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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Default Military Staff

    I'm thinking of doing a research project into military staff systems. I want to look at the strengths and weaknesses of our system (which, as far as I know, is more or less standard internationally) with past and present systems. I've only found a handful of books that specifically discuss the functions of a staff system. I don't have any hands on experience with staff (yet), so any guidance, especially personal experience, would be welcome. Thanks.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Council Member CR6's Avatar
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    Default Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me...

    unless it was an academic endeavor. I have spent the majority of my professional life as a staff officer and it is neither fun nor interesting. The only saving grace is that if it is done right (knowing that you work for the best interests of the line) it can make life easier for soldiers. Variations of that statement are bandied about to the point of it being a cliche, but that doesn't make it less true.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    I've only found a handful of books that specifically discuss the functions of a staff system.
    Have any of these made it to your list of secondary souces?

    The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805
    by Charles Edward White

    Understanding the Prussian-German General Staff system by Christian O. E Millotat

    The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig

    The Right Hand of Command: Use and Disuse of Personal Staffs in the American Civil War by R. Steven Jones

    Reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff (The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986) by Gordon Nathaniel Lederman

    The Chief of Staff: The Military Career of General Walter Bedell Smith by D.K.R. Crosswell

    Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 by J. Boone Bartholomees
    "Law cannot limit what physics makes possible." Humanitarian Apsects of Airpower (papers of Frederick L. Anderson, Hoover Institution, Stanford University)

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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Thanks CR.

    I'm doing it for an academic project at MIOBC. I've found the Millotat and Craig books, and one another. Thanks for the sources.

    I have spent the majority of my professional life as a staff officer and it is neither fun nor interesting.
    Part of my intent is to identify why this experience exists as it does. Off-hand, AFAIK staff officers were relatively prestigous in the 18/19th century Prussian system for example.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    American Pride,

    If you can solve the staff problem and make it fun and interesting (CR6: Sir, you are correct in your assessment), you will be a king among men.

    I am at the CCC, currently learning MDMP. If you want to see the Army staff process, come upstairs and watch a squad of Captains learning FM 5-0. It is all smiles.

    I recommend you spend your time here learning MI and about your role as a LT. Commanders and the staff will expect you to be the intelligence expert, and to work hard to accomplish the mission, not be the staff history expert. But again, whatever floats your boat. BTW, was this topic assigned? The only paper I wrote at FAOBC was an essay on why the guy next to me fell asleep the first day of Fire Support class.
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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    patmc,

    The assignment is part of a (relatively) new aspect of MIOBC (afaik) called the Van Deman program. The culmination project is a short essay and 0-6 brief on a topic of our choice; perferrably something real-world and that as MI officers will have some kind of experience with. Other topics, for example: language training at MIOBC, the utility of BOLC2, and so on.

    EDIT: My thesis-in-progress will have something to do with shifting the primary focus of the staff from supporting the commander to supporting the mission. Thought of it today, so still working on it.
    Last edited by AmericanPride; 01-07-2009 at 03:20 AM.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default If you really want to do soemthing with respect to

    shifting the primary focus of the staff from supporting the commander to supporting the mission. Thought of it today, so still working on it.
    Rather than an academic exercise with literature research to establish why Staffs are organized as they are -- or to explore better ways of organizing them since neither of those things is likely to provide any change, I have a suggestion.

    Why not do some interviews with the MIOAC students and see if you can determine why MSG/1LT/CPT/MAJ Heebly reports to the Staff and for 89 days, rigorously and vigorously fights for the units and to downplay the power and intrusions of the Staff on said units -- and thus adverse Mission impacts.

    Then, on the 90th day, MSG/1LT/CPT/MAJ Heebly becomes the quintessential Staff warrior and concerns for the unit and to an extent, the mission, are ignored.

    Obviously, I'm overstating the case and equally obviously, we're talking about people so there are many variations on the theme. However, I think if you talk to some folks who've been there, they'll acknowledge that most people come to a Staff intending to do their best for the mission and units -- but that many succumb to what I call Staffitis and lose that focus. Some escape it and never do that -- but most do to one degree or another and in my observation, most who do that do so at about three months on the (or that particular) Staff...

