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Wanted: the right experience: for joint qualification, good experience is not necessarily the right experience.

Through civilian employers, most Air Force Reserve members understand how important it is to work within the cultures of other corporations or organizations. Elected officials are equally aware and require senior active-duty military leaders to possess a "joint qualified officer" designation. Joint qualification recognizes both an officer's joint professional military education and successful experience in a strategic joint assignment, normally attained through a joint duty assignment.

Unfortunately, joint assignments are limited, and assignments for Reservists are often challenging to obtain. Recognizing the strategic intra-service nature of post-9/11 military service, in 2007 Congress allowed joint credit based on experience in a joint environment rather than requiring officers to serve in a joint billet.

To obtain joint credit for qualifying experience, an officer need only visit a website, fill out a one-page form, and submit it along with attached performance appraisals and awards that support the request. A joint qualification panel meets, reviews the applications and rules on the requests. What could be simpler?

Not so fast. Many officers have, to their surprise, been denied joint qualification despite working at great length with multiple services or nations in a demanding, intense combat environment. This seems nonsensical: After all, what could be more "joint" than, for example, working with NATO in a "Joint Task Force" or spending a year on the U.S. Central Command staff operations floor providing valuable intelligence or operational information to a multitude of military leaders across all branches of service?

The fault lies in a misunderstanding of the doctrinal term "joint" and the statutory definition of "joint matters" as it pertains to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Within the process to develop future generals and admirals, Congress needed to ensure the Defense Department could work well with other services, agencies and nations--a skill the Air Force Reserve has successfully battle-tested time and time again. However, Congress also required the experience to be strategic in nature, not operational or tactical--a statutory term known as "joint matters."

According to Title 10, U.S. Code section 668, joint matters are "matters related to the achievement of unified action. ... including matters relating to national military strategy, strategic planning and contingency planning, command and control of operations under unified command, national security planning with other departments and agencies of the United States, or combined operations with military forces of allied nations."

This definition differs greatly from the doctrinal understanding of "joint" as being "activities, operations, organizations, etc., in which elements of two or more military departments participate." In other words, many officers who seek joint credit have had once-in-a-career opportunities to fly, fight and win with nations across the globe. However, because they do so at the tip of the spear, they are ineligible for joint credit. They have great experience but not the right experience.

Admittedly, there is some gray area in the interpretation of "joint matters," and officers must craft their joint experience summaries carefully if they want to succeed before the qualification board. Many applications are rejected or returned not because the experience doesn't qualify but because the applicant didn't ensure the board understood the strategic nature of the experience as required by law.

Also noteworthy is the 'fact that because the board first reviews the one-page Joint Experience Summary, a succinct and clear description that outlines how the officer's duties provided a preponderance of "joint matters" experience in a few words is particularly important. Remember that the summary only permits 340 characters, so words must be chosen carefully.

For example, an application that reads, "Worked extensively with Army and Navy plans shop to execute Operation Odyssey Dawn" is not as strong as, "Authored strategic and contingency plans for Operation Odyssey Dawn and ensured successful multi-agency command and control during mission execution." As a final suggestion, the officer's duty title, responsibilities and accomplishments should all align--the board will likely notice any disparities in consistency.

Even if joint credit is given, to obtain full joint qualification an officer must be mindful of several other requirements. First, Goldwater-Nichols requires education in joint matters, and not all professional military education qualifies. Although most in-residence senior developmental education courses meet the criteria, the most common way to meet the education requirement is through Advanced Joint PME, a hybrid in-residence / correspondence course based in Norfolk, Va. AJPME selection is via a biannual school board held at the Air Reserve Personnel Center, and more information can be found via the virtual Personnel Center-Guard and Reserve.

After Jan. 10, 2010, technicians and civilians with experience that meets the definition of "joint matters" may also be awarded joint credit under special circumstances and subject to certain limitations. Also, although company grade officers may apply for joint credit, because few are able to serve as strategic thinkers, the law restricts joint qualification to majors and above. Specific information may be found in DOD Instruction 1300.19, available online.

Finally, the window to apply for joint credit for retroactive experience obtained on or after Sept. 11, 2001, will soon close. Interested officers must submit their applications by Sept. 30--experience requests after that date must be submitted within 12 months of completing the joint duty experience. As a reminder, the Joint Qualification System Self-Nomination website is located at

Why go through the effort? Because, as the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently noted in his Strategic Guidance, "We need to be even more joint. ..." and we must "drive jointness deeper, sooner in capability development, operational planning and leader development."

For further assistance, contact the Air Reserve Personnel Center at 800-525-0102, option 3-3-2, or via email at Information is also available in the Joint Officer Management section of the mvPers web page,

By Lt. Col. John W. Heck

(Heck is a strategic planner for Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve matters in the Office of the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.)
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Author:Heck, John W.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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