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Proper Planning Part 3: The Five Paragraph Order (or Operations Order)

Now it’s time to get to the core small unit planning tool taught in the military. In the Marines we call it “The Five Paragraph Order” (5PO), in the Army it’s referred to as an “Operations Order” (OPORD). They are the same thing even though they use slightly different terminology at times. Neither one is “better” and you can do yourself a big favor and study material from both branches. I have just put up one of the primary sources for Infantry Marines, “Marine Rifle Squad” in the library here. I think that with a little creativity this planning process can also be applied to non-military use whether just for planning trips into the bush or preserving your liberty.

Even though I am a Marine I will be referencing the Ranger Handbook as well, an Army publication. It’s one of the best resources I’ve found for small unit tactics and it’s got a good section on planning. I also want to apologize in advance if I mix the two, they really are the same thing just with different terminology. After years of studying this stuff it all runs together.

Studying planning processes is a very deep rabbit hole and while not as “fun” as other skill sets, it’s critical to be a good planner. We’ve probably all heard the phrase “Shit in, shit out”, referring to the quality of the inputs affecting the quality of the outputs, and it couldn’t be more true when it comes to planning. I include numerous opportunities for students to practice this skill in the Fieldcraft Class.

The five paragraph/ op order/ patrol order is actually just a part of a larger planning process. It’s preceded by a Warning Order, which is just a shorter version designed to “get the ball rolling” as far as getting men and material ready for the upcoming mission. For example, the platoon commander might get notified of an upcoming raid his platoon will be involved in. At that point, he would study the mission until he had enough information to issue a warning order to his subordinate leaders so that they can begin taking care of the more common tasks involved in getting ready for a raid. They may not know the time, location, or any other specifics of the actual mission, but based on unit SOP’s and other guidance given by the platoon commander’s warning order they can still start getting ready.

This article will be an overview of the five paragraph order, at the end of which I will give a fictitious warning order for you the reader to practice writing a 5 paragraph order from. Feel free to fill in any details yourself that I didn’t include in the warning order, but stick to the men and Equipment provided. Over the course of the next articles I will be planning that mission a paragraph or two at a time and if you the reader would like to take a stab at it yourself feel free to email me your work and I’d be happy to play the part of the dumb private (it’s easier than it sounds) So let’s get started..

From the 2017 version of the Ranger Handbook: “An OPORD is a directive issued by a leader to subordinates in order to effect the coordinated execution of a specific operation. A five-paragraph format (see table 2-9 on pages 2-13 through 2-17) is used to organize the briefing, ensure completeness, and help subordinate leaders understand and follow the order. Use a terrain model or sketch, along with a map to explain the order.”

For those who have never heard of this before, I’ll try to equate it to civilian terms. When those of us in combat arms needed to conduct a mission, we used a five paragraph order/ Operations order to plan it. After the planning is done with all the key leaders, there would be a scheduled meeting, or briefing, to present the information. Everyone involved in the upcoming mission would be in attendance. You follow the format so that you don’t forget anything, since it is pretty thorough. You also follow the same format every time so that everyone involved gets used to the way the information is presented. This helps the flow of information as well as gives the junior members an example of how to do it.

Using the USMC terminology, the acronym for a five paragraph order is SMEAC (pronounced SMEE-ACK). The Army version is SMESC. I’m not sure how you say that, but a popular ditty to help remember it is Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies. Memorizing these acronyms will help you remember the five paragraphs needed. They are:

  • Situation
  • Mission
  • Execution
  • Admin and Logistics (Sustainment or Service and Support in the Army)
  • Command and Signal

Each paragraph in the order has multiple subparagraphs that should be addressed as well and it’s those subparagraphs that will make or break a good oporder. These subparagraphs are the nitty gritty details and often will be different depending on the mission or unit. A sniper team may have different subparagraphs than a mortar team for example, but they will still have all 5 SMEAC paragraphs. There are many, many different examples of 5PO and OPORD in numerous documents, oftentimes with different subparagraphs. I encourage you to research these and even develop your own subparagraphs as needed.


