Joint, Not Identical

June 2004
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

The Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986 instigated much of the transformation that is taking place in the military services today. It set the stage for the coordinated efforts outlined in Joint Vision 2010 and Joint Vision 2020 and set the armed forces on the path to becoming fully joint in operation, organization and doctrine. From the standpoint of technology, it has influenced the way systems are developed, tested and deployed.

Although the Act does not apply to the commercial world, companies also answered the call to jointness by forming innovative teams in order to offer total solutions. Industry, which today creates many of the capabilities employed in the battlespace, has adapted its business as well as designing processes to meet the demands of this new era. When a problem calls for a capability that a single firm cannot provide independently, companies build alliances that capitalize on individual strengths. The result is a comprehensive solution that meets the needs of the customers. This is jointness in the commercial world.

For the past several years, each U.S. military service has been working diligently to ensure that its information technology systems work in a joint environment. At the same time, the services—many times with the help of the U.S. Joint Forces Command—have been training and conducting exercises together to help Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines become familiar with each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures. These efforts can be time-consuming and challenging to pull together, but the benefits are evident in the successful coordinated efforts in the war on terrorism.

But the work that is currently underway to bring about jointness is just the first step. Most military leaders agree that the real challenge the armed forces face in transforming and building the joint environment is not a technical one. Creative thinking and hard work eventually solve technical issues and get systems to talk to each other. The toughest challenge is not about ones and zeroes. It’s about the men and women in four different uniforms. It’s about military culture.

Young men and women make some specific choices when they decide to join the armed forces. For some reason—perhaps because of family tradition or a favorite teacher or a memorable movie—each elects to pursue a career in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. These bright young men and women bring with them unique talents that are then tailored to fulfill the missions of a specific service. What they receive in return is a sense of belonging to a large military family, where service members and their families share a lifestyle, celebrate similar career milestones and depend on each other. In addition to this larger family, however, each member of the military also belongs to one distinct group—a specific service. One look at the rivalry between military academies during football season illustrates just how fierce allegiance can be.

This is not a bad mind-set. In fact, it is this camaraderie and loyalty to one branch of the service that brings thousands of people together to fight for a common goal, accomplish a specific mission. People throughout our nation decide to join the Navy, for example, because they are drawn to what Navy life has to offer and the character and passion of the other sailors who made the same choice.

The call to jointness should never be viewed as a call to do away with this individuality. But as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are asked to work together in a joint environment, it is time for all warfighters—from the seaman to the admiral, from the private to the general—to recognize that when it comes to fighting terrorism, everyone, regardless of the color of the uniform, is on the same side. Regardless of the cultural differences of the services, the mission is shared. By thinking in terms of turning to the service that can provide the best tool rather than trying to develop the best solution within, the power of jointness can be realized. Companies recognize this and are thriving by sharing the workload and handing tasks to those team members who can best handle them while retaining their individual corporate cultures. It is a commercial best practice that the military services can and should emulate. Each service brings different specialties and capabilities to each mission, and it is this diversity that makes the U.S. military strong. To overcome the cultural barriers to jointness, warfighters do not have to relinquish the traditions and attributes that make their service unique. Becoming joint means taking advantage of all of the assets each service brings to the battlefield. The differences between the services should stay where they belong—on the football field.