Leadership Toolbox: Pre-Combat Inspection

By | April 15, 2020

[April 15, 2020]  One of the more embarrassing episodes of my military career happened on a 50 caliber Browning Machine Gun live-fire range when I was a lowly Lieutenant.  I’d been given the assignment of Support Platoon Leader and was responsible for supplying ammunition and equipment to the ranges.  What I had failed to do was to dig into my leadership toolbox: the pre-combat inspection.

I had run many ranges in the past.  I was confident but not overly so.  I figured that it was easy to run a range, and, besides, I had experienced NCOs with me.  Our planning had gone smoothly, and everyone cooperated with my men.  Firing an Infantry Battalion on the large-caliber ranges is inherently dangerous, but we were ready.  Or so I thought.

When the ranges went “hot” (meaning firing could commence), none of the 50 cal. BMGs would fire more than one round.  Something was wrong, and I blamed the Executive Officer for failing to check his guns before arrival.  Diagnosing the problem took half a day.  The “ammo guy” took his time getting out to the range but quickly diagnosed the problem.  There are two distinct and non-compatible metallic links used for the .50 BMG cartridges.  One type is for the M2 BMG (used by us) and one type is for the M85 (used in armored vehicles).  We were using the latter, and they would not function properly in the M2.

What I had failed to do was use my standard operating procedures, which included a written range checklist, a Pre-Combat Inspection.  None of us looked at the ammo boxes to verify they were of the correct type.  I learned the hard way to follow the PCI.

The Pre-Combat Inspection is what military units use, so they don’t forget mission-essential equipment or supplies.  Just as the name implies, the PCI is a check or inspection that you do before any operation (combat or peacetime).  Everyone is responsible for PCIs, but the leader’s job is to verify.  We all use PCIs even if we don’t call them by the military name.

We use PCIs in our work, family, religious gatherings, and in our everyday lives.  Pilots do PCIs, but they call them Pre-Flight Inspections. Airborne soldiers inspect before they jump and call it the Jump Master Parachute Inspection.  These are PCIs with another name.

The use of a PCI, written or not, is one of the most important items a person can have in their leadership toolbox.  Failure to use them correctly usually means being embarrassed.  There are more significant problems like when NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because a Lockheed Martin team used English units of measurements while the Agency used the metric system.1


  1. http://edition.cnn.com/TECH/space/9909/30/mars.metric.02/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Leadership Toolbox: Pre-Combat Inspection

    1. Andrew Dooley

      Yes, well written and worthwhile to read. I was without a computer for a week (hard to get them fixed during the virus pandemic) but I’m now back. Hope all are well here. I miss the gang here and the great articles by Gen. Satterfield.

      1. Greg Heyman

        Yes, thanks for giving Lynn some feedback on these videos. I too have found that YouTube is a useful tool also to find some info on complex and difficult to understand concepts. While PCIs are simple, they are not used as often as they should be. People are also prone to shortcut them as we see in the story of Gen. Satterfield as a young lieutenant.

  1. Valkerie

    Great leadership article, General Satterfield. Thanks. I went back and re read many of your toolboxes in the past. Wow, nicely done!

  2. JT Patterson

    Another excellent part of your series on items for the leader toolbox. I call it my leader rucksack but the same thing. I keep a number of tools – proven tools – that are there for my use anytime. I use them because it makes my life easier and I’m assured they work.

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Thanks JT. I put forth this mini-series for mostly junior leaders. I believe they should adopt checklists early and get used to them.

  3. Doug Smith

    The real question is “Why do we have inspections?” From long experience, people have found that some of us, if allowed to, will become careless and lax in the performance of our duties.

    1. Newtown Manager

      People are inherently lazy. We will take the shortcut if given the chance or simply do nothing. Laziness is easy and rewarding (well, most of the time anyway). We all need an occasional kick in the butt and these checklists – overseen by a leader – is a big way to overcome this problem.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Yes, but the key also is a motivated leader.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Thanks Harry. I read it. There is more on this website that links directly back to many things discussed here in Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog.

    2. Walter H.

      PCC/PCI. Pre-combat checks (PCCs) / Pre-combat inspections (PCIs) and Pre-execution checks are key to ensuring leaders, trainers and soldiers are adequately prepared to execute operations and training to Army standard. PCC/ PCIs are the bridge between pre-execution checks and execution of training. They are also detailed final checks that all units conduct before and during execution of training and combat operations.

  4. Dale Paul Fox

    Checklists by another name, PCI is a bit more important than we may initially think. They are there to help make it EASIER to do out jobs. It is not a replacement for thinking and working hard. We need to think about it. Junior Officers are the ones where a PCI will do the most good.

  5. Army Captain

    Right on target with this article. I use PCIs in everything I do that is important. Whether it is in my head or on a written checklist, I use them.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Thanks Army Capt for reinforcing the point about Pre Combat Inspections. I never really gave this much thought but it makes a lot of sense.

      1. Eva Easterbrook

        Dead Pool Guy, this is why we appreciate the comments of A.C. He is always spot on and bear a considerable amount of experience like most of us do not have.

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