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Bridging a Doctrinal Gap

Movement to Contact

(The Approach March Technique)

Major Fred W. Johnson

If most Airborne, Air Assault, or Light Infantry Rifle Company Commanders were asked why an approach march movement to contact (MTC) is conducted, they would probably answer in so many words that:

The MTC is conducted when the enemy situation is vague. Contact is made with the smallest element possible. Once engaged with the enemy, contact is maintained until the enemy is destroyed or the friendly unit is instructed by higher to do otherwise. For an approach march, the company normally operates as a part of a battalion as either the advanced guard, main body, or the flank or rear guard.

That answer would be right on the money. However, if the same commanders were asked how to conduct an individual company approach march (not as a part of a battalion), it is unlikely they could provide a definitive doctrinal answer. This is particularly true if they were referencing FM 7-10, The Infantry Rifle Company, as their only source of information. The reason is that company-level doctrine falls short in providing commanders with the framework to develop courses of action for the approach-march.

The purpose of this article is to explain why MTC doctrine needs to be updated and provide a point of reference to infantry company commanders for the execution of the MTC, using the approach-march technique.

This problem with movement to contact doctrine was realized during two Army National Guard (ARNG) Inactive Duty Training (IDT) exercises that were conducted in New York and New Jersey. On two separate weekends, the Observer Controller and Trainers (OC-T) from 1-174th Infantry Training Support Battalion (TSBn) conducted lanes training and evaluated rifle companies on the approach march MTC. Unlike the Combat Training Centers (CTCs), Training Support OC-Ts actually evaluate units and assess T (Trained), P (Needs Practice), and U (Untrained) based on unit performance. Evaluated units are given Task Summary Sheets (TSS) that address training strengths and shortfalls in these hard-line terms. The TSS is supported by the Training and Evaluation Outlines (T&EO) found in the Mission Training Plans (MTP). Units receive Ts and Ps, based generally on their level of proficiency in executing the task. However, units receive a U if they fail to execute a standard or critical task. To faithfully execute their mission, the OC-Ts must be able to demonstrate where units fall short in meeting standards. This requires standards that are clear and definable, which is not the case with MTC training doctrine.

The standards for the company MTC are:

  • The company moves NLT the time specified in the order.
  • The company makes contact with only one element and the main body is not surprised by the enemy.
  • Once the company makes contact, it maintains contact.
  • The company destroys platoon and smaller elements and fixes companies larger than a platoon.
  • The company maintains a sufficient fighting force capable of conducting further combat operations.
  • The US forces comply with the ROE. Collateral damage is limited.

Now, here is the rub. The standards for the MTC are the same whether the unit is conducting an approach-march or a search and attack. Clearly, there are differences in the two techniques. In fact, ARTEP 7-10 is generally clear in providing the procedures for a company search and attack. However, the problem with the approach-march is highlighted in paragraph 5a. The commander directs the company to use the approach-march technique and:

Performs the mission assigned by the battalion.

    • Advanced guard
    • Main body
    • Flank or rear guard

Other than task steps that address movement techniques and formations and actions on contact, that is all the information that is provided. It seems that doctrine suggests that companies only conduct MTC using the approach-march as a part of a battalion. Reality in the field indicates otherwise. Whether at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) or at Fort Dix, New Jersey, companies conduct the approach-march as a unit and not as a part of a battalion -- all the time.

This begs the question of where do company commanders go to find doctrinal direction on the execution of a company MTC (not as a part of a battalion) using the approach-march technique. Interestingly, commanders must use FM 7-8, The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, (page 2-55) to find any definitive guidance on the operation.

The experienced commander may have deduced that tactical prudence dictates a small unit of a squad or platoon be positioned forward to locate the enemy. Nevertheless, the luxury of such experience is not always afforded leaders. This is particularly the case for the commanders in the ARNG who only have 39 days a year to train. Sometimes their only alternative is doctrine.

The problem was clearly evident with the ARNG commanders at the IDTs who struggled with developing courses of action (COA) for their approach-march MTC. In many cases they chose a scheme of maneuver similar to a deliberate attack with platoons given the missions of assault and support by fire. The OC-Ts had an even more difficult time convincing the commanders that they should adopt a COA similar to the one provided in FM 7-8 when the mission standards in ARTEP 7-10 MTP do not address such a company task organization.

Currently, FM 7-10 is being updated and hopefully the doctrinal shortfalls were recognized and are being corrected. In the meantime, company commanders should use the example provided in FM 7-8 as they develop standing operating procedures (SOP) for the approach-march MTC. While it is questionable whether units should unilaterally adjust task standards until doctrine is updated, leaders must take into account the problems that have been identified. Finally, OC-Ts must assume their mentor and trainer role more frequently when providing training support to units.

Major Johnson is the S3, Operations, 1-174th Infantry (Training Support Battalion), Fort Drum, NY (Current at the time of publication.)

Copyright© Major Fred W. Johnson