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Infantry MOS Specialization

by Patrick Bauk


At the turn of the 21st century, the United States Army Personnel Command’s Infantry Branch began the process of “11-series MOS Consolidation.” Major General Carl F. Ernst, the Infantry Branch Commandant who helped shape this effort, summarized the prevalent attitude among senior leaders at the time. “Each of the five types of Infantry, by virtue of their entry means or mobility, brings unique capabilities to the battlefield…but at the squad level, in the close fight, there is commonality of purpose, requirements, and now structure.” Three of the four Infantry Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) - 11B- Infantryman, 11M- Fighting Vehicle Infantryman, and 11H- Heavy Anti-Armor Weapons Crewman- were consolidated under the umbrella of the 11B- Infantryman MOS in October 2001.

There is a subtle yet important distinction between capability and effectiveness. Infantry units at all levels from the Brigade Combat Team down to the individual Soldier have significantly enhanced capabilities to shoot, move, and communicate relative to the Infantry of September 2001 because of the major technological improvements fielded over the last eighteen years. This paper will examine the effects of the current broadening model and a hybrid specialization framework on the integration of technology at the tactical level, the mastery of tactics, techniques, and procedures for maneuver warfare, and the ability of leaders to train their subordinates. The Infantry Branch must adopt a hybrid framework for specialization based on the roles Infantrymen fulfill as part of a combined arms team.

Defining the Problem

The Army’s operational environment began evolving dramatically just as the Infantry Branch finalized the broadening policy. American Soldiers were on the ground in Afghanistan by the end of the month and began conducting large-scale conventional operations in March 2002. The Global War on Terrorism continued to expand throughout the first two decades of the 21st century, encompassing operations in Iraq, Syria, and the Horn of Africa. Tensions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea dictated a continued American presence on the Korean peninsula and expanding foreign policy objectives resulted in the deployment of Soldiers throughout Africa, the South Pacific, and countless other posts across the world. Infantrymen have performed the full spectrum of operations from squad to Army level offensive operations to wide area security and defense support to civil authorities. Meanwhile, potential adversaries such as Russia and China have been investing heavily to modernize their forces. “The result is a U.S. military, and an Army in particular, that may find itself with the very real potential of being out-gunned, out-ranged, out-protected, outdated, out of position, and out of balance against our adversaries.”

The Army has adapted to these changes by developing concepts, capabilities, and organizations tailored to existing and expected strategic requirements. One notable example of this adaptation is the introduction of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which brought new mounted platforms (the Stryker family of vehicles), weapons systems (the Mobile Gun System, Anti-Tank Guided Missile, and Remote Weapons System), and communications capabilities to the Infantry.

The current Career Management Field (CMF) model for 11B- Infantrymen has failed to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the operational environment. The intent was to develop “a physically and mentally tough soldier who can ruck or ride anything to the fight and who, when he arrives, has an expected level of expertise in the effective use of any number of common weapons and weapon systems.” Units expect today’s infantrymen to be able to employ and maintain a vast array of weapons systems, communications equipment, and vehicles across the entire spectrum of operations and against emerging threats. This is a daunting task for seasoned enlisted leaders and new Soldiers alike.

The Army has compounded this challenge by requiring Soldiers to “broaden” by transitioning between the airborne, light, Stryker, and mechanized formations as they progress through the ranks. This mandate to broaden has two disastrous effects on lethality across the force. First, Soldiers cannot gain and maintain proficiency with their assigned equipment. The second effect broadening has on lethality is the erosion of leaders’ abilities to properly train their subordinates.

Soldiers must be proficient with every piece of assigned equipment. Military innovation over the preceding two decades has outpaced the Army’s ability to train Soldiers to operate and maintain their equipment. It is hard to imagine that MG Ernst could have predicted that today’s infantrymen would be going to war with personal radios linked to a network of cell phone-based digital communications systems, much less maintain that system in an austere environment. Appendix 4 illustrates the competing demands solely for weapons qualifications. Soldiers and leaders are task saturated.

While the equipment in use today may be unrecognizable to an infantryman from two decades ago, many of our tactics, techniques, and procedures for maneuver warfare have remained relatively unchanged. Career broadening has expanded the scope of the tactics the Army expects a Soldier to master over the course of a career. Transitions between the three types of brigade combat teams requires Soldiers to execute a myriad of tactical tasks utilizing a wide array of equipment in a constantly evolving operational environment. A Soldier arriving at an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) after an assignment at a light Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) will fight as part of a crew in a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). There is a steep learning curve; the Bradley IFV carries a multitude of weapons and digital communications systems that are absent in an IBCT. Mechanized infantry units, often fighting as company teams or Combined Arms Battalions (CABs) with a mixture of armor and infantry, fulfill a markedly different role on the battlefield than dismounted light infantry.

