The CSS Quick Reaction Force

by Captain Jason C. Mackay

It is 0315 near a U.S. brigade support area (BSA) in the Republic of Mojave. The Parumphian Paramilitary Group (PPG) commander thinks the lack of illumination is a stroke of luck as he gazes at the BSA perimeter through stolen PVS 7B night vision goggles (NVG's). The PPG begins its raid.
Lieutenant Williams, agitated, stares at the silent field phone. She can get no response from the listening post or observation post. Without warning, the sound of light machinegun fire rings out, and fighting position 2 disappears, obliterated by a rocket-propelled grenade. Panic fire erupts from the western perimeter. On the eastern perimeter, the PPG raiders hastily attach satchel charges to the 5,000-gallon fuel tankers that are parked on the outskirts of the perimeter.
Sergeant Jones has been on roving patrol for 3 hours when the shooting and explosions start. He starts running for his assigned position when he notices people sneaking around the fuel tankers. He radios this information to the company command post. As he brings his weapon to the ready, a single 7.62-millimeter round knocks him off his feet, taking his life. On the overlooking ridge, a PPG sniper lowers his rifle and resumes scanning with the stolen NVG's, thinking how much easier they make it for him to cover the raiders.
Captain Baker is trying to make sense of the situation: sporadic contact to the west and a vague spot report from a roving guard inside the wire. It occurs to him that the western contact is a ruse; there is an enemy presence inside his perimeter. The tankers! Baker quickly orders his executive officer, Lieutenant Martin, to take the quick reaction force (QRF) over to the tankers and investigate.
With the satchel charges armed and in place, the raiders stealthily slide out of the same gap in the perimeter (not covered by observation or fires) through which they had entered. The PPG patrol leader pulls rear security and shuffles backward, taking care to hop over the single strand of concertina wire as he exits the BSA.
Meanwhile, Private First Class Krantz and his comrades on the eastern perimeter are getting antsy. No information has come over the field phone, and no one is answering at the command post. Krantz thinks to himself: Where is Sergeant Jones? Someone needs give us the scoop! Krantz is beside himself.
Lieutenant Martin has lost control of the QRF's movement. QRF soldiers now are bobbing and weaving through the tankers. Private Krantz notices movement behind him, near the tankers. "Sappers!" he thinks, and takes aim. A fierce firefight rages between the equally surprised QRF and the defending soldiers, firing inside their own perimeter—each side unknowingly committing fratricide at a gruesome rate.
As the PPG leader counts his last raider at the objective rally point, he is distracted by distant U.S. weapons fire. "What is that all about?" he asks himself. Shaking it off, he accounts for everyone and detonates the satchel charges.
As the sun rises over the smoldering remains of the BSA, damage control teams move about. Captain Baker and his first sergeant wearily piece together what they know. The tankers have been destroyed; the QRF soldiers are all burned or dead; 10 soldiers on the perimeter are wounded or killed.

What happened? Many things went wrong—lack of situational awareness, a poorly trained QRF, no QRF employment procedure, weak defenses—and, in true Murphy's Law fashion, they went wrong in the worst possible sequence. It didn't have to happen, and with a certain amount of preparation and training, it won't happen to you. A properly trained, led, and used QRF is essential to the rear area commander and the combat service support (CSS) units the QRF protects. This article will discuss the QRF: what it does; what it does not do; how it works; when to use it; and how to prepare the QRF to accomplish its mission.

What the QRF Does

Simply put, the QRF is the commander's reserve. What it does is based on the known threat, doctrine, past operations, the scheme of defense, the mission and intent as defined by the commander, analysis of the mission and intent, and the composition of the QRF.

Threat. Threat potential plays a large role in the decision-making process. The key is to plan around reasonable threat scenarios. For example, it is unreasonable to assume that a CSS unit could counter a company-level air assault. On the other hand, countering squad- and team-level harassment, probes, infiltration, and raids is plausible. If there is a known threat, review the doctrine, past operations, and what is known about the potential enemy with your G/S2. If there is no known threat, you may reasonably assume that sappers, sympathizers, special-purpose forces, dismounted reconnaissance teams, rogue mounted reconnaissance, and heliborne infantry (up to platoon strength) will be your level I, II, and III threats. Also examine the bypass criteria of your maneuver units. This will tell you what they are leaving behind. Know your enemies; it will serve you well in defending against them.

