Squad Organization

One of my biggest goals for the classes that I teach and the articles that I write is to get patriotic Americans in the mindset of working with others in a team. A key element of this is learning how to task-organize a group into an effective squad, which is something I cover in the Team Leader Class. In this article I will discuss considerations for organizing a squad of volunteers, list some common billets for specialized roles and duties, and present my proposed “Jäger Squad” model for the modern American Minuteman.

Cognitive Load Theory (How Many Men can a Squad Leader Control?)

Our brains are like computers. A computer has a limited amount of processing power and can only handle so many tasks at once. If you overburden a computer with too many tasks, it will slow down considerably and do none of the tasks efficiently (or at all).

Our brains work the same way, and working with a limited amount of processing power that is sometimes referred to as “cognitive load capacity”. A squad leader must keep track of where his men are and what they’re doing. On top of this, he must also maintain situational awareness of what the enemy is doing and where adjacent friendly units are, not to mention taking cover and occasionally using his own weapon. The squad leader can get overburdened if he has to keep track of too many subordinates at once, reducing his effectiveness and endangering the squad.

The Marine Rifle Squad

So, how many is too many? The traditional Marine Corps’ solution can be summed up as “The Rule of Threes.” This is to say that each Marine has three subordinates to worry about on top of his personal survival and commands from his superiors. Any more than three tends to overburden a leader. Granted, some exceptional individuals with unusual cognitive load capacities can handle 4 or more subordinates, but they are just that; exceptions. This rule is the foundation of the most basic unit in the US Military; the Fire Team, consisting of three Marines and a Team Leader.

Moving up to the squad level, a Marine Rifle squad consists of three fire teams and a squad leader for a total of 13 Marines. The squad leader is not overburdened by his 12 subordinates because he only has to interact with his 3 team leaders, trusting them to manage their individual Marines. This same principle is applied to the platoon commander who has 3 squads underneath him, and so on up the chain of command.

The Marine Rifle Squad model is the result of several decades of fine tuning throughout the early 20th century until it was finalized in 1944. It has remained mostly unchanged until the last few years with the addition of an assistant squad leader and a drone operator/EW specialist, but the basic principle remains of the squad leader in charge of 3 fire teams.

One final note here before we move on. Rifle squads (and higher echelon units) often operate with attached elements such as machine gun teams or anti-tank missilemen. The squad leader is able to handle the addition of 1 or 2 attached teams through his extensive training and experience, which tends to increase his cognitive load capacity. Fire team leaders do not have this level of experience, and almost never get attachments beyond the three Marines in their team.

Specialty Designations within a Squad

One thing that is necessary for any successful organization, warfighting or not, is task organization. Within a squad, there are certain special duties that must be assigned to certain individuals. Here is a list of some commonly assigned roles, or “billets.” I will leave out billets that do not apply to the common American (such as machine gunners and grenadiers). Note that a couple of these billets are mission-specific, and thus not always present.

  • Leadership
    • Squad Leader (SL): As his name implies, responsible for the overall conduct of the squad. He is responsible for maintaining control of his squad by managing his team leaders.
    • Assistant Squad Leader (ASL): Assists the SL in his duties. If this billet is present, the ASL takes care of internal administrative work so that the SL can focus externally on the tactical situation as a whole. This billet may be occasionally assigned to a team leader.
    • Team Leader (TL): Responsible for his fire team, leading by example and coordinating with the SL and other TLs.
  • Weapons Specialists
    • Rifleman: Armed with a carbine and fighting load. Is often assigned a secondary billet depending on the mission.
    • Automatic Rifleman (AR): Equipped with a modified carbine and bipod that enable him to rapidly suppress and destroy the enemy using well-placed, accurate burst fire.
    • Anti-Materiel Rifleman (AMR): Equipped with a .50 caliber rifle and armor-piercing ammunition to engage hard targets such as fortifications and armored vehicles.
    • Designated Marksman (DM): Equipped with an accurized rifle to target high value targets such as enemy leadership and radio operators. He uses his magnified optics to feed the SL’s situational awareness, and can be assigned priority targets as necessary.
    • Air Guard: Tasked with watching/listening for hostile aircraft, including drones. If possible, he is equipped with directional jamming equipment to bring down or drive off hostile SUAS. If the enemy is known to use kamikaze drones, he may also be armed with a shotgun as a last ditch defensive measure.
  • Administrative Roles
    • Radio Operator (RO): Responsible for operating the squad’s longer-range radio equipment and communicating with higher headquarters.
    • Combat Lifesaver/medic (CLS): carries additional medical supplies and is trained to stabilize casualties in the field for CASEVAC. This billet should be exclusive and NOT stacked with any other jobs. Doc is not an automatic rifleman. Doc is Doc.
  • Force Multipliers
    • Drone Pilot: Pilots a small quadcopter drone to increase the SL’s situational awareness and conduct aerial reconnaissance. If the drone is able to drop ordnance, it can even be used as a form of close air support.
    • Electronic Warfare (EW) Specialist: Equipped with Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) equipment to detect potentially hostile radio transmissions and exploit them through monitoring, direction finding, or jamming. This specialist may also perform the duties of the Air Guard.