Finally, Small unit leaders incur an obligation train their subordinates to accomplish their higher headquarters’ mission. Leaders are expected to be the most experienced and proficient Soldiers in their organizations. Broadening has made that increasingly rare. Leaders who transition to a new type of brigade combat team find themselves reliant on junior Soldiers to learn the requisite skills to fight. It is virtually impossible for those leaders to effectively develop or evaluate training for their subordinates until they master those skills. This frequently results in significant degradation of lethality despite the advances gained through technology At echelon, units cannot progress to more advanced levels of training because they are constantly circling back to train newcomers. The Army is facing a variety of challenges with Unit Training Management and readiness that are beyond the scope of this paper, but the knowledge gap created by continually transitioning leaders in the name of broadening is a significant factor.

One prominent example of the weakening effect broadening has on unit proficiency is the lack of sufficient numbers of Master Gunner qualified infantrymen in Armored Brigade Combat Teams. The Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle System Master Gunner Course certifies leaders as experts in the maintenance, operation, and training of Soldiers utilizing the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Soldiers maintaining this qualification perform a critical task for mechanized infantry units. “The mission of the Master Gunner is to train the unit for gunnery and act as subject matter expert for all weapon system platforms in the HBCT. The Master Gunner advises commanders at all echelons and assists with the planning, development, execution, and evaluation of all gunnery-related training (individual, crew, and collective).”

The Army has recognized the importance of Master Gunners; the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Guide dictates that all MOS 11B- Infantrymen in the rank of Staff Sergeant or Sergeant First Class should seek to attend the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle System Master Gunner course. The selection criteria given to promotion boards for infantry noncommissioned officers reiterated the importance of Master Gunner qualification. Despite this emphasis, of the 2870 MOS 11B Staff Sergeants considered for promotion in the 2018 Sergeant First Class Selection Board, less than two percent of the eligible noncommissioned officers were qualified Master Gunners. This data set does not encompass all 11B Staff Sergeants due to prerequisites such as time in grade that limit the number of Soldiers eligible for a given board, but the sample is sufficiently large to be representative of the broader population. Staff Sergeants, who most frequently serve as squad leaders, are the enlisted leaders most directly responsible for training junior Soldiers. Based on these figures, it is possible that more than ninety-five percent of the Staff Sergeants in a given unit have not demonstrated a superior level of proficiency in the Bradley IFV and are not doctrinally qualified to plan and evaluate training. The impact that this capability gap has on crew performance is tremendous. In one multi-year study of Crew Gunnery performance in a mechanized infantry company, experienced crews consistently outperformed those made up of Soldiers transitioning to the unit by as much as twenty percent.

Existing Alternatives

Specialization is not a novel approach for personnel management in the United States military; it is the foundation of the Military Occupational Specialty concept. The six other branches that comprise the Army’s combat arms all subdivide their enlisted personnel into specialized MOS’s that enable them to focus their training on specific skillsets and equipment.

The Armor Branch.

The Armor Branch is the most similar of the combat arms branches to the Infantry. Both branches specialize in maneuver warfare and together form the core of every brigade combat team. The Armor Branch serves two primary functions in support of unified land operations. The first, much like that of the Infantry, is to close with and destroy the enemy using fire, maneuver, and shock effect. The second function is to perform reconnaissance and security during combined arms operations.Unlike the infantry, however, the Armor Branch has developed specialized roles for its enlisted personnel utilizing a vehicle platform-based framework. Soldiers in the Armor Branch serve as either 19K: M1 Armor Crewmen or 19D: Cavalry Scouts. Cavalry scouts operate Bradly Fighting Vehicle Scout Variants if assigned to Armored Brigade Combat Teams, Stryker Reconnaissance Variants in Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, and a variety of light tactical vehicles in Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.

