Reservists Answer The Joint Call

June 2007
By Maryann Lawlor
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Members of the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s (JFCOM’s) Standing Joint Force Headquarters (SJFHQ) Core Element Alpha discuss logistics with Expeditionary Strike Group 1, which later formed the nucleus of Combined Disaster Assistance Center–Pakistan (CDAC-PAK). The U.S. military provided rescue and relief to the Pakistanis after an earthquake that measured 7.6 on the Richter scale shook Pakistan as well as India and Afghanistan in October 2005.
Innovative program crafts agility into military service.

The U.S. joint organization baptized by fire in Persian Gulf operations is extending its innate flexibility to reserve warfighters working at the tip of the spear. The Standing Joint Force Headquarters is recruiting officer reservists willing to deploy to disaster hot spots with only 72 hours notice. In return, these new members augmenting rapid response teams will enjoy more predictability in their duty schedule. According to U.S. Joint Forces Command leaders, the innovative approach is a win-win proposition: The military leverages the expertise found in the civilian sector, and reservists can balance their military, business and personal lives better.

The two trained standing core elements of Standing Joint Force Headquarters (SJFHQ)—Alpha and Bravo—still are relatively new military assets. In fact, when operations in the Middle East began in 2003, the SJFHQ was in the prototype stage. A brainchild of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Norfolk, Virginia, the SJFHQ concept debuted as part of Millennium Challenge 2002, purportedly the largest military experiment ever. The SJFHQ core elements have been providing mission assistance and the advantageous edge in crisis response during the past several years; however, organizational tweaking continues to ensure that SJFHQ personnel best meet commanders’ needs, JFCOM officials say.

The Alpha and Bravo core elements enable a joint task force (JTF) commander to lead joint and multinational forces assigned to a mission. The SJFHQ core element configuration was tested at combatant commands where standards and certification criteria for deployable units were developed.

Each core element comprises approximately 57 experts in command and control (C2) procedures. Their job is to help set up and integrate air, land, maritime and information capabilities at a JTF headquarters. Once the new headquarters is up and running, the core element departs and prepares for its next assignment.

These teams stand ready to serve as the temporary hub of a JTF headquarters staff or to augment JTF personnel to facilitate the transition of a service’s component headquarters to a JTF. When appropriate, a combatant command headquarters will keep one of the core elements and form a warfighting headquarters then work through subordinate JTFs or service components.

According to Rear Adm. M. Stewart O’Bryan, USN, SJFHQ director, the core elements have come a long way since that first experiment in 2002. In fact, “adjusting to improve” became one of the admiral’s priorities as soon as he took command of the SJFHQ in August 2005. Taking advantage of the flexibility that an organization’s formative years offer, Adm. O’Bryan immediately responded to commanders who pointed out that they did not always need a full contingent of SJFHQ experts to assist in a situation. To address this issue, the admiral adjusted procedures and policy and started sending only the personnel the commanders felt were required to set up for a specific mission. “Knowing that they have this option has made it easier for them to get just the expertise they need,” he explains.

Now the challenge for the SJFHQ is determining the best way to maintain readiness, Adm. O’Bryan allows, and like many other military organizations, the SJFHQ is turning to reservists. As of mid-April, the total number of National Guardsmen and reservists serving on active duty was just shy of 81,000. And the SJFHQ aims to make it easier for some of these warfighters to serve by affording them flexibility and predictability in their duty schedules.

The idea of an active-reserve component mix was proposed in 2005 by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The services explored how best to achieve this goal, and at the beginning of 2007, JFCOM started its initiative. The objective is to recruit 240 officer reservists who are willing to make themselves available for possible deployment with 72 hours notice. The reservists will report to Alpha or Bravo and support the transition of a service headquarters to a JTF headquarters. Missions could take place anywhere in the world and could include activities ranging from military operations to humanitarian relief and disaster recovery.

This cadre of reservists will augment an already rich pool of talent in the SJFHQ core elements. When commanders are assigned specific missions, they can first assess the talent they have within their own units then request the expertise they need from the SJFHQ. The SJFHQ will pull together the appropriate people to fulfill each requirement and provide that core of experts to a commander within 72 hours, the admiral explains.

Adm. O’Bryan says the exciting aspect of this program is twofold. First, it offers reservists predictability and flexibility so they can fulfill their reserve duty with less disruption to their lives and enjoy longer periods of downtime between deployment cycles. Second, the SJFHQ no longer will have to rely on the availability of only one or two individuals but instead can reach out to a larger pool of personnel with a variety of expertise and experience and add them to a core element.