  • Environment– Weather, terrain, vegetation, visibility, local population situation and behavior as they impact on the patrol and enemy forces.
  • Enemy forces – Identification, location, activity, strength. What is his most likely response to our mission? DRAWD? Defend, Reinforce, Attack, Withdraw or Delay?
  • Friendly forces – locations and activities of other units
  • Attachments and detachments – these are units that are not organic to your element that may be assigned because of a special skill or equipment they have. For instance an interpreter, medium machine gun team, or engineers. In a civilian context it could be an interpreter, doctor, or other specialist.

The situation paragraph should give a good overview of all pertinent information about the area and how it may affect the patrol. It should give anyone who has been under a rock a good understanding of what is going on and what to expect.

It is presented in conjunction with a map and other graphical aids to help orient the audience and give them the best feel for the land. Imagine giving a tour of your town to someone who just moved there; here’s the post office, here’s the mall, here’s the freeway, here’s the lake, etc. Orient the audience using three natural and three man made landmarks if possible. A terrain model is often used as well, often being made out of a sand box.


  • A clear and concise statement stating what the goal of the patrol is.

The mission paragraph is the shortest, and it should stay that way. It really should only be a single sentence. It should clearly state who is doing what? Why are they doing it? Where and when are they going to do it?

An example might look like: “No later than 1900Z, third platoon, third squad will conduct a security patrol of route gold in order to maintain a coalition presence and detect and deter any insurgents.” Or it could look like: “On Friday, starting at 9am local, Ricky, Bobby, and Tommy will conduct a scouting patrol in order to look for resources and threats in the woods east of town.”


  • Concept of Operations – the concept is the leaders vision for how to accomplish the mission. It states who, how and when. Includes a step by step timeline of how the mission should be conducted including the route back.
  • Tasks- Specific roles and tasks are assigned to individuals and teams as needed. A few examples might include who will be searching vehicles and who will be providing security or who the compass man and who the pace man will be.
  • Coordinating instructions– This paragraph contains instructions common to two or more elements of the patrol, coordinating details and control measures applicable to the patrol as a whole. This is where you can really get creative with making the 5PO fit your needs. This is the “What if?” section where contingency plans for likely scenarios are detailed. At a minimum it will include:
    • Time of assembly in the assembly area – in other words, when are we getting together?
    • Time of inspections and rehearsals – Gear and weapons are checked for function and readiness. Immediate action drills and mission specific tasks are rehearsed to make sure everyone knows what to do.
    • Time of departure and estimated return
    • Location of departure and reentry of friendly lines and the actions associated with departure and reentry. – When there is a secure perimeter you have to make plans on how you will leave it, but more importantly how you will return without getting shot. This requires planning with the perimeter security prior to the 5PO being written so that near and far recognition signals and reentry techniques can be shared.
    • Details on the primary and alternate routes to and from the objective area.
    • Details on formations and order of movement – what formations are you planning to use and how do you want everyone positioned
    • Rally points and actions at rally points – How often will you be setting en route rally points and what do you want everyone to do when you get to them. An example might be: “Based on the terrain we will be setting en route rally points every 200 meters. At each rally point we will conduct a short halt per SOP.”
    • Final preparation position and actions at this position
    • Objective rally point and actions at this point
    • Actions at danger areas
    • Actions in the event of enemy contact
    • Actions in the event of civilian contact
    • Lost plan – what is someone supposed to do if they get separated from the patrol.
    • Rules of engagement

As you can see, the execution paragraph is quite large but it covers a lot of pertinent information. I copied the format in figure 8-2 of “Marine Rifle Squad” so you could see what the military version looked like, but I think it can be customized to fit a lot of other uses as well.

Administration and Logistics (Service and Support or Sustainment)

  • Changes/additions to uniform, equipment and prescribed loads from that given in the warning order.
  • Instructions for handling wounded and prisoners.

The 4B’s – Beans, Bullets, Band-Aids and Batteries. A lot of this is detailed in the Warning Order already but it is good to go over it again with any updates.