The first advantage of a vehicle platform-based framework is that it facilitates increased proficiency operating and maintaining technologically complex vehicles. The faster tempo of mechanized warfare demands crews that can maintain their vehicles to stay in the fight. The Soldiers who comprise the crew of an Abrams main battle tank will spend the entirety of their careers in that vehicle. Crewmembers develop an unparalleled capability to operate and maintain their tank through continuous experience in training events and garrison motor pools. Infantrymen transitioning from a light rifle company to a Stryker or Armored Brigade Combat Team may have never experienced even a rudimentary Preventative Maintenance, Checks, and Services (PMCS) inspection prior to arrival at the gaining unit. This increases the likelihood of an otherwise preventable equipment failure or catastrophic vehicle accident.

The second advantage of a vehicle platform-based framework is that vehicles, by the nature of their design, are limited to a relatively small number of roles on the battlefield. This allows Soldiers to master the tactics, techniques, and procedures that contribute to the successful accomplishment of the mission. Cavalry scouts focus the entirety of their collective training on reconnaissance tasks.

The final advantage of a vehicle platform-based framework is that it facilitates and incentivizes the Master Gunner qualification for each platform. As previously discussed, Master Gunners perform a critical role in unit training management. Data from the CMF 19 Sergeant First Class Selection Board reveals that over seventy-five percent of promoted 19D and 19K Staff Sergeants were qualified as Master Gunners in their respective platforms. This larger population of Master Gunner qualified noncommissioned officers significantly improves the quality of training conducted at echelon from crew through division.

The vehicle platform-based framework for MOS specialization requires a force that is built around its vehicles. The Armor Branch’s role as the preeminent mechanized warfighting force begets vehicle dependency. Conversely, the infantryman is the focal point of dismounted maneuver warfare; vehicles are a method of delivery to the objective.

The United States Marine Corps.

The United States Marine Corps assigns newly enlisted infantrymen to serve in one of six MOS’s: 0311- Riflemen, 0313- Light Armor Vehicle Marines, 0331- Machine Gunners, 0341- Mortarmen, 0351- Infantry Assault Marines, or 0352- Antitank Missile Gunners. Each MOS fulfills a specialized role within a conventional Marine Division. Unlike the aforementioned Army framework for specialization seen in the other combat arms branches, the underlying basis for Marine infantry specialization is a specific weapon system or family of weapons. This weapons-based approach is advantageous for several reasons.

First, the weapons-based framework enables Marines to develop a higher level of expertise with their assigned equipment. To illustrate this point, consider a 0331- Machine Gunner with equivalent time in service to an 11B- Infantryman assigned to a weapons squad. Army infantrymen may serve as machine gunners for a portion of their initial enlistment, but typically will rotate between several duty positions and weapons systems after nine to eighteen months. A Marine machine gunner, conversely, will spend his entire initial enlistment training with this weapon system. Increased time in position equates to more opportunities to qualify with the weapon and engage targets as part of higher echelon training events, develop familiarity with the components of the weapon system and maintenance best practices, and master the basic manipulations that enable rapid emplacement and efficient malfunction reduction.

The second advantage of the Marine Corps’ weapons-based framework is an enhanced familiarity with the tactics of employing each weapon system. Just as individual Marines benefit from increased time in position, small units become more lethal as the collective level of experience within the organization increases. Individual proficiency allows small units to devote more of their finite available training time to collective tasks. For example, a Marine antitank squad composed of 0352- Antitank Missile Gunners conducts anti-armor operations similar to those of a comparable IBCT weapons company anti-armor section. The anti-armor section must devote more training time to developing individual gunner proficiency with the TOW ITAS because its gunners are 11B’s who frequently rotate into position from an adjacent rifle company. The value of any tactical collective task training diminishes rapidly as Soldiers leave the company and crews become turbulent. The Marine antitank squad, conversely, does not have to dedicate as much time to training new gunners and can focus on its collective task training. This advantage grows even more over time. Continuity within the organization facilitates the development on enduring tactics, techniques, and procedures derived from shared experiences.

The final advantage inherent to the Marine’s weapons-based framework sustains both of the aforementioned advantages in a cyclical manner. Small unit leaders at echelon are better prepared to train the Marines under their command because they also specialized in their respective weapon system(s) as junior enlisted Marines. A 0331: Machine Gunner will ultimately become a weapons squad leader if he continues to serve. Conversely, it is possible for an Army noncommissioned officer to become a weapons squad leader without any prior experience as a member of a weapons squad. One of the weapons squad leader’s primary responsibilities is training subordinate machine gunners. A Marine Corps 0331 is better prepared than an Army 11B to train a weapons squad because he can leverage his significantly increased experience.

