Joint billet requirements, chain of command under review

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has launched a review of the landmark 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that has defined military careers and organizational structure for decades, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

“The secretary feels (it) is important to take a look at the department and the structure right now within the DoD and to make sure that we’re doing things as efficiently as possible,” said Peter Cook, Carter’s primary spokesman.“This is something that he’s initiated here within the department itself, to take a hard look at … whether or not things could be done differently in the spirit of Goldwater-Nichols and the changes that resulted from that many years ago,” Cook said at a news briefing.

Source: Joint billet requirements, chain of command under review

There’s a long, long list of things to criticize Ash Carter for. This, however, is not one of them.

Goldwaters-Nichols was a needed reform. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the justification for the organization it brought collapsed as well. But primarily through bureaucratic inertia, the regional CoCom structure just kept going. Which, it did make a certain amount of sense. For instance, when Desert Storm popped up, CentCom, the regional combatant commander for the Middle East, simply deployed from its Tampa Bay headquarters to the field in Saudi Arabia. An existing unified chain of command was already in place, with Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Special Operations subordinate commanders already assigned. All the organization needed was to be filled out with troop units, first from XVIII Airborne Corps, and then later from VII Corps.

Where the G-N framework started to collapse was in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. The armed services were already fighting in Afghanistan. And suddenly, CentCom found itself fighting two completely unrelated wars. No one commander could reasonably be expected to focus sufficiently to do well in both. So subordinate commanders were placed in each theater. Essentially, rather than doubling the size of the headquarters troops for the wars, it instead tripled them, as both Iraq and Afghanistan got an in-country headquarters, and certainly, CentCom wasn’t about to shrink, what with its role supervising both the subordinate staffs! Since then, the pattern has been set- any time there is a deployment, rather than the CoCom leading it in his region, and entire Joint Task Force unified headquarters is stood up and deployed, subordinate to the CoCom. It is essentially a duplication of effort.

And then there’s the Joint billet requirement. To reduce interservice parochialism, the requirement is that every officer has to serve time in a joint billet. Well, the problem with parochialism was mostly over how the budget pie got sliced. And the fact is, the Joint billet requirement hasn’t had any effect on that issue.

What is has done is drive a requirement for a lot of Joint billets, whether they do a real job or not, because clear down at the O-5 and O-6 level, to be “fair” to the promotion prospects of every single officer, they have to have a tour.

That’s pretty stupid in that it drives up the size of useless headquarters staffs, and  takes officers away from their primary career field for no good reason. There is plenty of time at the O-7/O-8 paygrades to serve in a joint billet, where service integration really starts anyway.

So there’s great room for improvement over G-N, and we hope Carter looks carefully, but quickly at how best to change from an outdated, inefficient system.

One thing to consider. With the shift in focus in the Army from a divisional based organization to the Brigade Combat Team model is that the Army has been trying to design its division and corps headquarters to serve not merely as higher elements to deployed BCTs, but as command nodes for unified (that is, all services) command.

For instance, in the current deployment of Operation Inherent Resolve, based in Iraq and fighting ISIS, a corps headquarters might be deployed to serve as the JTF headquarters, with Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps and Special Operations subordinate commands attaching in a “plug and play” manner. The corps headquarters is already robustly equipped with the staff, intel, logistics, and communications to fulfill this role, and also to integrate with non-DoD agencies, such as the host nation, other US departments, and some NGOs.


9 thoughts on “Joint billet requirements, chain of command under review”

  1. Yes indeed. This has been a long time in the coming and is necessary. The staff sizes desperately need to shrink.

  2. How do you see this affecting deployed units? For example, right now each CoCom has its own numbered fleet and ships are assigned to those fleets as they move around the globe. Do you foresee those fleets remaining as an administrative unit, with similar structures for forward deployed land and air forces? Or would we bump the strike group commander a star or two and give him authority over all the vessels in the area the group is operating in?

  3. I like the effort. But the cynic in me wonders if a restructuring that shrinks staffs will actual happen.

    In addition to the other issues outlined above, wonder if this is partly a reaction to the blossoming cooked intel scandal at CENTCOM.

  4. While it won’t help me, I heard an interesting discussion in which a Major General was explaining that the reason we had so many BGs of questionable ability was because the studs weren’t even eligible for competing for BG because they hadn’t taken the necessary time to get joint-qualified. And it takes a bit of time. Having done 36 months as S3/XO, my branch manager wouldn’t even consider sending me to a joint job because he was positive I would come out for BN command and wouldn’t have time to be joint qualified before assuming command.

  5. Your last paragraph was exactly the methodology used by PACOM in the early 90s. Worked pretty well, at least in exercises.

  6. I go to church with a retired nuke sub officer. He went to the war college and then became a “joint officer” and never was able to go back. He retired as an O-5 and never got his own boat, and he most likely would have had he stayed in the Navy track. He never made O-6, in large part, because he got stuck on the joint track.

    I think the joint idea was a good idea, but has simply been implemented poorly. The idea, however, would never had ended the attitude that LeMay exemplified, “The Soviets are the opponents. The Navy is the enemy.” I see no way to end such parochialism.

    1. In his case it did take him out. He also said that it was a commonplace occurrence with those that ended up on that track. I would say that the way to bet is what you have said. But, not all situations are like that. Many items that’s exactly what happens.

  7. Michele Flournoy, former USD-P, testified before the SASC and captured it correctly – there are 4,000 people in OSD and in the Chairmans Staff. That’s the first cut that needs to be made. Return the personnel to the services.

    The only shooting combatant commands are CENTCOM and AFRICOM – evaluation of those staffs would be the place to start to understand how to balance requirements will engaged in the fight in multiple areas within the theater.

    EUCOM next based on lessons learned with CENTCOM/AFRICOM – Russian Aggression will cause the next fight long before we mix it up with China. The pivot to PACOM was a mistake (that’s another topic at another time) leaving Europe short. Sorry, but SOUTHCOM is an economy of force and effort mission.

    Goldwater-Nichols (GN) doesn’t need to be eliminated– just scale it back and instead of it being mandatory, make it part of the menu of options in career development based on availability. Joint-time makes an officer’s and senior NCOs better in leadership, and in personal and professional development – they realize that its a joint service fight and they need to understand how it all works and meshes.

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