7-11 October: Deep into Planning

Current and Desired Conditions

Current and Desired Conditions

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.

Building a CCP Operational Approach

Building a CCP Operational Approach

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

30 September - 4 October: Yorktown, Interagency, and Theater Strategy


Monday, 30 September: Test review and Introduction to Campaigns

Last Friday marked the culmination of the Joint Force Fundamentals portion of the class. I’m happy to say that all students in the seminar passed the exam. The interesting feedback I received on the exam is that the students desire more short answer and essay questions in lieu of multiple choice and memorization type questions. I think this is the way all PME should go, students should apply critical thinking and analysis to what they learn in the classroom over simply learning definitions of key terms.

Over the weekend, prior to class, I sent the students a link to one of my previous articles on the personalities of an OPT. It serves as a structure to think about how they will work together to solve problems, no matter what personality they fall into.

The week began with a broad overview of theater strategy and campaign design. Over the next three weeks the seminar will work as an OPT to develop the framework of a Combatant Command Campaign Plan.

Tuesday 1 October: Yorktown Staff Ride

Today the seminar conducted the Yorktown Staff Ride. Personally, it’s my favorite part of the course, mostly because as a resident of Williamsburg, my commute to Yorktown is significantly shorter than the days I drive to Norfolk, and traverse the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT). Aside from the shorter drive, using the history of the American Revolution to tie in concepts to contemporary planning is useful. and if Thucydides teaches us anything, it’s that while the character of war may change, the nature of remains constant.


The seminar met at the Victory Monument, overlooking the York River. I arrived early, and was able to watch the sunrise, a peaceful moment to reflect. One of my fellow seminar instructors who leads the staff ride gave an opening lecture, pointing out some neat facts on the monument. For example, the decision to build a monument was made shortly after the revolution, but the funding and building of the monument didn’t happen until nearly 100 years later. Wanting something is one thing, getting Congress to pay for it is another. Some things never change.

One of the key areas of discussion was the alliance between France and the Americans. Coalitions are hard to build, and hard to maintain. This is true at the political or policy level, and also at the operational level of war. The French and the Americans had to make decisions together on the conduct of the battle, the chain of command, sectors, and even the terms of surrender towards the end. How to best fight as a coalition still matters today. We compared the coalition at Yorktown to the coalition in the Gulf War, and even the coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

a second aspect we discussed was how Yorktown fit into the larger global campaigns of France and Great Britain. We talk today of Globally Integrated Operations. In some ways, our fight for independence was just another battlefield

As an aside, Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens get most of the tourists in this area. Anyone who visits should make the stop at Yorktown to see exactly where America earned it’s independence. My wife, my kids, and I spend each July 4th watching fireworks over the York River. It’s not quite the Macy’s celebration on the East River, but in my view there is no better place to celebrate than at the birthplace of our nation.

Wednesday 2 October: Global Integration and Campaign Design

We begin the day with a focused after action review of the first two weeks of the course. I lead a discussion, and try to pull out what went well and what didn’t. Naturally, the seminar zeros in on what they want to improve. I lead off the AAR with the overall course objectives (showing the objectives or what we intended to accomplish is something I do at every AAR I lead. For the most part we got there, but getting there had its own obstacles. The main thing the students look for or wish to have is a syllabus. We have an outlook calendar, we have all the course material by lesson on Blackboard, yet no syllabus, which is surprising to say the least. Further, as I speak to other instructors, they let me know that this is a request from nearly every student or seminar that passes through.

It’s not an exciting day, nor is it an exciting topic. As we are in the campaign design portion of the class I lead the seminar through a discussion of the various campaign plans at the CCMD level. We focus on Combatant Command Campaign Plans or CCPs. Further, we discuss the relationship between CCPs and Functional Campign Plans (FCPs), Regional Campaign Plans (RCPs) and the Global Campaign Plans (GCPs).

The current parlance of the joint force is CCPs. The CCP replaced what used to be called the Theater Campaign Plan or TCP. The big difference is that Theater Campaign Plans were focused on the Area of Responsibility (AOR) of the combatant command. TCPs tended to be geographically focused, while CCPs should also have a global perspective, and focus on the 2+3 threats. Moreover, we look to the CCPs as the documents that operationalize the Joint Strategic Campaign Plan (JSCP).

Thursday 3 October: Interagency Discussion

Quote of the Day: Stigma doesn’t always come from winning or losing, stigma can come from not taking risk.”

The highlight of today was a group discussion led by the State Department representative to the Joint Forces Staff College. The Department of State maintains representatives at each our our major Professional Military Education (PME) schools. What our representative discussed was the State Department perspective on U.S. Operations.

The discussion began with a description of the “3 Ds” of U.S. foreign policy; Diplomacy, Development, and Defense. Diplomacy is the State department, Development is USAID, and naturally, Defense is DoD. Further, we discussed the stereotypes of State and Military personnel, much in the same way we did when we discussed the stereotypes of each of the services. One person mentioned the view that diplomats are reluctant to take risk, and always looking to smooth over confrontation. This sparked some good back and forth on why that perception is there, and often the necessity of careful actions and words in diplomacy

A second part of the discussion focused on funding. When it comes to money, the Department of Defense (under the Defense pillar of the 3 Ds) currently runs an annual budget of over $700 Billion. Said $700 billion does not include the funds for the Department of Energy which manages nuclear weapons, nor does it include everything that is rolled up under the Department of Homeland Security. The budget of our diplomatic corps is paltry in comparison. Granted, the Department of State does not employ Carrier Strike Groups, Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs), or other high tech and high dollar items, but still, its quite the comparison.

I think a lot about how each service spends it’s budget which leads into how each service presents it’s force and capabilities. The Air Force tends to speak in Air Wings, or aircraft, the Navy in Ships, but the Army tends to speak of it’s formations in terms of people. Indeed, the Army speaks in terms of Companys, Battalions, and Brigade Combat Teams, all of which are measured by the number of people in them. People are our platforms, and people, when grouped together take the largest portion of our budget.

