The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW



The Operations Brief

(FM 71-2J, App B; FC 71-6, Chap 2)

If the task force is to be successful, the task force commander and staff must plan the operation in detail. The best plan is worthless, however, if it is not understood by the company team commanders and task force element leaders who must implement it. The operations brief is the culmination of all the detailed planning that goes into the preparation for an upcoming mission.

Remember Your Audience

When you are briefing your part of the operation, keep in mind two things: First, do not read verbatim from the OPORD. This is a waste of everyone's time. Brief the most important things for the company commanders and element leaders to know. Highlight those portions of the OPORD that are essential for accomplishment of the mission. If a full 5 paragraph OPORD has not been published and an overlay order is the only hard copy issued, then the staff must go into full detail within time constraints. Secondly, gear the presentation to the company commanders and element leaders. A common problem during operations briefings is that the staff officer focuses his briefing on the task force commander who knows what is supposed to happen during the operation better than anyone else. The staff officer's purpose is to brief the company commanders and other task force organic and nonorganic element leaders, so his briefing must be directed at those people. Many of the attached and nonorganic leaders are not as knowledgeable of unit SOPs, battle drills, and play books so the operation briefing must be directed to them. The briefer should concentrate on how his subject will affect each company team's operation. For example, the S2 should brief:

  • How will the weather conditions affect the smoke screen for a team breaching of a known minefield?

  • When will an attacking unit start receiving effective antitank fires so he can plan to dismount his infantry?

  • Where should the Vulcans and Stingers expect enemy air avenues?

  • How will the weather affect friendly and enemy air?

Visualizing the Battle

An extremely useful technique to help everyone visualize what is being briefed is to have a large scale sector sketch on butcher paper of the area of operation. The sector sketch is a blowup of the map with grid lines and terrain features depicting the area of operation with important graphics and grid locations drawn on it. If necessary, each staff officer can make an acetate overlay in order not to clutter the sector sketch. A sector sketch is a much better way of describing the area of operation than spouting grid locations which causes the listeners to look for them on their map instead of giving their full attention to the briefing. The task force commander can also use the sector sketch to brief his intent.

Understanding the Operation

The commander must ensure everyone understands how he intends to fight the battle. Units have also been successful in having the commander grid first or immediately after the S2. Statement of his intent early in the sequence provides a good foundation and orientation for everyone. After the task force commander gives his intent he should conduct a "talk through" of the operation, asking questions at critical points to ensure key actions are understood by the persons responsible for making them happen. The company commanders and element leaders can also ask questions at those points of the battle that they do not completely understand. This is especially important when everyone is exhausted. These questions ensure that the leader responsible for breaching a key obstacle for the task force, for example, was fully aware of all of his responsibilities.

After the operations brief, company commanders should brief the task force commander on how they envision they will fight the battle. This can either be as a group with the task force commander, or the task force commander, S3 and/or XO can sit in on the company teams' operations brief. This "closes the loop" ensuring that the company teams' actions are coordinated with each other and are in "sync" with the task force scheme of maneuver. This also tends to highlight any weak points that may be in the task force plan. During offensive missions, team commanders, S2, S3, 2IC, and anyone else the commander desires, meet for an "intel update"/commander brief just prior to crossing the Line of Departure (LD). This ensures the latest information from the scouts and S2 are disseminated to those who need it and allows the commander to adjust the enemy template and plan as necessary.

TOC Operations

(FM 71-2J, Chap 2; FC 71-6, Chap 2 & 4, App B)

The task force commander must have an effective TOC to react to the fast pace on the AirLand battlefield. Most TOCs are only used to monitor communications and process reports to brigade. This is far less than the TOC is capable of doing. The TOC should analyze all sources of information and make recommendations to the task force commander. The TOC must keep abreast of adjacent units and advise the commander, companies, and separate platoons accordingly. The TOC should be able to plan for the next battle and direct functions for the commander which he is too busy to personally direct.


The TOC is the "brain" of the task force. TOCs assist the task force commander to anticipate enemy actions. TOCs should:

  • Track the Battle. This consists of monitoring current location activity and combat power of task force elements, monitoring the progress of adjacent and supporting units, and updating templates.

  • Analyze Data. The TOC must analyze all incoming reports from the company/teams, other task force elements, higher headquarters, adjacent units, and supporting units. After the TOC analyzes these reports, they pass the results to the task force commander and recommend any changes to the present course of action.

  • Plan for Future Operations. The significant activity in adjacent and higher units or receipt of the warning order initiates planning. The TOC staff must immediately begin to consider possible courses of actions, probable enemy actions, support requirements, etc. The TOC must also initiate a task force warning order and ensure the S1-S4 are immediately brought in on the planning.

  • Disseminate Information. The TOC should keep the battalion/task force informed of any action or development that might influence the battle. One technique is to provide an intel summary from analyzed reports off of the O & I net. This summary should be concise and given periodically over the battalion net. This summary could also be used to inform higher headquarters.


