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Strategic risk management in the U.S. Army.

I am a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) officer in the U.S. Army. Within the past 18 months, I've been a logistician, budget analyst, force manager, and strategic readiness action officer while serving as a Joint Chiefs of Staff intern in the Pentagon. I'm learning more about the military, policy makers, and the relationship between both entities than I thought possible. I have been exposed to smart people with historical knowledge of the military and Department of Defense (DOD) policy. I have gained perspective in the realm of managing strategic risk in the U.S. Army, which is defined as the probability of failure in achieving a strategic objective at an acceptable cost. (1) The underlying theme of the time I have spent as a Joint Chiefs of Staff intern has been about how to manage strategic risk.

After graduating from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., with a graduate degree in policy management, Joint Chiefs of Staff interns spend 1 year on the joint staff or the Office of the Secretary of Defense staff and then 1 year on the Army staff. I had the unique experience of rotating throughout three different offices in the J-8 (Force Structure, Resources, and Assessment Directorate). The J-8 is vast, but the primary responsibility of the directorate is to provide analysis and advice on resources and force structure to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Because I was in each office for less than 6 months, my role was more as an observer soaking up information than as an action officer. Being on the periphery allowed me to gain less-biased insight into the processes of the joint staff.

There are a few unique offices within the J-8, one of which is the Joint Requirements Office (JRO) for CBRN Defense. As a CBRN officer, I was surprised that I had never heard of this office before coming to the Pentagon, but I was excited to work there. The JRO evaluates, assesses, and develops joint operational concepts and capabilities for CBRN defense. This office develops requirements for CBRN defense to support the warfighter. Joint protective and detection gear, such as the M50 mask or Joint Chemical Agent Detector, are either established or refined in the JRO through the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System requirements process. This system defines acquisition requirements and evaluation criteria for future defense programs.

Much of JRO's time is spent coordinating with offices throughout the vast CBRN enterprise (the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs and the Joint Program Executive Office-Chemical Biological Defense) to refine CBRN concepts and capabilities in preparation for the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System. The JRO manages strategic risk as it pertains to CBRN defense. Communication with the combatant commands (COCOMs) and the JRO focuses on the specific CBRN threat and on whether the command has the proper equipment to detect or combat the threat. The JRO then aligns these command risks with the risk assessment of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The perspective lesson from the JRO was about the importance of ensuring that the risk assessment is congruent with the higher-command assessment. Risk must be effectively communicated in the JRO so that senior leaders can make optimal resource decisions. Every resource decision assumes some type of strategic risk.

The dollars within DOD are finite. Most J-8 briefs that I attended centered on fiscal limitations. I gained insight on the J-8 budget while serving in the Program Budget and Analysis Division (PBAD). This division facilitates the President's budget cycle, a period in which the budget is initially proposed, modified, approved and, ultimately, funded by Congress. During the budget cycle, initial proposals for the funding of existing programs and projects are presented to the COCOMs. COCOM leaders then accept those proposals or propose an issue. PBAD provides a forum for COCOMs to propose issues and tools for analyzing, justifying, and reporting on the requested budget adjustments. Being a part of PBAD was an invaluable experience; I gained an intimate understanding of the President's budget and the Program Objective Memorandum processes. I filled many binders, and I often cursed my three-hole punch while in PBAD, but I gained perspective on COCOM requirements and the strategic risk these commands would assume if resources for certain programs were left unallocated or worse--unappropriated. I had a poor understanding of the DOD budget process before working in PBAD. I cannot claim to be a DOD budget expert, but I do understand the process and why effectively communicating risk to those with the purse strings (Congress) is paramount to military success.

The last stop on my J-8 tour was the Forces Division. Again, I arrived knowing nothing about how joint forces were managed at a strategic level. I learned that COCOMs gained or lost forces through apportionment, assignment, or allocation. The Forces Division mission is to advise the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the J-8 Director on the joint force structure and its ability to execute The National Military Strategy of the United States of America. (2) Strategy, force structure, and resources are integrated in this office, and the Forces Division acts as the honest broker among the COCOMs and Services, ensuring that force structure supports directed and assigned missions. Again, my perspective was broadened and the most important lesson I learned was about the risk that commands and Services assumed with changes in force structure.