Friday 4 October: Finishing “Who Am i?”

Our last two Who am I? sessions occurred this morning. Overall feedback on the exercise seems positive. The seminar took the exercise seriously, reflected upon themselves, and used WAI to help build the group dynamics in the seminar. Personally, I see everyone who participated more as a person than just another student. A deeper understanding of how people think, and how people communicate within the seminar should pay dividends as the class continues over the next seven weeks. I understand who the introverts are, and that their reluctance to speak up is not because of a bad attitude, or not understanding the material, it’s just a reflection of their introvertedness. It’s now on me to develo ways to pull out their participation.

23-27 September: Peer Eval, Crusade in Europe, Strategic Guidance, and the First Exam

our seminar took their first exam this week.

our seminar took their first exam this week.

Monday, 23 September: Strategic Guidance and AARs

In the first week of class, we introduced the students to the overall structure of our national level strategic guidance. This week we did a deep dive on each of the documents which include, the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, the National Military Strategy, and the Joint Strategic Campaign Plan. This morning, the class did a deep dive into each document, using the actual NSS, the unclassified summary of the NDS, and an instructional NMS developed for the course. The seminar broke into different groups, and provided a summary along the ends/ways/means/ risk construct on the white boards. Further, the discussion delved into the regional and country descriptions found in the NSS and NDS, which provide for the basis of a threat based planning model in lieu of a capabilities based planning model.

Other aspects of importance include the Global Operation Model (GOM), which the NDS lays out the different layers of the force (contact, blunt, surge, and homeland). However,most importantly, we ingrained into the seminar that when they are tasked to lead a planning team to write a theater strategy, a contingency plan, or any other joint planning, these documents often serve as the first source to think about objectives and endstates.

Over the first week, and into the second, at the conclusion of each class, or seminar asks the students to fill out an index card on sustains and improves for the class. It’s rapid feedback, but provides us with good ideas on what we need to improve on as instructors. Often, a student has an new idea on how to present the information. It is a sincere belief of mine that everybody knows something I don’t. Everyone can teach me something new. This could be a commander, a general officer, a new private, or the building janitor. Never limit where you can receive new information from, or who you can learn from.

Tuesday, 24 September: Joint Functions and Multi-National Briefs

We begin the day offsite at a local restaurant in Norfolk. Over breakfast we take two hours to discuss each of the joint functions. To enable the discussion, I had assigned 2-3 students to a chapter in Crusade in Europe. Each team discussed what they observed in the chapter for each of the seven joint functions. Two aspects of this lesson come out, first, students appreciate any time away from the classroom. Sitting behind a desk and reviewing PowerPoint slides, although appropriate for some lessons, is not ideal every day. Second, the use of history as a method to explain and comprehend current doctrine and operations. Although Eisenhower doesn’t frame his writings with the joint functions, or in an operational approach, the elements are certainly there. We can find examples of current doctrine in every past conflict if we look hard enough.

Looking into the future, we may continue to use Crusade in Europe to help instruct the elements of operational design, and as a way to explain the elements of global integration.The decision making at the national level during WWII, included prioritization of Europe over the Pacific. Even at the operational level, decisions on where to focus forces and capabilities was a constant factor in fighting the war. In some respects, WWII may be the best example we have of the concept and ideas behind global integration.

Following our offsite discussion, we moved back to the classroom where our international students presented a brief on their native counties and armed forces, which for our seminar includes Austria and Thailand.

As a backdrop for the presentation, I took the time to read the English versions of their respective national security strategies. Looking at how other nations view the world, and their relationships to other organizations is a way to develop a comprehensive view of the world. Austria’s strategy for example discusses the relationship to NATO and the EU.

Each international student talked for about an hour, which is incredible when you think about it. Their presentations were in English, and to a foreign audience, and understandable to the entire seminar. The ability to hold court in a second language is

Wednesday, 25 September: Global Force Management, JSCP, JCIC, and Exam Review

The morning began with all the students attending a brief from the Joint Staff J35 on the topic of Global Force Management (GFM). We are lucky in the sense that the J35 GFM shop happens to be across the street from the Joint Forces Staff College. This allows us to have the true experts on GFM talk on the subject matter.

What is important to know for a joint planner is that there is only so much “stuff'“ or capabilities for the joint force to distribute to joint force commanders. GFM is about balancing risk, looking at problem sets globally, and ensuring that capabilities allocated or apportioned to joint force commanders meet the Secretary’s intent. The global view at the joint staff level is paramount, as Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCCs) tend to have a parochial view, prioritizing their respective area of responsibility (AOR).

The Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning(JCIC), is now coming into fruition in the form of joint doctrine. We talked about the ideas, the continuum of conflict, and how the JCIC was the first tool to break the mental model of the 6-Phase planning model. I liked the idea of introducing joint concepts to the seminar, but we must keep in mind that concepts (joint, multi-service, or service) are only ideas. They provide a vision of how we will operate in the future, but is not a description of what we do today.

An aspect of the JSCP and JCIC instruction was the attendance of a peer mentor in the back of the classroom. Each new instructor at JCWS is assigned to a senior member of the faculty who acts as a peer mentor. I introduced mine at the start of the class, and received his feedback on Friday, which I detail below.

The problem sets the joint force faces today can no longer have a regional perspective. Enemies and adversaries have global reach. This reach may not be in the form of tanks, airplanes, or aircraft carriers like we have, but through other domains such as cyberspace and space. Moreover, other nations have looked to asymmetric means to attack America globally. Once again, this is not a new construct (organizations such as Red Army Faction targeted U.S. service members in Europe), but one that joint planners and strategists must consider moving forward.

Thursday, 26 September: Reading Strategic Guidance, Exam Review, and lunch with an author.