    {{Added: An interesting aspect is that rarely, some staffs do not have that problem; generally due to proper staff focus at the behest of a good commander. It has been my observation that the Staffitis phenomenon does occur most of the time on most Staffs even as various commanders and staff types, officer and enlisted, rotate through.}}

    That has an adverse mission impact of some magnitude. It also may be amenable to change as most people do not necessarily want to become a part of the problem...
    Last edited by Ken White; 01-07-2009 at 04:36 AM. Reason: Addendum

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    Default sounds better

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    My thesis-in-progress will have something to do with shifting the primary focus of the staff from supporting the commander to supporting the mission. Thought of it today, so still working on it.
    That sounds better than the strengths and weaknesses of the staff system, which would probably be quite an exciting doctoral work (no offense intended if anyone on this site has produced such a document). They're trying to bring back a mentorship program here between LTs and CPTs, and we were just linked up with the most recent OBC class, but If I or my classmates can help out, let me know. We're pretty friendly, and only a couple branch detail guys bite. Good luck.
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    Council Member Van's Avatar
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    AP,
    This is really close to a project that was on my desk for about a year. Historically, the key point in the development of the staff was when Napoleon and Berthier hammered out the rudiments of what we call a staff. The Germans lept on it in 1806 as part of the reforms after they took a thrashing at the hands of Napoleon and Berthier and their buds. This gets really interesting when you look at some of the other developments of the period. Stochastic prediction, linear prediction, wargaming, the rise of meritocracy, the application of many of the theoretical developments of the late 1700s came together and led to basis of the staff structure and procedures that carried us through WWII and pretty much up to about 20 years ago. That's when we started the FLAILEX of figuring out how to move from hierarchical staff processes to non-linear, distributed staff processes.

    What is interesting is that Aufstragstactik is more viable than ever with the rapid dissemination of mission essential information to the lowest levels, while the same enabling technologies allow seniors to micro-manage from a different time sone in a fashion that LBJ only dreamed of.

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    The staph experience is one of those things that I think it is difficult to write about unless you have endured it. I think your point about staph being less prestigious now than it was in years past would be a good point to focus on. It speaks of a shift in the mindset of the officers - something that you can probably glean through research - rather than requiring you to do research into unrecorded details of a system that you have not yet suffered through, relying upon anecdotes.

    But, if you want a good glipse at organizational nonsense, a quick read, partly for its entertainment value, is "The Spit-Shine Syndrome: Organizational Irrationality in the American Field Army" - see here at amazon.

    Some people think that Captains are driven out of the Army by lengthy deployments and family hardship. My decision was based entirely upon the realization that my career would have been about 2/3 staph, 1/3 command time. I would second the earlier comment about the one rewarding aspect of the job being that, if you work hard enough, then you can help the guys on the line. But what is frustrating is that the system actually seems as though it was designed to create mountains of work and red tape that prevent you from helping them unless you expend hours/days/weeks on mindless tasks and procedures. The Herculean efforts that go into getting the simplest means of support for a subordinate unit is so stupid that when you finally achieve your goal, you're just left thinking to yourself, "that was so f-ing stupid. I should be able to get x item or y support for these guys with no effort. Instead, I had to fight against a system that is designed to impede progress. And the system will be there again, tomorrow, kicking me in the nuts all over again."

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    I would recommend two other books:

    "History of the German General Staff" by Walter Goerlitz
    "The Training of Officers" by Martin Van Creveld
    "Speak English! said the Eaglet. "I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and what's more, I don't believe you do either!"

    The Eaglet from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

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    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by patmc View Post
    I recommend you spend your time here learning MI and about your role as a LT. Commanders and the staff will expect you to be the intelligence expert, and to work hard to accomplish the mission, not be the staff history expert.
    Hear, Hear! This is a chance to do research on something something you really like and want to learn more about.

    Once you get to be a coveted staff puke (the fate of most intel folks), you will get to pound your nuts into a pulp often enough doing meaningless research that does not mean squat to most of the operational force but is a pet rock for some senior officer.
    Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit
    The greatest educational dogma is also its greatest fallacy: the belief that what must be learned can necessarily be taught. — Sydney J. Harris

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    Council Member BayonetBrant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by patmc View Post
    American Pride,
    I am at the CCC, currently learning MDMP. If you want to see the Army staff process, come upstairs and watch a squad of Captains learning FM 5-0. It is all smiles.


