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Combat engineer company command and control and the "fighting 2IC".

Field Manual (FM) 71-1, Tank and Mechanized Infantry Company Team, provides the following definition of the responsibilities of the maneuver company second in command (21C):

* Assist the commander with command and control (C2).

* Ensure that accurate, timely tactical reports are sent to higher headquarters.

* Conduct tactical coordination with higher, adjacent, and supporting units.

* Assist the commander in company troop-leading procedures.

* Prepare to assume command if necessary.

All of these roles are critical and are designed to do one thing--help the maneuver commander command his company. Without the assistance of the 2IC (typically the executive officer [XO]), the requirements and burdens of command in a warfighting scenario can be overwhelming. The 2IC is the commander's right-hand man--his wingman--with a similar fighting platform (tank or Bradley) to fight forward and help command.

Who fills this role in the combat engineer company? Rotation after rotation, battle after battle at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, the answer continues to be the same--no one. Yet combat engineer companies are executing more combat missions as a warfighting headquarters--not simply as force providers and task-force-level staff integrators. We see engineer companies as the breach force in task-force-level breaching operations, engineer companies in direct support to the task force during defense-in-sector preparations, and an economy-of-force element to conduct shaping operations during movements to contact. With increasing frequency, engineer commanders are commanding their companies--but they are doing so without the assistance that their maneuver peers could not possibly fight without. The results, typified by the scenario in Figure 1, page 16, and amplified in the subsequent sections, include--

* Breakdown of C2 at the critical point of the fight--often the breach.

* Span of control issues--one leader working across the full width and depth of the task force's battlespace, orchestrating the combat operations for a variety of subordinate units with a variety of critical tasks.

* Minimal assistance provided to the commander during the planning, preparation, and preexecution phases of the mission.

* Reporting requirement--overload. One leader cannot be expected to manage at least three nets (typically engineer company command, maneuver task force command, engineer battalion command) simultaneously.

* Combat service support (CSS) issues--especially maintenance--often take "center stage" and become the commander's close fight.

* Succession of command--no one is prepared to take over the company should the commander be unable to continue.

The Dilenuna

The National Training Center continues to highlight the following observations and trends with respect to engineer company C2:

Engineer Company/Teams

With increasing frequency, we are seeing a transition from engineer commanders functioning as task force mobility/survivability (M/S) Battlefield Operating System (BOS) integrators (dividing out resources and advising task force commanders) to warfighting company commanders in leaner (three maneuver companies under the Force XXI design) task forces.

In offensive operations, task force commanders are increasingly likely to leverage the capabilities and leadership of the engineer commander as a breaching or shaping force or a mobility reserve. During defensive operations, companies consistently fight pure, typically in direct support to maneuver units. Engineer transition into Bradley engineer fighting vehicles (BEFVs) will add combat power and capabilities to the task force that will make these arrangements even more likely.

During offensive operations, the engineer commander is more likely to serve as the breach force commander. As such, he is typically responsible For creating and marking lanes through or around obstacles, securing the nearside and farside of the obstacle, defeating forces that can place immediate direct fires on the reduction area, and reporting lane statuses/locations. The reverse breach planning process, outlined in FM 3-34.2, Combined-Arms Breaching Operations, often results in a breach force (the engineer company/team) with six or more platoons, each with unique capabilities. Figure 2 depicts one possible organization for actions at the most critical point on the battlefield for an attacking task force--the breach. The engineer commander may have a tank or Bradley platoon to secure the point of breach, a mechanical smoke platoon to screen movement into and actions at the point of breach, two to three sapper platoons with attachments to reduce two lanes (with redundancy), and perhaps even a military police platoon to facilitate traffic flow around or through obstacles. The engineer company/team may also include an assault and obstacle (A&O) platoon tasked with mobility or countermobility missions, to include mine-clearing line charge (MICLIC) reload operations, lane improvement, Volcano emplacement, and other countermobility and survivability tasks associated with flank security or hasty defense.

Is it any wonder that we continue to list breaching operations as the most complicated mission we ask our units to execute? By some measures, we have created a completely horizontal engineer company C2 structure that, in many cases, contributes to the complexities at the breach. Add to these the requirements to synchronize indirect and direct fires (attached maneuver or organic BEFV systems) at this critical phase of the attack, and the friction approaches chaos! In most scenarios, the commander must execute all of this without his own unique, appropriately positioned command post (his command post is tied into the task force tactical operations center [TOC] along with his company XO, wherever that may be) and no wingman!

Communications Overload

While the engineer commander fights his company, the task force and engineer battalion commanders are fighting their respective units and need continuous, accurate reports to be able to make decisions and keep their own higher headquarters informed. Typically this results in the requirement for the engineer company commander to monitor three FM nets (company command, task force command, and engineer battalion command) using only two radios. It cannot be done! Unfortunately, no one is forward with the commander to relieve him of some of these reporting requirements so that he can focus on his primary responsibility--fighting his company.