In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to have lunch with one of the JAWS seminars who invited retired Colonel Frank Sobchek to speak to their class. Frank is the primary author of both volumes of The U.S. Army in the Iraq War. I read both volumes earlier in the year. Every officer should take the time to read them. More than a dry history, the story looks at key decisions, innovation, and a myriad of other aspects of how the U.S. Army fought for eleven years. The book confirmed much of my thinking and perspective from what I saw on the ground as a young captain from 2005-2008. Faulty assessments, asinine decisions and guidance, and moral failings were a staple. The latter, from Abu Ghraib to Mahamidiyah involved war crimes by individual soldiers, but often was set up by failings of the institution. My personal view is that the Army as a service has yet to acknowledge its role in these types of events.

Friday, 27 September: Peer Feedback and the First Test

An uneventful day as students took their first exam, a combination of multiple choice, short answer, and short essays. Students were dismissed from class for the weekend once they completed the exam. I did play for them my all time favorite exam from Spies Like Us.

At the completion of the exam, I sat with my peer mentor to get feedback on how I conducted the class. He offered some great insights to instruction to include:

-The instructor owns everything on the slide he/she presents. Instructors do not develop all the slides, but must be careful to review everything, and not present information they can not discuss to any degree of intelligence. I see this as similar to any other briefing in front of a senior leader. I have been witness to many staff officers get crushed on an obscure bullet point on a slide that they had little to zero knowledge of. The same can happen to an instructor with students. Indeed, credibility is at stake.

-be careful in how I move about in the classroom. Some movement is good, as hiding behind a podium can indicate a lack of confidence in presenting the material. Our classrooms have the students sitting in a U type setting, making the middle of the U a place to walk up and down. I refer tothis as “my cat walk.” I am an ambiturner, although I have never been a male model.

-State up front why the class needs to understand what they are learning. War stories are ok to stress the importance of a subject. This is in accordance with andragogy, the method and practice of teaching adult learners.

-Know the 2 or 3 big ideas within each lecture. State them up front and consistently hammer on them.

16 - 20 September 2019 We begin a New Class


Monday 16 September: Arrival of the New Class

Today marked the beginning of JCWS 19-4. Students from all of the services, and from multiple allied and partner nations walked into the building to begin their JPME II education. We started the day with all students, from all seminars attending an opening ceremony. we followed this with an introduction to our students in our seminar classroom. Our seminar has 18 total students. They represent all services (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines), and also includes a Thai Air Force Officer who happens to also be a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and an Austrian Army officer.

The previous week, as all faculty were preparing for the next course, we had a luncheon with the international students. Here is where I first met the Thai and Austrian officers. My conversation with the Austrian officer centered around who he considered the most famous or prominent Austrian soldier throughout history. He offered General Count Radetzky and Field-Marshal Karl Schwarzenberg. I countered with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who served as a tanker in the Austrian Army, where his weightlifting career took off (one of the best 30 for 30 Shorts out there).

When the seminar first sat down in the classroom, we conducted the standard military introduction, of name, hometown, and previous assignments. As the class will be together for 10 weeks, we made and effort to break the ice. We had everyone pair off with one other student, and describe their answers to a series of questions. With each new questions, the students paired off with someone new. The questions we had them answer to each other:

-What do you see as a successful leader? What do you see as a failed leader? Describe one of your mentors? What is your greatest athletic achievement? What was your favorite course in college?

Getting IT and other administrative requirements became the focus of the rest of the day. We went in detail on the readings for the next couple of days, which was a bit of shock to the students.

Some thoughts as we prepped for the new class:

-Our seminar uses Slack as a primary means of communication. It allows for controlled discussions outside of the classroom, and is an excellent way for instructors and students to pass information to each other. Some subjects that we created on our Slack page include “Short Bios” for each of us to get a sense of one another, “Book and Movie Recommendations,” and “Faculty Instructions,” to name a few.

Tuesday 17 September

“People don’t make decisions from data, rather they make decisions through a story.” I agree with this sentiment based on my experiences as a joint planner.

To begin the day, I spent about 10 minutes discussing my background with the “Who Am I” (WAI) construct. This is a technique I learned at the Red Team Course, is described in the Red Team Handbook, and is a fantastic way for students and faculty to get to know each other, and to build a deeper sense of empathy and understanding of our perspectives. Further, the WAI exercise provides an opportunity to reflect on beliefs, and turn the reflection into a story. Over the next two weeks, each member of our seminar faculty and each student will talk their “Who Am I” to the class.

This was our first day teaching the course material. To lead off the instruction, I led a discussion on how we will build and develop knowledge on joint doctrine. Often, learning new doctrine is learning a new vocabulary. Words that services use may not be appropriate, and terms that joint commands use are not in use in Army, Air Force, or other service doctrine. To break the ice, I played this short clip from Renaissance Man. It’s an underrated movie from the mid-1990s, but ranks as one of my favorite.

The formal instruction began with an introduction and overview of the material we will present over the next two weeks. The big focus of my class was to introduce the ideas of Unity of Effort, Unity of Action, Whole of Government, and Global Integration.

Today we also discussed service cultures. It’s a useful exercise in a joint environment, and serves as an unofficial ice breaker. We have a discussion on the views or stereotypes of the various services. This ranges from fitness levels of the Navy, to coloring books and crayons of the Marine Corps. The class discussed the cultures of each of their services, and discussed whether or not there is such a thing as a joint culture. Most agreed there is, but one student pointed out how a joint organization such as a joint task force often takes on the culture of the organization that is the core of the command. This could be a service component command, or an army corps/division headquarters. Valid point indeed.

Other discussion was interesting, even at the field grade level, people form other services still do not understand the badges, tabs, patches and other elements of flair that we put on our uniforms. One officer described the flair as an informal handshake, and a fast way to judge what another soldier or sailor has done throughout their career.

In the afternoon, I gave an an introduction to the Joint Functions. A Bridge Too Far served as the scene setter. There are seven joint functions, which are similar to the Army’s six warfighting functions, but with a different term for one, and the addition of information as a joint function by Secretary Mattis in September of 2015.

