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In military terminology, a squad is a sub-subunit led by a non-commissioned officer that is subordinate to an infantry platoon. In countries following the British Army tradition (Australian Army, Canadian Army, and others), this organization is referred to as a section. In most armies, a squad consists of eight to fourteen soldiers, and may be further subdivided into fireteams.
Standard NATO symbol – squad (7 or 8 – 12 soldiers) – in NATO armed forces:
- two single dots (●● squad in general); respectively
- a lying rectangle with two dots above (squad as single sub-unit) on military maps
- 1 Organization
- 2 Leadership
- 3 Other military uses
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
United States Army
Historically, a "squad" in the US Army was a sub-unit of a section, consisting of from as few as two soldiers to as many as 12, and was primarily used for drill and administrative purposes (e.g., billeting, messing, working parties, etc.). The smallest tactical sub-unit being the section, which was also known as a half-platoon (the platoon itself being a half company).
Depending upon the time period, the squad "leader" (not an official position title until 1891) could be a sergeant (the sergeant, in sections with only one corporal, led the section's first squad, while the lone corporal served as assistant section leader and led the section's second squad), a corporal (in sections with two corporals), a lance corporal (a rank the Army had in varying numbers and conditions from at least 1821 until 1920), a private first class (PFC) (the rank existing since 1866 but not earning its one chevron - taken from the abolished lance corporal rank - until 1920). or even a "senior" private (there being many long-service, or "professional," privates until the post-WWII era).
In 1891, the US Army officially defined a rifle "squad" as consisting of "seven privates and one corporal."  The US Army employed the eight-man rifle squad through WWI and until the late 1930s under the Square Division organizational plan, in which sergeants continued to lead sections consisting of two squads.
Under the Triangular Division organization plan in 1939 rifle squads were no longer organized into sections. Instead, the squads were reorganized into a 12-man unit of three elements, or teams, Able, Baker, and Charlie, reporting directly to the platoon leader (an officer, usually a second lieutenant ), assisted by a sergeant assigned as the platoon sergeant (sections having been eliminated in rifle platoons). The squad leader was still only a corporal but the squad was also assigned a PFC as the assistant squad leader. While not a noncommissioned officer (NCO) the PFC was an experienced soldier, as prior to WWII the majority of enlisted men remained privates for the entire term of their enlistment since promotion opportunity was scarce. However, the obvious command (viz., leadership and supervision) weakness of so large a squad under one NCO rapidly became obvious in light of the pre-war mobilization and was corrected in 1940 when a second NCO was added to the squad.
This adjustment raised the squad leader to a sergeant (grade 4) and the assistant squad leader to a corporal (grade 5). The platoon sergeant now became a staff sergeant, (grade 3). (In 1920 the enlisted rank structure was simplified and seven grades were established ranging from master sergeant as grade 1 to private as grade 7; staff sergeant being one of the new rank titles then established by combining several intermediate sergeant grades ranking above section leaders but below the company first sergeant.) This squad organization included two men serving as “scout (rifleman),” who along with the squad leader, formed the security element (i.e., reconnaissance and overwatch actions), designated as “Able.” The second element was a three-man Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) team consisting of an automatic rifleman, an assistant automatic rifleman and an ammunition bearer. This element formed the “base of fire” (viz., fire support in providing suppressive fires in the attack and protective fires in the defense) and was designated as “Baker.” Lastly, there were five riflemen and the assistant squad leader, who formed the “maneuver element” (e.g., flanking and assault movements in the attack and repelling and reinforcing actions in the defense), designated as “Charlie.”
In 1942, the Army had a massive restructuring of its Tables of Organization & Equipment (TO&Es) and increased the rank of the squad leader and assistant squad leader to staff sergeant and sergeant, respectively. (Platoon sergeants now became technical sergeants, as grade 2, and first sergeants became equal in pay grade to master sergeants as grade 1.) The BAR man (automatic rifleman) and the senior rifleman of the Charlie element became corporals (grade 5) and de facto team leaders, even though not officially designated as such.
After WWII, in 1948, the Army decided to "downsize” the rifle squad to a nine-man organization (as well as realign its enlisted grade structure), as post-war analysis had shown that the 12-man squad was too large and unwieldy in combat. The squad leader was again called a sergeant (but retained the grade 3 pay grade and insignia of the rank of a staff sergeant, which was then eliminated.) The two scouts of the Able element were eliminated with the idea that all of the riflemen should be able to perform the scouting duties and would therefore all share in the associated inherent risk of that position. The Baker element’s ammunition bearer was also eliminated, leaving the two-man BAR team as the base of fire, supervised by the assistant squad leader (again called a corporal), but remaining as a grade 4, since the rank of sergeant (three chevrons) was then eliminated. (PFC became grade 5, Private was grade 6, and Recruit was grade 7; PFCs wore one chevron and Privates and Recruits both wore none.) The five riflemen of the “Charlie” team, now led by the squad leader, remained as the maneuver element.
