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Joint Force Elements Improve Crisis Response, Combat Ops

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NORFOLK, Va., March 23, 2006 – The concept of a standing joint force headquarters core element is proving its value in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, senior officers at U.S. Joint Forces Command said.

The standing joint force headquarters seemed revolutionary to many when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved it five years ago. Since then, officials said, the concept has contributed to the military's speed in responding to disasters along the U.S. Gulf Coast and in Pakistan, and the nearly transparent transfer of authority from one Army corps to another in Multinational Force Iraq.

The headquarters core elements are 57-member teams of generalists with "PhDs in joint force operations" who advise a commander on the ground setting up a joint task force, explained Air Force Maj. Gen. James Soligan, JFCOM's former chief of staff, who recently became a special assistant to the commander.

"They're enablers, organized around requirements a combatant commander is most likely to need in conducting joint, multinational, interagency operations," Soligan told American Forces Press Service.

Today, these elements are proving invaluable to joint task force operations. "They're helping joint task force commanders to stand up rapidly and focus immediately on the mission," Soligan said.

The key benefit of these core elements, now within all geographic combatant commands except U.S. Central Command, is their ability to jump-start joint task force missions, explained Army Col. Paul Haveles, chief of U.S. Southern Command's Standards Branch in the Standing Joint Force Headquarters Directorate. By "plugging in" to joint task forces as they're being set up, these teams help reduce the learning curve involved in getting on with the mission, he said.

"That's our goal," Haveles said. "It's to bring that joint perspective to that service component headquarters very quickly."

For example, members of JFCOM's standing joint force headquarters core element deployed to Pakistan within two days of being asked to help Navy Rear Adm. Michael A. LeFever set up Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan following a devastating earthquake in October.

"He had a small staff of mostly Navy and some Marines on his expeditionary strike group that was used to working very military-centric combat operations," Haveles said.

"So he got a plug of about 25 people from our Standing Joint Force Headquarters Core Element Alpha from Joint Forces Command to help him stand up a staff that could work in that joint, multinational, interagency environment to coordinate, synchronize and provide the disaster-relief effort to Pakistan," he said. "And they did it in a very short time frame."

Looking back at past joint task forces, JFCOM planners recognized the time lost in reinventing the wheel each time one was set up. Rumsfeld cited Operation Allied Force over Kosovo as an example, noting that by the time it ended, the headquarters had filled only 80 percent of its necessary slots.

But defense leaders also recognized they couldn't have standing joint force headquarters core elements all over the world, ready to pounce when a crisis occurred. So in 2000, JFCOM started working on a prototype for the standing joint force headquarters core element, experimenting with and refining until it became the model that's now the DoD standard.

Rumsfeld quickly seized the concept after taking office in 2001 as part of his far-reaching defense transformation effort, and it was included in the department's 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review. The secretary directed that combatant commands establish standing joint force headquarters core elements by 2005.

During a visit to Iraq in April 2003, Rumsfeld noted the benefits standing joint force headquarters core elements would bring to the table. "We're going to have ... more standing joint task force capability so that we don't have to start from a dead start and, in fact, are well down the way in the event that kind of capability is needed," he said.

The first real-life test of these core elements came in 2004, when Combined Joint Task Force Haiti was activated to quell unrest and deliver humanitarian aid to Haiti. JFCOM's standing joint force headquarters core element deployed to advise Marine Brig. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman, the task force commander. "It worked very well" and speeded up the response, Haveles said. "You had 18 people who knew the breakout of the Southern Command headquarters and support capabilities and so, when they needed something, they knew who to call."

The next real-world test of the core elements came closer to home in summer 2005, during Hurricane Katrina. U.S. Northern Command deployed one core element to support Joint Task Force Katrina, and JFCOM deployed another one to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While the core element concept has proven itself in three humanitarian crises, Haveles said, it's applicable to combat operations, too.

JFCOM's Standing Joint Force Headquarters Core Element helped smooth the transfer of authority in Multinational Corps Iraq from 18th Airborne Corps to 5th Corps. "We had people go in ahead of 5th Corps, go over the battle rhythms and the battle processes that were going on with the 18th Airborne Corps and facilitate the change of authority," he said.

"So, as you can see, these core elements can be inserted into any kind of situation where a joint task force needs to be stood up," Haveles said. "It applies anywhere you need the integration of air, land, sea and ground forces, working together with our interagency and multinational partners rapidly to conduct joint, multinational, interagency operations."

JFCOM staffers continue to review the core element concept to see how they can build on it. They evaluate lessons learned, questioning if changes in the core elements' size or composition or in how they train and operate will improve their effectiveness, Haveles said.

Soligan said these initiatives are among many at JFCOM focusing on how to improve joint operations. "We're taking today's way of business and looking to the future to see if there are faster, better ways of operating," he said.

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