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Volume 3 / Issue 2 / Winter 2016 Military Operations

Page 7

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

David Banks

To cite this Article:

Banks, David, “Making The Big Headquarters Better”,

Military Operations

, Volume 3, Issue No.

2, Winter 2016, pages 7-9.

Making The Big Headquarters Better

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