Team Cobra: A Motorized Tank Company in Support of Operation New Dawn

by CPT Patrick C. Howlett
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When a tank company deploys to conduct counterinsurgency or stability-and-support operations, task organization is generally necessary to allow it to execute the specific missions it receives. Task organizing is the act of configuring an operating force, support staff or sustainment package of specific size and composition to meet a unique task or mission.1

Based on its modified table of organization and equipment, an Armor company consists of three platoons with an officer and 15 Soldiers each, as well as a headquarters element of two officers and six Soldiers, totaling 56 maneuver personnel. In contrast, the MTOE for a mechanized infantry company provides for up to 135 maneuver personnel.2

Both elements are commonly augmented with fire-support officers, medics and mechanics from the battalion headquarters and headquarters company and the forward-support company to support operations.

Realities in Iraq

I’ve set the stage because, as the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade of 1st Cavalry Division, my Cobra Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, deployed to Iraq’s Diyala Province in support of Operation New Dawn. We faced multiple challenges to reconcile our assigned missions with the limited capabilities inherent in our smaller size while still maintaining combat effectiveness.

As a tank company conducting SASO, Cobra Company received a variety of missions and tasks. One major task assigned to the company was to execute force-protection missions to prevent enemy combatants from attacking U.S. forces and installations. To accomplish this objective, the company conducted both mounted and dismounted counter-indirect-fire patrols and clearances of named areas of interest to deter indirect-fire attacks on Contingency Operation Site Warhorse.

While C-IDF missions were the predominate form of force protection, the more decisive operation involved overseeing security for the line of communication between COS Warhorse and Joint Base Balad, a route heavily traveled by logistics convoys conducting resupply operations for COS Warhorse and other U.S. installations in Diyala Province. Also, Cobra Company was tasked with area-security operations to escort Department of State personnel from the Diyala Provincial Reconstruction Team to and from their various meetings and project sites.

The infantry unit that Cobra Company replaced in Southern Diyala had ample resources to conduct these operations based upon their MTOE, which provided for more than twice the number of maneuver personnel based on their MTOE. As a tank company, the Cobras faced the particular challenge of accomplishing the same tasks with significantly less company power than the infantry companies had.

An additional burden placed on units deploying to Operation New Dawn, designed to aid in the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, was the emplacement of a force cap. A force cap limits the number of Soldiers a unit can deploy; Cobra Company was limited to deployment with only 74 Soldiers. The tank platoons assigned to Cobra Company deployed with about 17 Soldiers, including a medic and a forward observer, who provided information and intelligence updates as part of the company intelligence-support team.

Task organization

After some mission analysis at the battalion level upon arrival at COS Warhorse, the leadership determined to task-organize Cobra Company by attaching one tank platoon to HHC, while a mechanized-infantry platoon attached to Cobra Company. The tank platoon attached to HHC was tasked with providing area security for the battalion commander and command sergeant major as their personnel-security detachment, and was replaced with a mechanized-infantry platoon of about 30 Soldiers.

The result constructed a combined-arms company team with one or more nonorganic tank, mechanized-infantry or light-infantry platoons to a tank, mechanized-infantry or light-infantry company, either in exchange for or in addition to organic platoons.3 The change from being a pure organic tank company to a combined-arms company team greatly increased the combat power and flexibility in Cobra Company, allowing it to accomplish all tasks given it.

After the platoon became part of Cobra Company, the company commander and first sergeant decided to take two three-Soldier teams from the infantry platoon and task-organize them within the company to each of the two remaining tank platoons. This decision was based on Cobra Company’s previous training events from situational-training exercises at Fort Hood, TX, and during the brigade mission-readiness exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, LA.

Thus, when conducting motorized operations, the tank platoons would have the platoon leader, the Bravo Section sergeant, all the assigned loaders on the tank crews and the attached medic acting as dismounts whenever the platoon needed to dismount from their vehicles. This only provided a total of six dismounts, with a medic to provide medical support. Adding those three infantry Soldiers enabled the tank platoons to operate with the capability of a standard nine-man dismounted squad while conducting force protection and SASO.

