The S2's Ten Tenets for Success

by Captain Shawn C. Weed

As intelligence professionals, our mantra is "Intelligence is for the Commander." The people who turn these words into action at the battalion and brigade levels are the S2 and intelligence section. After serving three tours as a battalion S2, I have compiled ten tenets I believe will put the new S2 on the road to success (see Figure 1).

Tenets for S2 Success

Manage Your Time Wisely. Anyone who has been an S2 has wrestled with the perennial dilemma of "too much to do and too little time." Most of us leave the basic or advanced course with a satchel full of field manuals, notes, and student texts all telling us that we have 37 overlays, matrices, briefing charts, and so forth to complete before the operations order is published. What we fail to realize, however, is that many times we have approximately six hours between change of mission and preparation for the next mission analysis briefing. Therefore, you must realistically determine the products your commander really needs. Prioritize them, and determine the time required to make them and who in the section will complete them.
Every S2 job is different based on the "wants" of the commander (see the next tenet) and the mission of the unit. The absolutes are that you must-
This applies to any unit, whether it is an air defense artillery (ADA) battalion or a ranger regiment. Since you will never have enough time, I recommend leveraging technology to make completing recurring tasks easier and faster. S2s are now able to create course of action (COA) sketches, reports, intelligence estimates, orders, battle damage assessment charts, and more with the help of computers. For example, you know, as the S2, you will be required to review the intelligence estimate during mission analysis, and later the operations order, so why not put the estimate format into the computer on PowerPoint slides for the different missions you will likely face? Then it becomes merely a matter of filling in the blanks to complete, reproduce, and disseminate the estimate when the mission changes. This applies to other aspects of the command estimate process. Why not put your situation templates (SITEMP) on a 1:50,000 scale map that has been scanned into the computer? After receipt of the order, you can copy the SITEMP overlays and the digital map onto transparencies and distribute them as needed.
Never draw 12 copies on transparencies by hand when the computer can do it for you. When you are required to give an intelligence update one hour prior to crossing the line of departure, you can hand the company commanders transparencies containing the updated enemy situation that they can tape directly onto their maps (saving them time). Time savings will allow you to focus on what the enemy is doing or preparing to do, a rare luxury that may mean the difference between your unit's success and failure.
Give Commanders What They Want. It seems obvious, but S2s will avoid a lot of heartache by giving their commanders what they want. By virtue of their positions and experience, commanders know more about the battalion they are commanding than S2s do. They also know, hopefully, what information is needed to successfully fight that battalion. If the commander says he needs you to graphically portray the enemy disposition every 15 minutes beyond a certain phase line, there is probably a good reason for it. If you think it does not make sense or you have a better idea, speak up and state your case.
Disagreement is not disrespect. However, when he finally says he wants it, you had better produce. Conversely, if the boss says he does not want you to provide him a 15-minute dissertation on key effects of pollen count relevant to the operation, then do not do it. Remember, he, too, will never have enough time available to do all the things he needs to accomplish and every second you waste is a second that your supported unit does not have to plan, prepare, and rehearse for their mission.
Read Your Books. To have even a chance of being a successful S2, you must first know what you are required to do. The best place to start is with the applicable doctrinal publications. Sure, most of us would rather watch paint dry on the hood of a HMMWV than read a field manual, but the FMs, student texts, mission training plans (MTPs), and training circulars have good information and examples of the products you are required to produce.
We all have our own "Top 10 List" of favorite manuals. Again, your list will vary, but the top three are the trio I carry everywhere. With these references, you can map out the friendly mission (such things as what a scout platoon really must do when you say "zone reconnaissance"). You will also know how a plan is developed, the S2's part in the development of the plan, the mechanics of creating products, and what the commander needs to know when fighting a battle.
Some S2s I know carry a foot locker with 130 different references with them to the field, and can never find the one they really need. I believe S2s should focus on key documents needed to support the battalion's mission. I have never fallen short because I did not have a copy of FM 3-12 (Operational Aspects of Radiological Defense) in my kit bag.
Know the DTLOMS of Your Battalion. Many S2s are not successful because they spend most their time looking at Kraznovian or Atlantican order of battle charts. It is imperative to learn your battalion's particular composition: doctrine, training, leaders, organization, materiel, and soldiers (DTLOMS). Knowing the types and quantities of equipment, and that equipment's capabilities is just as important as knowing how many BMP-2 infantry vehicles are in the enemy's Forward Security Element.
The battlefield is not a chessboard on which each side moves one space at a time. Adversaries are trying to out-smart each other and gain the advantage for the decisive blow. Therefore, knowing the capabilities and weaknesses of your unit will directly affect how the enemy will organize and fight. For example, if you are in an armor battalion task force attacking in the defiles of Korea against a light force, you should know the climbing capabilities of your unit's vehicles, the elevation parameters for the weapon systems, and that Bradley IFVs will have fewer dismounted soldiers on-hand than they have on paper. You should know this because the enemy will know and will execute a COA intended to exploit these limitations and vulnerabilities.
Additionally, your knowledge of the unit DTLOMS will help ensure that you convey the mission accurately to the responsible unit. For example, if you want the scouts to identify enemy activity at two key road intersections and you draw a box and say you need a zone reconnaissance, that scout platoon leader will refer to his MTP which outlines the specific tasks required to execute a zone reconnaissance and drive on. However, you will have squandered valuable time and resources by having the scouts execute more than the required mission.
Fish or Cut Bait. Perhaps more than any other officer on the staff, the S2 is infamous for tap dancing and just plain avoiding giving a definitive answer. A few examples are-
