Day in the life of a platoon commander

Mountain Goat

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Would it be possible to have an insight into the typical daily role of a new platoon commander?
 

Snows

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Paging @Mark to give you a more recent account, but I'll try and sketch out some of it. Bear in mind that I sort of skipped this period and drew the "Go straight on tour" card, so details may not be exact or up to date.

There isn't precisely a typical day, but there is a structure that you fit into. The high level structure is the unit readiness and exercise / operational cycle. This theoretically means that the unit moves through a 2-year cycle of four 6-month periods: readiness, training for deployment (exercise/operations), deployment, recovery/leave. In reality this plot tends to get messed up by events, but that's the structure in theory. It's meant to encompass different, progressive levels of training (called CT, collective training), which go from individual (platoon) training to Brigade level training, at each stage involving and being run by the unit size being trained. So your company level training will involve the whole company, and be broadly run by the company. The other companies in the Bn will be doing the same on their own. This, as well as planned exercises or deployments, is what gives a structure to whatever you are doing during the week, as there will be particular training objectives you have to achieve in each time period. How and when you conduct them will be dictated by the level running the training (you, Coy, Bn, Brigade).

In barracks, your weeks / days will also have a rough structure to them. There is usually a dedicated phys period (used to be from 0800-1000) each morning. Quite often that is blokes left alone to do their own phys, but it can also be platoon or company phys at the discretion of you or the OC. Friday is set aside for CO's PT (Bn), which in Para Reg is often a 10-miler tab before blokes are cut away for the weekend at lunch. As an officer, you'll try hard to get away as early as you can on Friday while not seeming like you are trying hard to get away, but will often have stuff left over from the week to do (emails to answer, reports to write, etc), so shockingly you may have to do a full day's work. As a new platoon commander, you can also be expected to spend evenings in the mess before, for and after dinner, although this hugely varies according to the mess and regiment. Para Reg tends to be lighter on this kind of stuff than, say, the cavalry or Guards where it is highly formalised and time consuming. But it's still there in its own way, which involves less silver and more bedsheet togas.

Usually on Monday or Tuesday (depending on when higher HQs do theirs) you'll attend your Coy orders group (O-gp) with the OC, CSM, and the different platoon commands. This will usually take the rest of a morning after PT, or afternoon.

Put together, that's basically Mondays and Fridays accounted for.

About three times a year, as a platoon commander, you're going to spend a couple of weeks focusing on reports and promotion boards, according to the Army level plot of when different ranks get their reports and are eligible for promotion. That means you'll draft all the reports for a particular rank (Pte, LCpl, Cpl - your Sgt is done at Coy level), and go to one or two boards at Coy level which compare everyone at that rank across the different platoons. You then go back and finalise the writing or reports, and there is a bit of to and fro between different people writing different parts of the report, usually you and your OC.

The rest of the week is going to be variable according to what's going on on the larger training and deployment plots. In barracks normal running, your section commanders and Sgt are usually going to run the daily training serials, and you'll get involved as and when you can, as well as run some of the training on, for example, planning, orders and so on. You'll also have basic admin tasks to oversee, like maintenance of your platoon lines, equipment, weapons, and so on. For all of this you will largely be reviewing work done by someone else you have delegated it to, or working with your company staff who manage it. There is also going to be a fair amount of email ping pong which will absorb your time and patience, generally pointless bollocks created by someone in an HQ with too little to do. This is the nature of large bureaucracies, which the Army is.

You are also going to have personal training to do. Quite regularly you'll have to attend career or individual training courses for a variety of things, the standard is officer education, others are courses for secondary roles that the Bn or Coy want you to perform. The Army loves nothing more than turning an essentially simple role into something that requires a 4 week course to be 'qualified' in. This will absorb an increasingly large part of your time, and quite probably be a constant frustration to both you and your Bn, as nobody has ever sat down and worked out that the 'required' courses lengths for individuals often add up to more time than they have available while still doing their actual job: the original Captain's course, for example, started out at 2 months long for often repeated material that probably could have been achieved in 2 weeks. On the plus side, some of these courses can be genuinely interesting, and take you out of Bn to different locations and meeting different people from other arms or services.

Finally, you'll have a plot of duties and responsibilities at Bn and Coy level, as well as probably from the officers mess, and occasionally be dicked with things like organising a dinner. The duties are usually some form of duty officer about once or twice a month, which will rule out that day or, less often, mean you spend your weekend on camp. The mess duties and events are more random, and tend to be focused on a particular day or week, but can take up quite a lot of time around the duty or event.

If you are lucky, you will have an OC and Bn who realise that this is already consuming most of your time, and who only add to it as absolutely necessary, trying to give you as much freedom as possible to actually command. If you are unlucky, they will micro-manage and add to it. If you have bad luck and get the latter, the best thing you can do is: learn not to do it yourself.

Between all of this, you'll find that the amount of time you spend on a "typical day" is pretty low.

Last of all, it's important to go back to the first paragraph and understand that the daily running in barracks is not either the point, or even the majority of what you will be doing. It is all enabling activity for when you go on larger field exercises or deployments, which will be much more what you probably joined for. The Army is generally much better at running itself on operations or exercise than it is in barracks, and there is more focus, and less nugatory activity. At present, much of the Army is doing these parts so much that the common complaint seems to be that blokes get too much time deployed on exercises or operations like those in the Baltics. However, this may apply less to 16AA who have their own deployment and readiness cycle. 16AA usually get the fun of sitting around for extended periods waiting for something to happen. But the flip side of that is that when something does happen, there is a very good chance you will be involved.
 

Mountain Goat

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@Snows a comprehensive and very helpful reply, I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to type this out. This has answered a lot of questions.
 

Penfold

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Found this so interesting and it shows that the role is much more about management than some may think
 

Snows

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Found this so interesting and it shows that the role is much more about management than some may think
Yes and no. Don't forget that what I'm describing above is your in-barracks day, and doesn't apply on exercise, operations, etc, which as a platoon commander are very field focused. You may very well end up spending much more time on those than in barracks. As I said, I largely skipped that period and spent half of my first post on tour.

But generally, yes, if you don't want to do management, don't become an officer. It is much more of your role from senior Captain onwards.
 
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