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
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-
- Portray what "ground" (the battlefield area) looks like.
- Determine the threat (what the enemy has and what he
plans to do with it).
- Create a collection plan that will find the enemy (or
other information that your commander requires).
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, the enemy will attack within 12 to 36 hours.
- Sir, there is a 63 percent chance of rain within the next
- Sir, the advanced guard main body has between 3 and 6
tanks and 12 to 20 BMPs left.
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
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
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.
- What the enemy has (his personnel, weapons and equipment,
and their performance parameters).
- What are the capabilities and limitations of his
equipment opposing ours?
- What is his mission?
- Where is his equipment?
- How will he try to accomplish his mission in accordance
with his doctrine?
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
[email protected] emh7.korea. army.mil.