Fireteams, Squads, Platoons, and Companies

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

Infantry units in the military are carefully structured and generally follow a similar pattern of organization. The smallest unit is the “fireteam”, made up of four soldiers who work very closely with each other, training together and even living together in a combat environment. There is virtually nothing these soldiers don’t know about the other members of their team, and military history is full of examples of fireteam members giving their lives for one another without hesitation.

Two or three fireteams together form a “squad” of ten or twelve soldiers, usually led by a corporal. Four squads combine to make a “platoon” of forty or so soldiers, the smallest unit led by a commissioned officer, usually a lieutenant assisted by a sergeant. Four platoons combine to make a “company” of around 160 soldiers, the foundational unit of all military services, led by a captain assisted by a First Sergeant.

As the units get larger, they can take on more difficult and complex combat missions, and more specialties will be present. So, a fireteam might be all riflemen, whereas a company may have riflemen, heavy weapons teams, grenadiers, reconnaissance scouts, radio operators, clerks, and drivers. But the disadvantage of larger units is that they are more difficult to lead and coordinate, and there is less unit cohesion because the members have different skills and don’t know each other as well as they do in the smaller sub-units.

Jesus used a similar pattern of organization in His earthly ministry. Perhaps He learned this from the Roman military, with whom He would have been very familiar from his boyhood in Nazareth. When He ascended the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17, He took with Him His fireteam of Peter, James, and John, the first disciples He called and His closest associates. To accompany Him on His preaching tours He formed a squad, twelve specially chosen disciples who possessed a variety of backgrounds and skills.

In Luke 10, Jesus sent out what amounted to a large platoon of 72 disciples (two by two) on the first large-scale evangelical campaign. And after Jesus had ascended to heaven the whole church consisted of about 120 believers, the size of a small company, gathered in the upper room. But that company would catch fire, so to speak, and change the world.

If the military services and Jesus agree on a plan of organization then perhaps we in The Salvation Army should imitate it! We all need a fireteam of three or four very close spiritual comrades, our “3 o’clock in the morning” friends who know us very well, will hold us accountable, and will stick with us through thick and thin. Likewise, we should be involved with a squad—maybe a group of Sunday school teachers, or a women’s or men’s ministry team, or a corps band or worship team—any small group that serves together. These squads can be quite effective in ministry, as they possess some of the intimacy of a fireteam but have a greater range of backgrounds, skills, and gifts represented.

Many, if not most, of our corps today are platoons of forty (or less) Salvationists, small yes, but big enough to fight in the war against Satan if sufficiently committed and cohesive. But commitment and cohesion can be difficult to achieve with so many different kinds of people involved, and without a clear focus on the mission.

Like the military, the foundational unit of The Salvation Army is the company, which we call the corps. A full-size corps, say 100 Salvationists or more, can be a very powerful fighting force for the Lord in a community, so long as it is well led and coordinated, and fully committed to the mission. For this reason, it should still be the goal of every corps to become a “company” size corps, with the full range of gifts, skills, backgrounds, and ministries present. A corps like that, if it catches the fire of the Holy Spirit, can change the world.