Innovative scheduling is at the heart of these benefits. Each member of the SJFHQ reserve force is put on a “notice to deploy” rotation with dwell time between each deployment cycle. Consequently, officers know when they are in the deployment window and may be called to duty. “That’s the predictability piece,” the admiral explains.

Communications systems often are one of the capabilities that SJFHQ core elements set up at the beginning of an operation. The CDAC-PAK compound had to include satellite communications systems to link the earthquake-devastated area in Pakistan with the rest of the world.
Another advantage to becoming a member of the SJFHQ reserve corps is the flexibility it offers. Six individuals will be assigned to each key billet, and service members will be allowed to trade schedules to suit personal needs. For example, reservists with young children can be sure they will be around when school starts in the fall while those with older children can count on being at home at graduation time in the spring.

According to Lt. Col. Owen Blevins, USAR, SJFHQ effects assessment supervisor, this program benefits reservists in career-enhancing ways as well. For example, reservist officers who have come up through the ranks primarily in the tactical arena often find themselves pigeonholed in that specialty. However, officers who have the opportunity to work within a JTF gain a broad range of experience—from operations that call for a kinetic response to those that require a humanitarian touch. For reservists at the higher ranks, few opportunities exist in tactical units, but working in a JTF enables them to acquire joint staff officer skills that can be very beneficial in both their military and civilian jobs, he adds.

This is the first time JFCOM has instituted a program such as this from the operational and strategic levels for field- to senior-level officers. Several of the individual services have had comparable setups, however, including the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force.

In the Navy, for instance, a similar program focuses specifically in the area of naval C2 air operations and support of a joint force air component commander. Capt. Craig Petersen, USN, deputy chief of staff, Core Element Bravo, says that the Navy has pulled from a pool of reservist experts in this field in the past. “The active duty [segment] felt that it was a good opportunity for reservist planners to help develop air tasking orders and write air plans,” Capt. Petersen relates. These reservists undertake more training and devote more time to reserve duty than traditional reservists do, coordinating and drilling with personnel from other units and participating in additional exercises. As a result, they understand the battle rhythm—a fairly perishable skill—and can readily step into operation support, Capt. Petersen explains.

In the Air Force, the captain allows that airmen reservists participate even more aggressively in missions. Many of the reserve and augmentation units support active flying squadrons, so the service has employed creative reserve duty concepts in the past. Because the Air Force’s deployment cycle is somewhat predictable, it can establish reservist participation cycles in advance then seek volunteers to fit into the time lines. “The reserve unit comes and goes throughout the work month. The reservists may be there two or three days this week and then not at all the next week and then the whole week after that. The Air Force can do that because a lot of its talent comes from [commercial] airlines and other civilian jobs that enable far more flexibility,” Capt. Petersen notes.

When the SJFHQ reservist effort began in January, JFCOM had planned to recruit officer reservists for this program primarily in the Hampton Roads and Tidewater area of Virginia. After a successful push in that location, the command expanded the endeavor nationwide. Because the billet calls for experienced officers, the opportunity is being publicized to existing reservists. Adm. O’Bryan explains that new reservists would not yet possess the experience or the portfolio that the SJFHQ is looking for at this time.

The admiral admits that when he first took command of the SJFHQ, the organization had to initiate a “who we are campaign” so commanders would become familiar with the benefits the SJFHQ core elements offer. With the introduction of this new program, the SJFHQ currently is focusing its energy on publicizing the fact that it is seeking military personnel with specific skill sets that it requires to continue its success.

Especially needed are reservist warfighters with joint staff organization experience. In the field of communications, reservists at the O-6 level could fill either the deputy chief of staff or the operations chief billet, for example. At the O-5 and O-4 levels, they could perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection planning or fill a number of positions in the information technology and knowledge management arenas. In the future, reservists who are junior or noncommissioned officers will contribute their expertise as they are incorporated into the program at a later time.

The admiral points out that this program also benefits the corporate sector. Because it increases the flexibility and predictability of reservists’ duty periods, companies can depend on their reservist employees’ schedules with a greater degree of certainty. He advises that corporate leaders and human resource personnel bring this program to the attention of staff that may qualify so both employees and employers can benefit from it.

Web Resources
Standing Joint Force Headquarters:
Millennium Challenge 2002:

More information about the Standing Joint Force Headquarters reservist program is available from the individual services:
U.S. Army:$p=368611
U.S. Marine Corps:
U.S. Navy:
U.S. Air Force:


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