The S2 is paid to give precise answers at critical times to the commander, enhancing his ability to make decisions. The above are not accurate answers. If the information is inconclusive, give your best analytical judgment (not guess) and explain your reasoning. For example
Sir, I believe the enemy will attack with two companies on line across Phase Line Brown in 90 minutes. I base this on the report of Bravo Company's engagement of the enemy's combat reconnaissance patrols in the south and the fact that before-morning-nautical- time is two hours away and the enemy has no night vision capability. This will allow him to move under the cover of darkness and attack with enough light available to engage targets out to the maximum effective range of his priority killing systems.
Of course, you can add to this proposed COA based on the real situation, but the point is to give the commander an analysis of what has happened in the past and how that affects what will happen in the future.
Always Think Ahead. No one drives through the forest at 60 miles an hour with their lights off, so why work that way? Yes, commanders need to know what has just happened and what is happening now, but to win battles they need to know what is going to happen so they can develop plans, allocate resources, and execute in time. If you are just relaying spot reports from your collection assets, you are nothing more than a historian recording the past. Try to put yourself into the head of the enemy commander and think about his intent, task, and purpose.
See the Ground. Intelligence officers really love maps: large-scale maps, small-scale maps, digital maps, joint operational graphics, three-dimensional renderings, and All-Source Analysis Systems products. I submit to you that none of these is as good as taking a pair of binoculars, a rifle, and an MRE and walking over the ground with an expert from your battalion. Your NCOICs are likely choices as they are sergeants first class or master sergeants who have been squad leaders, platoon sergeants, and tank or Bradley commanders. Ask questions like "could you get a Bradley up here?" and "could you dig in your squad in this type of dirt?"
This is common sense information. You may not know it by virtue of your experience, but it can be invaluable in distinguishing ground truth from the map's ink. Maps are notoriously inaccurate. Many times, terrain features on the map no longer exist. I have seen an S2 passionately brief how the enemy would launch an attack over a certain Korean bridge only to have one of the company commanders raise his hand to say that particular bridge fell down during the last monsoon. The result of this faux pas was that everyone thought the S2 clueless.
Know The Enemy. This is the bread and butter of what S2s do. If you do all the physical security, crime prevention, and automated data processing security requirements flawlessly, but cannot tell the commander what the enemy disposition of forces looks like at the objective, you are of little value. The good S2s I have seen really got into the heads of the enemy. They knew his strengths, weaknesses, weapons systems and doctrine, and thought through how they would fight his battle against their own units.
The organizations where I have witnessed the weakest S2 performances are those with combat support or service support missions, specifically MI battalions. I have rarely seen an Ml battalion S2 present any more detail on the enemy situation than what they received from higher echelons. I have also never seen an MI battalion S2 look at all the specific missions of his supported battalion and present an intelligence estimate that addresses them all. Remember, the intelligence estimate begins with the mission statement. Regardless of a unit's mission, the intelligence preparation of the battlefield cycle applies. Be imaginative. If you are an ADA battalion S2, you must know the enemy's air assets, but you also need to know the enemy's ground plan as he will likely use his air assets to support it. Think of yourself as the S3 of the enemy unit you will be fighting. Consider his seven battlefield operating systems and how he will synchronize them to achieve his mission. At a minimum you must know and be able to efficiently convey (remember the first tenet) the following analysis based on the threat:-
This list is not all-inclusive, but if you can answer these questions, you will provide your commander and your unit with the information they need to fight and win.
Be A Team Player. There is no "I" in team. The intelligence officer is one of several players who helps turn missions into success on the objective. If S2s have some personality disorder which prevents them from being valuable members of the group (staff), they can become dysfunctional and actually cause the unit more harm than good. Learn the personalities of the others who are putting together the plan or fighting the battle. Each individual has strengths and weaknesses. If you are a war-gaming machine or computer smart, help out another staff officer who may be an artillery genius but does not know how to input his status report in PowerPoint graphics. Work together to win together. This also applies to your own S2 section. Train the intelligence soldiers to be a cohesive, goal-oriented team. One S2 I knew routinely took personal credit for the work of his subordinates. If your assistant S2 comes up with a new whiz-bang method for calculating enemy battle damage, heap praise on him and let others know what a great job he did. Nothing will destroy trust on a team quicker than a "spotlight" S2.
Be Honest With Yourself And Others. The worst thing an S2 can do is be dishonest with himself or others. I think all of us at one time or another have seen an S2 slip over to the dark side of the force and make something up if he does not know the answer. If you do not know, say so. The commander is counting on you to give him straight, accurate information. His decisions directly impact the lives of soldiers. The embarrassment of not knowing the answer to a question is nothing compared to putting a soldier in harm's way. Also, be able to identify your own strengths and weaknesses. I never believe S2s who say they did everything brilliantly. Some are great at situational templates, some at tactics, others at the command estimate process. If you know where you are weak, admit it, and focus your training and education in that direction.


These are my principles for being a successful S2. Are they all-encompassing? No. Are there things I left out? Of course. Are they valid? Absolutely. If you follow them, it will help make your tenure as the "deuce" the most rewarding time of your career.
Captain Weed is currently the S2 of the United Nations Command Security Battalion Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, Korea. He has served as a company commander at Fort Lewis, Washington; and assistant brigade S3, and targeting officer at Camp Casey, Korea. Captain Weed has a bachelors degree in Journalism from the California Polytechnic University at Pomona. He can be reached at eajs-mi@ emh7.korea.