What a Combat Commander Expects of his S2

by Colonel Henery L. Kinnison

"What will he expect from me?" you wonder. The note the Brigade S2 just handed you says that you are to report in two months to Lieutenant Colonel Smith of the 1st Battalion, 808th Infantry. His S2 officer will move to a new job in the division's intelligence battalion. LTC Smith has a reputation as the best battalion commander in the division. You have heard the Brigade S2 say several times that Captain Jones is the best S2 she has ever seen. The battalion has made several tough deployments overseas plus rotations at both the National and Joint Readiness Training Centers.
"How will I ever measure up to LTC Smith's expectations?" you wonder. Reading the concern on your face, the Brigade S2 smiles. "You are probably wondering how to prepare yourself," she says. "Well, I've made an appointment for you to meet tomorrow with LTC Smith. I thought it would help if you heard from him what he expects from an S2."

Commander's Expectations

Reporting to the battalion commander the next afternoon, you feel nervous and excited. He quickly puts you at ease. He asks what you expect to accomplish as the battalion S2, and about your family, hobbies, sports, and schooling. You begin to think this will not be so hard. Finally he asks if there is anything you would like to know. "Well," you say, "what do you expect from your S2?"
LTC Smith reflects for a moment and says that it is really simple if you understand that intelligence drives operations and, in this outfit, he directs intelligence. The XO and the S3 can help him direct the battalion's operations. You, as the S2, will serve as the principal staff leader for the intelligence effort. You must be the expert in everything involving the intelligence activities of this battalion. I will trust my S2 to help the leaders of the battalion visualize the enemy and understand what he might do. You will have to make a lot of hard calls. He says, "To make those calls stick, for us to believe you, you'll have to know your business."
The S2 helps lead the decisionmaking process and also the commander's preparation of the battlefield. LTC Smith continues, "In some outfits, this is called the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB), but here the process belongs to me and to a certain degree to every commander and staff officer in the 1st Battalion." As the S2, you will be the officer expected to orchestrate the staff's efforts to understand the enemy and the terrain on which the battalion will fight. I will expect my S2 to obtain answers to my priority information requirements (PIR). You will focus the reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) to collect information essential to answering the questions asked in the PIR. You will help ensure the targeting process hits the enemy in a way that will help the tactical plan. You must aggressively argue the enemy's point of view as the brigade develops and executes its plans. Sometimes the S3 or even I will see the enemy situation differently than you will. It is important that you aggressively argue how you see the enemy until the decision to act is made.
"Sir, what personally will you expect of me?" you ask. You should come to this job in excellent physical condition. You must know the IPB process and possess an intimate knowledge of the 34-series of field manuals. You should also have a practical working knowledge of the military decisionmaking process.
LTC Smith says that there are actually a number of areas within the S2's arena he thinks are very important. These include the following:
I will expect you to have a well-run shop with well-rehearsed procedures. You will also overwatch the scout platoon's training to ensure you intimately understand that key R&S capability. You will serve as the senior observer/controller (O/C) for the scout platoon's training evaluations. In fact, you will serve as the officer-in-charge and principal O/C for all of their live-fire maneuver exercises. You must possess an intuitive feel for the challenges faced by the scouts.

Critical Areas in the Decisionmaking Process

LTC Smith says that while he will expect excellence in all of these areas, he recommends that you focus your studies for now on three critical areas in the decisionmaking process. These three areas are where the commander will have to rely heavily on your abilities as an S2. In fact, the battalion's success or failure will depend on your performance in the areas of
You will be successful in these areas if you do the following. In mission analysis, you will succeed if you used the collective knowledge and expertise of the staff to educate and prepare the staff for course of action (COA) development during the S2's portion of the mission analysis briefing. This will mean that you will have given your boss a clear understanding of the impacts of weather, terrain, and the enemy. Your presentation will reflect a product of the entire staff, not just your section's effort. For example, your terrain analysis must show the input of the battalion engineer, the signal officer, and the S3. Your projection of the enemy's most probable and dangerous COA must take into consideration the entire staff's analysis in their areas of expertise. This might include input from the commander or leader from units attached to the battalion such as a tank company and perhaps elements of an Air-Ground-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company.
In wargaming, you will face a real challenge, but you must meet it "heads up." You will have to organize your S2 shop down to the task, condition, and standard for the production of each intelligence product necessary for a completely successful wargame. By the end of every wargame (which I expect to last no longer than an hour and a half), you must have refined our collection and R&S plans. You will also have helped translate the battalion's high-value targets into high-payoff targets. Unless you are told different, these plans will always focus on the enemy's most probable COA. You must drive the wargaming process. Otherwise, the battalion will not develop a tactical plan designed to defeat what the enemy will most likely do. You must understand this process and the products you will need, before you deploy in tactical operations. I myself or the XO may run the wargame.
In the presentation and issuance of orders, you must focus your remarks and written input to guide and direct the company commanders and the leaders of the battalion's special platoons, sections, and all attached units. Sometimes staff officers think they are giving the battalion order to the battalion commander. In this battalion, you will help me give my order to the leaders and subordinate commanders.
In your presentation, you will succeed if you present the enemy's most probable COA in a way that each platoon leader and special platoon squad leader of the battalion can grasp easily. You must make your presentation so clearly and concisely that they will understand the enemy's actions (the COA he is following) when they are on the ground under fire. They will want to hear you talk about the enemy that they will face, not necessarily the one the battalion or brigade will have to meet. In all of your products and your presentation of enemy strengths and vulnerabilities in your part of the commander's order, you must focus on the folks who will be at the point of contact. Always ask yourself if your products are saving time and making the enemy situation clearer to the commanders and leaders of the battalion.


As LTC Smith talks quietly, quickly, with words carefully chosen, notes begin to fill your note pad. After an hour, he concludes simply, "What other questions do you have?" Holding a sheaf of hastily scribbled notes, you answer, "None, sir, but I might after I have had a chance to review what you told me." With an easy smile, LTC Smith responds, "Of course, this will be the first of many conversations about intelligence and the last to be so one-sided. If it's okay with the Brigade S2, why don't you come back next week, and we'll talk about your questions?" Outside the battalion's headquarters, you pause and think, "Well, at least I know what this warfighter expects from his S2.
I owe special thanks in the preparation of this article to LTC Mike Flynn, Mr. Steve Florich, and Colonel (Retired) Ward Miller. Errors in the application of doctrine or technique belong solely to me.
Colonel Kinnison is currently the TRADOC System Manager for the Soldier. He recently completed duty at the JRTC as senior observer-controller and the Deputy Commander of the JRTC Operations Group. Colonel Kinnison commanded the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Brigade during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. He has a master of arts in Psychology-Sociology from Texas Tech in Lubbock. Readers may contact him at (706) 545-4798, DSN 835-1189 and E-mail kinnisonh@benning-emh2.army.mil.