It is worth noting that one sergeant team leader and two Soldiers made up the small infantry team attached to the two tank platoons. This not only aided the two tank platoons, giving them about 20 Soldiers for their platoons to conduct patrols, but it also provided an experienced noncommissioned officer with a strong understanding of dismounted tactics. While the three-Soldier team made it easy to integrate the platoon in a timely manner, making them an asset, an increase in the number of attached infantry would always ensure a sizeable dismount force.4 This combination of infantry and Armor Soldiers “brought the training and experience of mounted and dismounted tactics together and made the [platoons] extremely lethal.”5

With the requirement to send Soldiers on environmental morale leave, each platoon was sending at least two Soldiers a month. The remaining infantry allowed their platoons to maintain enough Soldiers to conduct patrols. Also, it did not degrade the infantry platoon’s ability to conduct patrols, as their mine-resistant, ambush-protected Max-Pro Plus vehicles did not have the capacity to carry all 30 of their Soldiers on patrols.

Having a full nine-Soldier dismounted squad in each platoon greatly aided in the execution of the company’s missions in Southern Diyala. Most of the area in which the company operated consisted of palm groves and farmlands. Also, in the small cities and villages, most of the streets were very narrow. With the vehicle platform being the MRAP, most of the terrain was heavily restricted for mounted maneuver, requiring dismounted squads to maneuver in certain areas. Not only did the terrain dictate that the company would be forced to use dismounted squads for investigating potential enemy indirect-fire attack points, the specific missions assigned to Cobra Company required a greater emphasis on dismount support.

Lessons learned

However, the coordination of the task organization was made very late. The unit had already been conducting the relief in place/transfer of authority with the redeploying unit before the decision to task-organize was made. Not only did Charlie Company and the attached Alpha Company platoon have to execute some logistical problem-solving, there had been no cross-training before the deployment between the two units, forcing both elements to quickly adapt.6 Some of the infantrymen had been attached to Charlie Company during STX events and the JRTC rotation, but they did not stay permanently attached and there was no time to learn about the leadership they would be working for, nor the company’s standards. Ensuring the same Soldiers train with the platoon before the deployment would greatly improve the effectiveness of the task organization.7 While mission requirements are constantly adapting, decisions about task organization need to be finalized well in advance of the combat training center rotation.

Most importantly, a tremendous amount of Cobra Company’s combat power focused on the C-IDF mission, with an average of two C-IDF patrols a day. COS Warhorse was a constant recipient of indirect fire from enemy insurgent groups from the surrounding farm areas in Diyala. To successfully disrupt enemy indirect-fire operations, patrols were required to disrupt areas where the enemy had previously fired from and areas determined to be potential attack sites. (This was referred to as terrain denial.)

Based on the restricted terrain and the limitations of the company’s maneuver platform, the use of dismounted squads were crucial in ensuring clearance of potential indirect-launch points as well as disrupting the enemy’s ability to successful launch indirect fire upon COS Warhorse.

Cobra Company was also responsible for one of the key lines of communication in Diyala Province. Due to the Tigris River separating the brigade’s main support base of JBB with COS Warhorse, the brigade’s supply convoys could only travel on Route Dover that contained a bridge to cross the river.

However, the U.S. supply convoys were predictable, so local insurgent groups would target U.S. vehicles regularly with explosive-formed penetrators. In response to this threat, Cobra Company assumed a specific mission upon RIP/TOA, which involved emplacing small kill teams along Route Dover to interdict any insurgent groups attempting to emplace EFPs along the route. Providing two elements, a mounted security and quick-response element and the SKT, required more personnel to operate and defend the mounted element; allow the SKT to maneuver separately; and have enough personnel to maintain security and maneuver and engage insurgents placing explosives. While this mission was more suited for a larger infantry platoon, the two tank platoons were tasked with executing this mission on multiple occasions without any hindrance. Without the added infantry dismounts to each tank platoon, Cobra Company would not have had success in its LOC-security mission.

