Tom Rozman: The Reward for Doing Well

The Reward for Doing Well

Third in a series by Tom Rozman

 A recently reconstituted rifle platoon in a forward deployed battalion in Northern Asia had achieved a high level of performance in a short time that had been acknowledged by its parent battalion.

Late one afternoon two months after reforming the unit the platoon leader was informed by the company commander that the platoon was being rewarded for its performance and to report to the battalion operations officer (S-3).

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On reporting to the battalion S-3 the platoon leader was congratulated on the platoon’s performance and told that as a result it had been selected for a “reward.”  It would deploy to a rendezvous site in the far northeastern corner of the country at the north end of a 27 mile long dammed lake to train on riverine operations.  The platoon would be under the operational control of a Special Forces A-Team from elsewhere in theater for the training.   The S-3 then stated that the platoon leader, one squad of the platoon, a squad each from the battalion’s other two rifle companies and a hybrid squad each half composed of men respectively from combat support company and headquarters company.  The provisional platoon would deploy within 24 hours by truck.

The platoon leader expressed concern at such an ad hoc unit forming on such short notice for such an exercise as was best understood by the platoon leader from the battalion operations officer’s guidance.  The operations officer stated that the deployment only involved training and the selection of units from across the battalion would spread the skills obtained more evenly to the entire battalion—a form of train the trainer.

With only 24 hours to organize, inspect equipment and deploy, the platoon leader wasted no time in instructing the platoon’s acting platoon leader on the coming week’s schedule and then focusing of the organization and what team building was possible as well as inspecting equipment for the deployment.

The platoon then deployed by truck the several hours to reach the distant A-Team rendezvous site.  On reporting to the A-Team leader, the platoon leader was briefed on the coming week’s program and instructed to erect a mini-company street with its pup tents, then report to a location at the site for initial orientation of the platoon and training.  Per the briefing, the first two days would consist of a compressed riverine operations oriented training program that would capstone with training on the employment of the RB 15 (Rubber Boat 15 man) followed by a three day tactical opposing force raid operation down the length of the lake.

The platoon leader was asked about the status of the platoon.  He informed the A-Team leader that the platoon was a recently organized provisional platoon with elements from across the battalion, the intent being to reward high performing soldiers and spread the benefit of the training across the battalion.  The A-team leader expressed surprise stating that he was expecting a platoon that had been operating together for some time—he made comment about calling the exercise, but in the event a decision was made to proceed.

As the first two days of training proceeded, the platoon leader and squad leaders focused on as much team building as possible.  The concern for pulling off a success with such a newly formed team rested on what would happen as the soldiers and squads interfaced with the RB 15s.

Halfway through the second day of training the platoon was introduced to the RB 15 and received initial training on the equipment, characteristics, maintenance, crew duties and employment.  The only member of the platoon who had experience and training on and with the RB 15 was the platoon leader who was a Ranger.  The platoon leader well knew what the initial response of the soldiers would be when they hit the water with the RB 15s.

The time came for the initial exercise in employing the RB 15 on the water.  The oarsmen with their small canoe type paddles took position on the inflated rubber gunnels with one leg folded underneath and the inboard leg stretched forward along the wall of the gunnel.  Within minutes as soldiers new to the task experienced paddling the RB 15 forward, the language echoing across the water from boat to boat was not fit to print.

The RB 15 has the hydrodynamic properties of a shoebox in the water.  The boat alone is heavy.  Add 12 medium to heavy build soldiers, a good 150 or more pounds per solder, worse when adding each man’s tactical equipment and the platoons common equipment,  and what it takes from ten yet to be conditioned men to propel such a concentrated resistance prone weight forward in the water with small paddles—the initial physical pain is tremendous.  The men of the platoon were reacting.

By the end of the day, the A-Team leader was again indicating that he wanted to call the exercise and probably for good reason.  Based on the reaction of the unconditioned soldiers of a newly formed platoon to the boats on a tight training schedule, there was some justification for such a call.

But, the platoon, having faith in the platoon’s soldiers from leading three previous platoons and three company headquarters units, believed the soldiers had what it took to succeed. He prevailed. Early the next morning the platoon moved by water from its assembly area to its first objective, a location on the lake shore where it would establish a patrol base from which it would conduct reconnaissance of a reported enemy forward position.  The platoon leader had received    the mission order from the A-Team leader the night before and all necessary troop leading had been conducted before departing.

But again, the initial move out on the water was rough—then something happened.  As the platoon put its collective backs into the mission, something began to take hold.  The platoon leader and the squad leaders had been using every means of lead by example, team building and engagement of the soldiers over the previous three days—but as the platoon moved deeper into its mission on the lake a sense of “unit cohesion” seemed to be gelling.  The loud cursing from the pain of working the boats gave way to ever improving rhythm and smoothness as the bos’ns did their work.  The boats came into a smooth disciplined movement as they progressed down the lake.  Hours later the boats pulled into a cove, concealed the craft leaving security and moved inland to establish the patrol base.

Over the next day, multiple patrols moved from the base to confirm the objective and what was on it and the activity.  It was determined that the enemy was on the site operating patrols from that location of his own.  The platoon’s mission to confirm the enemy at the location extended to destroying the enemy presence by conducting a raid of the site.

As the information gained by the patrols was evaluated and assessed and a thorough study of the terrain in the area of the enemy base camp was made, an operations plan developed that would insert, after midnight, an element that would move into what had been determined would be a good position from which to assault the base by fire giving the impression of an attack on the position from that direction.  A second and larger force would land in another location and move by land to attack from an opposite direction while the enemy was concentrating on the diversion force.  The force initially assaulting by  fire would cease fire on signal to avoid firing on the assaulting element.

Alternate plans had been made in the event elements of the plan went awry  to include separated elements rejoining the platoon at rendezvous points down the lake.  Security of the boats while the raiding elements were deployed had also been addressed.

Being that the raid was a riverine night operation there were ample possibilities for all aspects of the operation not to proceed as planned, thus the need for contingencies.  In the event, the raid went like clockwork.  The initial fires of the diversion force proved deadly and distracted as intended.  The primary assault element met little resistance due to surprise.  All enemy on the target were killed in the two attacks.  After gathering intelligence information that could be located and destroying enemy equipment, the platoon withdrew to the boats, reformed at a designated rally point and taking advantage of the moonless night moved as rapidly as possible down the lake to the designated assembly area.

At the conclusion of the exercise as the A-Team leader assessed the platoon’s performance to the battalion operations officer—he said he was frankly amazed at how a platoon he did not hold hope for coming together, had gelled into a first rate team conducting a complex night raid like a veteran unit.  He was particularly impressed with the amount of noise discipline during the approach to the objective.

This exercise clearly indicates what soldiers, even when thrown together on short notice for a complex undertaking, can accomplish with engaged leadership, focused training and most important, engagement of each soldier as a vital team member.

Previous articles from this series:

Tom Rozman: Leadership Approaches That Get the Job Done

Tom Rozman: Reconstituting an Overseas Platoon on a Mission of High Sensitivity