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Military Terms - What is a Brigade, a Battalion or a Company?

Updated on December 6, 2012

Military terms can be confusing, especially for someone who has never served in the armed forces. This article aims to clear up the confusion. The next book you read or film you see about a military subject will be more meaningful if you understand what's going on. Most authors, whether fiction writers or historians, seem to assume that the reader knows military terminology. That is a big assumption.

This article discusses American military terminology as it applies to the ground forces of the United States Army. For an overview of the entire American Armed Forces see this article.

The Organization of the United States Army

A ground forces unit is usually described in terms of how many people serve in that unit. The numbers are not exact but are approximations. Most of the terms in this article are from an official United States Army publication. The units are discussed from the smallest to the largest.

A Squad - The Basic Unit

A Squad or Section - 9 to 10 Soldiers

The is the smallest unit and is assigned specific tasks. In the movie Big Red One, Lee Marvin played a sergeant in charge of a rifle squad. Big Red One is the name for the 1st Infantry Division The movie traces the experiences of the squad from D-Day through the end of World War II. A squad is commanded by a non-commissioned officer, usually a sergeant. The size of a squad depends on its assignment, but usually consists of nine to 10 soldiers.

Platoon - 2-4 Squads or 16 to 44 Soldiers

A platoon is commanded by a commissioned Lieutenant with a staff sergeant or sergeant first class as second in command. Through the coordination of squads a platoon is assigned to complete a task or will coordinate with other elements to accomplish a mission.

Company - 3 to 5 Platoons or 62 to 190 Soldiers

The exact size of a company depends on the type of unit that it is. A company is commanded by a Captain who is assisted by a First Sergeant. A company can receive additional combat and combat support elements. A company is a cohesive unit and it can perform specific functions on its own. The company is the basic tactical element of a battalion.

Battery - An artillery unit the equivalent size as a company.

Troop - An armored or air cavalry unit the equivalent size as a company.

Battalion - 4 to 6 Companies or 300 to 1,000 Soldiers

A battalion or squadron is usually commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel assisted by a command Sergeant Major. A battalion has a staff that oversees the battalion's mission, including training, administration and logistical functions. A battalion is self sufficient both administratively and tactically. A battalion can conduct independent operations of limited scope and duration.


An armored or air cavalry unit the equivalent size as a battalion.

What is a Garrison?

Garrison is a very loose term and does not refer to a particular part of an army, but rather is a term used to indicate a place where troops are gathered. For example, you may read that the 82nd Airborne Division is garrisoned at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Brigade - 2 to 5 Battalions or 3,000 to 5,000 Soldiers

A brigade is commanded by a Colonel who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major. Combat and combat support elements may be attached to a brigade for specific functions. A brigade typically has a field artillery battalion and a support battalion attached to it.

Regiment or Group

A regiment or group is an armored cavalry, Ranger and special forces unit the size of a brigade.

First Infantry Division


The 82nd Airborne Division


101st Airborne Division


Division - 3 Brigades or 10,000 to 15,000 Soldiers

Divisions are numbered and missions are assigned based on its structure. A division is commanded by a Major General. A division may be infantry, airborne, air assault, light or mechanized infantry or armored. Divisions have a rich history all their own. Think of the 82nd Airborne Division ("All Americans") or the 101st Airborne Division ("Screaming Eagles"). A division performs major tactical operations, and can conduct sustained battles and engagements. The division base will typically include the following elements;

· Division headquarters for command and control

· Subordinate combat brigade headquarters.

· Infantry and armored battalions

· Field artillery

· Engineering

· Air defense artillery

· Aviation

· Military police

· Military intelligence

· Nuclear, biological and chemical defense

· Signal corps

· Division support command

Corps - Two or More Divisions or 20,000 to 45,000 Soldiers

A corps is a deployable command unit that synchronizes and sustains combat operations. A corps is typically commanded by a Lieutenant General. A corps provides command, control and logistical support for 2 to 5 divisions. It is the primary command structure for conducting air and land battle in a theater of operations.

The Corps of the United States Army are:

I Corps - "America's Corps" - Fort Lewis, Washington

III Corp - "Phantom Corps" - Fort Hood, Texas

V Corps - "Victory Corps" - Europe

XVIII Corps - "Dragon Corps" - Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Army - 2 or More Corps or 50,000 or More Soldiers

There are currently eight armies comprising the United States Army. They are the United States Army Africa, the First through Third and the Fifth through the Eighth Army. There is no Fourth Army. An army is typically commanded by a Lieutenant General.

There are approximately 562,000 soldiers on active duty in the United States Army. Such a vast organization requires a detailed and exacting command structure. The purpose of this article is to make that structure understandable to civilians, and to provide a framework for appreciating the organization of the greatest fighting force in the world.

Copyright © 2012 by Russell F. Moran


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    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 2 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Wow. It's important for a soldier to look beyond the end of his rifle.

    • profile image

      OMNI_SIG 2 years ago

      A lot of Soldiers need to read this. i ask my soldiers the difference of any of these and they are clueless. Some have been in 7+ years.

    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 3 years ago from Texas

      This is great information! I've been researching my late husband's military service, and never realized what each designation meant. Booking marking for future reference.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for stopping by David and for your comments.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for stopping by David and for your comments.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      This is a great article. Even some of us history buffs can get confused by the terminology, though much of the time we have to remember, as you point out, the actual numbers in a unit can vary significantly. This, combined with different countries' organizations and time periods can be confusing, but your descriptions are a valuable resource. Voted up, etc.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for your visit

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Glimmer thanks for your comment

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Interesting...I don't know much about these things at all except that my Dad always says he was in the 1st Infantry Division and has one of those patches like the one in the photo. Thanks.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks so much for your comment.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Bill.

    • billd01603 profile image

      billd01603 4 years ago from Worcester

      Thanks for the info rfmorn, Good Hub!

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks n. It was a revelation to me as well.

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Hi rfmoran,

      I hear these titles and terms all the time and you have done well here to distinguish their meaning and composition. You have made it very simple for a layman to understand, thank you. Voted up and useful.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Bill. I had fun researching this. All my life I never knew what a brigade was.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information; I learned this way back in my teaching days when I taught a unit on the Civil War. I wanted the kids to have a reference point during my lectures. To my surprise, they thought this was all quite interesting. They had heard these terms but didn't know what they really meant regarding numbers. Anyway, great job my friend.

    • Learning in Life profile image

      Megan Sisko 4 years ago from SW Florida

      My mother-in-law needs to read this, I don't want to spend the time explaining it to her. lol