CSS Challenges

As engineer companies fight, they expend resources like any other unit--and things break. Whether accounting for the unique requirements of organic and attached units (Ml fuel, fog oil resupply, MICLIC reload operations, or even Stinger missiles), or keeping a firm hand on the readiness of aging engineer equipment, CSS is not a "change-of-mission" event. Unfortunately, the leader who is the primary CSS planner and maintenance integrator in most combat engineer companies in garrison (the company XO) is typically not available to help orchestrate these critical tasks during combat operations. Whether by design or by default, the engineer company XO is "locked" inside the task force TOC, leaving only the company first sergeant and the company commander to plan, prepare, and execute the critical "Paragraph 4" tasks. WHERE IS THE HELP?

Succession of Command

Who is the 2IC? Who has the situational awareness to take command should the commander be unable to continue? Who is positioned on the battlefield to be able to do this without losing momentum? Who has the fighting platform, the communications capabilities, the requisite leadership skills, and an adequate understanding of the plan to be able to "step up" if required? Answer--no one.

A Fighting 2IC

There are at least two possible courses of action (COAs), neither of which is easy nor perfect. Each has advantages and disadvantages and may require some "outside-of-the-box" thinking. Hopefully, the issues identified above are enough to make us all do so. Both COAs take into account that someone must fill the role of dedicated BOS integrator within the task force TOC--and someone must fill the role of 2IC.


Use the XO as the fighting 2IC while moving the A&O platoon leader into the task force TOG to serve as the assistant task force engineer (A/TFE)/task force staff officer. The XO is the most senior and experienced lieutenant in the company, typically having served as a platoon leader and as a staff officer. The XO is already the company's chief CSS and maintenance planner and coordinator. He is the actual 2IC, already handles many of these 2IC duties when not deployed with the task force, and is arguably the leader most capable of assuming command when necessary. Observations at the National Training Center are that the A&O platoon leader is considerably underutilized. His assets--M9 armored combat earthmovers (AGEs), armored vehicle-launched bridges (AVLB s), armored vehicle-launched MICLICs (AVLMs), and Volcanoes--are generally not working for him but are task-organized with one of the line platoons. What remains could be led by the platoon sergeant. We submit that the task forces will not, or do not, care w ho shows up as the A/TEE--as long as that person is a dedicated, competent engineer staff officer. The A&O platoon leader generally has an adequate understanding of his company's capabilities and should be able to work with the task force staff to integrate engineers and the M/S BOS into the task force scheme of maneuver. This is a paradigm shift, but a manageable one. (We said this would not be easy!)


The A&O platoon leader serves as the fighting 21G, and the XO stays in the TOG. This GOA is clearly the easiest to implement. The XO continues to serve as most currently do, integrating the BOS at the task force level, while the A&O platoon leader, currently underutilized, is empowered to help the commander command. With respect to CSS, most maintenance issues within the engineer company are related to the A&O platoon, so its leader is already familiar with a large percentage of the critical logistics issues. However, the A&O platoon leader is not as experienced as the XO and is not the actual 2IC.


The division of labor between the commander, fighting 2IC, and engineer BOS integrator (A/TEE) does not vary between either COA. While the commander still has overall responsibility for commanding the company and being a task force staff officer (task force engineer), he has a dedicated lieutenant to assist in each capacity. The commander gives the A/TFE guidance and direction for the integration of the M/S BOS into the task force scheme of maneuver. The 2IC has a primary focus of helping the commander command, assisting with leadership, discipline, employment, training, and sustainment of the company.

The engineer BOS integrator fights from the task force TOC. He assists the commander with the initial development of the engineer battlefield assessment, works with the task force S2 in developing the task force's situation template, and participates in the military decision-making process with the task force staff to help the commander integrate engineers into the task force's scheme of maneuver. He further assists with the preparation of the task force engineer annex, company operations order, and engineer logistics planning in the task force sector. He monitors engineer preparation and execution status as an integral part of the task force TOC.

The fighting 2IC is responsible for ensuring that accurate and timely tactical reports are sent to both the supported task force and engineer battalion. He conducts tactical coordination with higher, adjacent, and supporting units; conducts additional missions as required; assists the commander with troop-leading procedures; and, in conjunction with the first sergeant, plans and supervises the company GSS effort. During the fight, he assists with C2 and ensures that tactical reports are sent to both higher commands (task force and engineer battalion) (see Figure 3).

In both COAs, the A&O platoon sergeant must be prepared to take over the duties of the platoon leader in the field. The platoon leader serves either in the task force TOC (COA 1) or as the commander's wingman (COA 2). Most likely the senior and most capable of the available platoon sergeants in the company, the A&O platoon sergeant's role is primarily that of force/asset provider and CSS executor.

