The Leader’s Recon

Craig has a nifty little post on a critical element of the planning process, the leader’s reconnaissance.

“Did you conduct a leader’s recon?”

That’s a question often asked during post-exercise assessments in today’s Army.  The leader’s reconnaissance holds a key position in the troop leading procedures and mission planning.  That holds true from squad to battalion level (though the scope of operations from brigade higher tend to make a leader’s reconnaissance impractical).  The Ranger Handbook explains the importance of the leader’s reconnaissance:

The plan must include a leader’s reconnaissance of the objective…. During his reconnaissance, the leader pinpoints the objective, selects reconnaissance, security, support, and assault positions for his elements, and adjusts his plan based on his observation of the objective.

Now in context, the Bible… er… Ranger Handbook focuses on small unit patrol operations.  But considering a modern day infantry company might hold a position assigned to a Civil War-era corps, the fundamentals translate well to historical situations. And, the leader’s reconnaissance concept applies to any mission. Particularly a river crossing.

Entirely true.

The old saying that in combat plans are useless, but planning is everything is a bit of an oversimplification.

One of the frustrations I used to have in some units was that the way graded evaluations of collective unit training was set up lead units to emphasis those preparatory efforts prior to battle, such as occupying an assembly area and how units employ the Troop Leading Procedures.

We’d spend so much time working on those parts of the evaluation that inevitably the actual training for the actions on the objective were slighted. And inevitably, we’d pay a penalty when the actual simulated battle took place.

Here’s the perverse part- so much of an evaluation was against a checklist of standards that doing well on the non-fighting part and checking the blocks of the fighting part, even if your unit fared poorly, led to an overall evaluation that your unit was doing well. That style of evaluation glossed over the fact that the actions prior to battle only had value in that they increased your chances of actual victory in battle.

FM 3-21.71 MECHANIZED INFANTRY PLATOON AND SQUAD (BRADLEY) says that at a minimum a Leader’s Recon must include a map reconnaissance.  That might be minimally acceptable if enemy observation and security would compromise a physical reconnaissance. But far too often, I saw junior officers too consumed in the minutia of the TLP would run out of time to actually perform a physical reconnaissance (let alone take the squad leaders along), and substitute instead a brief glance at the map and graphics for an operation.  That’s almost understandable on some attack missions, but it’s incredible that often in the defense the leadership would fail to go forward of the defensive position and simply look at the terrain from the enemy’s point of view. Far too often leaders would formulate the plan, publish it, and only then conduct any sort of leader’s recon.

Craig’s post shows a leader’s recon of a river crossing site by BG Hazen (go ahead and read the whole thing, it’s quite short). Note that BG Hazen’s recon of the objective not only informs him, but helps shape the plan itself.

There was an old German saying- time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted.



2 responses to “The Leader’s Recon

  1. Esli

    While I completely concur on your comments on the criticality of a leader’s recon, and the difficulty of doing so, I would add in that I did participate in a leader’s recon of our brigade defense during NTC by the BDE CDR with the BN CDRs and it was a pretty effective event, though the timing of it was poor and occurred after I had invested a significant amount of time on the ground with my own line commanders. I would add that this is the critical thing with leader’s recons is that they must happen first at the higher echelons and flow down hill, and time poorly managed will mean that the lowest echelons will have little or no time for their own recon if the higher cannot get commanders together and then get a plan together and published quickly.


    • One of the fine points in the historical example was that, after his personal recon, Hazen then brought up key leaders down to the company level (about equal to squad level in the modern military) in order to show them the ground. And further to your valid point about time management, Hazen received the mission on the morning of October 25, 1863; spent a day organizing and supplying his forces; Spent the next day recon, planning, subordinate recons. Execution took place that night. Give allowances for the slower communications 150 years ago, and this does compare well to the NTC operation cycle.