Considerations for the Modern Minuteman

I am a big fan of the Marine Corps rifle squad model. It worked well for me having three fire teams to control, and provides greater opportunity for maneuver and more firepower than the Army’s 9-man squad of two fire teams. I’m not knocking the Army too hard, their squad model is designed to work in the context of platoon-sized operations, often with armored support. The Marine Corps is more of a light infantry force and frequently conducts independent squad operations, so it makes sense that our squads are set up the way that they are.

One thing to remember is that, in the military, squads often work with attached teams of specialists from a weapons platoon/company. Minutemen don’t have that kind of resource to draw from, and will need to have those specialists organic to their squad.

My Proposed Solution: “The Jäger Squad”

Above is my proposed squad structure for Minuteman groups operating as light infantry. It is almost identical to the Marine Rifle squad, but with the addition of a few specialist billets in the second fire team. I did this because, as a squad leader, I most often designated my 2nd team as my support element, and worked in closer proximity to that team while designating my 1st and 3rd teams as security and assault elements respectively.

As squad leader, I want to be closer to key weapon systems and intelligence tools so that I can control them directly when necessary. The Electronic Warfare/CUAS specialist has listening tools for detecting enemy radio transmissions, including hostile UAS. As squad leader, I want to be in direct communication with him because the information he has is critical to my decision making, and is too specific to pass with hand/arm signals.

The other change is that I replaced the 2nd Team’s automatic rifleman with a designated marksman. Whereas the Marine Corps only attaches DMs to squads when requested, I prefer to have the added capability that a DM provides at all times. I can use him to neutralize small/distant targets, or I can employ him as a Guardian Angel. Alternatively, if the enemy is known to use armored vehicles, I would replace the DM with an AMR to give me light anti-armor. In a pinch, he can still function as a DM by switching from AP ammo to match grade FMJs.

The last change is the addition of a squad combat lifesaver (CLS)/medic. This billet replaces one of the riflemen in either 1st or 3rd team. The CLS carries additional lifesaving medical supplies in a backpack that can help keep casualties alive until a CASEVAC can be arranged to take them to a higher echelon of care.

I kept the third team generic for a reason. I am not naïve enough to think that every Minuteman group will be able to find 13 like-minded individuals to take on a patrol. And that is fine, you can work your way up there in time. I recommend that newer groups of 5 or more split into only two teams until they gain the confidence and manpower to add a third team.

Remember, this is a guideline, a “wish list” if you will, of what I see as a best case scenario. If you don’t have access to the specialized weapons, equipment, or training required for some of the billets listed above, make whatever adjustments you need to make best use of what you have.


Today we briefly overviewed cognitive load theory as it pertains to command and control, looked at common billets for individuals in a small unit, and closed with a prospective model for squad organization. Hopefully this gave you food for thought for how to organize your group.

Again, I caution you against simply copying mine or anybody else’s model for squad organization. Everybody has different resources, mission sets, and unique considerations for their area. If you use my “Jäger Squad” model, use it as a base that you mold to fit your specific needs and abilities.

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at vonsteubentraining@protonmail.com

7 thoughts on “Squad Organization

  1. Great article with a lot of useful info. Thank you.

    The rule of three’s is found in a lot of critical professions. It should be more well-known and used in every organization. It applies to moving up and across the organization. It applies in many other scenarios as well.


  2. How would you organize a 6- or 7-man team? For ranger/Jaeger-style warfare, I always envision 6-man teams (3 Buddy pairs), plus or minus a separate team leader. Like Vietnam-era LRRPs, they’d likely have only a single auto rifle, and everyone else would carry rifles.


    1. I would split a 6-7 man squad into two teams of three men each. In a 6-man squad, the squad leader would be the most senior of the two team leaders. He still controls 3 subordinates (his two team members and the second team leader), and is not overburdened. This is how USMC Recon patrols are formed. In a 7-man squad, the squad leader would be separate from either team.

      I don’t like to detach groups smaller than 3-men if I can avoid it. That way if one man is hit, the second man can drag/carry him away while the third man covers them. 3 men can conduct fire and movement more safely than a buddy pair by having 1 man move and 2 men shoot. And when one member of a 3-man team has a special weapon like an AMR or an autorifle, one man can spot for him while the other pulls rear security.

      Regarding weapons allocations, I would prefer to have two autorifles, one per team. If a squad that small is discovered and attacked, they need to be able to lay down a large amount of fire to make up for their lack of numbers. If our mission was recon instead of combat, I would replace one autorifle with a DMR, or an AMR if there was a threat of hostile armored vehicles. Everybody else would have rifles. The only other specialist I would take is a Combat Live Saver (CLS).


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