While the advantages of the Marine Corps weapons-based framework are significant at the small-unit level, they contribute to stove piping and a lack of shared understanding at higher echelons. The Marine Corps’ strategic role within the Department of Defense dictates a unique task organization that maximizes flexibility and scalability. A Marine division comprises a wider variety of maneuver companies than any Army division. This enables the creation of a la carte Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) tailored to a specific mission. The Army does not have an enduring requirement to provide such task forces and thus does not organize its divisions to provide so many off-the-shelf force options. For example, the 1st Marine Division controls tank companies, light armored reconnaissance companies, and light rifle and weapons companies. This organization facilitates the creation of MAGTF’s but limits cohesion at echelon as the unit grows from company to division size. Highly specialized Marine infantrymen excel in small units but are less likely to be able to contextualize the higher-level operation as it falls outside the purview of their individual specialized experience.

The Way Ahead

Hybrid Framework. The optimal framework for specialization is a hybrid of the Armor Branch’s vehicle platform-based framework and the Marine Corps’ weapons-based framework. This hybrid framework maximizes opportunities to train with dedicated focus on complex systems yet still facilitates interoperability and shared understanding by distributing Soldiers across the three types of brigade combat teams.

Expanding CMF 11. The proposed change to the Infantry Branch Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) would expand the two existing specialties – 11B- Infantryman and 11C- Indirect Fire Infantryman – to four specialties: 11L- Light Infantryman, 11M- Mounted Infantryman, 11G- Heavy Weapons Infantryman, and 11C- Indirect Fire Infantryman. These assignments are specialized based on the role each Soldier performs rather than the type of organization they serve in.

11L- Light Infantrymen fulfill the prototypical infantry role; they serve as riflemen, grenadiers, automatic riflemen, team leaders, and squad leaders in airborne, air assault, mountain, and Stryker infantry units.

11M- Mounted Infantrymen serve as vehicle crewmembers and as part of the dismounted rifle squads in Stryker and Mechanized Infantry units. These Soldiers will serve as ICV, ATGM, and IFV drivers, gunners, and vehicle commanders.

The 11G- Heavy Weapons Infantrymen provide enhanced direct fire and anti-armor support to Airborne, Light, and Stryker Infantry units. In Infantry platoons, 11G Soldiers serve in the Weapons Squad as gunners, assistant gunners, anti-armor gunners, team leaders, and weapons squad leaders. They also comprise the Light Infantry Weapons Company, serving as assistant gunners, gunners, drivers, squad leaders, and section leaders. They master the dismounted direct fire support and anti-armor weapon systems (the M240L, M3 MAAWS, and Javelin) and mounted weapon systems (M2A1, Mk19, M41 TOW ITAS and the CROWS/RWS).

Unit Readiness. The existing Base Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) for each unit will not change; units will retain their current task organization and authorized strength. The critical difference is the specialization of the Soldiers fulfilling the existing TOE. For example, rifle platoons in airborne, air assault, or mountain infantry companies will still be composed of three squads of 11L- Light Infantryman serving in the existing TOE authorized positions (riflemen, grenadiers, automatic riflemen, team leaders, and squad leaders). The weapons squads in each platoon will be composed of 11G- Heavy Weapons Infantrymen serving as ammunition handlers, machine gunners, assistant gunners, anti-armor specialists, and squad leaders. Similarly, rifle platoons in Stryker infantry companies will be composed of three rifle squads of 11L- Light Infantrymen or 11M- Mounted Infantrymen, one weapons squad of 11G- Heavy Weapons Infantrymen, and four Stryker Infantry Carrier Variant (ICV) crews of 11M- Mounted Infantrymen. Appendix 5 contains a comprehensive table representing each type of brigade combat team.


The Army Vision confidently declares “The United States Army is the most lethal and capable ground combat force in history…The key to this success has been the skill and grit of the American Soldier, the quality of its Leaders, the superiority of its equipment, and the ability of the Army…to adapt to and dominate a complex and continuously changing environment.” The Army has invested heavily in training, equipping, and supporting the force. However, it is at risk of losing its competitive edge in an increasingly complex operational environment. The broadening policy that consolidated the Career Management Field 11-series military occupational specialties into one 11B- Infantryman MOS has severely restricted Soldiers and leaders’ ability to adapt to advances in technology, the evolution of tactics, and the challenges of training its Soldiers for the full spectrum of operations. The Infantry Branch must adopt a hybrid framework for specialization hybrid that maximizes opportunities to train and maintains interoperability across combined arms team.


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