Scheme of defense. How your unit defends itself plays a large role in what your QRF will do. Pay careful attention to mission-essential vulnerable areas (MEVA's), the scheme of defense, the terrain, the mission at hand, and other assets available to the commander. MEVA's are those assets or facilities that, if destroyed, would jeopardize the mission. Where MEVA's are located will give you a good indication of where the enemy will go. The overall defense scheme also may indicate where the enemy will go. The enemy usually will work a perimeter to find seams and weak points, such as points at which fields of fire do not overlap, and sneak through dead space in an attempt to breach the perimeter. Terrain has the strongest influence on your defense. For example, if you are in the rear area operations of a small, heavily populated country, urban operations and protecting noncombatant evacuees will dictate a "die-in-place" defense. On the other hand, if you are in a desert with vast expanses of terrain that support secondary fighting positions, you probably can trade terrain for time. Also, combat assets available to your commander will dictate the response, size, and composition of your QRF. If an infantry platoon is attached to the BSA for security, your QRF may not have to be as large or as skilled.

Mission and commander's intent. The mission and intent of the commander are essential to the proper execution of an operation. A QRF is no different. A simple broad-brush task, purpose, and intent will do, such as—

Mission analysis. Now that you have a mission statement, you need to decide what tasks support it. This process closely resembles establishing collective tasks that support the unit mission-essential task list (METL). Focus on what is important and probable. Remember, most of what the QRF does is a battle drill. Mastering the basics will allow the QRF to improvise as needed. Command and control, trigger criteria, and correct use of the QRF are as important as training its members.

QRF composition. Understanding the mission, supporting tasks, and scheme of defense will help you determine your QRF's composition. You must decide how many people you need and what type of weapons they will use. However you compose your QRF, all implied and specified tasks must be assigned with a primary and alternate. QRF operations should be based on standing operating procedures and battle drills. There will be no time to stop and figure things out when the QRF is called on to act.

What the QRF Does Not Do

The QRF is not a "hey-you, ash-and-trash" detail. It is possibly the most misused entity in the CSS world. Some units have used the QRF for gate duty, enemy prisoner of war (EPW) searches, and general-purpose response to everything that goes bump in the night. As a result, those units bungled the genuine QRF missions, and the other soldiers in the units were not trained in basic soldier skills, such as how to search an EPW without masking each other's fire. Worse, soldiers and leaders lost confidence in their warfighting skills. Remember, this is the commander's reserve; no other missions should be assigned.

How and When to Use the QRF

How the QRF executes its mission is critical. Tactical relief of a unit in contact with the enemy often can end before it starts. The QRF can get lost, orient on the wrong part of the perimeter, die in their trucks, and so on. Execution driven by trigger criteria, situational awareness, controlled fires, swift and violent execution of battle drills, restoration of the perimeter and battle hand-off to the owning unit, and extraction is essential to the success of the mission.

Trigger criteria. Trigger criteria are specific conditions that cause the base cluster operations center to employ the QRF. They set the QRF wheels in motion. The criteria should be defined and observable and should be determined based on the particulars of your battlespace to allow the QRF time to alert and move. One technique is to select probable enemy courses of action, plan backwards from the enemy end state, and plan an intercept based on the mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available and the QRF's reaction time. Reading the trigger criteria is a battle task for the staff or company command post that controls the QRF and must be trained and rehearsed.

Situational awareness. Maintaining situational awareness will do the most to prevent fratricide. Masking friendly fires, encircling EPW's while covering a search, and running around aimlessly are signs of poor situational awareness. Soldiers who are frightened because of poor situational awareness are more likely to shoot each other. When soldiers execute anything (not just QRF duties), they need to have the best possible picture of what they are doing, when and why they are doing it, and where friendly and enemy troops are. Without this, the QRF mission is doomed to failure and, worse, loss of life.

Controlled fires. These are critical to the success of the QRF because your QRF will operate inside the perimeter where fratricide is more likely. There are two techniques to control fires on an individual level. One is to use "guns and eyeballs," and the other is to use "perimeter out." Regardless of technique, QRF members should identify targets positively before engaging the enemy, mass fires by teams as the terrain and friendly positions permit, and attempt to maneuver in such a way that their fires will head out of the perimeter.

