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Joint Forces Command Faces the Military's Future

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

NORFOLK, Va., Oct. 8, 1999 – It was an old tradition for a new command. Adm. Harold Gehman cased the colors of U.S. Atlantic Command during ceremonies here Oct. 7 and presented them to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. Cohen in turn unfurled the colors of the U.S. Joint Forces Command and presented them to Gehman.

But the ceremony was more than a change of names and flags.

"The challenge today is nothing less than to build a new and even stronger American military, one that is refined and reshaped to face the challenges of the 21st century," Cohen said. "That's why we're here today."

Also speaking at the ceremony was Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Shelton's revised Unified Command Plan, signed by the president Sept. 29, was responsible for the reflagging.

Joint Forces Command inherits Atlantic Command's traditions. First activated by President Harry Truman, the command's early missions included protecting the North Atlantic sea lanes and directing military operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In 1993, the command picked up the added responsibility of training, integrating and providing forces to the other geographical commands. More recently, Atlantic Command was responsible for military operations in Haiti.

"After the Berlin Wall was hacked and bulldozed down, this command began to transform, becoming the home and the hallmark of joint training and operations," Cohen said. "Today we are recognizing the proven strength of the past as we create this command anew.

"In so doing, we are realizing a key step toward fulfilling our Joint Vision 2010 -- a military made even more effective and efficient by harnessing the strengths into one coherent fighting force," he continued. "Indeed, today we're mapping out for this new command a mission that is not only regional and functional, but a mission to realize this military's full potential."

Gehman said Joint Forces Command would lead the U.S. military into the 21st century, that the command's area of responsibility is literally "the future." In addition, he said, the command will continue and expand on the work of Atlantic Command. All the services have robust programs looking to the future, and it will be Joint Forces Command that takes those programs and fits them into the overall defense posture, he said.

"The joint world is a small part of the overall experimentation and requirements process, but the joint piece is critical," Gehman said. "It's the joint piece that binds it all together."

Shelton asked the audience to imagine what military planners would have written 100 years ago. "If they had been asked to develop a [unified command plan] '99 -- in this case 1899 -- what strategic conclusions would they have drawn?" he asked.

"Would they have foreseen that within a generation the greatest war in history would break out? Would they have been able to foresee that in a single short career the emergence of the airplane, the tank, the submarine, the wireless radio -- systems that basically would transform the field of human conflict forever?

"Would they have embraced new technologies or ideas to meet emerging threats?" he continued. "Or would they use that same technology to invent a better horse, a better observation balloon or a better bayonet?"

Shelton said the tragedy of World War I was the inability of military leaders then to grasp change. He said today's military leaders must learn from that mistake. He said the United States must be alert to new perils and embrace new ideas.

"If we don't have the courage to change, if we allow our expertise in the present to blind us to the possibilities of the future, then we will miss the dramatic changes happening around us," he said. "Simply stated, we cannot defeat tomorrow's enemies with yesterday's weapons. We cannot win tomorrow's wars with yesterday's ideas."

Cohen said the United States looks to Joint Forces Command "to embrace your new mission to prepare for the future: To spell out the doctrine and refine the tactics that are going to guide and unite an increasingly joint warfighting force, to shape and educate and train so we will prepare that total force for this new art of warfare, to style and sustain the weapons and systems of the future, and to support domestic agencies in the event of an attack on American soil.

"This ceremony, this new command, signifies America's commitment that we will not simply stand as we have down the decades," Cohen said. "Our arms, as well as the eyes, must look to the future."

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Related Sites:
Unified Command Plan


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