The seven joint functions are Movement and Maneuver, Intelligence, Sustainment, Command and Control, Fires, Protections, and Information. The Army substitutes Mission Command for Command and Control. Today was simply an introduction, we will be going into more detail on the joint functions next week. To prepare for that portion of the course, I assigned the students Chapter 1-8 of Crusade in Europe by Dwight Eisenhower. The book is remarkable, and offers the use of history to discuss various ideas in current doctrine.

Wednesday 18 September: DSCA and the Icebreaker

Day two of WAI was conducted by our Seminar Team Lead (STL), the senior instructor of the seminar. Beginning on Thursday, students will begin their WAI presentations.

The course instruction today is on Homeland Defense and Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA). The paramount points in the classroom discussion was the differences between State Active Duty, Title 32, and Title 10. The law is clear, and the policy strict on what service members can do when activated under each authority. For example, Title 10 (active duty) can not conduct law enforcement. Further, the funding and chain of command is different for each authority. State Active Duty and Title 32 answer to their respective governors, although the latter receives funding from the federal government. Title 10 is when forces are on federal active duty and answer to the President.

Following the classroom discussion, all seminars met for a panel of DSCA experts. The panel included a local emergency manager, a representative from FEMA, a retired Coast Guard Vice Admiral, to name a few. Without discussing their exact comments, the themes of their discussion focused on the importance of building relationships between the military and other government organizations such as FEMA, as well as relationships with the private sector (businesses who may contribute to recovery for example). Further, all panel members stressed the importance of understanding authorities in a DSCA mission. Moreover, understanding how military actions can upset the local economy in a recovery is an important aspect (leads to the joint principle of restraint).

In the afternoon, we had an opportunity to attain some class unity. The first week of each course the students participate in a Defense Support to Civil Service exercise. It was an opportunity for students to plan and develop some courses of action within a DSCA environment.

In the evening, our seminar had an informal icebreaker at a local brewhouse/restaurant. We tried to choose a place with an open atmosphere as opposed to everyone sitting down at a restaurant. The ability to walk around and talk to other students was first in considerations on where to hold the icebreaker.

Thursday 19 September: Strategy, the JSPS, and the USTRANSCOm Commander

Following the morning portion of Who Am I?", the seminar was led through a discussion on strategic theory. There are a ton of ways to think about strategy, and no shortage of thinkers and strategists who have developed their own definition. For example, Colin Grey, author of The Strategy Bridge defines strategy as “the direction and use of force for the purposes of policy as decided by politics.” Sir Lawrence Freedman, defined strategy as the “the art of creating power.” Further, Freedman presses the aspect that “Strategy is a noun and not a verb, something one has rather than does.” Further, Freedman is clear that “There is therefore a difference between having a strategy, which suggests a plan, and acting strategically, which suggests flexibility and responding to events.” However, for JCWS, we use the Yargar model of defining strategy as Ends+Ways+Means, balanced over risk. Often, this theory is displayed by a 3-legged stool (the Lykke depiction) , with the imbalance being the strategic risk.

Not everyone is a fan of the Ends/Ways/Means model of strategy, however, nearly every strategy document that the joint force produces falls within this paradigm. The advantage to it is that a planner, or leader can pick up any published strategy and recognize the formula and the language of the product.


Talking through the Joint Strategic Planning System, and all the documents that are a part of it, to include the NSS, NDS< NMS, JSCP, The best way to describe how I approached the introduction was that the JSPS represents a forest, and all the documents within represent trees. The introduction part of the course was flying over the forest and pointing out the trees from a distance. Next week, the plan is to walk up to the trees and examine them (read them) up close.

One of the best aspects of teaching at or attending Professional Military Education, is the opportunity to listen to senior leaders speak at a guest lecture. This afternoon, General Lyons, the Commander of U.S. Transportation Command spoke to all seminars, to include the JAWS (Joint Advanced Warfighting School) class for a little over an hour.

I told the class my theory about guest speakers, and it goes something like this. Anytime a guest speaker comes in, ask a question. Never worry about getting labled as the guy/gal who always asks questions. There is a good chance that you will never have the opportunity to ask or even communicate with the speaker again. I gave them anecdotes about the times I asked Neil DeGrasse Tyson a question at the Pentagon Library while he was promoting his latest book. Further, I have asked questions to retired General Zinni and even Conan O’Brian, the latter while he was on a USO tour. Take advantage of opportunities you know you will never get again.


Friday 20 September: Ethics

I find that Fridays are best spent outside the schoolhouse classroom at an offsite location. This morning, for our discussion of ethics, I held our class at the MacArthur Memorial in downtown Norfolk. It is about a 15-minute drive from the school, and offers classroom facilities for our use. We met up at 0830 to begin our discussion of ethics in the classroom, followed by a guided tour of the memorial at 1030. The tour took about an hour, and we released the students to begin their weekend.

For the ethics discussion I led the discussion with by asking who had the fewest years of service in the class. One person had 11, and the most experienced person, a former enlisted Marine has over 25 years. With this in mind, I asked why we needed to discuss ethics at this point of their careers. We came to somewhat of a consensus after talking about Fat Leonard, and other ethical and moral failings by flag level officers that ethics is something we must continue to think about and discuss. I added that thinking about ethics as a staff officer, and at the operational level of war would take a little brain power.

I had the entire class go strait to joint doctrine (Appendix B of Joint Publication 1) to understand the Joint Values. The joint values of Duty, Honor, Integrity, Courage (physical and moral), Integrity, and Selfless Service, are important in the same sense that each service has their own respective values. The joint values provide for us a common denominator in thinking about ethics.

