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Posted on May 23, 2006 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 004. Purpose

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

"If a battalion is ordered to drive the enemy from the hill, a bridge, etc., the true purpose is normally to occupy that point. The destruction of the enemy’s force is only a means to an end, a secondary matter. If mere demonstration is enough to cause the enemy to abandon his position, the objective [purpose] has been achieved." Clausewitz


We’re a couple months into the series and some of you are probably thinking, “When do I start determining what my units are supposed to do?” For those of you who suffered many sleepless nights, this article will begin to ease your anxiety!

You’ll remember that we opened our study with mission analysis. As you know, it takes a dynamic and in depth understanding of yourself, the terrain, and the enemy, to be successful on the battlefield. Last month, we explored the criticality of the decisive point and learned how to use it as the start point of course of action development. With these fundamentals locked in our ‘brain housing group’ we can begin to form a plan that addresses why we are going into harms way and what we need to accomplish to be successful. The key that unlocks this door is the dual concept of purpose and task.


Purpose and task are mutually supporting and irrevocably intertwined, but there is a distinct leader in this relationship. In this article, we will focus on the leader – purpose. We will begin by discussing the concept itself and then put it all together for you graphically.

"Every single Soldier, before he goes into battle, must know how the little battle he is to fight fits into the larger picture, and how the success of his fighting will influence the battle as a whole." Montgomery

You may not be a Montgomery fan, but he was truly correct in the above quote. Everyone on the battlefield must understand why he is there and how his actions relate to overall mission accomplishment. In other words, they must know what their unique contribution to the fight is. Everyone wants to know why he is doing something. This is the purpose. Army doctrine defines purpose as, “The desired or intended result of the tactical operation stated in terms relating to the enemy or to the desired situation.”

So why is this important to you when beginning to formulate your plan? In essence, the development of purposes ensures that your subordinate units (if you are fighting a battalion, you are focusing on companies) are all tied together and are focused in a common goal – mission accomplishment. This tie-in constitutes a unity of effort or a ‘nesting’ of efforts. If a unit knows the purpose of its mission, it can strive to meet that end even if the desired method fails. What we are to do (task) and how we are to do it may change in the course of a battle, but the purpose remains constant.

To put this in practice you begin by developing the purpose you envision at the decisive point. Since the accomplishment of the decisive point is the key to achieving your mission, you will normally give this purpose to your main effort unit (we will talk main effort in a future article).

For example, let’s go back to last month’s article; you probably have it with you constantly! Let’s call the east flank battle position the decisive point. You decide that the purpose for taking that position is to allow your unit to render the enemy defense untenable. If you own the east flank position you dominate the enemy by fire and most likely you will be able to envelop them. This becomes the hub of your entire plan. All other actions and their associated purposes revolve around that hub. All subunit actions support its attainment and shape the battlefield for it.

Normally, the half of a mission statement that contains the purpose begins with the words “in order to”. This is far from being a rule, but it does help separate, highlight, and convey purpose. We follow up “in order to” with descriptive action verbs that clarify the “why”. These include: allow, assist, cause, create, deceive, deny, divert, enable, ensure, envelop, facilitate, influence, open, prevent, protect, support, and surprise. All this is capped off with a specific situational description of the desired effect. It ends up looking something like this, “… in order to facilitate the maneuver of follow-on forces or … in order to protect the flank of the Brigade main effort.”

[continued on next page]

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  1. I was just wondering if we could get the images back on these earlier articles.

    I tried emailing the feedback email about this but it failed to respond.

    • I’ll check with Tech Support here at AG and see if we can’t figure something out. Thanks Mark for letting us know there is a problem.

      • Unfortunately, tech support says the pictures are lost. This was probably due to a rebuild a while back. I’m very sorry.

      • That’s a shame. But, thank you for getting back to me and having a look at it.

    • I never would have thought of the wayback machine. That’s brilliant!

      Thank you very much!

      • No problem but the wayback machine save only the small pictures not the large version. Could be a little problem if you want to see more details.


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