Mission Command During the Battle of 73 Easting
By William T. Latta
In large-scale combat operations (LSCO), critical decisions during armed conflict that defeat the adversary to achieve strategic and operational objectives often determine the victor. History proves that the chaotic nature of the battlefield contains many variables that shape the operational environment (OE), which requires leadership to make the right decision on time to accomplish the objectives. The United States Army implements mission command to enable subordinates on the battlefield to make the critical decisions necessary to seize the initiative that can gain an advantage over an adversary. The Battle of 73 Easting during Operation Desert Storm displays the practical application of mission command in an LSCO environment that led to a decisive victory over Iraqi forces and the liberation of Kuwait. The success at the Battle of 73 Easting was due to effective mission command, which will provide a historical case study to analyze mission command, battlefield command and control (C2), C2 warfighting function execution in an LSCOs environment.
Mission Command on the Battlefield
Department of the Army [DA](1) states that “mission command is the Army’s approach to C2 that empowers subordinate decision making and decentralized execution appropriate to the situation” (p. 1-3). Commanders create an environment where subordinates can conduct missions with the freedom to complete tasks within the commander’s intent by enabling situational decision-making at the lowest level to seize the initiative and neutralize adversary attacks. Competence, mutual trust, shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative, and risk acceptance are the seven principles that guide mission command and foster an environment to be successful in LSCOs.(1) General (GEN) Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces during Operation Desert Storm, provided clear and concise mission orders to subordinate leaders like Captain (CPT) Herbert McMaster, which fostered an environment where subordinate commanders could utilize mission command principles to accomplish the mission.(5) CPT McMaster relied on the principles of competence, mutual trust, risk acceptance, and disciplined initiative to C2 his Soldiers during LSCOs.
The principle of competence encompasses training all unit members with realistic scenarios to simulate combat operations that build increased proficiency and skills. The foundation of effective mission command ensures that commanders, subordinates, and teams are tactically and technically proficient in assigned battle drills.(1) CPT McMaster, leader of Eagle Troop of the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, conducted years of training with the squadron in preparation for a war against Russia if necessary, which allowed his Soldiers to gain expertise on the Bradley and M1A1 tanks.(5) The training allowed all crews to master the tank’s capabilities, build cohesive teams, and create mutual trust. The principle of mutual trust is the creation of shared confidence between leaders and subordinates that the unit is competent to conduct the mission.(1) CPT McMaster had complete confidence in his Soldiers’ abilities to conduct LSCOs based on the training, allowing for greater risk acceptance during operations.
Risk is an inevitable part of all military operations. Commanders must assess the OE to include friendly and adversary capabilities to determine if the acceptance of risk outweighs the cost of exposure to threats that could result in severe combat injuries, death, or loss of equipment.(1) CPT McMaster can make a direct link between the principles of competence and mutual trust to feel comfortable with risk acceptance on the battlefield, which permits the tank crews to exercise disciplined initiative during operations. Essentially, the principle of disciplined initiative is a Soldier or crew’s ability to make critical decisions to seize the initiative on the battlefield while staying within the bound of the commander’s intent to accomplish the objective.(1) For example, Specialist (SPC) Christopher Hedenskog, CPT McMasters’ tank driver, took the initiative to drive through a minefield without orders, allowing two platoons worth of tanks to follow the tracks to continue engagement with the adversary. The specialist knew that stopping to receive guidance would have made Eagle Troop a target in the adversaries’ kill zone.(5) The actions of SPC Hedenskog displayed disciplined initiative to make critical decisions, which permitted CPT McMaster to focus on C2 of the squadron and maneuver two platoons of tanks through a dangerous minefield.
C2 on the Battlefield
DA(1) states, “C2 is the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of mission” (p. 1-16). In the armed services, command refers to a commander’s lawful execution of authority over subordinates. Command contains the key elements of authority, decision making, leadership, and responsibility.(1) Control refers to managing the warfighting functions and the armed forces to accomplish the goals within the commander’s intent. Control contains the key elements of communication, direction, feedback, and information.(1) CPT McMaster implemented key elements within C2 to remain situationally aware of the OE to direct squadron actions during combat engagements.
Battle of 73 Easting Elements of Command
Rank and position determine official authority, which laws and regulation grant. In contrast, an individual gains personal authority from members of the organization based on knowledge, standing, skills, moral integrity, or personal example.(1) CPT McMaster displayed both official and personal authority during operations. Eagle Troop reached the limit of advance at 70 Easting. However, CPT McMasters squadron surprised the adversary due to the rate of advance, and stopping would allow the adversary to regroup.(5) Therefore, personal experience guided his decision to authorize the continued advance to take advantage of the adversary. The decision making element enables commanders to execute command by adapting operational plans to implement a course of action to accomplish the objective.(1) A commander must understand the effects of decision making when in armed conflict, assume risks, and communicate the decision to subordinates. CPT McMaster’s decision making at the 70 Easting limit of advance resulted in the acceptance of risk to push forward and Eagle Troop destroying another 18 T-72 tanks in an assembly area before the adversary could mount a response.(5) The effective application of the elements of command has connections to the information and communication elements of control.
