. When commanders arrive, they often find that the TOC does not provide them with the necessary elements for command and control of their subordinate units. They also discover that the current set-up does not provide the means to make decisions. There are several contributing factors:

  • Standing operating procedures (SOP) inadequate (or no SOP at all).
  • Inexperienced operations officers (normally a senior 1LT or junior captain).
  • Lack of assigned roles and responsibilities.
  • Undefined priorities of work.
  • Lack of field grade officer involvement.

These shortfalls are not insurmountable if staff sections communicate and clearly understand the commander's intent, the unit's mission, and their own roles.

The rapid establishment of the TOC is paramount in any operation. It is the nucleus of the organization. It takes more than just pulling the vans into a location or erecting a tent. The vans and tents are nothing more than the shell of a TOC. Incorporating the following elements enables the vans and tents (infrastructures) to become a TOC:

  • Security
    • Disguise the TOC so that it is not obvious to the enemy.
    • Establish a viable force to protect the TOC.
    • Set up obstacles that detour the enemy and limit access to the TOC.
    • Enforce operations security (OPSEC).

  • Communications
    • Establish and maintain redundant communications with both higher and subordinate units.

  • Personnel
    • Essential personnel with assigned duties and responsibilities are critical to an effective TOC.
    • Fewer personnel hovering around the map boards make more efficient and effective TOCs.

  • Map Boards
    • Commanders must be able to see the maps within their TOCs to ascertain what is going on in the deep, close, and rear battles.

  • TOC Charts
    • NO PowerPoint Rangers!!!
    • Basic charts.
    • Clearly portray critical information which the commander needs.
    • Every person serving within the TOC must be able to update the charts.

  • Functionality
    • Establish and maintain a systematic way of functioning.
    • Establish a system for collecting, packaging, and disseminating information.
    • Assign a TOC policeman (usually the NCOIC).
      • Ensure the TOC maintains a level of cleanliness.
      • Prevent the TOC from becoming a gathering place prior to scheduled meetings/briefings. (Refer to "TIC TOCs: TOCs that Run Like Clockwork" in the CALL CTC Quarterly Bulletin, 1st Qtr, No. 97-20, Dec 97.)

By now you know how to establish a tactical operations center. But setting up a TOC -- as crucial as it may be -- is only the beginning.

TOC Functions

Too often TOC personnel tend to relax after the TOC is set up (infrastructure with all required accessories). On the contrary, this should be the time for TOC personnel to turn their attention to TOC start-up. Most FSB TOCs experience difficulties in start-up. In fact, the most predominant trends in FSB TOCs are the lack of understanding of the functions of a TOC and the inability of TOC personnel to apply those functions. The six basic TOC functions are:

  • Receive Information
  • Distribute Information
  • Analyze Information
  • Submit Recommendations
  • Integrate Resources
  • Synchronize Resources

These functions maximize an operation officer's ability to provide the commander with accurate and essential information. They apply well beyond the walls of the TOC. Remember, the TOC is responsible for:

  • Ensuring that its area of responsibility (AOR) is well defended (integrating all units operating within the AOR).
  • Ensuring that all subordinate units have the most accurate information.
  • Developing and implementing a reconnaissance and surveillance plan.
  • Continually tracking the deep, close, and rear battles.
  • Working through the military decision-making process (MDMP).

Duties and Responsibilities

The most efficient and effective TOCs are those that operate with the minimum amount of personnel. Listed below are the key personnel required in operating and maintaining a TOC:

  • Executive Officer -- Responsible for synchronizing and coordinating the efforts of the staff sections during all phases of the operation.

  • Battle Captain -- The role is similar to that of the XO in synchronizing and coordinating the efforts of the staff sections. Most important role is tracking the deep, close, and rear battles, and providing the commander all the necessary information to make a decision.

  • Operations NCO/Shift NCO -- normally is the most underused individual within the TOC.
    • Typically assigned the duties of providing logistics support, movement, and security of the TOC. These are important tasks, but do not require the total commitment of the TOC senior NCO.
    • The TOC would benefit more by using the senior NCO in the role of receiving and disseminating information, updating TOC charts and maps, supervising the publication of orders, and assisting in the MDMP.

  • Radio Telephone Operators (RTOs) -- critical to a TOC. Can be the TOC's greatest asset when used properly. Use the RTO to assist in updating TOC charts, publishing orders, and battle tracking, and to maintain the significant events and activities log.

This list of personnel and duties is not all inclusive. Use it as a framework for delegating duties and responsibilities to attain an efficient and effective TOC with minimum personnel.


This article outlines the basic functions, duties, and responsibilities of TOC personnel. It covers how to set up and start up the TOC. Apply these basic guidelines and you will operate and maintain an efficient and effective TOC during all tactical operations.

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