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Grange: Teams keep eye out for troops

Retired Brig. Gen. David Grange
Retired Brig. Gen. David Grange

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(CNN) -- Iraq is holding some U.S. soldiers as prisoners of war after the troops went astray, Pentagon officials said Sunday.

Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Grange, a CNN military analyst, discussed how the U.S. armed forces try to keep troops from going missing:

GRANGE: In a military conflict, keeping track of everyone is one of the hardest things to do.

Every unit is organized in echelons of size to coordinate the tracking. For instance, in the Marines or the Army, you start with a buddy team of two people. If you and I are in the field together, I watch out for you, and you watch out for me.

When airplanes fly, they do the same thing; they call it having a wingman. When vehicles move, such as two tanks, they call it a wingman, too. One tank keeps an eye on the other.

The contact is always visual. If you're in a foxhole together, if you're moving or eating together, you watch out for each other. It's very important.

Above the buddy teams are what are known as fire teams. A fire team is typically four to five people, soldiers or Marines, who fight as a group. If a fire team enters a building, the members always stay together. Two members may go into a room, and two may cover the hallway.

Two or three fire teams make up a squad, a total of nine to 12 people. If they are on the ground, they are organized as a fire-and-maneuver team -- one fire team is fighting, while the other is moving. A squad is the basic unit that would be a Black Hawk helicopter, Bradley Fighting Vehicle or in a Marine amphibious armored vehicle.

The order continues upward to platoons, companies, battalions, brigades or regimens, and divisions.

With this kind of organization, everyone is reporting. Buddy teams check on each other, and squads check on the fire teams.

Instead of going to a dozen people to find answers, the leader just says: "Alpha team, you got everybody? 'Yes.' Bravo team, you got everybody? 'Yes.' "

These echelons of rapid reporting send information up and down all the time on where people are. If a person is missing, that situation is reported, and they start to look for that person immediately.

It's more difficult in an urban situation. You've seen movies such as "Black Hawk Down" -- people in a room, out of a room, on a roof, in a basement. Those situations are very confusing and very difficult, but it's a primary function of all units to account for their people at all times.

The mission, however, has priority. And if they have to keep moving, they can only look so long. The information on the missing is reported back, so follow-on troops or a special group can try to find the person.

Personnel reports of this information are sent all the way back to the headquarters in Qatar. The number killed in action, the number wounded in action, the number missing.

In a normal situation, the leaders report at set times. If it is an emergency, such as when a leader knows for sure a man is missing, the situation is reported immediately. They call it "by exception."

Retired Brig. Gen. David Grange was in the U.S. Army for 30 years. He last served as commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One." In that position, he served in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. During his military career, Grange was a Ranger and Green Beret. Grange is an executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation in Chicago, Illinois. He is one of CNN's military analysts, along with retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd. Their briefings will appear daily on CNN.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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