    {shameless plug alert}

    If you'd be interested in a workbook to help streamline the MDMP, check out:

    Amazon.com: Battle Staff MDMP & Operations Order Planning Handbook


    The author is a genius! {/shameless plug}
    Brant
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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    wm,

    Believe it or not, I'm very interested in the staff system and staff work. My particular interest is in campaign planning. Of course, I haven't actually done it yet so I'm still an idealist. My dad always told me the Army took the fun out of flying -- I can only imagine the horrors of Army staff work. I'll probably focus on the system of the Prussian Kingdom and the German Empire where staff work seemed to be held in extremely high regard, and some chiefs of staff having more prominence than the commander they were meant to support. Is it because of command culture, American culture in general, the structure/assumed purpose/resources of Army staff that results in a completely reverse staff experience for American officers? Or something else entirely?

    Other subjects related to my grade/MOS, such as targetting, culture in COIN, and so on seem either saturated with views already, near full development, or don't pass the 'so what' test IMO.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    wm,

    Believe it or not, I'm very interested in the staff system and staff work. My particular interest is in campaign planning. Of course, I haven't actually done it yet so I'm still an idealist. My dad always told me the Army took the fun out of flying -- I can only imagine the horrors of Army staff work. I'll probably focus on the system of the Prussian Kingdom and the German Empire where staff work seemed to be held in extremely high regard, and some chiefs of staff having more prominence than the commander they were meant to support. Is it because of command culture, American culture in general, the structure/assumed purpose/resources of Army staff that results in a completely reverse staff experience for American officers? Or something else entirely?

    Other subjects related to my grade/MOS, such as targetting, culture in COIN, and so on seem either saturated with views already, near full development, or don't pass the 'so what' test IMO.
    "Let me tell you about the benefits of being on a staff..."
    "This should be a short conversation."
    LtCol to Lt Col (EUCOM)

    "Cheese-dickery abounds at this Command." LtCol (EUCOM)


    Make no mistake, the planners on the German General Staff were miserable too. I'm sure von Moltke's S3 Plans was a miserable bastard. Of course, he was German, and thus enjoyed his misery.

    Staff is rarely fun but occasionally rewarding, especially when you support the line well. I had a blast as an S4, but mainly because my XO and CO underwrote my shenanigans to support our BN. S3 Ops was also rewarding because I knew I was supporting the line.

    That said, what would be the difference, in your mind, between supporting the "mission" and the "commander"? Why is this currently a problem? Would staff acting to support the "mission" actually cause more problems because it de-syncs the commander's intent? Staffs already tend to go wild on their pet projects, overwhelming subordinate commander's with good ideas that if not properly held in check by the XO/CO cause havoc on the line.

    Also, consider this thread of wisdom.
    Last edited by Cavguy; 01-07-2009 at 03:04 PM.
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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Also, as a new 2LT if you're headed to a line unit you will be a BICC, which means your life will primairly consist of arms room inspections, physical security inspections, security clearance processing, OPSEC inspections, coffee making, slide flipping, and staff duty.

    If you have a willing BN CDR you MIGHT get a scout platoon if you prove yourself. I've seen it done. I would actually as your BN CDR in your intro interview if you would be considered for a line PLT. In OIF 1 our CHEMO became a tank platoon leader due to his competence and a shortage of AR LT's.
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    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    Believe it or not, I'm very interested in the staff system and staff work. My particular interest is in campaign planning. Of course, I haven't actually done it yet so I'm still an idealist. My dad always told me the Army took the fun out of flying -- I can only imagine the horrors of Army staff work. I'll probably focus on the system of the Prussian Kingdom and the German Empire where staff work seemed to be held in extremely high regard, and some chiefs of staff having more prominence than the commander they were meant to support. Is it because of command culture, American culture in general, the structure/assumed purpose/resources of Army staff that results in a completely reverse staff experience for American officers? Or something else entirely?
    First off, please don't confuse campaign planning with staff work. That aspect of being on staff amounts to a grain of sand small enough to fit through the eye of a needle--and don't expect to get too exposed to it as a LT either.

