07 May 2010

RE: the B.C.T.--Tell You What It Means to Me

Family and friends (not to mention the media) have recently demonstrated confusion over the pieces and parts comprising a Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.) The following attempt at a primer isn't exactly official Army doctrine (in actually, sizes of units vary greatly depending on function or specialty), but, as they say, it's close enough for government work.

When I say that, remember that government work always goes to the lowest bidder.

Also ... remember that you get what you pay for.

So here's some decidedly fuzzy Sherpa math: Each level of military unit fits into a larger one. A squad is about 8 soldiers. Four squads plus a small "headquarters" (platoon leader, platoon sergeant, radio-telephone operator, machine gun) comprise a platoon. Four platoons comprise a company. A company, then, is about 120 soldiers.

Three or four "line" companies plus a headquarters company equal a battalion--about 500 soldiers. It's at the battalion level that you first see the headquarters break out into specialized staff functions. The S1 is the Personnel officer and staff, the S2 is the Intelligence officer and staff, and so on ...

Three "line" or "maneuver" battalions--the warfighters that directly close with and destroy the enemy--make up the combat power of a brigade. In an Infantry brigade, there are two Infantry battalions and one Cavalry squadron. What's the difference? The Infantry walks to where it's going, while the Cavalry gallops around on four-wheeled horses.

In addition to the warfighters, a brigade is also augmented and supported by three specialty battalions. These are:
  • A field artillery battalion, which provides indirect fires. Artillery support is the "King of Battle." Don't leave the patrol base without it.
  • A Brigade Support Battalion (B.S.B.), comprising a company each of Transportation, Maintenance, and Medical, plus four "Forward Support Companies" (F.S.C.), which are each assigned to provide logistical support to an Infantry, Cavalry, or Field Artillery battalion.
  • A Brigade Special Troops Battalion (B.S.T.B.), which is a collection of disparate (and sometimes desperate--I can say that, having once been one of them) soldiers: A company each of Military Intelligence (M.I.), Signal (aka "communications"), and combat engineer soldiers. Technically, the brigade headquarters also is supported by the BSTB. (See the little blue box under the BSTB in the organizational chart above? That's the brigade headquarters. Hi, Mom!)
Additionally, there's a brigade headquarters company consisting of up to 200 soldiers, each fulfilling extremely specialized staff functions. In addition to the usual staff-suspects, there are all sorts of Army aviators, U.S. Air Force weather prediction personnel, knowledge managers, civil affairs liaisons, human intelligence gatherers--the works!

I'll stop the count here, but a division is typically made up of three or more brigades. In the past 10 years or so, the Army has been "transforming" into a more flexible, more modular force structure. As part of this program, where once they resided only at the division level and above, lots of gee-whiz specialties and equipment were pushed down to the brigade level. In short, brigades became independent, modular, self-supporting warfighting machines--that's where the term "combat team" comes from.

To review and restate my awkward mathematics:
  • Squad: 8 soldiers, commanded by a sergeant.
  • Platoon: 35 soldiers, commanded by a lieutenant along with a platoon sergeant.
  • Company: 140 soldiers, commanded by a captain with a first sergeant.
  • Battalion: 500 soldiers, commanded by a lieutenant colonel with a command sergeant major.
  • Brigade: 3,500 soldiers, commanded by a colonel with a command sergeant major.
I hope this helps. There's more tradition and confusion to throw into the pot, of course. Like why field artillery companies are called "batteries," and cavalry battalions are called "squadrons." (And, best of all: "what the heck is a 'regiment?!'") I'll leave mucking all that up to a later post.

In the meantime, if you're looking for second or third opinions regarding unit sizes and descriptions--not to mention, a little more detail--you might start here.


  1. I gave up trying to explain all this...and then when you have a "Mess Kit Repair" MKR Battalion, it can be totally different and very strange.
    For example, our teams are usually 3 or 4 soldiers led by anybody from a very good E-5 Sergeant (SGT) up to a Captain (CPT) or Warrant Officer (WO)-- we prepfer a WO, but don't have enough.
    The "Platoons" are usually led by an LT or CPT with a E-6 or E-7 Platoon (PLT) sergeant...
    the entire company might by 90+ soldiers with a Major in charge.
    wait, now I'm confused

  2. SPCBB

    Some People Can Breathe Better
    To make things even more confusing, my husband is "attached" to brigades. He's not part of them, he's attached to them.
    Whatevah. He's the doc. He fixes everyone.


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