In last night's debate, Democratic Commander-in-Chief wannabe, Barack Obama, related a story about an Army "Captain" who complained that he was sent to Afghanistan with only, I think, 24 men and that this was 15 men less than normal because those 15 men were sent to Iraq, instead. This whole story really confused me.
Even though I served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam war, I have enough understanding of "the" military structure of the Army to know that this story didn't sound quite right. In the Army, a platoon. like a squadron in the Air Force, is made up of smaller units called squads. In the Air Force, squads are called flights. Either way, a squad typically has about 30 or more soldiers in it. That means that a platoon is normally made of 4 squads with a minimum of 30 men each, for a total of 120 soldiers. Not 24 men as in Barack's story.
Further, a platoon or a squadron is generally the smallest unit that can be commanded by a commissioned officer. Typically, these "little" units are lead by a first or second Lieutenant; and, not a Captain. Sometimes, when short handed, a platoon or squadron can be led by a non-commissioned officer like the rank of Sergeant. A Captain, when given command authority, usually heads a "Company" of Platoons in the Army or a "Group" of Squadrons in the Air Force. I have never heard of a Captain being a Platoon or Squadron commander. There just aren't enough Captains allocated to the entire Army to afford that kind luxury. In proof of this fact, how often have you heard the expression "Platoon Sergeant"? And, how often have you heard the "never used" expression of "Platoon Captain"?
The size and structure within military organizations are firmly set. The Senior Military Command would prefer to completely "disband" a specific unit, like a platoon or a squad, rather than send that unit into combat with fewer than the minimum compliment of men. For example, if a squad didn't have the minimum compliment of men, it would be disbanded and those men would be reassigned to other squads. Or, a squad with too few men could receive men from other squads so that a minimum compliment of soldiers was maintained. That how it works.
Obama's story plays well to his political belief that we are diverting resources from the war in Afghanistan because we are wasting time in Iraq. However, it shows a complete failure to understand military structure, military procedures, and normal military operations. But this is to be expected from someone who has never served in the military and who "would" command one the greatest military forces in the history of the world.