Command and Staff paper

Author: Glen Grant

The Military is a peculiar career for citizens. It deals in violence, life and death and is often the last political resort of a nation. Military Personnel are the only members of society a nation requires to ultimately risk their lives rather than accepting failure in a mission. The Military cannot afford to fail. This creates challenges for career officers that are particular to them and do not occur in any other profession. Two of these are the concepts of "Command” and "Staff”. Neither concept exist the same in any other walk of life but to the military they are the lifeblood that makes the system work.

Probably the most difficult challenge facing the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) is to adjust to the NATO way of acting and working when fulfilling these two roles. The NATO understanding is fundamentally different to that currently practiced within the UAF. It is unclear if these roles have ever existed inside the Ukrainian forces in the way envisaged by most Western NATO nations. If they have, they may simply have become weakened and confused over time. I shall try to explain what I see as the roles of Command and Staff and what they do that is fundamentally important and why. I shall also say why these roles are totally different from each other and must not be confused. 

Command and Staff paper 01


The most important task for commanders and staff is "to deliver operational effectiveness". But where a Commander takes the key role is that he alone has the fundamental responsibility to "train his own troops for operations". This is because he personally has to lead them on operations. If he fails in any aspect of this task his unit fails, and if his unit fails, then he has failed. He can be and should be held accountable for this activity. The three key command levels to deliver effectiveness within the Army are Brigade Commander, Unit (Battalion) Commanding Officer at the Lieutenant Colonel, and Sub unit (Company) Commander as a Major. This logic includes of course their equivalent sized units in the other two services. These are important structures to lead in the forces because they are the main building blocks of battle and operations. They must be created, trained and led in the right way by commanders or the Defence Force will fail. The job of the staff is simple here. They must support the commanders to deliver operations and training with every breath in their body. The Commander at any level is king; the staff at every level his servants. This means that all staff must support even the most junior commander in the most junior unit. He risks his life, they do not.

Command is the key activity in any force. All key activities such as operations, logistics, medical, artillery etc should have a commander. This person should lead and have responsibility for developing the activity. As well as having the accepted values of leadership, bravery, intellect and military skills a commander must also have the capacity to modernise and change his forces to meet future and unexpected challenges, often in very short timeframes. In difficult times of combat, Commanders of Brigades and Battalions should show independence of thought and action and must be capable of deciding in extreme conditions what their personal mission needs to be. They should also have the courage to take responsibility for that decision. If they cannot do this then they should not be selected for operational command in the first place, or must be removed because they are dangerous. They are simply the wrong person. If no officers have moral courage then the system has failed dramatically and the system itself must be quickly changed.

Military Command as an officer is unique because of the wide ranging set of tasks and responsibilities given to an officer and because the life or death of the unit and the success of the task depends upon the chief. Command at each level is also the time when officers develop their leadership and management skills for higher rank. Senior officers must avoid trying to tell their junior commanders how to do their business or they will never develop properly to replace the older generation. Although well known in theory this is often hard to do in practice – but it remains vital. Over-control by senior officers and rigid bureaucracy guarantees both weak officers and servile staff and eventually the system will fail for lack of quality and moral courage. Commanders who cannot or will not delegate successfully must be removed as they are dangerous. But even more dangerous are commanders who do not have the moral courage to accept and use authority properly. They are high risk in every way because they will never make a brave decision – inevitably a vital factor on the battlefield. They should not be officers at all.  


The work of the staff at each level of formation will be very different:

 At the highest level within MOD and General Staff the staff should have little to do with the detail of units or training. Their role must be to support the improvement of operational effectiveness at the strategic level. This means making long term policy and decisions out to 20 years, finding resources, changing and improving conditions for those below them and supporting lower level staffs when they have difficulties. Much of their work should be upwards and outwards; to NATO, other countries, ministries and organisations. They must have imagination and courage and be able to think and develop the big picture, not sink in detail. Their range of tasks is endless, but the main task remains the same – improving operational effectiveness by making things better for the whole system. Staff at higher levels must also NEVER forget that they have the luxury of going home at night. The units below them often do not. The majority of work for MOD staffs then is to prepare the defence system for the operations of tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. They must avoid becoming involved in day to day work and must delegate maximum authority to take decisions downwards to commanders and staffs in subordinate headquarters. 