Command and Signal

  • Command relationships – Chain of command and succession of command – Who is in charge? And if he is unable to do that role anymore, who next? This list needs to be completed all the way to the last man.
  • Signal – Challenge and password; hand and arm signals; special signals; radio frequencies PACE plan and call signs.
  • Leader positions- position of key leaders in the formation at all stages of the patrol

So that’s it, easy right? So easy a caveman can do it, right? How about so easy a knuckle dragging, crayon eating Jarhead can do it? Don’t feel bad if it’s a bit confusing at first, that’s why I’m going to be doing the practice mission planning, so don’t be bashful and take a stab at it. Here’s your warning order:

Warning Order #1


  • Our area of operation will be in zone D from Pueblo Dam in the south to highway 50 in the north; highway 45 in the east to South Avenida Del Oro on the west edge. Grid 13SEC 2339 (Type it into Google Earth to see the actual AO)
  • Recent enemy activity includes: RevCom roadblocks and threats to locals and employees of the water treatment plant and Pueblo dam. This is resulting in these people not being able to conduct their work and putting local power and water infrastructure at risk.
  • Recent friendly activity includes: friendly patrols in zones to the east and west to detect and deter RevCom activity.
  • Mission:
    • Who? Third Squad, Pueblo Concerned Citizens
    • What? Conduct dismounted security patrol to detect, deter and/or destroy RevCom elements attempting to attack local infrastructure.
    • Where? Zone D, Pueblo, Co.
    • Why? To prevent RevCom from disrupting critical infrastructure and harming local populace
  • Intent:
    • Detect, deter and destroy RevCom in Zone D


No later than 1000LOC 10MAR2021, Third Squad PCC will conduct a dismounted security patrol in Zone D in order to disrupt RevCom elements while they attempt to disrupt local critical infrastructure.

General Instructions

  • General organization – Third Squad will retain its standard organization of three four man teams and a squad leader. Everyone will be a rifleman except team 3 will have two DM’s.
  • Uniform and Equipment common to all:
    • Worn Equipment:
      • Tan pants and green long sleeve shirt, brown ball cap, gloves and boots
      • Chest rig with 6 magazines, ifak
      • Belt knife
      • Compass
      • Multiple
      • Multi-tool
      • Bic lighter
    • Equipment in ruck
      • Poncho and poncho liner, space blanket
      • Beanie, leather gloves and glove liners
      • Thermal top and bottom
      • Goretex top and bottom
      • 2x spare pairs of socks
      • 1x spare undershirt
      • Hygiene and poop kit
      • 2 days chow
      • E-tool
      • 3L Camelbak
      • 2 1L water bottles
      • Iodine tablets
      • Ridge line kit
      • 60 rounds 5.56
  • Weapons, Ammunition and Equipment:
    • 1 AR per Rifleman, one DMR per DM. Weapons have weapon lights available. DM rifles have bipods.
    • 210 rounds 5.56 per person in mags
    • 60 rounds boxed per person in ruck.
    • 5 red chem lights
    • 5 orange chem lights
    • 2 ham VHF 5W radios
    • 1 analog scanner
    • 4 spare radio batteries
    • Spotting scope with tripod
    • 3 PVS-14 with head mounts
    • 3 IR lasers for weapons
    • 2 collapsible litters
    • Squad aid bag
  • Chain of Command
    • Squad leader – Bill
    • Assistant squad leader/ team 3 leader – Jim
    • Team 3 Rifleman – Miguel
    • Team 3 DM – Frank
    • Team 3 DM – Juan
    • Team 2 leader – Steve
    • Team 2 Rifleman – Jake
    • Team 2 Rifleman/ squad medic – Jerry
    • Team 2 Rifleman – Bob
    • Team 1 leader – Hank
    • Team 1 Rifleman – Dave
    • Team 1 Rifleman – Andy
    • Team 1 Rifleman – Doug
  • Timeline
    • 1000LOC Step off on patrol
    • 0900LOC pre-combat checks and inspections at soccer field
    • 0800LOC rehearsals at soccer field
    • 0700LOC Patrol order in room 38 (chemistry lab)
    • 0600LOC chow
    • 0500LOC reveille

When you write your 5 paragraph order, write it like a script, as though you were planning on reading it out loud and briefing it to me. You can email it to


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