Battle of 73 Easting Elements of Control
The information element of control refers to the ability to receive and process vast amounts of data during an operation while turning that data into actionable decisions critical to mission success.(1) The information element links to the communication element of control through dissemination. Communication ensures that information creates a shared understanding of the current situation to synchronize decisive action on an objective.(1) Throughout the operation, CPT McMaster and subordinates gather information regarding the adversaries’ location and disposition. For example, Sergeant (SGT) Craig Koch identified T-72 enemy tanks at the front. CPT McMaster immediately called the initial fire command and had the time to collect all the information regarding the adversaries’ position to determine eight adversary tanks to the east. SGT Koch took the initiative to instinctively target and destroy three T-72 tanks in succession, allowing CPT McMaster to focus on maneuvering the rest of the squadron to destroy the remaining five T-72 tanks.(5) The quick recognition and gathering of information on adversary locations while making quick, decisive decisions to enable the execution of the C2 warfighting functions.
C2 Warfighting Functions
DA(4) articulates that “the C2 warfighting function is the related tasks and a system that enables commanders to synchronize and converge all elements of combat power” (p. 2-1). The primary objective of the C2 warfighting function is to enable commanders to incorporate the intelligence, movement and maneuver, fires, protection, and sustainment warfighting function capabilities across every echelon to complete the mission.(2) Command forces, control operations, driving the operations process, and establishing the C2 system are the related tasks for C2 warfighting functions. The C2 systems that assist the commander in implementing C2 are command posts, people, processes, and networks.(1) In the Battle of 73 Easting, leaders effectively used the C2 tasks and systems to conduct operations.
Establishing a C2 system at every echelon provides the commander’s support in information collection, creating a shared understanding of the OE, preparation and dissemination of guidance, and fostering effective decision making for C2. Establishing C2 systems and controlling forces is only possible with the people and processes to make the C2 systems operate.(1) GEN Schwarzkopf completed the task of establishing a C2 system for the Battle of 73 Easting by emplacing the proper people at every echelon to ensure all warfighting functions could converge combat power to defeat the Iraqi Republican Guard. General Frederick Franks had C2 of the VII Corps, CPT McMaster had C2 of Eagle Troop, Captain Joe Sartiano had C2 of G Troop, Lieutenant (LT) Mike Petschek had C2 of the first platoon, First LT (1LT) Mike Hamilton had C2 of the second platoon, 1LT Tim Gauthier third platoon, and 1LT Jeff DeStefano fourth platoon.(5) Establishing a C2 system with the proper people allows individuals to complete the task of commanding forces at all echelons.
All commanders and platoon leaders commanded their forces by utilizing the processes outlined in the unit’s standard operating procedures (SOP) to conduct movement and maneuver across the battlefield. For example, CPT McMaster masterfully maneuvered platoons around the battlefield to synchronize and concentrate fires on the adversary while accounting for situations like 1LT DeStefano needing to conduct a misfire procedure drill during an engagement to clear a stuck round.(5) CPT McMaster(5) stated that Eagle Troop alone “destroyed approximately fifty T-72s, twenty-five armored personnel carriers, forty trucks, and numerous other vehicles such as SA-9 air defense systems” (p. 112). The effective execution of C2 tasks and systems enabled Eagle Troop to link together all components of mission command to culminate at the 73 Easting with a total victory. The Battle of 73 Easting results highlight the need for officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to understand the importance of effective mission command in LSCOs. For instance, the expectation is that NCOs are junior enlisted Soldiers’ primary trainers to build individual, team, and crew competency levels, which lays the foundation of effective mission command.(3)
The Battle of 73 Easting historical example provided a case study to examine the effective use of mission command, C2 on the battlefield, and C2 warfighting functions in an austere LSCOs environment. The mission command overview highlighted the seven guiding principles that enable C2 in an LSCO. CPT McMaster, leader of Eagle Troop during the Battle of 73 Easting, displayed that building the competency of Soldiers through training before deployment creates mutual trust, which fosters an environment of risk acceptance and the ability of subordinates to take the disciplined initiative to accomplish the mission. C2 on the battlefield stresses the importance of the elements of C2. CPT McMaster showed that if the OE changes, an individual with authority should utilize the information gathered to make decisive decisions that seize the initiative and generate an advantage over the adversary to exploit. The C2 warfighting function section highlights the critical C2 tasks and systems that allow the commander to synchronize all combat power and converge effective fires to destroy the enemy. GEN Schwarzkopf proves that proper planning and establishing a C2 system at all echelons with the correct personnel to command forces will lead to organizational processes that can accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent. The Battle of 73 Easting outcomes shows how crucial it is for officers and NCOs to comprehend the need for effective mission command in LSCOs. All leaders must implement mission command into daily operations, especially in a garrison environment, to hone the skills of effectively exercising C2.
2. Department of the Army. (2019b). Operations (ADP 3-0). https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN18010-ADP_3-0-000-WEB-2.pdf
3. Department of the Army. (2020). The noncommissioned officer guide (TC 7-22.7). https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN20340-TC_7-22.7-000-WEB-1.pdf
4. Department of the Army. (2022). Operations (FM 3-0). https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN36290-FM_3-0-000-WEB-2.pdf
5. McMaster, H. (2005). The Battle of 73 Easting. F. W. Kagan, & C. Kubik (Eds.), Leaders in War: West Point remembers the 1991 Gulf War (pp. 105-117) [eBook edition].