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Synchronizing Operations Across the CJOA-A.

"In a time of modern warfare, [joint warfare] is requiring joint exercises or operations to deter the enemy. But with regard to conducting joint warfare, the Army doesn't talk to the Air force. The Navy doesn't talk to the Army."

--Andrew Yang (1)


Following key and developmental time as a battalion operations staff officer and executive officer, a military police field grade officer has several options available to round out his or her experience before competing for lieutenant colonel and centralized selection list command opportunities. Following key and developmental positions at Fort Hood, Texas, I was selected to deploy on a worldwide individual augmentation system tasker as an advisor, working with the Afghan police. This was a great opportunity and broadening assignment; it filled a gap in my joint experience, provided experience in Afghanistan, and contributed to a strategically important mission.

Upon arrival in Kabul, I was assigned to the Resolute Support (RS) Headquarters as the chief of operations in the Combined Joint Operations Center (CJOC), an atypical assignment for a military police officer. I was responsible for leading a joint and multinational team at a four-star headquarters in a deployed environment. The chief of operations position required me to monitor, report, and provide support to all joint and multinational operations across the Combined Joint Operations Area-Afghanistan (CJOA-A). Operational success depended upon my knowledge and employment of joint functions, shared understanding, and synchronized operations across the CJOA-A.

Knowledge and Employment of Joint Functions

Knowledge of joint warfighting doctrine is essential to the relevance of a field grade officer. Joint functions refers to related capabilities and activities placed into the six basic groups of mission command, intelligence, fires, movement and maneuver, protection, and sustainment to help joint force commanders synchronize, integrate, and direct joint operations. (2) The most utilized joint functions in the CJOC were fires, sustainment, and intelligence, which were employed while conducting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) train, advise, and assist mission.

To employ fires is to use available weapons and other systems to create a specific effect on a target. (3) The U.S. Air Force led the Joint Effects Coordination Cell and formed a Joint Air/Ground Integration Center to provide fixed-wing close air support and conduct air space management across the CJOA-A.

Sustainment determines the depth to which the joint force can conduct decisive operations, allowing the joint force commander to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. (4) The U.S. Army and Air Force managed the Patient Evacuation Coordination Cell, which supported combined and joint operations. The Patient Evacuation Coordination Cell focused on the integration of strategic, operational, and tactical support efforts within the theater to conduct medical evacuation and movement of sick and wounded personnel. (5) Since the addition of extra helicopters and forward surgical hospitals in 2009, the length of medical evacuation missions remains less than 1 hour. (6)

The U.S. Navy led a multinational team to conduct intelligence operations and help the commander understand the operational environment. The intelligence function supports this understanding with analysis of the operational environment to inform joint force commanders about adversary capabilities, centers of gravity, vulnerabilities, and future courses of action and to help commanders and staffs understand and map friendly, neutral, and threat networks. (7)

Shared Understanding

In the CJOC, systems were developed to manage the processing and dissemination of information to and from the chain of command. These systems included--

* Managing information. Information management is an essential process that involves receiving, organizing, storing, controlling, and securing a wide range of data and information for an organization. It facilitates availability to relevant users to develop understanding through knowledge sharing, while concurrently preventing inadvertent disclosure of sensitive or proprietary information. (8) The classification of information and appropriate clearances of a multinational C JOC were topics that were constantly addressed.

* Sharing knowledge. Commanders and staff require information to make decisions, and the knowledge and understanding that result in wisdom are essential to sound decision making. (9) In the CJOC, point papers, briefings, and strategic storyboards were developed and submitted to subordinate units and higher headquarters, such as the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, for knowledge sharing. Joint Force Command Brunssum has oversight of the NATO-RS mission in Afghanistan, which results in dual hats for the RS commander, currently General John W. Nicholson. (10)

* Making decisions. The most important step in building a shared understanding is making decisions about what information to share. Unless given specific guidance from the CJOC director or the combined joint operations, the decision about what information to share resides with the chief of operations. We developed comprehensive standard operating procedures to ensure a deliberate, cross-organizational and functional approach to gaining, sharing, and maintaining knowledge that facilitated understanding.

Synchronized Operations

The CJOC contained several sections with senior officers who ultimately reported to me. A key requirement of working on a joint staff is serving as a team player. Leaders become less reliant on the direct leadership style that is effective at company, battalion, and brigade staff levels. The best field grade officers exhibit a keen sense of organizational and consensus-building leadership, which is essential at the senior-most echelons.

As the chief of operations, I relied heavily on interpersonal communication skills, the ability to "lead up," and a joint doctrine foundation developed at the Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Reputation as part of a large staff is incredibly important; to be successful, an officer must start building a positive reputation on Day 1. Positive attitude, teamwork, and preparation are essential. The joint world is a long way from the battalion, where the military police major is the undisputed expert. I had to be humble and hard working to earn my spot as a trusted advisor to the commander. Most importantly, I had to personally develop myself in order to prepare for this new post-key and developmental role.

Leading the CJOC team required that I utilize the tenets of multinational operations of respect, rapport, knowledge of partners, patience, mission focus, and trust and confidence to be effective. Trust and confidence are essential to synergy and harmony within the joint force and with multinational partners. (11) I mainly focused on this tenet.

Teaching and coaching young officers and noncommissioned officers to think, write, and develop products at the operational and strategic levels were significant challenges. The language and cultural differences within the team sometimes slowed response times to subordinate and higher headquarters. Personal engagement was consistently needed to ensure that the commander's vision, guidance, and expectations were understood and disseminated. The process of giving guidance, restating expectations, and verifying product accuracy became very routine. During my tenure, I stumbled often but for every failure and for every mistake, there were many more successes. (12)


As the RS Headquarters chief of operations, operational success depended upon my knowledge and employment of joint functions, shared understanding, and synchronized operations across the CJOA-A. As military police officers, we should continue to seek positions that require us to challenge traditional career path orthodoxy, think creatively, act independently, and showcase our knowledge and understanding within the combined/joint arena through deliberate talent management. (13) Military police who are performing well within the joint environment add value and relevance to the joint force commander and the Military Police Regiment in order to develop strategic-level leaders.


(1) "Taiwan Works on Defense Strategy in the Event of Attack from China," CNN, 6 November 2000, <>, accessed on 1 February 2018.

(2) Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, January 2017, p. III-1.

(3) Ibid., p. III-26.

(4) Ibid., p. III-43.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of A Secretary at War, Random House, New York, May 2015, pp. 304-305.

(7) Joint Publication 3-0, p. III-23.

(8) Ibid., p. III-15.

(9) Ibid., p. III-14.

(10) Ibid., p. III-15.

(11) Joint Publication 3-16, Multinational Operations, July 2013, p. 1-4.

(12) William H. McRaven, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World, Grand Central Publishing, New York, April 2017, p. 54.

(13) Tim Kane, Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for A Revolution, Palgrave and Macmillan Publishers, New York, December 2012, pp. 17-18.

By Major Early Howard Jr.

Major Howard is the command provost marshal for the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. He previously served as the Chief of Operations, RS Headquarters, Kabul. He holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from Alabama A&M University, Huntsville, and a master's degree in business and orgainzational security management from Webster University.
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Author:Howard, Major Early, Jr.
Publication:Military Police
Date:Mar 22, 2018

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