I had the class divide into four groups, each of whom had an essay to read (the previous night’s homework) and discuss with the larger group. These essays included Dr. Wong and Stephen Gerras’s Lying to Ourselves, Ludwig and Longenecker’s “The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders,” and Lay Phonexayphova’s “Lessons from Yusufiyah From Black Hearts to Moral Education.” The latter author was a student in our last course. Further, as a member of the Blackheart Brigade in the 2005-2006 deployment, I have published my own thoughts on all that occurred in South Baghdad over the course of that terrible year (the original was a 5-part series on the Foreign Policy / Best Defense site, the link takes you to the entirety on The Decisive Point)..

The “Lying to Ourselves” monograph introduces the idea of ethical fading, an concept highlighted by a recent article in Proceedings. According to the Wong and Gerras monograph, ethical fading is dishonesty becomes an acceptable practice, creating a culture where decisions that would normally require moral soul searching, or reflection become a decision based on pragmatism or self interest.

The hard part of the discussion was in how we translate joint values and ethics to the role of a planner on a JTF or Combatant Command staff. It’s easy to discuss Mai Lai, or Yusifiya, or other aspects from the tactical side, but values and ethics at the operational level of war get more complicated. The discussion brought to light some ideas:

-Ethics is important in how joint planners develop and recommend courses of action, especially in the manner of collateral damage.

-Assessments, it’s easy to brief a 3 or 4 star what they want to hear, rather then be the messenger with bad news. Effects Based Operations failed, and sooner or later so does Effects Based Briefings. Officers on JTF and CCMD staffs must have the moral courage to speak truth to power.

-Planners at the operational level develop and recommend policies to leaders at strategic levels. The Blackhearts article led into this insight. Indeed, Steven Green should never have been in the army to begin with. The institutional force allowed people with low moral character to serve in the army, and to deploy into combat. The army in the mid-2000’s increased it’s authorized end strength to nearly 570,000 active duty soldiers. This meant that the standards to join went down, and men and women who should have never been in the army were placed in situations where they controlled the lives, and made life or death decisions of other people. We have yet to account for this.

Next Week: In depth strategic guidance, more on joint functions, grading the first exam, and our unique way of conducting After Action Reviews.

Teaching JCWS: Indoctrination (INDOC)


19-23 August: Indoctrination (INDOC)

The focus of the past two weeks has been on learning how to be a faculty member at the Joint Forces Staff College. The first week focused on the fundamentals of teaching. This included an introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy, a discussion of personality types we might meet in the class room, and a couple blocks of instruction on how to write a lesson plan.

The introduction focused more on the running of a classroom. In a sense, this is where I am beginning to see the similarities between teaching and leadership. The seminars in JFSC typically have 16-18 students and last ten weeks. We discussed how over the course of ten weeks building the seminar into a cohesive team is an expectation. Indeed, the social aspect of the education here among officers from each service is an important part of development.

The seeds of teaching relatively senior officers joint planning and joint operations comes from understanding andragogy, or the adult learning model (opposed to pedagogy). Unlike teaching children in public schools, students at the adult level come to the class voluntarily. Further, each student brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from their previous assignments. Indeed, in an adult classroom the students should be treated as equals who fell unfettered in their contributions to the learning environment. Moreover, each student will need to relate what they are learning to how they will apply it in their future work or future assignments. Not only do we have to teach the material, it is vital to have them gain an appreciation for how they will use it.

Other aspect of teaching introduced this week was the domains of learning, which include the affective, cognitive, and psychomotor domains. The cognitive domain is often referred to as “Bloom’s Taxonomy” which is completely new to me. Each domain has levels, and the cognitive domain moves through six levels starting with Knowledge, moving through Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and ending with Evaluation. Each of these levels has associated terms which lead to the creation of lesson objectives and samples of behavior in the classroom. Or as I frame them in my mind, objectives and endstates.  

With regards to classroom interaction, we discussed how cohesion will create more noise, more disagreement, but lead to more learning. Other aspects of classroom control we discussed was creating a tradition in the classroom. Thinking through what traditions we can develop in a ten week course (a weekly award for most embarrassing incident for example) may be a challenge.

Other aspects of classroom instruction that run parallel to running an OPT is the ability to manage disagreement, and just as important the ability to manage disagreement. In a 10 week course consisting of majors and lieutenant colonels (Navy lieutenant commanders and commanders) discussion in the classroom is what enables learning. It is incumbent on the instructor to enable the discussion, and to ensure each student participates. Just as in OPTs, classrooms will contain A-type extroverted personalities, and B-type introverts. Nobody should have a monopoly on speaking time, just as nobody has a monopoly on knowledge.

The INDOC also featured a fast introduction to learning theory. This featured a review of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Fundamentally our discussion on the three types centered on whether we believe we have the ability to change a student’s behavior, change the way a student thinks, or adjust the reality from which students will approach problems. We came to a consensus that over ten weeks we will probably combine elements of each approach to the seminars.

Finally, the INDOC ended with discussion on what makes for a good lecture. Most of the times we use the lecture model in class it will tend to be informal, with considerable interactions with the students (both questions and discussion). Most of the faculty here tends to avoid PowerPoint lectures, leaving that as a tool to show examples of planning products. The method here most seem to use to teach joint concepts, joint planning, and joint operations, is the lecture - example - practical exercise model.

26 - 30 August: Week 2: Writing and Philosophy

Writing is a skill. Evaluating someone else’s writing is a skill. Both require practice, development. The latter skill is new to me, and I believe will take time to develop and refine. Week two of instructor indoctrination focused on the skill of evaluating and coaching other people’s writing. Here is how it went down.

We began the week with a discussion on the purpose of writing. We concurred that generically, writing can be broken down in to four basic elements 1) writing is a process of communication 2) writing uses a conventional graphic system 3) writing conveys a message 4) the message is conveyed to a reader. What will push military students and writers is that the audience or reader is not necessarily the instructor. As students who attend the course are in relatively senior positions, their writing should have a larger audience.

Concerning writing in the military, the class discussed various forms of writing. These include emails, orders, decision papers, information papers, white papers, and PowerPoint presentations.

