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Words of war: Understanding military jargon

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Military coverage is filled with jargon that sometimes obscures the story. Here is a quick guide to U.S. Army formations — what they consist of, how large they are and what they do.

Squad: A small military unit consisting of 10 to 11 soldiers.

Platoon: A platoon is four squads - generally three rifle squads and one weapons squad, normally armed with machine guns and anti-tank weapons. Lieutenants lead most platoons, and the second-in-command is generally a sergeant first class.

Company: Company-sized units, 130 to 150 soldiers, are normally commanded by captains. They consist of two or more platoons, usually of the same type, a headquarters unit and some logistical capabilities. Companies are the basic elements of all battalions.

Battalion: A battalion, usually about 400-strong, is comprised of three rifle companies, a combat support company and a headquarters company. Battalions often blend companies with different fighting specialties to take on tasks that no existing unit is properly configured to tackle. Battalions normally fight enemy forces they can see and engage. This is defined as an area extending from less than 100 yards in forests, urban areas and other close terrain out to about two to three miles from the battalion’s direct and indirect weapons-fire.

Brigade: The brigade provides mobility, counter-mobility and survivability, topographic engineering and general engineering support to the largest unit - the corps — and augments the corps’ various divisions. The brigade may contain combat engineer battalions, separate engineer companies, assault float bridges, and topographic and tactical bridge companies. It contains around 2,500 people commanded by a colonel.

Division: Divisions perform major tactical operations for the corps and can conduct sustained battles and engagements. One division is made up of at least three brigades with between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. Divisions are normally commanded by major generals. Types of divisions include light infantry, armored and mechanized infantry, airborne and air assault.

Corps: The corps is the largest tactical unit in the U.S. Army. The Corps is responsible for translating strategic objectives into tactical orders. It synchronizes tactical operations including maneuvering, the firing of organic artillery, naval firing, supporting tactical air operations, and actions of their combat support, bringing together these operations on the battlefield. Each corps will have between two and five divisions, depending on the mission.

(Source: MSNBC Research/ Defense Department)