Land of Confusion

Reader Maggie is a Soldier’s Angel (bless her!) and sent the following email looking for a little clarification:

I’ve been reading your blog–and I particularly appreciate the aim of explaining the army to non-army types!

I belong to Soldiers’ Angels–and have a few REALLY basic questions. For instance, how does the army organize? For example.

I have a soldier whose adress includes   4 ID STB, D 1-14th FA

Now, I understand 4th Infantry Division, Special Troop Battalion, and that he’s in a field artillery unit. Two questions here. What IS a special troop battalion? And how does a unit from Fort Sill get attached to the 4 ID which is based elsewhere?

Is there some manual or website that explains how the modern army is organized and defines what a unit such as a platoon is?

I replied:

Hi, Maggie, happy to be of some help. The army is going through a lot of reorganization right now. Not so much just changing the names of units, but a fundamental look at how units are assigned to a higher headquarters.

It looks like your soldier is an artilleryman currently overseas, right? A Special Troops Battalion is a new type of unit, but basically, it is where they put the odds and ends that they don’t have a regular place for. They need bodies to do some odd jobs, so they put them in the STB. Since a division doesn’t have a bunch of spare people sitting around, they borrowed a unit ( in this case, D Battery of the First Battalion, 114th Artillery) from another post. This is supposition on my part, but I think it is a  pretty good guess.

Typically, what I’ve seen STBs doing is providing security for the headquarters, personal protection for highly visibly people, and running security for the supply convoys. Of course, they’ll end up doing any other job thrown at them.

I love Soldier’s Angels, and my sister and I share a couple of different soldiers. I’m sure your young cannoneer appreciates it as well. Sometimes it isn’t important what you send, just that you let them know you care enough to send something.  You may have seen this post.
As to a manual that shows what units are what… sure, tons of them. And they need to be translated from Army to civilian. I’m working on it. Please be patient. Of course, if you have a specific question, I’ll be happy to try to help.
With her kind assent, I decided to do a little primer on how and why things are getting harder to keep track of.
Back in the good old days, say, in WWII, units were organized in a very uniform manner, and tended to stay pretty much in one piece. 3 Squads made a platoon, led by a Leuitenant; 3 platoons made a company, led by a Captain; three companies made a battalion, led by a Leuitenant Colonel; three battalions made up a regiment, led by a Colonel; and three regiments made a division, let by a Major General (two stars). Each unit owned the smaller units that made them up, and rarely were they ever loaned out to another unit. If you had a regimental sized job, you assigned a regiment with all its battalions to do it. Same at other levels. This system worked pretty well when we had a huge army in WWII. Unfortunatley, after the war, with the size of the Army drastically reduced, there weren’t always regiments where you wanted them, when you wanted them. Units needed to be more flexible. For instance, a regimental sized job might need two battalions of infantry and a battalion of tanks. No single regiment would have the tools needed to do the job. The answer to this problem was the Brigade.
A brigade was very similar in size to a regiment, typically three battalions. But where a regiment had three battalions that were all of the same basic type, a brigade was just a headquarters. It didn’t own the battalions below it like a regiment. The brigade might have two armor battalions and an infantry battalion. While brigades tended to keep the same battalions for long periods of time, it wasn’t set in stone. They were designed to be “plug and play” -that is, you could assign or remove battalions as needed. In addition, the brigades were designed so they could be loaned out to another division entirely, if need be. An example of this was my own experience in the 1st Armored Division in Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
The 1st Armored was getting ready to go to the desert. It had three brigades. And one small problem. The infantry units in one of the brigades was still equipped with M-113s, and would shortly upgrade to Bradleys. The decision was made to keep that brigade in Germany. Rather than sending the 1st AD to the desert with only two brigades, we borrowed a brigade from the 3rd Infantry Division. That way we were able to deploy full strength. In fact, almost every “heavy” division the Army sent to the desert for Desert Storm was a composite like this. We even loaned out a brigade of the 2nd Armored Division to the Marines to give them some more tanks than they would normally have.
In the past, while the brigades owned the infantry and armor battalions, all the other supporting units like artillery, aviation, logistics, engineers, and intelligence belonged to the division commander, who parcelled them out as he saw fit. In the late 90s, we started seeing them “pushed down” to the brigades so each one had a slice of the supporting pie. Under this concept, the brigades became known as “Brigade Combat Teams” or BCTs. Since they were pretty much identical, they were even more interchangeable.
What we see now is units smaller than brigades are a lot easier to swap from one command to another. A division might still deploy as a headquarters to run the operations of three brigades in the field, but theoretically, it could end up not having any of its own brigades under its command.  For instance, you might see the 4th Infantry division commanding a BCT from the 25th ID, one from the 1st ID, and one from the 3rd ID.
This is a very flexible system for tailoring the forces to meet the needs of the battlefield. But it sure makes it hard to keep track of who works for who…

6 thoughts on “Land of Confusion”

  1. TC, you have done a great service for the Military Services. The concept of building bridges between the Military and the civilian worlds is a difficult, but important duty to the Nation. This is not a new issue, in a way it is like Iraq. We live in a multi-cultural society. Military is just one of these cultures. We need people like you, “bridge-builders”, building on our strengths. We all must learn to work together. We will see this more and more as we move through the 21st Century.


  2. Thank you very much! You’ve answered several other questions I had in this entry too. The “plug and play” descriptor actually explains quite a bit…


  3. Xbrad,
    I was going to ask you about where did the Divisions go? But you answered that too here, thanks

  4. Vmax, they’re still there, and when they aren’t deployed, they are responsible for training their subordinate brigades. But since rather than training them to fight as a subordinate part of that particular division, they are responsible for preparing them to be deployed in ANY division, or independently.

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