After posting back to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) after only four years away, I found myself in a unique position. As the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) I was looking at a large amount of specialist equipment, some of which I had never seen before. The company structure was slightly different too. Whilst configured the same, we no longer operated with Manoeuvre Support Sections (MSS) and I was also confronted with a number of tactical actions conducted differently. In this article, I will share my lessons learnt in employing the Combat Team Battlefield Clearance Team (BCT).
The BCT is an underdeveloped concept with little doctrine to aid in its employment. The Standard Infantry Battalion (SIB) Field Handbook Vol 2, first edition released April 2015, highlights the BCT at Battle Group (BG) level only.
Combat Team (CT) Bandit (based on Bravo Company 1 RAR) successfully developed and tested its processes when employing the BCT. This has been proven on a number of exercises including a Combat Training Centre (CTC) Combat Team Warfighter Exercise (CT WFX), where a majority of the lessons were learnt through valuable feedback.
Below I have outlined a number of the lessons learnt, however I believe it is important to put some things into perspective before we start to understand the employment of a BCT at CT level. Historically, through all our training, we have tended to focus on two behaviours when dealing with battlefield casualties.
First, in a lot of establishments we still teach that the ‘fight must be won’, and that casualty collection is completed as part of the reorganisation post-incident. If we do not first win the fight, we are likely to sustain more casualties which makes that environment more complex, or worse, see us lose the fight entirely.
Second, we currently limit the actions that a simulated casualty can take once awarded the injury. So much so that they are no longer able to play a useful role in the ongoing incident.
How far though does this reflect reality? A casualty can still achieve something, dependent of course on the severity of the injury sustained. Albert Jacka demonstrated this at Pozières on 7 August 1916, when the Germans overran a portion of the Australian line that included Albert Jacka’s underground dugout. A furious hand to hand fight ensued in which Jacka was wounded three times, once through the neck. Jacka was amongst a group of Australians who broke free, captured a number German soldiers and subsequently retook the line. Albert Jacka was awarded the Military Cross for this action. He had already been awarded a Victoria Cross for Gallantry by his actions at Courtney’s Post in 1915.
A common Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for a casualty’s initial action is self-aid; but does that casualty need to apply self-aid immediately? Although he was wounded, Albert Jacka continued to fight, in hand-to-hand combat. Can the casualty continue to provide support one way or another? If a commander has sustained an injury, can they continue to command? In most cases, a casualty will still be able to provide some form of support. We could allow, for example, a certain degree of latitude in training, such as allowing the simulated casualty to provide the self-aid and review if they would be able to provide continued support to their team. This will build a combat behaviour, which will not see the soldier simply stop and sit still because they have been made a simulated casualty.
With reality-based training (RBT), we achieve far greater outcomes across a number of disciplines. Allowing soldiers to complete a process that may see them assist in keeping other members of their team alive during training, will create a muscle memory for them to support in real life situations. Awarding a casualty during an incident and then enforcing them to remain still and no longer assist in the fight either physically or verbally, because they are wounded, is not generating ‘best practice’. In Dave Grossman’s book On Combat, he outlines a Police Officer’s account of grabbing a pistol out of an assailant’s hands and then handing it right back to him. This bizarre action occurred because in training, the officer would always immediately hand the weapon back to his partner after he disarmed them. The key here is to allow the response to run its full course, allow the casualty to assist first before treatment. The team can then practice their tactical care of the casualty, including the Section 2IC, PL SGT and CSM completing the post-incident actions, rather than end the activity at the point the objective is secured, which forgets the reality of post-action administration. The activity should be designed to allow the Platoon and Company Casualty Collection Points (CCP) to be developed and allow them to function. This would test the organisation’s ability to deal with, treat and evacuate a casualty.
This agility is critical to any commander’s plan:
'In the heat of the battle you don’t remember very much, you don’t think very fast. You act by instinct, which is really training. So, you’ve got to be trained for battle so you react exactly the way you did in training.'
– Admiral Arleigh Burke, US Navy
In most cases, there are additional training objectives associated with awarding casualties, including rehearsing leadership succession, as well as enacting contingency plans, drills and ‘actions on’. However, the intent of this article is not to focus on the conduct of training, rather on the employment of the BCT, although it is important to remember, that the goal of any training should be to rigorously test leaders at every level of the team.
What does a BCT provide?
The SIB doctrine states that the ‘BCT is designed to enable support to the fighting elements and facilitate battlefield clearance. It is task-organised using capability bricks to affect the rapid evacuation of casualties, captured persons (CPERS) and equipment from the immediate battlespace. With strong consideration given to the integration of resupply and sustainment of the fighting force.’ It is important to understand this guidance relates to the BG.
At the CT level; they are task organised using capability bricks to affect the rapid evacuation of casualties, captured persons and equipment from the immediate battlespace, and, if required, can conduct resupply and sustainment of the fighting force.
As many soldiers as possible should be trained in the key actions of a BCT, creating a large pool of generalists from which to task-organise. This enables a commander to utilise a team or section from any platoon which will provide the least disruption to the plan. Personnel within a BCT do not need to be Combat First Aid (CFA) trained; it is not necessarily about the tactical care of the casualty. The focus instead is the movement and evacuation of the casualty to their next level of care, whether it be the CFA, Medical Technician or even the CCP and then subsequently, back to a medical facility.
Ideally, if the BCT is well-trained, there will be few casualties to process during the deliberate reorganisation. At worst, the commencement of reorganisation should see casualties triaged, stabilised and ready for immediate evacuation. The objective of the BCT should be rapid casualty extraction to minimise time in reorganisation and focus on preparing for the subsequent tactical task. Most importantly, the BCT gives soldiers assurance that their mates are cared for behind them, allowing them to continue with the task ahead of them.
It is useful to distil the key functions of a CT-level BCT into two events: casualty treatment/evacuation and management of captured persons. All other activities associated with the reorganisation of the fighting force (processing the battlespace) can be completed through the standard post-action administration by Platoon Sergeants. The BCT can conduct clearance both during and post-battle, but their real utility lies in their flexibility during tactical actions; their ability to stabilise and backload casualties, and restrain and process detainees in contact.
Who commands the BCT?
The SIB SOP (Vol 2) states that the BG BCT is commanded by the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). Does this mean the CSM should command the BCT at CT level? A CSM has an important role within the CT. He is the senior soldier in the company and is there to provide that close support to the commander and the sub-unit during the fight. During the CT WFX, for example, I often found myself dislocated from the decisive events and points of friction, and commanding a section-sized BCT that was difficult to manoeuvre in a near-peer environment before conditions had been established for its employment. This made it challenging to coordinate the establishment of the CCP, Equipment Collection Point (ECP) and support the redistribution of ammunition until after it was most needed.
The CSM is not necessarily the right person to command the BCT, and I would argue that the RSM is not the right person to command the BG BCT. In this author’s opinion, the Sergeant Major is better utilised in the commander’s tactical group. By remaining close to the main effort or points of friction, the Sergeant Major enhances their situational awareness, better understands their commander’s intent, and is in the best position to set the conditions for the reception of the BCT, putting it to immediate work during the reorganisation.
Similarly, the sub-unit Operations SNCO can be tasked to command the BCT, but their extensive experience is better utilised in the Command Post. Consequently, given the size of a typical sub-unit BCT (section +) and its likely tasks, a CPL or LCPL can command it effectively. An appropriately-qualified senior soldier may even be in a position to do so. The BCT commander is required to receive and deliver orders, command a tactical manoeuvre group, and make important decisions based on articulation of main and supporting efforts. On one occasion, I had a Military Police (MP) CPL commanding the BCT, though it may not always be this simple. We placed the highest emphasis on training our team (from all hat-badges) at all levels; as the Ready Combat Team (RCT), the Officer Commanding (OC) and I were supremely confident in the ability of all of our leaders and soldiers, maximising our flexibility in tasking from across the sub-unit. Like most tactical functions, the BCT commander remains task and situation specific – avoid dogmatism in allocation of C2.
What makes up the BCT?
How long is a piece of string? Noting the team requires task-organisation, who is the commander prepared to isolate as the BCT? For most offensive operations, for example, a combined arms team is required to first ‘make entry’ (or ‘break in’ – a function nominally performed by Assault Pioneers), assault (fix/suppress and neutralise) and conduct battlefield clearance (exploit and reorganise). The considered apportionment of combat power, mobility and specialist capabilities need to be balanced with analysis of the mission, enemy situation and terrain.
With a particular focus on casualties and captured persons, I offer the following groupings for consideration:
Infantry Team. The CT saw successful employment of the BCT by generating small teams of Infantry tasked to the BCT during CT orders. This team (usually four soldiers), generally commanded by a LCPL, is responsible for coordinating the BCT on its arrival at the objective. This team provides security to specialist BCT capabilities, assists with treatment, movement and evacuation of casualties, generates CASEVAC requests (NATO 9-Liner) and Patient Handovers (ATMIST), whilst also providing additional manpower to specialists (such as Military Police).
Military Police (MP). CT Bandit successfully integrated a MP detachment into the BCT and were fortunate to have a WATCHDOG element as part of the CT on all collective training in 2018; I remain convinced they are an essential capability to any combined arms team. They also provide the greatest capability and flexibility to the BCT specifically. Their capability and training to deal with complex and uncertain environments was a critical factor in the success of most CT missions. Some skill-sets tangibly employed by the detachment included close personal protection, site exploitation, tactical questioning, and detention.
Medical Technician. Like the Sergeant Major, the AMT is better situated with the command tactical group or with the Force Element (FE) on the main effort. This ensures they are available to the CT, and this mitigates the risk of the BCT being cut off when a medic is most required. Whilst this individual will be in the initial fight, they form a key component to the remainder of the BCT during the exploitation and reorganisation. The medic will have already established a company CCP (with the CSM) and be conducting triage, providing that next level of care, stabilising casualties, preparing them for evacuation and providing direction to the Infantry team within the BCT. This established CCP also provides a reference point for the BCT mobility platforms to move to, should that be a suitable SOP.
What mobility platforms are used and when is the right time?
The CT was PMV-enabled and developed sound procedures in its employment. PMV is a valuable mobility asset when protected by its security element, and due consideration is given to enemy weapon systems and terrain. The commander and Sergeant Major need to consider the ‘right time’ to bring a vehicle-mounted BCT into the battlespace. The enemy threat will largely dictate this. Consider calling vehicles forward only when casualties are ready to be moved, or when the assault has secured the clearance team sufficient ‘work space’ and security. The PMV-A also formed part of the BCT but this asset really needs to be considered when looking at the severity of the casualty. Do I really need to send my PMV-A into the objective and risk losing it? Or can an alternate PMV variant lift them out to the subsequent extraction point? This will be dependent on the nature of the casualty.
Consideration can also be applied to an Air Medical Evacuation (AME); an armoured vehicle and the BCT could be used to move to and secure a landing point (LP), provided it is organised with sufficient security. Their mobility is important: an AME will often require standoff from the fight.
Ultimately, the specific platform is not relevant. But the BCT is best employed with its own organic mobility.
It is tempting to over-complicate the purpose and tasks of the BCT. Through trial and error, and isolating the two key functions of a CT BCT, the BCT can aim to develop, practise and demonstrate a variety of task-groupings over a series of different mission-sets. Isolate tasks specific to the BCT and define ‘battlefield clearance’ in the context of your task and your team. Battlefield clearance can be achieved utilising any configuration of the functional groups likely available.
The CSM does not need to command a BCT. He has more important responsibilities than isolating himself to the one area. The CSM needs to be ‘in the fight’, supporting their commander and their soldiers, while maintaining the ability to coordinate the BCT, CCP, ECP and any CPERS.
In training, allow the incident to run its full course. Do not end the activity or the scenario when the objective has been cleared. Whether you are conducting a course, or facilitating training, factor in the time to allow for post-incident actions. Allow those members to complete their roles within the mission and process the scene. This will also allow commanders to complete their reporting and consider security of the site. Allow PL and COY CCPs to establish and function. Allow the CASEVAC plan to play out. Even if no helicopter is going to arrive, there is a lot of training value in ensuring the commander can secure and establish the LP and communicate with the AME on arrival. These simple actions will test leaders and soldiers at all levels and develop not only good combat behaviours but demonstrate best practices to the soldiers. These actions will also provide soldiers at all levels the assurance that they will be cared for during the battle and will develop the understanding of all factors that need to be considered.