Command and Staff paper 02

Service Commanders and staffs (Like Army or Navy) have their own special role. They must balance priorities, resources and time. They will never have enough of anything and they must be ruthless about getting the priorities right, always balancing activity against operational need. They must have well developed staff systems that allow them to deliver support to brigades, ships or units in hours not days. They must also balance short term unit Special to Theatre operational training requirements against maintaining long term formation, Joint and multinational battle skills. 

At the Brigade level the emphasis changes. Now the key task for the staff is in helping their Commander and units actually deliver the practical side of operational effectiveness. They must become supporters, teachers, trainers, bag carriers, mothers, and most importantly crisis managers; helping clean up the mess of the inevitable failures that come with high tempo work and operations. Above all they must work quickly and hard to make things operationally better. The operational requirement to move things forward quickly is why senior staffs and commanders must never delay any work without a serious reason. DELAY KILLS SERVICEMEN. I have more examples than I can tell. They must remember that a staff request is for a reason and is usually from someone who knows the reasons better than they do. Staff in higher formations should reply positively, helpfully and in the same day unless there is a serious reason not to.

Commanders of headquarters must also realise that they have the responsibility to train their own staff for work in both peace and war. This means training individuals and teams and running regular exercises and training days, even at MOD level.  Commanders must constantly develop and improve the staff systems and processes to improve the quality and speed of support to other formations.

Importantly all staff must remember that no staff exist for themselves but that they are the servants of the units below them. When they do their job well, they will be remembered with pleasure and thanks by the units and junior staff they serve. Good staff work keeps people alive, bad staff work kills. 


The keys to good staffwork are operational focus, accuracy, speed, brevity and moral courage. A good staff officer can always give alternative options and will ALWAYS recommend his chosen course to his seniors and fellow staff officers. A good staff officer will always find a way round any problem and will rarely take no for an answer when he is right.

It is also vital that staffwork must not be delayed by over-bureaucracy. The fastest means of communication must always be used within sensible security guidelines. Systems where a senior person has to write too much or sign everything are militarily dangerous and very high risk. They breed staff and commanders who are slow to act and risk averse. In defence terms, heavy procedures like this are also criminal because they risk lives by staff delay. They must be streamlined and desk officers must be allowed and encouraged to work freely within clear guidelines, especially being empowered to sign papers for those above them. If officers cannot be trusted to do things right without asking for permission, then they should not be in that post. It is simple really, either the job, or the person must be changed.

Staffwork must always be open and transparent – when time will allow. In difficult times a staff officer may have to make a serious operational judgement based upon his own experience or perhaps by simply asking one or two experts for a quick phone answer. When time allows then a problem should be aired across all staff disciplines and often up and down formations as well. It is the wisdom of all the staff at all levels that will get the best advice for a commander. But there are rules to this. Operations staffs, especially staffs deployed at the front, MUST ALWAYS HAVE THE LAST WORD and given the maximum weight for their comments. But equally the practical wisdom of the logisticians and maintainers must never be ignored. The skill of a good staff officer is to balance all the comments and facts and to recommend the path that gives the best answer for the future. But most importantly, law, rules and regulations, history and commanders orders must NEVER deflect a staff officer from suggesting what he knows is right, or risk life. The Nuremburg defence of "I was told to do this" is no defence at all in any country.

To be efficient and effective, staff procedures must always try to follow the latest communications methods. The reason is simple – the enemy will do so - and no defence system can afford to be behind the staffing and decision time curve of an adversary. A good staff communications system must be responsive, agile and fast.


Commanders must train their units and drive operational effectiveness forward. The staff must help them do this. Neither must ever forget two things. The man on the ground knows best – he is there waiting to die. And the effectiveness of units and the life of that man on the ground depend upon the best skills of both Commanders and all Staff working closely together to keep him alive. Nothing else in an army is acceptable.

By Glen Grant for Censor.NET

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Источник: https://censor.net.ua/en/r3065334