QRF SOP CardA QRF standing operating procedure (SOP) card is given to each QRF team member. The card identifies each team member (represented by a box), his position (the number in the box), and his duties in that position. For example, the soldier in position 4 provides right side, far side security when crossing linear danger areas (R/FARSIDE SCTY), is a part of the aid and litter team (AID/LITTER TM) when dealing with casualties, enters a building through the opening on the right side during building clearing (R/ENTRY TM), is an alternate for the enemy prisoner of war search team (ALT POW SEARCH), and moves and disables obstacles as a member of the breach team (BREACH TM). Each person is assigned a number so he can cross-load duties and equipment in case of death or injury. The SOP card also illustrates the chain of command. In case the QRF commander (#1) is killed, the A Team leader (#2) takes charge. The QRF is broken into two teams: A Team, the assault (ASSLT) team, and B Team, the support (SPT) team. The arrangement of the boxes represents a squad column moving in traveling overwatch formation. Direction of travel is the top of the page.

A QRF standing operating procedure (SOP) card is given to each QRF team member. The card identifies each team member (represented by a box), his position (the number in the box), and his duties in that position. For example, the soldier in position 4 provides right side, far side security when crossing linear danger areas (R/FARSIDE SCTY), is a part of the aid and litter team (AID/LITTER TM) when dealing with casualties, enters a building through the opening on the right side during building clearing (R/ENTRY TM), is an alternate for the enemy prisoner of war search team (ALT POW SEARCH), and moves and disables obstacles as a member of the breach team (BREACH TM). Each person is assigned a number so he can cross-load duties and equipment in case of death or injury. The SOP card also illustrates the chain of command. In case the QRF commander (#1) is killed, the A Team leader (#2) takes charge. The QRF is broken into two teams: A Team, the assault (ASSLT) team, and B Team, the support (SPT) team. The arrangement of the boxes represents a squad column moving in traveling overwatch formation. Direction of travel is the top of the page.

"Guns and eyeballs" originated in military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) and means that the soldier has his weapon at the ready and can identify and engage without fumbling. He is prepared mentally as well as physically. When a team member crosses through his sector of fire, he points his weapon toward the ground to avoid fratricide.

The "perimeter out" technique is simple: all fires are outbound. No one on the perimeter turns and fires inward unless directly ordered to do so. At the same time, the QRF attempts to maneuver into a position so that its fires are outbound. As we all know, bullets do not stop until they hit something.

Neither technique relieves the leader's responsibility of controlling fires in his unit. Controlling fires is the first step to the successful battle drill and to the overall success of the QRF.

Battle drill. The QRF's programmed reaction is rehearsed and trained repeatedly. It starts when the QRF team members jump off their cots and ends when they conduct recovery after the mission. During a battle drill, the QRF should emphasize shock and speed on the initial engagement, the objective sweep, and the actions taken on the objective.

The QRF should rehearse bounding in teams while one team provides suppressive fires. Communication throughout the QRF is important to avoid fratricide. Yelling "up," "down," and other instructions is important to maintaining communication and situational awareness. This firefight should be one sided—for your side.

Actions on the objective. The sweep through the objective begins as the QRF closes the distance between itself and the enemy and regains terrain from the enemy. The QRF is at greatest risk at this time because it is operating in close quarters. This is the enemy's last chance to take someone with them. The QRF should be careful yet ruthless and quick; kick weapons away; squash resistance; and intimidate the enemy as much as the rules of engagement will allow. Members also need to stay in "lanes" during the sweep so they do not mask each other's fires. Lanes also make it easier to establish security after the objective is seized.

As security is established, the QRF commander tightens control and executes. The team leaders will assemble a LACE report—liquid (water), ammunition on hand, casualties (friendly only), and essential equipment (such as weapons). Red, amber, and green is a good status technique. As the LACE is coming in, the QRF commander needs to call out the specialty teams: demolition, EPW search, and aid and litter. The demolition team can collect enemy equipment. The recorder writes down items collected by the EPW search team. At this point, the QRF commander may need to arrange for a casualty evacuation for EPW and friendly casualties. To avoid chaos, your EPW team should have a kit containing long zip ties (handcuffs), EPW tags, and plastic bags (for EPW effects). The QRF, having secured the area, must continue resetting the defense, prepare for counter-attack, and arrange for relief in place.