Personnel security

One mission Cobra Company dealt with that was critical in SASO was the security of the Diyala PRT. Almost every day DoS personnel would conduct meetings with the Diyala governor, local judges and other provincial leaders at the government center in the provincial capital of Baqubah. Cobra Company was responsible for providing area security around the government center and personnel security for PRT members.

On many occasions, PRT members would have concurrent meetings at different locations within the government center, requiring multiple dismounted security elements to escort them to the secured vehicle-staging area and their meetings. Shortly after the RIP/TOA, while a tank platoon was providing security for the PRT at the government center, a violent-extremist-network insurgent group attacked the provincial building 500 meters away. The platoon was able to maintain security at the government center with a section while maneuvering the other section to the provincial building to aid Iraqi security forces in regaining control of the building. The increased dismount capability within the two tank platoons allowed them to easily handle the tasks placed on them to provide security and allow the PRT to accomplish their missions despite the multiple locations of personnel within the government center.


While the attached infantry platoon still maintained the largest formation within the company, the task organization implemented by Cobra Company allowed each platoon to complete any of the patrols tasked to them. The attached infantry platoon “benefitted from the task organization as they learned much about mounted operations from [the tankers],” learning certain skills and making them successful in the mounted operations conducted by the unit.8 It provided the commander a tremendous amount of flexibility, as in the event of an attack or a recent intelligence report, he could send the most readily available platoon, not a specific one, as all were equipped to handle every mission.

Another benefit from this specific task organization was the ability to rotate platoons among specific patrols. Rotating platoons between the PRT escort mission, C-IDF and counter-EFP patrols regularly prevented complacency forming within the platoons from conducting the same missions repeatedly.

Above all else, the decision to task-organize “gave more combat power and added dismounted knowledge to the platoons they were tasked to.”9

When a mechanized-infantry platoon attaches to a tank company, they maintain their full amount of infantrymen, and the two tank platoons remain at their pure organic allocation of Soldiers. This generally leads to specific missions being assigned to each of the two types of platoons. Also, in conventional offensive and defensive operations, there are no added capabilities, nor anywhere for an organic tank platoon to add any more personnel.

In the current operating environment dealing heavily with SASO, the tank platoon, which operates the MRAP and humvee, is required to operate in a vastly different form than exposed to in initial training.

Clearly, task organizing and adding those extra infantry dismounts greatly aided both the tank platoons and the company as a whole to accomplish the commander’s intent and succeed. Having those attachments allowed an experienced noncommissioned officer to aid in dismounted operations, provide flexibility to the commander in assigning patrols to the platoons and provide the additional personnel vitally needed to allow the platoons to operate while maintaining security and accomplishing their missions safely. As armored brigade combat teams now begin to deploy to Afghanistan to conduct stability operations, task-organizing their Armor companies in a similar manner could prove invaluable to support their missions.


CPT Patrick Howlett commands mechanized infantry, A Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, Fort Hood, TX. His duty assignments have included tank-company commander, C Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, Diyala, Iraq; troop executive officer, B Company, 5th Battalion, 4th Cavalry, Fort Riley, KS, and Baghdad, Iraq; and scout-platoon leader, C Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Cavalry, Fort Riley, KS. His military schooling includes Ranger School, Air Assault School, Scout Leader Course, Maneuver Captains’ Career Course and Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course. CPT Howlett holds a bachelor’s of science degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in U.S. history.


1 Field Manual 5-0, The Operations Process, Department of the Army, March 2010.

2 FM 3-90.1, Tank and Mechanized Infantry Company Team, Department of the Army, December 2002.

3 FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics, Department of the Army, September 1997.

4 Interviews with 1LTs Benjamin Mower and Nicholas Potter, platoon leaders for 1st Platoon and 3rd Platoon, C Company, Aug. 16, 2012.

5 Interview with 1LT Mower.

6 Interview with 1LT Jeffery Tolbert, platoon leader of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1-8 Cavalry, Aug. 10, 2012.

7 Interview with 1LT Potter.

8 Interview with 1LT Tolbert.

9 Ibid.

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