During my year in the J-8, I learned a great deal about our sister Services and joint strategic operations. I understood how managing strategic risk, the budget, and readiness was manifested in a joint, strategic-level staff.

The Army staff was next. Finally, I was back to something familiar. I didn't know what to expect of the Army staff, but at least we wore the same uniform and (hopefully) used "hooah" to answer most questions. It turned out that the uniform and one-word expressions were the only things that I had in common with my next set of coworkers because I was assigned to G-4 (Logistics). My worries were assuaged a little when I went to G-43 (Strategic Readiness and Current Operations), an operations cell for G-4. What do CBRN officers do in the operations office almost everywhere they go? They complete the monthly unit status report (USR). I'm confident that I've done enough USRs to last a lifetime, but the Army staff USR process was different. My perspective broadened when I took on the task of managing the G-4 strategic readiness update (SRU). An SRU is a strategic-level USR in which all COCOMs and Army staff primaries discuss current readiness. The SRU is a monthly report presented to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army on the readiness of COCOM manning, training, and equipping. I was able to see the readiness reporting loop in the SRU that I never knew existed while completing the brigade USR. Like a USR, the SRU is a snapshot of history that provides limited insight into the future or visibility of trends. This snapshot is valuable in providing current readiness levels, but does not allow senior leaders and staffs the ability to make long-term decisions that could be captured in the budget. This void is filled by a parallel strategic readiness assessment.

The Army Strategic Readiness Assessment gives senior leaders the ability to make optimal financial or force structure decisions now by reducing risk and positively affecting the future. Senior leaders need to predict the future Army in order to properly project resources. In a fiscally constrained environment, the future of the Army depends on enabling senior leaders with accurate decision-making tools. Predictive analysis of Army readiness enables strategic-level staffs to determine the impact of resourcing decisions, alternatives, changes to strategy, and demands for forces on Army readiness. The Services present a culmination of this classified readiness information to the joint staff and Congress through two documents--the Quarterly Readiness Report to Congress and the Joint Forces Readiness Review.

Each Army staff directorate is responsible for an Army Strategic Readiness Assessment tenet, and my work was on the G-4 sustaining tenet defined as the total force ability to sustain operations by maintaining Army readiness, projecting the force, setting theater sustainment, and sustaining unified land operations. The G-4 measures the sustaining tenet by--

* Maintaining Army readiness.

* Projecting the force.

* Setting theater sustainment.

* Sustaining unified land operations.

These four processes are broken down into submeasures that are quantified using carefully researched metric values. Each submeasure can be influenced by a strategic lever. Strategic levers are best thought of as investments (force structure, funds, training). These levers give senior leaders the ability to mitigate strategic readiness shortfalls through various policy or strategy adjustments. The Army Strategic Readiness Assessment redesign expands on the USR and SRU in three primary ways; it--

* Addresses the time horizon to ensure risk management in future years.

* Focuses measures on operational and strategic risk.

* Creates a visualization of risk (risk profile) to show trends.

My assignment at the Pentagon has been a great experience in an incredible learning environment. The historical knowledge within the building is likely unmatched anywhere else in the military. Quality staff work is challenging at every level, yet the goal remains consistent: enable optimal senior leader decision making to effectively manage risk. Operating in a fiscally constrained environment means that the military must know where it stands regarding readiness and what risks it's taking with every decision. Every dollar counts and must be optimized. Even though I've learned a lot as a Joint Chiefs of Staff intern, there is much more knowledge that I wish I could soak up before leaving. Nevertheless, I feel better equipped as a CBRN officer returning to the field with a greater understanding of the joint staff, budget process, CBRN enterprise, and logistics enterprise. Perspective is everything in our field, and I'm grateful that mine has been broadened to benefit the force.


(1) U.S. Army War College, U.S. Army War College Guide to Strategy, February 2001.

(2) Joint Chiefs of Staff, The National Military Strategy of the United States of America, June 2015, < /Portals/36/Documents/Publications/2015_National_Military_Strategy.pdf>, accessed on 27 February 2017.

Major Washington is a CBRN officer and Joint Chiefs of Staff intern working in the G-4, Headquarters, Department of the Army. She holds a bachelor's degree in biology and society from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and master's degrees in environmental management from Webster University and policy management from Georgetown University.
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Author:Washington, LeRhonda J.A.
Publication:CML Army Chemical Review
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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