The TOC should be directed by the task force executive officer during the battle. After the battle the S3 Air may run the TOC while the XO manages logistics support of the task force.

The most important consideration when selecting a location to position the TOC is communication with the brigade TOC and with forward elements of the task force. If the TOC loses communication with the scouts, for instance, it must take action to reestablish communication by relocating, adjusting the 292 or OE 254 antenna, or using a directional antenna. Since the Soviets look for antennas to disrupt command and control, the 292s should not be kept on top of the M577s unless the vehicle is moving or momentarily stopped. Long-range communication must be planned for in any operation where there will be task force elements operating over great distances laterally and in depth. The retrains jeep from the commo platoon could be sent with the forward element to be positioned to relay reports back to the TOC. (See AMC NTC Lessons Learned, Issues and Observations, Issue 2, Sep 86).

The TOC must be set and in position at these critical times:

  • During the reconnaissance and counter reconnaissance effort prior to the operation.

  • At LD time for offensive missions or prior to defend NLT time for defensive missions.

  • Times of expected enemy contact -- the final assault on the objective in the offense and reported enemy sightings in the defense.

  • Times of expected enemy contact -- the final assault on the objective in the offense and reported enemy sighting in the defense.

The TOC must be able to breakdown, move, and setup quickly and with the minimum disruption to its operation. Normally the TOC displaces by echelon. The Jump TOC moves on a covered and concealed route to the new site. This can only be accomplished quickly and efficiently if practiced at home station. First practice setting up and breaking down during daylight on an open field in garrison. Once proficient, practice the same thing at night. Next try it in the woods, first during the day, then at night. Once the TOC seems to be able to move pretty good in the field, try it in MOPP 4 at night without any warning. The XO and staff do not have to wait for a FTX or CPX to do this practice. The XO can take his jeep and the staff with their vehicles to the woods at a close-in training area and practice.

The TOC must be able to write and produce overlays in the field under all conditions. TOCs must have a practiced SOP which outlines each person's responsibility for writing and duplicating the order, drawing the graphics, and reproducing the overlays. It should be a team project to put the order and overlay in the hands of those who need it within 1/3 of the time prior to the start of the mission. Practice both the A and B shifts. Tailor your shifts so that the TOC can operate efficiently 24 hours a day with everyone getting at least four hours of sleep.

The TOC can be an invaluable asset to help the task force commander anticipate and counter enemy actions if TOC personnel are trained, rehearsed, and proficient. Once again, anticipation should take place 24 hours a day, not just when the first team is on board. If at all possible, TOC shifts should be designed with both shifts balanced so there is no first team.

Succession of Command

(FM 71-2J)

Most units designate the succession of command in their operations orders. Subordinate leaders quickly assume command once they realize the commander has become a casualty or cannot communicate. This includes observing the commander for signs of exhaustion. The problem units experience is determining that the commander is "out of the net," because no one sees his combat vehicle damaged or destroyed. What usually happens is the commander's vehicle is hit and someone attempts to contact him on the radio. Then, after numerous calls and sometimes considerable time, the XO or TOC determines the commander is dead or wounded, and the XO or S3 takes charge. During this transition time, the absence of the commander makes the unit very vulnerable.

Designating a subordinate to observe and report if the commander's vehicle is hit greatly reduces the length of this vulnerable time period. This is an additional, not a primary, duty. The commander's location on the battlefield will determine who does this. Within a company team, it is fairly easy to designate someone to watch the commander, since company-sized units move in fairly standard formations and the commander's vehicle is usually in the same position relative to the others in the company. If the Company FSO is in his own vehicle, he can effectively monitor the commander's location and actions. If the FSO is riding with the commander, one of the platoon's vehicles should watch the commander's actions, in addition to functioning as a wing man.

At the task force level, candidates to watch the commander are the task force ground FAC or someone from a company team. If the S3 is on the same axis as the commander, he and the commander can monitor each other's actions. If the S3 is on a separate axis, whichever company team the task force commander is nearest has the mission of watching his vehicle. A vehicle from the company team then keeps the task force commander under observation and immediately reports his vehicle's damage or destruction and moves to render assistance.

If the situation requires the task force commander to relocate from one team's area to another, he notifies the TOC on the command net so the losing and gaining team commanders can monitor his location on the battlefield. If the task force commander does not keep the TOC informed of his location, the losing team may erroneously report him as a casualty and cause even more confusion than his actual loss. Continual lateral communication between all commanders, the S3, and XO keeps everyone informed about the task force commander's whereabouts and actions.

Transition of command under fire is hazardous and difficult. The more quickly it occurs, the less opportunity the enemy has to exploit the loss of the friendly commander and the better the friendly force's chances of success. Designating someone to monitor the commander's actions and immediately report his status will make the transition quicker and smoother; the place to do this is in Paragraph 5 of the operation order or in the unit SOP, and then practice it during training.

Table of Contents
Section VII: Combat Service Support

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias