Lessons Learned in the Science & Art of (Engineer) Support to Army Maneuver Forces

Engineer Support Pic

This post is not only for engineers; it is about fulfilling your organizational role to support the “main effort” when you are not that main effort or are in a defined supporting position. It is about providing the best customer service through the capabilities you deliver. I apply the below concepts through the lens of being an Army combat engineer, which has been my professional experience. However, these concepts can relate to ANY position, both in and out of the military. Consider how these ideas can apply to your branch or current position. For Army maneuver readers (Infantry & Armor), this post can serve as a guide in what you should expect from a supporting enabler; demand these from those that support you…but also, help bring them onto the team and have them feel like a valued member in your organization.

Engineers exist for one reason at the Army tactical level: to support maneuver forces. Every capability we provide is to enable a maneuver unit to get to the objective and accomplish its mission. As Army engineers, we are required to be a “Swiss Army Knife” of capabilities, by enabling mobility, countermobility, and survivability; providing necessary general engineering support; and being able to lead our formations to fight as Infantry if required.

If assigned to a Brigade Combat Team (BCT), where the maneuver rubber meets the engineer road, most engineers in leadership positions must simultaneously serve as the staff engineer and engineer company commander (or platoon leader). Supporting a maneuver commander as an engineer staff officer or engineer leader alone is complex; doing both simultaneously can quickly become overwhelming. Like many things in the Army, there is a defined science and a learned art to fulfilling these responsibilities. Army engineer institutional schools and doctrine define the science well, though many aspects require practice. The art, however, of being an engineer supporting a maneuver commander is hard to define and codify, and often based on subjective factors.

Through my experience, there are several critical lessons that I have learned about the science and art of serving as an engineer enabler to a maneuver commander, both in a defined engineer leadership role and, simultaneously, the staff engineer. I believe these learned principles are crucial to any engineer (and equally for any supporting enabler) directly supporting a maneuver force to best enable success.

 The Science of Engineer Support.  Though not explicitly outlined in doctrine, these learned lessons of support doctrinal science concepts are addressed or inferred in doctrine.

  • You are a salesman. You must be the master of your formation and capabilities. That is the only way you can accurately and effectively communicate what you bring to the fight for the maneuver commander. If you do not master this, and cannot communicate it well, be prepared to be left in the unit Tactical Assembly Area (TAA) and not employed at all. Show the maneuver commander why they need you.
  • Comfortable and capable in making recommendations. Your job is to understand the plan, determine the need (gap in capabilities), and provide options to the commander. It’s more than just options though. You are the engineer expert, you need to be comfortable making confident recommendations based on your knowledge of your capabilities, the situation, the environment, and unit composition, disposition, and strength.
  • Integrate into their planning process. The maneuver unit you support will have their own tailored planning standard operating procedures (PSOP). They likely will not follow the doctrinal Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) step-by-step. Before upcoming critical events (major collective training or deployment), ensure you understand the unit’s PSOP and how you best integrate into that with your staff engineer responsibilities. Not being synchronized with their planning process is just as detrimental as you not being an effective salesman of your capabilities.
  • Use proper language. ADRP 1-02 Terms and Military Symbols is the Rosetta Stone of the Army. You need to understand maneuver terms and graphics, and use language everyone understands. Not using a common language can alienate you and hinder the support you provide.

 The Art of Engineer Enabling.  These lessons are ones I’ve never found in any doctrine manual or professional publication. I learned these lessons through trial-and-error, and often through mistakes.

  • Relationships are “pacing items.” In the Army, a pacing item is a major piece of equipment that is considered essential to the accomplishment of your unit’s assigned mission; these items are considered paramount and require continuous attention and management. Your unit’s success in supporting your maneuver force is better enabled by building relationships with the leaders you are working with. As an engineer company commander, build professional (and even personal) relationships with the maneuver company commanders and the battalion staff officers. Do this during, but especially outside of major training events or operations. Engineer platoon leaders can do the same with their maneuver Lieutenant peers.
  • Integrate into their battle rhythm. A quality professional relationship between the maneuver unit and your engineers should start before the goal event(s) and should be routine. This requires you to be available to that maneuver unit. Add their battle rhythm events to your calendar and participate. The best place to start is attending the unit’s training meetings. Follow that by attending their leader professional development sessions. Increasing face time with the maneuver leaders will only improve your relationship with them.
  • Balance planning requirements. How do you support the maneuver unit’s MDMP or Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs), while also conducting yours for your own formation? That needs to become an SOP for your platoon or company. As an engineer company commander supporting an infantry battalion, I served as the engineer staff officer through the course of action (COA) development phase of the battalion’s planning. I leveraged my First Sergeant to support the S2 for information preparation of the battlefield (IPB), and my company executive officer and operations sergeant to fulfill the remaining planning requirements of the staff engineer. This allowed me to complete my company TLPs while meeting the demands of the engineer planning for the battalion. Create a plan that meets both requirements and is most efficient for your unit. This can easily be applied at the platoon level too.
  • Able to support two levels up. Though not required by all Army formations, engineer support usually spans two levels of command. This means engineer squad leaders support maneuver company commanders, engineer platoon leaders to battalion commanders, and so on. I implore engineer units to incorporate this principle into their training and certification plans. This makes your engineer leaders the most capable in conveying and executing engineer support. If your specific support requirements do not demand that two-level span, training it will at least make your engineer leaders better prepared for future needs.

 

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