Also, in 1948, the rank title of the platoon sergeant changed from technical sergeant (which was eliminated) to sergeant first class (SFC) (Grade 2) and the rank title of first sergeant was again eliminated, being retained only as an occupational title for the senior NCO of a company. In 1951 the pay grades were reversed, with master sergeant becoming E-7 (vice the previous Grade 1) and sergeant first class becoming E-6, so that the squad leader became a sergeant (E-5) and the assistant squad leader, a corporal (E-4). (With PFC, PVT, and RCT being E-3, E-2, and E-1, respectively.)
In the 1956 the Army began reorganizing into its "Pentomic” plan under the ROCID (Reorganization of Current Infantry Divisions) TO&Es. The rifle squad was reorganized into an eleven-man organization with a sergeant (E-5) as squad leader and two five-man fire teams. Each fire team consisted of a corporal (E-4) team leader, an automatic rifleman, an assistant automatic rifleman, a grenadier, and a scout-rifleman. The assistant squad leader position was eliminated, with the senior fire team leader now filling this role as needed.
In 1958, with the addition of the E-8 and E-9 pay grades, the ranks of the squad and fire team leaders changed again, now to staff sergeant (E-6) and sergeant (E-5), respectively. The 1958 restructuring restored the traditional sergeant and staff sergeant rank insignia of three chevrons and three chevrons over an inverted arc, respectively. (Platoon sergeant became a separate rank title, and along with SFC, became E-7; first sergeants and master sergeants became pay grade E-8. Also, the rank of sergeant major was revived as E-9, with a new distinctive rank insignia consisting of the three chevrons and three inverted arcs of a master sergeant/first sergeant but replacing the first sergeant's lozenge with a star.)
Under the ROAD (Reorganization Objective Army Divisions) structure in 1963, the rifle squad was reduced to a ten-man organization. This iteration of the rifle squad retained the two fire teams but eliminated the two scouts (one in each fire team), instead providing the squad leader with one extra rifleman, who could be used to reinforce either fire team or assist the squad leader as required. An exception was in mechanized infantry units, where an additional rifleman (increasing the squad to eleven members) was assigned as the driver of the squad’s (M113A2) armored personnel carrier. (Also, in 1968, the separate rank title of platoon sergeant was eliminated, leaving SFC as the only E-7 rank.)
Currently, US Army rifle squads consist of nine soldiers, organized under a squad leader into two four-man fire teams. The squad leader is a staff sergeant (E-6) and the two fire team leaders are sergeants (E-5). Mechanized infantry and Stryker infantry units are equipped with M2A3 Bradley, Infantry Fighting Vehicles and M1126 Stryker, Infantry Carrier Vehicle, respectively. Unlike the ROAD era mechanized infantry units, none of the vehicle crewman (M2A3 - three, M1126 - two) are counted as part of the nine-man rifle squad transported by the vehicles. The squad is also used in infantry crew-served weapons sections (number of members varies by weapon), military police (ten soldiers under a squad leader divided into three three-man teams), and combat engineer units.
United States Marine Corps
In the United States Marine Corps, a rifle squad is usually composed of three fireteams of four Marines each and a squad leader who is typically a Sergeant or Corporal. Other types of USMC infantry squads include: machinegun (7.62mm), heavy machinegun (.50 cal. and 40mm), LWCMS mortar (60-mm), 81-mm mortar, assault weapon (SMAW), antiarmor (Javelin missile), and anti-tank (TOW Missile). These squads range from as few as four Marines to as many as seven, depending upon the weapon system with which the squad is equipped. Squads are also used in reconnaissance, light armored reconnaissance (scout dismounts), combat engineer, law enforcement (i.e., military police), Marine Security Force Regiment (MSFR), and Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) companies.
United States Air Force
In the Soviet Armed Forces a motorised rifle squad was mounted in either a BTR armoured personnel carrier or BMP infantry fighting vehicle, with the former being more numerous by the late 1980s. BTR rifle squads consisted of a Squad Leader/BTR Commander, Senior Rifleman/Assistant Squad Leader, a Machine Gunner armed with an RPK-74, a Grenadier armed with an RPG-7, a Rifleman/Assistant Grenadier, a Rifleman/Medic, a Rifleman, a BTR Driver/Mechanic and a BTR Machine Gunner. BMP rifle squads consisted of a Squad Leader/BMP Commander, Assistant Squad Leader/BMP Gunner, a BMP Driver/Mechanic, a Machine Gunner armed with an RPK-74, a Grenadier armed with an RPG-7, a Rifleman/Assistant Grenadier, a Rifleman/Medic, a Senior Rifleman and a Rifleman all armed with AKMs or AK-74s. Within a platoon the Rifleman in one of the squads was armed with an SVD sniper rifle. In both BTR and BMP squads the vehicle's gunner and driver stayed with the vehicle while the rest of the squad dismounted.
Fire Service in the United States
A squad is a term used in the US Fire and EMS services to describe several types of units and/or emergency apparatus. Oftentimes, the names "Squad" and "Rescue Squad" are used interchangeably, however the function of the squad is different from department to department. In some departments, a "Squad" and a "Rescue" are two distinct units. This is the case in New York City, where the FDNY operates seven squads. These special "enhanced" engine companies perform both "truck" and "engine" company tasks, as well as Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) mitigation and other specialty rescue functions. FDNY's five "Rescue" companies primarily mitigate technical and heavy rescue incidents, and operate as a pure special rescue unit. Squads and Rescues within the FDNY are part of the departments Specialty Operations Command (SOC).