Teaching Philosophy: At the conclusion of day 2, we were asked to consider a teaching philosophy. Most of us were familiar with leadership or command philosophies, so this was a new concept to us. I outlined a draft, but will be taking the time to write a complete one over the next few weeks. Twitter was a fantastic resource to gain additional insight on developing one. One professor from the Army War College sent me a couple examples, and others chimed in with their thoughts, to include a former director of SAMS. Twitter can be a hellhole of a site, but it can also serve as a way to connect to other leaders, thinkers, and writers who we normally don’t engage on a day to day basis. It’s all in the way you use it. Going back to the teaching philosophy, I plan to post it on this blog as I complete it, or at least what is appropriate to put out there.

A factor of writing in JCWS is students are expected to write to learn. Writing to learn allows students to practice discovery thinking, and to explain course material to themselves. Further, having students write forces them to make decisions in their thinking. Moreover, writing to learn enables students to understand the course material better. A more comprehensive understanding of the course material transfers to improved communication. That is to say, writing or explaining new material to one’s self is the first step of explaining something to others.

When the course moved into grading papers, I discovered a glaring weakness in my own ability. Let me explain.

Each of the new instructors took a “draft paper” to mark up and make comments on. As I marked up the paper, I focused on grammar, spelling, and other small errors throughout the paper. When each new instructor talked through their markings, others were able to capture bigger ticket items such as logical inconsistencies in the paper’s thesis and argument. I became so distracted in the weeds I failed to see the forest. My corrections would be of little use to a student trying to formulate a thesis with supporting evidence.

This being said, the technique we talked through, as a class was to make small corrections on the first one or two pages, and ask the student to revise the rest of the paper as they work through drafts. The final product should be error free and grammatically correct. It is my belief that senior leaders can become distracted by small errors, and tend to ignore any products that contain them, no matter how important the content may be. Indeed, writers who submit products riddled with small errors tend to be labeled as hasty, careless, or uninformed. Further, senior leaders rarely want someone to represent their organization if they present sloppy, error filled work.   


Balancing the content, the arguments, and the clarity with a tendency to act like a grammar nazi will be a continual challenge I will maintain at the forefront when coaching and advising students on their written work.

Plagiarism, also known as the death sentence of writers was our final topic of the week. This is a paramount topic for writing in the military. Day to day, the military plagiarizes thousands of documents. This may be in how we have generic write ups for awards and evaluations, or in the way that unit SOPs tend to have similar language. These are accepted practices in large organizations. However, officers must leave this practice behind when attending professional military education (PME).

Teaching JCWS 12 - 16 August 2019

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Monday, 12 August 2019: Predicting the Future

Quote of the Week: “Physics doesn’t move mountains, Chemistry does.” In relation to how a planning team works.

Over the weekend I spent time preparing for two classes. The first was Joint Futures, which is a discussion on documents such as the Joint Operating Environment (JOE) and the Chairman's Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO). The second class was on step 7 of the Joint Planning Process, plan development. I gave the seminar a choice of which one to begin with. They chose Future Force, as I explained it was more interactive and require some creativity.

Taking a step back, over the weekend I posted two videos on Slack to get the students thinking about the future of war and armed conflict. The first was a clip from a a short film titles “Slaughterbots.” The second was a short summary on what the future operational environment may look like. It seemed a nice setup to spur discussion. finally, I began the class with clip from the 2014 reboot of Robocop. What I enjoyed about the clip from Robocop was the interaction of advanced technologies with the human aspect of war. On a side note, most people tend to stay away from movie reboots, especially classics as Robocop. However, the dialogue on the ethics of AI and autonomous systems throughout the movie is terrific.

The futures class provided an introduction to the Joint Concepts that the Joint Staff J7 and the services produce. My intent was not to make them experts on capabilities development, but rather to show each student where said documents reside. Moreover, introducing them to the 2010 CCJO, whose central idea of Globally Integrated Operations, and how concepts drive what we aim to achieve today. We also discussed how each service produces similar documents, and in their own way support the Chairman’s vision, albeit through a service lens.  


Following the introduction of the concepts I broke the students into three groups, and asked each group to identify major trends stretching out to the year 2039. Then taking all the trends together, I asked for one solution from each of the DOTMLPF-P categories. this was my method of introducing the DOTMLPF-P language to the group.

Tuesday 13 August: Applying Military History to a Fictional Scenario

At the end of Monday, we split the seminar into teams of two. Each team was told to research a previous conflict, how the conflict ended, and to apply the conflict termination lessons learned to the course fictional scenario. With this method, the military history aspect is not only a part of the course, but the students understand a way in which to apply history to current scenarios. Each team presented for approximately 20 minutes. All included a short video found on YouTube with a slide depicting lessons learned, and a slide depicting application to the course scenario. These conflicts included: 1) Kosovo/Serbia 2) U.S. Civil War 3) Japan Post WWII 4) Desert Storm 5) South Africa post Apartheid 6) 2006 Israeli - Lebanon War 7) El Salvador Civil War 8) Tamil Tigers 9) Nicaraguan Revolution.

There are other conflicts that we can add to the list, and my first thought was Columbia and FARC, as well as Britain and Argentina.

What some of these conflict brought to the forefront is that the decisive phase of a military operation can be the post-combat phase. This was true for the 2006 Israeli - Lebanon War, and true for U.S. military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel/Lebanon also flushed out the necessity of information operations post major combat operations, both on the battlefield and to the international community.   

In the afternoon, we had the same teams look at their planning scenario for post conflict or post MCO operations. To develop options on what the battlefield would look like, we used the Red Team method of alternative Future analysis. I walked the seminar through an example, then had teams examine the possible futures through a local, regional, and global actor perspectives.  


The alternative future technique is useful when trying to envision a complex scenario, or to provide a range if visions should the outcome of an operation be uncertain. We used this as a method to determine Most Likely and Most Dangerous scenarios following the major combat operations phase of planning.