Benefits of the 21C

A fighting 21G provides value to more than just the engineer company commander. Reducing the number of tasks the engineer company commander must personally accomplish allows him to focus on the critical aspects of the company fight without sacrificing tasks critical to higher and adjacent units. While the commander may focus on critical planning/preparation issues such as company orders, precombat checks and inspections, and rehearsals, the 21C may be tracking unit statuses, planning and coordinating company CSS efforts, and assisting in troop-leading procedures. Since the 21C is familiar with the company scheme of maneuver that he helped the commander develop, he may be available to attend the brigade-combat-team (BCT)-level M/S rehearsal, freeing the commander to complete his company and task force combined-arms rehearsals--definitely a win-win scenario! During the execution phase, the commander can focus on the critical aspects of fighting his company. The 2IC pushes combat reports (yes, this is another pa radigm shift--engineer companies pushing information!) to the task force and engineer battalion and coordinates supporting efforts such as mechanized smoke, air defense, or CSS, again allowing the commander to fight his company.

Similar to tank and mechanized infantry company 2ICs, our 2IC primarily focuses on integration with higher and adjacent units. Therefore, the task force and engineer battalion commanders get firsthand spot reports as the situation develops, regardless of how involved the commander is in the close fight. The improved situational awareness at task-force and engineer-battalion levels improves the abilities of both commanders to make decisions. The task force commander is better prepared to shift focus of supporting forces and commitment of assault forces. Even more time critical is the engineer battalion commander's ability to shift engineer assets across the BCT to take advantage of successes or react to a lack of success. Both higher commands can now make better and more timely recommendations to the BCT commander.

This delineation of duties frees the company first sergeant to focus on soldier preparedness. While the 2IC focuses on CSS planning and synchronization, the first sergeant is able to supervise the execution of CSS operations. He may also find more time to help the commander by supervising the company's execution of precombat checks and subordinate-unit rehearsals, in turn ensuring that the company is more prepared for the commander's inspections and higher-level rehearsals. Again, it is a win-win situation.


A fighting 2IC is a force multiplier for the engineer company, maneuver task force, and engineer battalion. He frees up the company commander to focus on the decisive point of the company fight. He provides firsthand tactical reports to higher headquarters regardless of how busy the commander is. And the fighting 2IC has the situational awareness to assume the fight if it becomes necessary.

To fully develop duties and responsibilities for the 2IC, we can start by looking at how tank and mechanized infantry companies utilize their XO. Thus, FM 71-1 is a point of entry for this analysis. For duties and responsibilities of the engineer BOS integrator (A/TFE in the task force TOC), the description in FM 5-71-2, Armored Task Force Engineer Combat Operations, remains an excellent guide. These duties and responsibilities could be refined and trained during officer professional development and company lane exercises, then confirmed during integrated combined-arms training exercises.

Each COA has relative strengths and weaknesses and is likely unit- and personality-dependent. We have not recommended a particular COA--just that you pick one. Hopefully, this discussion has convinced (or reminded) you that the C2 of combat engineer companies requires that someone fill the 2IC role. Decide who this person is; determine appropriate employment tactics, techniques, and procedures; and start practicing. The potential benefit to the company's warfighting capabilities and its integration within the task force and engineer battalion are too great not to move forward.

Train the Force!


As indicated in this article, no OQA for how we implement this is easy--or perfect. It is worth concluding with some "unconstrained" tactics, techniques, and procedures for how we might implement this technique to maximize its potential:

* Identify the requirement for a dedicated engineer staff officer at the task-force level (like the S2 or the fire-support officer) and assign him to the maneuver headquarters for which he will work. Include the division cavalry squadron with this staffing requirement. M/S integration and terrain analysis are too critical to be available within the maneuver staff only as a function of task organization. We need to create the conditions where the commander is not forced to choose between BOS integration and command of his company. Both are important--and should be fully resourced.

* Adjust lieutenant career progression models to account for the critical assignment of M/S BOS integration. Currently, engineer officers spend almost no warfighting time between platoon leader and company command--if you accept the argument that A&O platoon leader (force provider), company XO (task force staff officer), and engineer battalion staff are not "trigger pullers." This is not unlike the artillery model--where lieutenants serve as fire-support integrators (company fire-support team) before moving to gun platoons. This gives lieutenants at least two warfighting assignments--platoon leader and company XO.

* Resource the 2IC with an M113 (and ultimately a BEFV). This obviously has huge implications. Is the appropriate number of Bradleys in an engineer company 9--or is it 10? We believe it is the latter--just as it is for tank (M1) and mechanized infantry (M2) units.

Captain Burton is an instructor at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia. He previously served as an engineer company and task force M/S BOS trainer at the National Training Center and commanded Alpha Company, 317th Engineer Battalion. CPT Burton is a graduate of the University of Nevada and holds a master's degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri.

Lieutenant Colonel Magness is the Detroit District Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Previous assignments include engineer battalion S3 trainer on the Sidewinder Team at the National Training Center; brigade and battalion S3, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; company commander, 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division, Germany; and platoon leader and battalion staff officer, 17th Engineer Battalion, 2d Armored Division. LTC Magness is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and the Command and General Staff College and holds a master's degree from the University of Texas.
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Article Details
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Author:Captain Burton, Thomas; Lieutenant Colonel Magness, Thomas H.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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