Chains of Command

One of the things that the switch from a division based force to a brigade centric force has caused is some weird mashups in which brigades belong to which division.

See, the whole point is to make the brigade an effectively independent unit. It can either deploy and fight on its own (in very limited circumstances) or the theater commander can used building blocks of various maneuver, sustainment, and combat aviation brigades to tailor a force to his needs. While division headquarters still exist, they no longer own the subordinate brigades as organic assets. Instead, when a division headquarters deploys, it acts as a command element for brigades. Rather spending its time allocating support resources as needed, it concentrates more on maneuvering its brigades. Further, the division would generally has brigades that notionally belong to other divisions under its control.

While the ideal in the Cold War era was for a division to deploy with its own brigades, we saw in Desert Storm that substituting one brigade for another was quite feasible. For instance, my unit, the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, was still equipped with the M113, and not the Bradley. So while the infantry battalion was stripped of most of its people, and sent to other brigades in the division, the brigade headquarters itself was left behind. In its place, the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division deployed as part of the 1st AD. Most of the heavy divisions on Desert Storm had some form of this “plug and play” shuffling of brigades.

In garrison, division headquarters are responsible for providing oversight of training and administrative support to the brigades. The division commander’s job is to provide trained and ready brigades to deliver to theater commanders as needed. And to be prepared to deploy as a command element, to any brigades, not just those it has trained. And rather than strictly being either a light or heavy headquarters, divisions now are expected to be able to provide command to a tailored force. Conceivably, a division might act as the command of four maneuver brigades, each of a different type, say, an Infantry Brigade Combat Team, an Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), a Heavy Brigade Combat Team, and a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Add in a Combat Aviation Brigade, and a sustainment brigade, and there you have a division.

It’s not implausible that you might find the 25th Infantry Division controlling brigades from the 1st Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cavalry Division, and the 2nd ACR.

In addition to a couple of brigade combat teams that aren’t attached by lineage to any division, we’ve got a weird situation where some brigades are notionally part of one division (say, a BCT wearing a 25thID patch) that are not only not under their operational control, they aren’t even under their administrative aegis.

The rule of thumb in the old Army was “one base, one division.” That is, an entire division was located at one fort, and was the major unit stationed there.*  Now that the BCT is the building block of the Army, things are getting a tad more complicated. For instance, the former Ft. Lewis, WA (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord or JBLM) is home to a corps headquarters, and  10 brigades, including three maneuver brigades, but no division headquarters. The three maneuver brigades are all designated as part of the 2nd Infantry Division. But the 2ID is stationed in South Korea (along with the 1st BCT/2ID). And the Army has enough division headquarters to control its deployed brigades. But there’s obviously a need for an intermediate headquarters at Ft. Lewis.

Accordingly, the 7th Infantry Division has been reactivated. But it will be strictly an administrative headquarters, not capable of deploying to command forces in the field. Instead, it will provide training and administrative support to the three BCTs of the 2nd ID at JBLM.

How odd it must seem that all the fighting men and women of the 7th ID will wear 2ID patches…

Note- Since the first permanently established divisions on the eve of World War I, US Soldiers have worn their division’s insignia on the left sleeves of their uniforms. And should a soldier fight, he is entitled to wear that division’s insignia on his right shoulder for the rest of his service.Known as SSI/FWTS, or “Shoulder Sleeve Insignia/Former Wartime Service.” More commonly, this is known as the “combat patch.” I refer to divisions here, but pretty much everyone outside of privates in Basic has some form of shoulder sleeve insignia for their left shoulder.

*Fort Hood has pretty much always been the exception. It’s a huge base, home to a corps headquarters, as well as two heavy divisions.

3 thoughts on “Chains of Command”

  1. This idea of “Plug-N-Play” of Brigades lead to REAL problems when 4th Infantry did a Drug Deal to commandeer the 173d Airborne in northern iraq in the beginning years. They claimed it was the only practical option, due to the fact the 173d had been so effective in such a short time. They claimed they had no choice, they just had to take control of such a potent asset.

    The issue was the 173d Airborne is the Southern European Task Force of USEUR Command.

    As a task force, like any, combat deployments were to be a maximum of 180 days prior to redeploying for refitting and rearming.

    Instead, we got stuck doing the Ivy League’s scut work for them, and they took all the credit for the HVTs taken, weapons caches located, hostiles confirmed, and a trailer truck of gold bullion being smuggled out.

    To add insult to injury, they thought it was a great honor to hand us their patch, saying we should wear this combat flash with great pride. And in their perverted interpretation of logic, since a division is bigger than a brigade, we “had” to wear it in place of the Wings, Sword and Shield of the 173d Airborne.

    I burned my ivy patch, as did a lot of other Sky Soldiers, leaving the remains where they would be found.

    That sort of radical restructuring of command and control needs to be done during peacetime where there is time to find the problems and fix them.

    The battlefield is no place for social experiments, it costs lives needlessly.

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