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Thread: Training the Operational Staff

  1. #21
    Council Member
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    Nov 2007


    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    Rat mate. Don't want to chuck a thundie in the mess, but could I sum up the above as, "trying to work out how a staff supports the commander in counter-insurgency operations?"
    Now that raises the question: What is the role of the commander in COIN? My observation of an American two-star and a British three-star in Afghanistan was that they had very different conceptions of their roles.

    Both did battlefield circulation, and both considered themselves the 'decision makers' for the command. The differences were:

    1. The American felt very comfortable making decisions for his subordinate commanders, routinely requiring that company-level operations be approved by him. The Brit did not.
    2. The Brit described himself as a 'precision guided munition' and routinely made himself available for interaction with locals, international actors, NGOs, etc., if it contributed to mission accomplishment. He did however, require meticulous preparation for such engagements, which proved to be a heavy staff burden. The American hated doing such things and routinely left those types of engagements to his subordinates.
    3. The American wanted routine, twice-daily, detailed briefings on - well, everything. The Brit only wanted to be briefed by exception - when things changed, when things were going off the rail, when certain milestones were reached.
    4. The Brit's Chief of Staff was a decision maker, more important than the various deputy commanders. The American's Chief was an office manager whose role was to assist the deputy commanders in making decisions.

    This is related to the thread because the different command styles inevitably impacted the size, shape, and focus of the staff - both staffs were, by the way, simultaneously bloated, undermanned, and undermined by the need to continuously rotate in augmentees.

  2. #22
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    May 2007

    Default Excellent question -- and one that merits exploration.

    The role of a Commander in COIN or COIN-like operations is not identical to his role in MCO; he effectively has less to do and thus more time to devote to minutia if he's inclined to do that. This can have ramifications down to the lowest level, not just to the Staff. Due to the operational tempo, the Staff also has more time...

    Then there's the trickle down question; the effect on the working troops. In the first cited unit below, Platoons and Companies just worried about the job at hand -- Brigade was 'the rear.' In the second, they did the job but always with an eye toward appearances at the neglect of performance as Brigade was always in their thoughts -- thus teaching a lot of Lieutenants and NCOs some really bad habits...

    I served under two US Brigadier Generals that mirrored your examples. One operated as did your British commander, to the proverbial 'T.' His standing order at night was "Wake me only if all three Battalions are in heavy contact." People were expected to inform him if changes occurred between the Tuesday and Friday A.M. scheduled briefings.

    The other was much more into your American model, to the extent that he was insistent that not only did he want company efforts run by him before execution, he wanted reports to the Platoon level and constantly asked the Staff to pursue issues of no real value to be answered in the next briefing (two per day most days, 0800 and 1800; probably averaged only 1-1.5/day or so over the year, sometimes given to the Deputy Commander, the XO or, even the S3 whether necessary or not...).

    So your comment:
    This is related to the thread because the different command styles inevitably impacted the size, shape, and focus of the staff - both staffs were, by the way, simultaneously bloated, undermanned, and undermined by the need to continuously rotate in augmentees.
    is quite accurate and, i'd add, affects units down the chain.

    The only difference to that in my examples was the Staff for the first rather austere and distant but truly excellent Commander was fairly small but not undermanned while over the months that for the second cited which started as a small but fairly good crew working for a really nice but overly busy guy grew to be just what you describe due to a lot of make-work. Said 'augmentees' of course ripped off from the Battalions...

    No doubt in my mind which of those Brigades functioned best and did the better job. Both were good, the first was far more combat effective with far less hassle; benefiting from a good example -- and, as you wisely illustrate, at least partly the impact of a Commander on the Staff.

  3. #23
    Council Member Red Rat's Avatar
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    Jun 2009
    Currently based in Europe

    Default What is the role of a commander?

    UK and US mil probably (on paper) see the role of the commander in the same way. I have attached a diagram of how the UK sees the command/staff relationship and divide.

    I am not aware how much thought has been given to the role of a commander in COIN. Command and Command style is such a parochial subject with each commander jealously guarding the right to be 'his own man' in matters of style and substance that no guidance per se appears to have been laid down - certainly not on a broadly disseminated basis. My last commander saw his role (in a COIN campaign) clearly as threefold: supervise the supervisors, add substance to main effort, decide where to carry risk.

    What Eden descibes matches up very well what I have seen of UK commanders in various theatres. We (as staff) see his job as that of making the key decisions and, in a COIN campaign, a key influence tool where he can go in and engage with select individuals and groups, make promises and keep them. That does impose a heavy staff burden Staff also get out far too rarely. On my last tour I would see the brigade commander at my outpost every 10 days or so. I saw bde staff once in 6 months... I fail to see (and thought then) how staff could plan effectively in such a nuanced environment without getting out on a regular basis. As a staff weenie in AFG I was out probably more often then required!!

    More of the staff burden (certainly in UK HQs) appears to be self-imposed with staff getting wrapped in process and generating output in order to increase their importance and career profile, or merely to justify their existance (I have yet to hear of a staff branch downsizing themselves voluntarily). An increase in output does not necessarily link to an increase in effect...

    My personal feeling is that while the role of the HQ is to support the commander and enable subordinate units (right people, right kit, right place, right time and having shaped the battlespace) in fact HQs have lost sight of this and HQs do staff process for the sake of it, but also (and as pertinent) to feed the insatiable demand of the next higher HQ for product.

    That aside I like the UK command approach overall, but have a gut feeling that US commanders tend to get out more then their UK counterparts on a rank by rank basis.
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    Last edited by Red Rat; 07-10-2009 at 05:06 PM. Reason: Added detail

  4. #24
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Mar 2006

    Default Staffwork: The Hidden Hand of Operations

    I searched for staffwork and amongst the very few threads shown, this appeared the most fitting.

    A KoW article by a Canadian officer on the 33rd Canadian Brigade Group (33 CBG) Headquarters exercise with the USMC in cool Camp Pendleton:

    Which IMHO is doubly interesting as the unit is:
    a reserve formation, part-time soldiers, composed of university professors and high school teachers, policemen, software engineers, supply management specialists, occupational therapists and a variety of other occupations. The unit is also a conglomeration of officers and soldiers from militia units across eastern and central Ontario who work as a group only occasionally.......virtually all participating had made at least one tour to Afghanistan.
    Some of the points made have appeared in Jim Storr's book The Human Face of War.

    There is an interesting different point of view, an Australian one too, on the use of reservists:
    The case for committing complex and professional war fighting skills to the Reserve may be tempting for Australian defence planners, but it makes little sense. War fighting is a profession and modern weaponry and tactics are highly technical and complex. Like Olympic athletes, when professional soldiers train less they achieve less. Any decision to warehouse war fighting capabilities in the Reserve is really a decision to let the capability atrophy and fail.

    I know SWC has recently discussed in the US context the differences between regular and reservist components.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 07-27-2012 at 11:51 AM.

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