Restoring the perimeter. The priorities for restoring the perimeter are security, primary killing system emplacement, communications, and countermobility repairs. The QRF just kicked somebody out of its backyard. They may be determined to get back in. After all, the best place to make a hole is where something has been patched. The QRF must prepare for a counterattack. Security already is in place from the sweep on the objective. Instead of using individual weapons, the QRF commander emplaces any abandoned crew weapons that still have ammunition and puts crews on them. Any wire communication should be tested and restored if possible. While the QRF commander arranges for relief in place through the next higher commander, the assistant QRF commander determines which barriers on the perimeter need to be repaired first, and a team works on this until relief in place begins.

Relief in place and extraction. With relief in place, the objective is to replace the QRF with the sector personnel in a controlled manner that affords security, situational awareness, force protection, and speed. Replacing by buddy team is the best technique. The QRF buddy teams exchange information with the relieving buddy teams, to include principal direction of fire, sector sketches, and final protective-line orientation. As the QRF exits, the team members should move to a rally point for the movement back to the recovery site. The QRF commander remains in charge until all QRF team members have been relieved. Once the QRF commander exchanges information with the relief commander, battle hand-off is complete and the QRF can be extracted.

After-action review (AAR) and recovery. The mission is not finished after the extraction. How the team executed is not as important as how it can do better next time. The QRF must conduct AAR's as soon as tactically possible.

Two AAR's should take place. The first one, internal to the QRF, is to iron out any individual or collective issues before the centralized AAR is conducted. Pride and egos should be left at the door. During this AAR, team members can bring to the QRF commander's attention any issues involving command and control, the trigger criteria, and the order to execute.

The centralized AAR should be conducted among the QRF commander, a representative from the unit relieved by the QRF, and the S2/S3 (or applicable company-level personnel if this was not a battalion or larger operation). This AAR is intended to iron out coordination issues between units.

Recovery is essential to quick turnaround. During recovery, half of the QRF should clean weapons; the other half should readjust and repack gear and distribute new supplies from the supply sergeant. Once the soldiers complete their assigned tasks, they should switch, complete the other task, do preventive maintenance checks on the QRF vehicles, and then rest.

Training a QRF

Training a QRF can be a rewarding experience for trainers and trainees alike. Many trainers are afraid of tactically oriented training. Don't be! No one wakes up one day to find he is a tactical genius. The best way to get smart is to read, talk to others, acquire training resources, and plan and conduct challenging, scenario-driven training.

Reading is the best way to start. If you have not looked at a current copy of Field Manual (FM) 7-8, Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, start there. Other manuals of interest are FM 7-7J, Mechanized Infantry Platoon and Squad (Bradley); FM 19-4, Military Police Battlefield Circulation Control, Area Security, and Enemy Prisoner of War Operations; and FM 90-10-1, An Infantryman's Guide to Combat in Built-Up Areas. The Center for Army Lessons Learned has articles on the subject from time to time, and they are available on its website at

Get out and talk to the units you support. The maneuver folks probably would be more than happy to help and may even offer to conduct train-the-trainer and officer professional development sessions for your unit.

Resources are hard to get. The quarterly training briefing is the time to pitch training to the commander and get resources such as ammunition, a multiple integrated laser engagement simulator, terrain, and time. The chart at right shows a 10-step training model. Use one like this to show the commander that you have thought your training objective through and meshed it with your METL assessment and that you are working your way up to it. If the resources are there, you will probably get them before commanders who have not prepared as well.

Planning. You must have a sound plan. In addition to doctrinal planning techniques, some other planning techniques include an operations and logistics synchronization matrix, built-in flextime, proofing of the event, and an integrated risk assessment.

Synchronization matrix. This is the key to the training event. All "showstopper" assets should be on there. For example, restricted terrain (lanes) and multiple operations were "showstoppers" in an exercise I conducted. The increments of time are up to you. My times were driven by fast-paced events followed by long dismounted movements. Unfortunately, things do not always go according to plan.