In other departments, a squad is a name given to a type of apparatus that delivers Emergency Medical Services, and is staffed by firefighter/EMT's or firefighter/paramedics. This type of service delivery is common in the greater Los Angeles area of California, and was made famous in the 1970s show Emergency!, where the fictional Squad 51 highlighted the lives of two firefighter/paramedics of the LACoFD.
Chinese National Revolutionary Army to 1949
The squad, 班, or section was the basic unit of the National Revolutionary Army (the Republic of China), and would usually be 14 men strong. An infantry squad from an elite German-trained division would ideally have one light machine gun and 10 rifles, but only one of the three squads in a non-elite Central Army division would have a light machine gun. Furthermore, the regular provincial army divisions had no machine guns at all.
A squad is led by an NCO known as a Squad Leader. His/her second in command is known as an Assistant Squad Leader. In Britain and in the Commonwealth, these appointments are known as Section Commander and Section 2IC ("second in command"), respectively.
In the military, a squad leader is a non-commissioned officer who leads a squad of typically 9 soldiers (US Army: squad leader and two fireteams of 4 men each) or 13 Marines (US Marine Corps: squad leader and three fireteams of 4 men each) in a rifle squad, or 3 to 8 men in a crew-served weapons squad. In the United States Army the TO&E rank of a rifle squad leader is staff sergeant (E-6, or OR-6) and in the United States Marine Corps the TO rank is sergeant (E-5, or OR-5), though a corporal may also act as a squad leader in the absence of sufficient numbers of sergeants. Squad leaders of crew-served weapons squads range from corporal through staff sergeant, depending upon the branch of service and type of squad. In some armies, notably those of the British Commonwealth, in which the term section is used for units of this size, the NCO in charge, which in the British Army and Royal Marines is normally a Corporal (OR-4), is termed a section commander.
Typical ranks for squad leaders are:
- Australian Army: Corporal
- Austrian Army: Wachtmeister, Oberwachtmeister
- Brazilian Army: In the Brazilian Army, a Grupo de Combate is a platoon subdivision and is commanded by a third sergeant, as in a U.S. Army squad.
- British Army: Corporal
- Canadian Army (Armée canadienne): Sergeant or Master Corporal
- Croatian Army: Sergeant (desetnik) or Staff sergeant (narednik)
- Danish Army: Sergeant
- Estonian Defence Forces: Seersant (reserve unit) or Nooremveebel (professional unit)
- Finnish Army: Alikersantti or Kersantti (Corporal or Sergeant)
- German Army: Feldwebel or Oberfeldwebel (previously Unteroffizier / Unterfeldwebel; until 1945 Obergefreiter in the Wehrmacht or SS-Rottenführer in the Waffen-SS)
- Israel Defense Forces: Sergeant (Samál) or Staff Sergeant (Samár)
- Norwegian Army: Sergeant (NOC is corporal and leads the light machine gun fire team of the squad).
- Portuguese Army: the esquadra (squad) is led by a cabo (corporal).
- Royal Netherlands Army: sergeant
- Royal Netherlands Marines: Corporal
- Russian Army: Junior Sergeant or Sergeant
- Spanish Army (pelotón): Cabo 1º, Sargento
- Swedish Army: Sergeant, First Sergeant
- Swiss Army: Wachtmeister (before 2004: Korporal)
- Turkish Army: Çavuş
- U.S. Army: Staff Sergeant or Sergeant
- U.S. Marine Corps: Sergeant or Corporal
Other military uses
A squad can also be an ad hoc group of soldiers assigned to a task, for example, a firing squad.
The Canadian Forces Manual of Drill and Ceremonial defines a squad as "a small military formation of less than platoon size which is adopted to teach drill movements. (escouade)" However, the Manual provides direction for drill movements to be taught in "movements," "parts," or "stages." The format of the commands in the manual has given rise to a prevalent belief in the CF that these stages are called "squads". This groupthink has such strength that phrases such as "for ease of learning, this movement is broken down into 'squads'", are commonly used during periods of drill instruction. In actuality, were the lesson being given to a platoon, company or parade, the word "squad" would be replaced by the appropriate unit. Thus, these stages, parts, or movements should not be referred to as "squads".
- Death squad
- Execution by firing squad
- Military organizations
- Military science
- Organization of Canadian Army rifle sections during World War II
- "Squad/Section". Gruntsmilitary.com. Retrieved 2013-10-17.
- "US Army Chain of Command". Usmilitary.about.com. 2013-07-19. Retrieved 2013-10-17.
- US Army, FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment, 4-3
- 一寸河山一寸血: 淞沪会战 Chinese Program on the Battle of Shanghai[full citation needed]
- The Canadian Forces Manual of Drill and Ceremonial. Retrieved 13 June 2010.[dead link]
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