“Film at eleven”

by Capts Bruce I. Gudmundsson and John F. Schmitt

The following is the third in the Gazette’s series of tactical decision games similar to those used at the Marine Corps University as a tool for developing tactical decisionmaking capability. Think of commander’s intent, concept of operations, focus of effort, and frag orders, and send us your solution.

The Situation

You are a rifle company commander fighting in an arid desert environment that offers exceptional mobility for wheeled and tracked vehicles. You are supported by a platoon of assault amphibian vehicles (AAVs), enough to mount your entire company. After intense fighting at the front for several weeks, the battalion commander has assigned your company to rear duty providing security for the Mobile Combat Service Support Detachment (MCSSD). As the ground combat element (GCE) advances north, the MCSSD plans to move in that direction and establish a forward supply point at Oasis, some 25 kilometers north but still another 25 kilometers south of the front. While the front is generally to the north, there is no clear delineation between friendly and enemy territory; you long ago learned the importance of allaround security. Irregular enemy forces mounted on small trucks and equipped with heavy machineguns are known to operate in the area.

Oasis is the only source of water in the region. The local population lives in adobe dwellings, which will not normally withstand anything larger than small arms. The only masonry structures are the two-story community center and the pump house. In the center of town is a large plaza. Surrounding the buildings are irrigated fields of “short” crops that meet the needs of the local people. The local population is of the same ethnic group as the enemy, although actual support is sometimes less than enthusiastic.

The time is 1400. The MCSSD commander tells you he wants to occupy Oasis by 1200 tomorrow, and he expects you to secure the settlement by that time. From experience you know that each oasis has a small militia force consisting of the adult males of the settlement, equipped with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), machineguns, and possibly light mortars. The fighting skills of these outfits vary greatly. Some are looking for any excuse to lay down their arms; many fire off a few rounds to satisfy their sense of honor before surrendering; only a few fight tenaciously. However, there seems to be no way of anticipating how the forces will act from settlement to settlement. In the case of Oasis, the S-2 estimates the militia to be between 100-150 strong. He can tell you nothing more than that.

As you are grumbling about the lineage of the S-2, the MCSSD commander comes up to you and says: “One more thing; there’s a cable TV news team covering the MCSSD that’s looking for a little action. I’ve told them they can accompany you as you secure the Oasis. Cooperate with them, but keep them out of trouble.” The news team comes equipped with its own camera van. You are introduced to the correspondent, whose smug, mustachioed face you recognize. He says: “Let’s get something straight, Captain. The public has a right to know what’s going on over here. I want to be right where the action is. If you try to keep me from doing my job, it could be embarrassing for you.”

The Requirement

You do not feel particularly friendly toward the news team, but you have other things to worry about. How will you approach the problem of securing Oasis? Within a 10-minute time limit, write the fragmentary order you will issue to your rifle platoons and weapons sections and your instructions for the camera crew. Include a statement of your intent, any plans for supporting fires and an overlay of your scheme of maneuver. Then write a brief (300 words or less) explanation of the rationale for your plan. Remember, since every battlefield situation is unique and there is no right or wrong answer, we are not so much interested in what you would do as why you would do it. Send your solutions to the Marine Corps Gazette, Tactical Decision Games, P.O. Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134. Solutions will be published in August.