After company leadership time, which is the very best in my opinion, it will be hard to escape staff time. There are many options for what staff positions you can occupy, and each requires a slightly different focus and skill set. The toughest, and most important, is without a doubt the S-3 (operations and training) position.
First, the S-3 is responsible for literally everything to do with training for the battalion, therefore they should be an expert at what the mission is and how to train for it. It is my opinion that officers can generally be put into any position and succeed, regardless of their branch, but there are a few positions that I don’t think that applies to. Being the S-3 is one of them.
I believe that a good S-3 should be someone who has been at company level leadership in one of the line units they support. For example, I know for a 100% fact that I could go to any battalion, combat arms or otherwise, and be a successful S-1 or S-4. With some work, I could become a good S-2. But stick me as my squadron S-3? I believe that would be a stretch of the imagination. Someday, this will change, but since right now there aren’t females in company leadership in line units, it is the way it is.
The S-3 works very closely with the battalion XO, and is responsible for a number of tasks in the area of operations and training. These duties include:
- Writing operations orders – This isn’t too different from what most officers are expected to be able to do, but writing a comprehensive and detailed operations order for an entire battalion is a great task that you must master as the S-3.
- Tasking subordinate units – This is very important. All taskings to subordinate units can only come from the 3 shop. This is something to remember if you’re in one of those subordinate units and getting a tasking from, say, the S-1.
- Determining training needs of their battalion – This ties in with my paragraph about knowing what the battalion mission is and understanding it at the company level first.
- Establishing SOPs – SOPs guide us on many different tasks. There should be some unified SOP in the battalion, and some should be determined at the company level. The S-3 is concerned with everything at the battalion level only. This is not to say that they shouldn’t care about company level, because they should.
- Ensuring unit readiness across the battalion – Readiness is comprised of more than just administrative functions. The S-3 should be concerned about training readiness as well as the complete picture. For example, my entire brigade is going through an evaluation called xCTC for AT this year. The line units are getting evaluated on their MTOE tasks to ensure readiness for deployment.
The S-3 position is a complex, but rewarding job. You can help the units achieve training goals and ensure that the entire battalion functions effectively. The S-3 can make or break your organization.
On a side note, if you are (or were) a Battalion S3 at any point in time, I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts and insights by leaving a comment below.