Monday 7 October
After an exciting weekend in D.C. with my son, who attended his first professional football game, we returned to academics. As we finished up the “Who am I?” las t week, the seminar began a series of briefs from the students on their respective units. We are calling this “Unit 101.” This is an opportunity to inform other students on the joint commands each person is going to or coming from (depending on when their respective service decided to send them to JCWS). We began Unit 101 with an overview of the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command or JECC, which happens to be my previous assignment.
Tuesday 8 October: The Strategic Estimate
Appendix B of Joint Publication 5-0 lays out the format for a strategic estimate. Class today was a discussion of the format followed by group work in flushing out the current and desired conditions of their planning set. Critical to the strategic estimate is understanding the current conditions and the desired conditions. As we are developing a Combatant Command Campaign Plan (CCP), we look out five years in the future for the desired conditions. We avoid “End State” as day-to-day campaigning never ends. End State is appropriate for contingency plans that deviate off of the CCP.
Wednesday 9 October: Defining the Problem
Morning was dedicated to finishing the strategic estimate, and formulating concise descriptions of the operational environment. A large portion of the estimate centers on the Operational Environment or OE. The OE portion consists of five elements, 1) a description of the CCMD Area of Responsibility (AOR) 2) A description of the Area of Interest (AI) 3) Friendly actors 4) Adversary actors and 5) Neutral actors. To help the students prepare, we assigned everyone in the class 2-3 nations in the USAFRICOM AOR to study through the PMESSI lens. We then consolidated the students into regions, then consolidated back as a seminar to present a complete picture of the AOR.
As we continue planning in this phase of the course, 2 students from each of the three regions are now assigned to one of three concurrent OPTs. I find that having the students in smaller working groups to develop products works better than the development one one product by the entire seminar. I
In the afternoon, I introduced the class to the problem statement. any planning effort begins and ends with the problem. As an opening video, I used this clip from Moneyball. It’s a useful clip that distills two facets of a problem, the proximate cause and the root cause. The proximate cause being the loss of Jason Giambi, the root cause being the lack of money and spending by ownership. Understanding the root cause leads to the creative solutions Billy Bean had to employ. If you get the problem wrong at the onset of planning, the entire plan can quickly come off the rail just as it’s leaving the station.
I presented a method of crafting the statement by filtering in 3 parts or components to the problem. 1) the reality 2) the idea and 3) the consequences. In other words, current conditions, desired conditions, and risk. Further, I detail that the problem statement is distilled as what is preventing an organization from getting from the current conditions of the operational environment to the desired conditions.
Although the seminar already had their class on risk, I offer my perspective in articulating risk to senior leaders. First and foremost, senior leaders do not want a chart with different colors listing the risk/mitigation/residual risk, etc… A risk matrix is completely appropriate for a junior officer running an M4 range. It’s not appropriate at the Combatant Command, Joint Staff, and Department level. Further, I offer that labeling risk with a specific work such as “significant” or "high” impedes the risk discussion. When you label risk with a single word, the discussion turns into an argument on which word to choose. Staffs must articulate risk with statements, actual sentences that talk about the consequences of action or inaction. If anyone is dead set on creating a matrix, it’s all good to have in back-up to show the work. But leave the matrix in back-up.
Understanding the current environment, the desired conditions of the environment, and the problem statement lead to the skeleton of the Operational Approach. Which is where I will take the class tomorrow.
Thursday 10 October
We began class with our second “Unit 101.” One member of the class is assigned to JTF-North, and gave a nice overview of the organization and it’s mission. The “Unit 101” seems to be a nice way to begin the first 15-20 minutes of class before diving into the mental exercises of planning. The student briefing JTF-N informs us of counter narcotics mission and recommends the book Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel. Having read the book I concur and second his opinion.
We continued with the development of the Problem Statement in the morning. Each student printed out their ~300 word problem framing and statement. Each of the 6-person groups then used the 5 Will Get you 25” Red Team method to determine the best of their respective problem statements. With that, the students scoped down the 300 words to a a problem statement of 3-4 sentences that a staff would display to a commander.
I have previously written on the importance of getting the problem statement right. The benefit of going through the exercise of problem framing, is having the staff fully understand the problem before they begin writing them. In the same way some staffs skip mission analysis and go strait to COA development, some OPTs immediately go into writing the problem statement at the outset. OPTs and staffs must take the time to truly understand the problem before they try to articulate it. At the end of the day, a short and concise problem statement is what planners brief to commanders, narrowing the background data and information to get there is certainly an art.
The afternoon began with an introduction to the Operational Approach. Up to this point, the seminar created various aspects of an operational approach for a campaign plan. This includes the current conditions, the desired conditions, and the problem statement.
Leaders never make decisions from data, rather leaders make decisions from a story. We write the story from our data, but the ability to display data in a visually appealing manner and craft a story from the visual is a vital aspect to the life of a staff officer. An operational approach done well is the commander’s story of how he or she envisions the operation or sees the battlefield.
I impart on the seminar that operational approaches and campaign plans are not the sole business of joint or combatant command staffs. Rather, they are the language of senior leaders both in joint and service commands. I offer them examples such as the Army’s Human Dimension Strategy, the Navy Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance, the JECC 2020 Campaign Plan, and the Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025. Each document is a little different in presentation, but all describe the current environment, the future environment, problems to overcome. Some have lines of effort, all have objectives in time and space to get them to their desired conditions.
At the conclusion of academics, the seminar took a van ride over to the Piers on the main portion of Naval Station Norfolk for an hour long tour of an attack submarine. Tours of naval ships is certainly a highlight of the course. Typically students will tour a submarine and an aircraft carrier in port. Personally, the surprising aspect of each ship is the sheer size. For example, up until my first time boarding the U.S.S. Hampton Roads, my mental picture of an attack submarine was something along the lines of Das Boot or U-571. The depth, or number of floors on the submarine surprised me. But make no mistake, Denzel Washington isn’t going to run laps on the inside of a submarine either. On the other hand, it’s still small, and not a place I would want to spend an extended amount of time in. Hats off to Submariners.
Friday 11 October
Always a good day that begins by opening the inbox and seeing a letter of acceptance from a publication you send an essay to. Naturally, I will post it here, and other means of social media when it is published.
We started today with a guest speaker, retired Ambassador Miles. A couple times a year a former Ambassador will address the seminar to provide a perspective from other agencies of the U.S. government. It’s an important piece of the larger planning puzzle. What DoD and the military does around the world may be the biggest elephant in the room, but there are other elephants. A key insight however, was the observation that typically, U.S. Ambassadors do not think nor act regionally. They are responsible for their own country, which is a juxtaposition of our Combatant Commands who look at the world and various problem sets through a regional lens.
We finish the week with some more work on the operational approach, walking each of the three OPTs through intermediate military objectives (IMOs) within their campaign plan. Each OPT briefs them to the rest of the seminar, and by noon everyone is ready for the three-day weekend.
Happy Columbus Day