Time. How many times have you seen training events cut short due to time constraints, or observed soldiers smoking and joking because they finished early? Flextime can help. "Suddenly" free time can be used for retraining by the senior subordinate leader or the observer-controller. Lack of time can be an issue. Plan more time to accommodate poor weather, fatigue, and unexpected setbacks such as a "cold" status from range control or a misplaced sensitive item. It is better to have too much time than not enough. Balancing the two can be figured out through proofing.

Ten-Step Training Model

Assess METL

Rated as a "P" (practiced).

Collective tasks and individual tasks rated as "U" (untrained) or "P."

Plan Training

Review the METL during the base defense exercise.

Identify all collective and individual tasks to be trained.

Design the training according to proficiency level—crawl-walk-run.

Make course an eight-phase operation.

Prepare a logistics estimate and coordinate resources.

Conduct risk assessment.

Train and Certify Leaders

Select experienced personnel.

Conduct three train-up sessions.

Reconnoiter Site

Proof the course for "doability."

Train where you will fight.

Issue Plan

WARNORD (warning order) (specify date).

OPORD (operation order) (specify date).

Use a synchronization matrix.


Conduct rock drills and backbriefs.

Have rehearsals for demonstration teams.

Conduct a precombat inspection of all instructors.


Execute synchronization matrix.

Conduct interim after-action reviews (AAR's).

Continue risk assessment.


Conduct AAR's after each event.

Complete overall course AAR on the final objective before graduation.


Conduct retraining as needed during hands-on portions.

Build time into the course to accommodate retraining.


Build recovery into the course as an actual phase to ensure orderly completion.

Include equipment, weapons, and personnel.

Include recommendations for awards.

Proofing. Proofing the training event is simple. Time and distance checks should be conducted for all mounted and dismounted movements. All movements must be conducted under the same conditions trainees will experience, such as having to carry 60-pound rucksacks, making night movements using NVG's, and operating on restricted terrain. War-game tactical scenarios to get an idea of how long they will take. Do not forget the AAR's. Feed all that information back into the synchronization matrix. Use backbriefs and sandtable rehearsals of the synchronization matrix to double check it the same way combat units do. You should have a 90-percent solution (the synchronization matrix should be 90 percent correct) before you begin training.

Managing Risk. You probably will find something potentially dangerous during proofing. Integrate a risk assessment into the operation. Rest, terrain, weather, and tasks are just a few factors that need to be addressed in the risk assessment. Think it through, and show your assessment to the safety officer. Lack of sleep will lower a high assessment dramatically, so plan flextime for rest. Balance the benefits against the consequences, and act. Re-evaluate the risk assessment every 24 hours, or as conditions change, to keep it as real as possible.

Realism. Conducting realistic, scenario-driven training is the only way to get real results. Trained leaders also must evaluate training for review, retraining, and sustainment. Scenarios can come from past missions and probable enemy courses of action. They must be as real as possible for the soldiers participating in the training. Scenarios also should be as continuous as possible. If the soldiers do not buy into the exercise, they will not be ready for the real thing.

Observer-controller evaluation. Exercise control is nearly as important as realism. Observer-controllers must be ready to control, evaluate, and occasionally retrain participants. An observer-controller handbook can serve as a training aid. The handbook should have a synchronization matrix, event scenarios with tactical cartoons, task conditions and standards for each individual and collective task, rules of engagement, an extract from the signal operating index, and medical evacuation procedures.

A properly trained, led, and employed QRF is essential to the rear area commander and the CSS units they protect. As the commander's reserve, it is tailored to meet threat-driven missions. Its members must be realistically trained to execute with discipline, respond to set trigger criteria, and work with other assets. The importance of the QRF and rear area security is apparent as the Army executes operations other than war, such as those in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia, and works through the shrinking availability of combat power. The CSS unit must be prepared to defend itself against enemy threats. ALOG

Captain Jason C. Mackay serves as a maintenance readiness officer, G4, at the 7th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, Colorado. In his previous assignment, he was the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Area III, Camp Humphreys, Korea. He is a graduate of the Combined Logistics Officer Advanced Course and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.