Volume 3 / Issue 2 / Winter 2016 Military Operations TJOMO.com
In his recent article “
Ten Years Observing Command And Control
(Military Operations, Volume 3, Issue No. 1, Spring 2015) Jim Storr
offered a series of observations and recommendations concerning
the malaise that currently affects formatiovn level HQs in some
Western countries. Reflecting on his decade of first-hand experience
in the world of higher C2, Jim presented a commentary which I
found amazingly close to my own views on the subject.
Much like Jim, I’ve spent the last ten years or so involved in the
training of headquarters and staff officers at the brigade, division
and equivalent levels. I’ve been part of the training effort for
headquarters on their way to fight in Afghanistan; for others that were
preparing to conduct large deliberate internal security operations in
Canada; and for still others preparing for any contingency which
might arise. I’ve served in Canadian, US and NATO headquarters,
and I’ve experienced how other countries train their headquarters.
Most recently, I’ve been involved in the NATO C2 training process.
Perhaps most valuable and satisfying of all, I’ve been able to visit
headquarters I’ve helped to train, when they were in the midst of
conducting operations. Along the way, I’ve watched headquarters
become bigger and bigger.
My experiences have led me to opinions very close to those expressed
by Jim, and to reflect on the curative (or perhaps palliative) value of
training in addressing some of these problems. I have become a zealot
for the old Teutonic idea of a small hard-working staff being the most
effective. Clearly, our headquarters have become much too big for
any good they might do. This unhealthy bloat has aggravated three
pre-existing conditions which are, I think, inherent in headquarters.
These conditions are: the need to train a headquarters as a unit;
the struggle to manage information effectively; and the persistent
tendency for headquarters staff branches to function in splendid
In this piece, I’ll examine each of these conditions. Based on my
own experience and observations, I’ll offer some suggestions on
how beleaguered Chiefs of Staff might overcome them, and make
these big headquarters at least somewhat better.
A Headquarters Is A Unit
This seemingly redundant statement is here because many
people just don’t “get it” when it comes to the subject of training
a headquarters. Some assume that because every officer in the
staff must be a graduate of a service or joint staff college, the
organization is inherently ready to function. Still others believe that
because a headquarters sits in garrison for months (or years) doing
force generation and administrative tasks, it somehow becomes
operationally capable through osmosis. Finally, we have those who
think that throwing the headquarters out in the field in charge of a
manoeuvre exercise every now and then is quite good enough.
In my experience, these comfortable assumptions are wrong. First of
all, (as Jim noted) not all the officers in a headquarters are graduates
of any staff college. Of those who are graduates, not all arrive at their
staff jobs with any relevant experience. We should remember that
staff colleges are responsible for individual training and education:
a headquarters is a unit that needs collective training. It’s a team, not
a collection of individuals.
It is mostly nonsense to think that a large headquarters somehow
becomes fit to run operations through carrying out the endless
drudgery of force generation tasks. Some basic staff skills are indeed
applied on a day to day basis in garrison, but at nothing like the
level required to produce an operationally effective headquarters.
Obviously, the ultimate purpose of a headquarters is to command
and control units in the field, so at some point it’s probably necessary
to put the headquarters into a field environment to ensure it can do
To cite this Article:
Banks, David, “Making The Big Headquarters Better”,
, Volume 3, Issue No.
2, Winter 2016, pages 7-9.
Making The Big Headquarters Better
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