    If this subject really excites you, then you might want to look at the work by then Secretary of War Elihu Root, who is responsible for the formation of our US General Staff. I have a thesis that while Root gave us the rudiments of a good system, a lot of our staff (mis)organization and (mis)use comes from the AEF's experiences while being trained primarily by the French during WWI. (Check out Robert Doughty's book Pyrrhic Victoryfor info that formed the genesis of my thesis.) I have no real sources for proving/disproving this thesis and have too many other interests to really dig into it.
    As a supplement to Gordon Craig (mentioned by CR6), Dennis Showalter's book, The Wars of German Unification, might give you some newer/different sources on the Prussian/German General Staff, especially if you read German.
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Read Cav Guy's comments again, he gets it...

    so does Schmedlap:
    "The Herculean efforts that go into getting the simplest means of support for a subordinate unit is so stupid that when you finally achieve your goal, you're just left thinking to yourself, "that was so f-ing stupid. I should be able to get x item or y support for these guys with no effort. Instead, I had to fight against a system that is designed to impede progress. And the system will be there again, tomorrow, kicking me in the nuts all over again.""
    You ask an extremely good and I think a very important question:
    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    ...Is it because of command culture, American culture in general, the structure/assumed purpose/resources of Army staff that results in a completely reverse staff experience for American officers?
    I think you'll find that the issue is not an American peculiarity, with the exception of some but not all Germans, I've found staff malaise to be a universal phenomenon
    ...Or something else entirely?
    Someone suggested that it occurs because the 90 day point just happens to be when one is due for the first formal performance counseling session. I think that's coincidental. I retired before counseling got to be a hot item; it was in fact quite rare before the mid 70s. I first observed 'Staffitis' in the 50s -- and no one in those days even knew what the word 'counseling' meant...

    My belief is that there are too many smart guys with too little to do being driven too frequently by less than competent senior people to produce 'stuff.' I also have long wondered if the size of the staffs had/has a significant bearing -- been my observation that the bigger the Staff, the deeper the malaise. The FORSCOM staff back in my day was really, really sad...

    However, even at Bn level I've seen the effect and, before counseling became an issue, that 90 day figure was generally about it...

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    Default Evolving staff functions

    I developed a perspective on staff work and the evolving role of the staff that might be of help to you.

    In the 19th century and well into the 20th, the difficulty of moving information and, I suppose, the nature of command, meant that the staff was primarily responsible for gathering information that the commander could use to make decisions.

    Somewhere in the late 20th century, with the advent of e-mail, secure communications, powerpoint, and all the other techno-impedimentia, the role of the staff began to transform into filtering information to allow the commander to make decisions. This transformation continues and is not yet complete, but I believe that staffs twenty years from now will look superficially the same but will in fact function quite differently.

    I say this because I spent most of the last couple of years of my staff career distilling mountains of info into ideas or propositions for the commander to digest or decide upon.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Look at CALL Special Study 04-1 Transforming the Tactical Staff for the 21st Century--requires AKO access

    Tom

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Excellent point, Eden! My perception is much the same.

    My first contact with a staff was in the early 50s -- and the staffs I saw were notable for getting out and doing things-- gathering information and spreading the word.

    As I later 'progressed' (after fighting and avoiding it as long as humanly possible) to a staff it just happened to be about the time that staff sizes and ranks were increased and more information became available for use -- both those things due to a variety of factors.

    At the tail end of my nominal career, I was on a large staff that truly had access to more information than it could digest but in visits downstream, I noticed the same thing at all levels; the staffs had become a filter and the ability to do something truly directed at mission accomplishment was an exception to the rule of constant filtering.

    Look at that as it goes upstream; trying to do something for a Bn mission impacts the Bde staff as it becomes something to filter; at Div it becomes just another item of dust...

    Thus your point:
    "...This transformation continues and is not yet complete, but I believe that staffs twenty years from now will look superficially the same but will in fact function quite differently."
    is I'm sure correct and one has to wonder if the staff malaise factor which is quite real and an at least mildly adverse impactor on individual retention and on unit performance will be addressed in the process of that development...

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