Briefing Technique: There was a total of nine quad charts per group, I detailed how I wanted each group to brief the quad, to ensure all followed the same method (start at the top left and go clockwise). It’s useful when briefing similar products or charts to use the same method to avoid confusing senior leaders.

Wednesday 14 August: Post MCO COA Development

The seminar began their planning for post combat operations. We asked them to update their operational approach and to develop a COA sketch. Again, we broke up the seminar into three planning teams, each developing their own COA. Some issues that I observed:

-Post Combat Operations need to have it’s own plan. this means revisiting each step of the Joint Planning Process. The center of gravity can shift, facts and assumptions change, and new lines of effort can appear., and naturally, the command may be solving an entirely new problem. Diving head first into COA development is not the best way to build the post combat train. 

-Planners tend to operate at the level of war where they are comfortable. This translates to a flushed out COA at the lower operational or high tactical level. We consistently have to help students to think at the theater level and focus planning across the entire CCMD Area of Responsibility.  

Thursday 15 August: Post MCO Wargaming

Each of the three OPTs conducted a short wargame (1 turn) for their post combat operations phase. What is clear in the post combat phase is the value of command relationships. Often, the battlefield becomes more congested with an almost infinite amount of actors. This ranges from other government agencies such as USAID/OFDA, to Non-government agencies (NGOs) such as Doctors Without Borders and The International Red Cross. Further, more nations may participate in the rebuilding or reconstruction of a nation. All these actors place an emphasis on formal coordination elements a joint force commander requires. A good command relationship chart in the post combat phase should consider:

-Combined Coordination Center / CCC

-Joint Air component Coordination Element / JACCE/ACCE

-Special Forces Liaison Element / SOLE

-Civil Military Operations Center / CMOC 

-Liaisons at any other organizations as required.

Moreover, transition into the post combat phase of an operation will often require activities in conjunction with a host nation’s security forces. More than the military that resides under a Ministry of Defense, security forces could include the Police and Border Patrol who reside under a Ministry of Interior. There must be a method and capability to coordinate actions with each of these elements.


Post combat planning should receive the full attention of planning efforts, on par with or greater than the planning for the combat operations phase. Indeed, the post combat operations phase could be the decisive phase of a military campaign (see Iraq and Afghanistan). This means going through the entire planning process from operational design and mission analysis (the COGs changed, the mission changed) to COA development (the force list will change) to COA analysis (more actors on the battlefield to wargame) to the production fo a new plan and issuance of orders.

NEXT WEEK: the seminar moves into their capstone exercise. During this time, and over the next three weeks I will be in the Faculty Development Course that the school runs in house. This will be an introduction ranging from the course materials, to adult learning models, and various teaching methods.

Teaching JCWS

31 July - 8 August 2019: Operational Design and JPP

I am starting this blog to keep and share lessons learned on operational level planning. Having been assigned to instruct Joint combined Warfighting School students, I want to share what I learn throughout my time here. this will also offer an informal way of sharing my lessons learned over the past decade working at the operational and institutional levels of war. 

Couple ground rules that I will abide by. The school is a non-attribution environment. I will never shout out anyone by name, instructors, students, guest speakers, etc. Second, this is meant to share observations and lessons on instructing and planning. This is not meant to criticize, praise, or judge the school / institution in general. So here we go…

31 July: This initial Friday post covers my first two weeks of integration in the classroom. I am working with seminar 3 for the duration of the current class. Jumping into the curriculum, the students are well on their way in operational design and covering center of gravity (COG) analysis. I was able to lead the class through a discussion of Centers of Gravity. Two articles, Eikmeier and Vego seem to be paramount to understanding this topic.

I used examples of effective centers of gravity (Gulf War, Initial Invasion of Iraq) to feed the discussion and some examples of failure (Occupation of Iraq, Vietnam). One student approached me afterwards to offer that in Vietnam, we did not properly identify the South Vietnamese government as a Critical Vulnerability. I agree with that assessment, and offer that the same can be true for how we looked at certain Iraqi Security Forces. The Iraqi Police were a critical vulnerability that we never solved.

We (the other seminar instructors and I) are using the six steps Eikmeyer developed as a method to identify the COG at the operational and strategic level. Two thoughts on this. The 6 step method is effective, as it provides structure. My experience in COG identification is a group of officers brainstorming what the COG could be. So having a method to the madness is nice. Second, although JP 5-0 discusses a COG at three levels of war (Tactical, Operational, Strategic), I do not believe in nor will I teach the existence of a COG at the tactical level. Tactical COGs exist in the same space as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  

The COG analysis covered the COG at the Operational and Strategic level, their associated Critical Capabilities, Critical Requirements, and Critical Vulnerabilities. The seminar did this for Red (the adversary), Blue (U.S.), and Green (Host Nation).

-The use of post it notes or stickies on the white board during planning gets more of the team involved. During the course of planning, a team member naturally drifts to the computer, and soon you have 8-10 people staring at a screen waiting on one person to move a box on PowerPoint, or to correct a spelling error in Word. Further, the stickie notes can move around to help order decisive points in both space and time, naturally flushing out an operational approach.


1 August: The seminar (I use class and seminar interchangeably) began development of their operational approach. A proper COG analysis strengthens the operational approach. In this aspect, when the planning team develops thoughtful critical vulnerabilities, these vulnerabilities morph into decisive points on the operational approach. Each decisive point was written on a sticky, pasted tot he white board, and grouped in a logical manner. The various groupings then became the Lines of Effort / Operation for the Operational Approach.

