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Volume 3 / Issue 2 / Winter 2016 Military Operations

Page 8

that, but only as a final confirmation. Soldiers are not training aids

for staff officers. Placing real units and soldiers in the field under a

headquarters that doesn’t yet know what it’s doing is an inexcusable

waste of time and of good will. Before a headquarters inflicts itself

on cold, tired and possibly bored soldiers, it needs to have its own

act sorted out. That’s why it has to be trained as a unit.

The bigger and more complex we make our headquarters, and the

more they are forced to rely on inadequately trained officers or short-

term augmentees to fill their giant structures, the more difficult this

problem becomes. The more difficult the problem becomes, in my

opinion, the more likely it is that it will be wished away or addressed

in half-measures.

What to do? What I have to recommend here is not new at all:

rather it is common sense far too often glossed over or neglected,

usually because of a perceived lack of time. I am convinced that the

answer begins with a rigorous and progressive training process for

a headquarters, as opposed to a perfunctory “check in the box” or

“there…we’ve done that, let’s get on with it”. Regardless of the size

or mission of the headquarters in question, this training process must

have three basic components.

First, it must begin at the level of the individual branch or cell, and

start at a perhaps embarrassing fundamental level. What are our

SOPs in this branch? If “x” happens, what do we do? Who amongst

us does it, and why? This must appear maddeningly self-evident, but

you might be surprised how often it is swept aside.

Second, training must progress in a measured way, from individual

branch/cell up to, eventually, the entire headquarters, at a steady

walking pace, moving through a problem. There must be time for

meaningful “after action reviews” and for “do-overs”. I’ve observed

that it’s best if (at least initially…) this training is “unplugged”: stay off

the workstations and away from banging out huge slide decks. Get

the process right first, so that staff understand what they’re supposed

to be doing. Then, once the branch heads and Chief of Staff are

confident, turn to and switch everything on, ultimately arriving at the

gold standard of a demanding, realistic readiness exercise which

sees all people and all systems running flat out over several planning

and execution cycles.

Finally, just like any good unit training program, the leaders really

must do it. I’ve run a number of headquarters training teams over the

years, and while various headquarters benefitted at the start from

our help as “outsiders”, the most effective headquarters were always

those in which the Chief of Staff and his branch heads “owned” the

training of their own people.

Where’s My Yellow Sticky?-Struggling with Information


Big headquarters both generate and consume bales of information

of all sorts. We’re generally led to believe that this is not only good,

but somehow necessary. It’s also very easy to fall into the trap laid

for us by digitization-mongers, who would like us to think that if

we only had more big screens and chat systems and shared drives

in our headquarters, we would automatically be more effective.

This is one of the biggest falsehoods I’ve noted in the process of

headquarters training.

Now, I’m not a digital Luddite: far from it. But my observations tell

me that all of these systems are just tools-nothing more. Tools in the

hands of skilled users produce great results: the same tools in the

hands of unskilled users will probably produce garbage. Worse,

they may be lethal. Before any headquarters can use digitization

tools to their full value, it must understand its own internal processes.

Staff must know what information they need in order to support their

commander; why they need it; whom they must share it with, how

and when. Yet far more important than any of those things, they must

understand what information


. What is important, and what’s


This degree of understanding is, in my experience, very uneven in

most headquarters at the beginning of their training process, even if

they have been together for a while. In many situations, digitization

on its own doesn’t really help: in fact, it often becomes the efficient

agent for the rapid spread of disinformation and confusion. It may

also lead to an obsession with rather shallow but “shiny” products,

as opposed to sound intellectual processes. In a big, ponderous

and innately incoherent headquarters, this problem becomes

immeasurably worse. “Drowning in information” or “information

constipation” are two sadly familiar symptoms of this condition.

How can this wicked problem be tackled? Certainly


by giving

the job of headquarters information management officer (IMO) to

the last junior officer to get off the bus, who is not even a staff college

graduate, and who still doesn’t know where to find the headquarters

orderly room. Perhaps readers scoff at my “exaggeration”, but

sadly I’ve seen this hapless approach all too often. Somehow a

short, generic “IMO course” makes this poor young officer into an

expert on how the headquarters functions. The results are all too


In my view, the “Chief IMO” is the Chief of Staff. He must begin

with his own complete understanding of how the headquarters will

function, in broad terms. (If he hasn’t got that in his head, I don’t

think he can do his job anyway.) Most importantly, the Chief of Staff

must answer the question “how do we support the Commander’s

decision process?” If a headquarters can’t perform that task, it is

really just a worthless resource consumer. Once the Chief of Staff

has that concept clear in his own head, he must get together with

his branch heads and work out a concept of how information will

move in the headquarters under different situations, and why. Then,

and only then, should the Chief of Staff bring in the IMO and give


experienced, staff-trained officer

his marching orders. Finally,

things will work best if the IMO is an “operator” (i.e.: working

directly for the Chief of Staff or the Chief of Operations) rather than

a “technician”. Nothing against signal officers, but their job is really

to enable information management, not to take responsibility for it.

Cylinders of Excellence - It’s All About Us

A headquarters is organized into a number of separate structures

of varying complexity. The nature and role of these structures (or

branches and cells) may also vary. A mechanized brigade group

headquarters focused on short term tactical planning and the control

of manoeuvre forces will look quite different from a “brigade-plus”

task force headquarters such as Canada deployed in Kandahar.

Neither of these will exactly resemble a “division-plus” joint task

force headquarters deployed to a world crisis spot.

Making The Big Headquarters Better

David Banks