Monday 5 August: the seminar moved on from operational design and into mission analysis. In previous assignments the argument over which comes first, design or mission analysis is like arguing for the chicken or the egg. They are separate chapters of JP 5-0. However, in my view design leads the analysis. The seminar was versed in mission analysis, as I assumed they covered it in the Campaign Design section of the course (before I arrived). the seminar broke into three small groups to develop and compare/contrast what they developed, which for the most part was pretty good. I did make the following injects:

     -Rules of Engagement, SROE, and Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) are not limitations. They are things we (the United States) abides by. There can be specific elements of a ROE that constrain or restrain development of courses of action. for example, limited number of boots on the ground, or limiting lethal attacks against an adversary. However, broad statements like ROE and LOAC should not appear on a slide in front of a GOFO.


JCWS has a military history portion of the curriculum. The staff has leeway into how to integrate history lessons into the course. We had the seminar break up into three teams, and each team selected a previous conflict to examine. After examining the conflict, the teams were then asked to produce a chart that explained the similarities and differences to the exercise scenario. They were then asked what lessons they can apply from this lens. the three conflicts chosen were the Russia - Georgia War of 2008, the Arab - Israeli War of 1973, and Desert Storm.

This method has the seminar look at the analogy method as described in Thinking in Time by Richard Neustadt. I actually developed a slide while at USEUCOM comparing Georgia, Ukraine, and what could happen in Serbia, as a method to convince people not to throw out analogies.

This last point led to a thought that one of the “OPT Personalities” I missed was the historian. Or the guy in the OPT that loves to make historical analogies despite their degree in Criminal Justice.

Tuesday 6 August

I talked to the seminar about decision points today. I displayed some example Decision Support Matrixes from the ARDENT SENTRY exercise under JTF-X. The seminar appreciated the ability to look at some DSMs and what right looked like. It pulled in how CCIR is tied to decisions. Talking the class through, then showing an example seems to be an effective method. Further, I pulled in some generic decision points that run across every operation and exercise (e.g. Change FP posture, or Stand Up JTF).  


Throughout the 10-week course we are introducing Red Team group think mitigation techniques strait from the Red Team handbook. These techniques, such as 5 will get you 25, Dot Voting, and Circle of voices are paramount in getting full class participation. Indeed, the seminar will go through hundreds of 3x5 Index cards writing down their thoughts and ideas before the course is through.

To bolster the Red Team and group think mitigation, I played for the class the Abilene Paradox, a short video that serves as an example of the dangers of group think.

Wednesday 7 August

The class has begun course of Action (COA) development this morning. We broke them up into two OPTs to develop two distinct COAs. One is terrain focused, the other is enemy focused. I spoke a bit about what traps to avoid when designing what types of COAs to develop. 

AVOID: A heavy/medium/light characterization of COAs. Assuming each COA meets the minimum threshold of Adequate, Acceptable, Feasible, Distinguishable, and Complete, then you have made the decision for OSD easy. They will choose the light course of action. In a similar vain do not have Land Centric and Air Centric options, as decision makers will choose the latter. 

They look to develop a scheme of maneuver, identify main and supporting efforts, tasks to each component command, risk, and a C2 construct for each phase.

With regards to C2, I find that the C2 discussion can be the most important. A bad C2 construct can limit the effectiveness of good leadership at each level. There are times when good leadership can overcome a bad C2 design, but planners and joint force commanders shouldn’t count on it. I use Abu Ghraib as an example of bad leadership with a bad C2 where nobody understood who is in charge.

What becomes clear after looking at the COAs, is that each OPT became constrained by the Maps they used. Once the map was put up on the screen, that terrain became the maneuver space. COAs were restricted to their planning maps. It is sometimes necessary to use a broader map to get students to think at the operational level.

On the positive note, each OPT spent most of their time trying to construct the C2, and they did this as a group. Often, an OPT will task one or two planners to go off in a corner and construct the C2 diagram while the rest of the group flushes out the course of action. The result is a C2 chart that is disconnected and not in support of the course of action. the second positive note was the back and forth discussion in the group. Once they realized the complexity of command and control at the operational level of war, the lights came on.

Thursday 8 August

The two OPTs briefed out their respective courses of action. Each team briefed their COA sketch from the Whiteboard (in lieu of forcing them to make the perfect PowerPoint slide). Each COA had Phase II beginning with an enemy invasion. I used this to point out that phase changes should always be the decision of the U.S. commander, and at the time of his/her choosing. An enemy action should inform the decision to change phases, but not be the sole factor.

An interesting side note, as the seminar is filled with students from each service, an Army student used the term SF to indicate Special Forces, until an Air Force student asked for clarification as SF means Security Forces in Air Force parlance.

Finally, with regard to COA development, it is worth stressing the importance of maps. Often, planners become transfixed on the map in front of them. At the CCMD level, using a map that displays the entire CCMD Area of Responsibility (AOR) can help keep a planning team focused on the entire theater, not just the JOA that the Joint Task Force owns.

When the students discussed their C2 diagrams, I continued to press for what unit filled the role and where that unit will go. For example, a JTF or CJTF does not magically appear. Planners must designate a force who will serve as the JTF, and allocate time for said JTF to form. Moreover, when planners brief times when the JTF or any other unit will be IOC or FOC (Initial Operating Capacity / Full Operating Capacity), they must be prepared to discuss the checklist or terms that meet IOC/FOC. It’s always the first question.

Interestingly, IOC and FOC are not joint terms with regard to a HQ readiness. Each is a term that relates to capability development (such as the F-35) milestones. However, IOC and FOC seem to be universally understood with senior military leadership.


Following the COA briefs, we had a short discussion on Course of Action Comparison, more commonly known as Wargaming. This began with a discussion of their evaluation criteria which a small group of students developed. I preach to anyone creating evaluation criteria that a good place to start is with the Principles of War and the Principles of Joint Operations, both of which are found in Joint Publication 3-0 (page I-2). Other common or generic evaluation criteria include alliance/coalition cohesion and risk of expanding or escalating a conflict.

Proper evaluation criteria is key to evaluating and comparing each COA. At the operational level, there is a discussion of advantages and disadvantages of each COA. These must be framed from the chosen evaluation criteria, and not be new characters introduced this late in the planning process.