Integrating Coalition Staff into a US Headquarters

A Guest Post by Major Andy Breach

To be successful in multi-national operations, the US military must create an environment where coalition staff officers can provide meaningful contributions to the team. The differences that exist between nationalities are magnified in the pressure cooker that is a coalition headquarters. Acceptance in this environment is a difficult path to navigate for a coalition officer, and an easy one to misjudge. This entry offers three recommendations that will allow coalition officers to integrate effectively into a US-led HQ during the initial few months of their tour. It falls to the Field Grade leaders in an organization to drive this integration and build the effectiveness of the staff. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather observations formed from personal experience.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Reinier, 82nd Airborne Division

  1. Identify an opportunity for the Coalition Officer to demonstrate competence early. The standard of coalition partner that the US receives varies. Often, officers sent to embed into US HQs are amongst the best their country has to offer, however differences in national culture, language barriers, and initial ‘shock of capture’ may hide their true capability. These officers often have years of experience and diverging views which will add value to the mission if allowed. I have observed that US military leaders are often too polite to simply confront perceived incompetence. Instead, the leader stealthily assimilates the collation officer’s tasks amongst others, leaving them with boring and often nugatory staff work. By identifying an opportunity to demonstrate competence early, the coalition staff member can build confidence early, setting the tone for the rest of the tour.
  2. Maximize knowledge of partner National Military Doctrine and make the effort to teach US doctrine. While the US military views a working knowledge of doctrine as a hallmark of professionalism, other nations are often in direct contrast; for example, the British military are embarrassed to show their doctrinal competence. The current situations faced by multi-national headquarters are unique and no one country’s doctrine is entirely sufficient to deal with the numerous varied problems sets. During planning cycles, be willing to deviate from US doctrine if there is a more appropriate multi-national approach which may have to coaxed gently from an embedded officer. Much like having a few words of local dialect when travelling, teaching a basic understanding of US doctrine to coalition officers goes a long way to demonstrating your willingness to integrate them. This is time-consuming but allows a coalition officer to feel part of the team and allows them to communicate in a common language.
  3. Build relationships amongst the Coalition Staff. War is, after all, a human endeavour. Many countries have a culture of socializing outside of work to establish these relationships and without making a concerted effort to do this, many find establishing trust purely in the work place difficult. This is especially true if there are a large number of a single country’s staff in the HQ, as the default is to use the path of least resistance and retreat into a national or regional clique. Developing the relationships takes patience and an element of tongue biting, but bears fruits in the end. While difficult to build, the relationships are much easier to destroy. Many coalition officers do not have a nuanced understanding of America, and their understanding is gleaned through popular culture and the internet. Be patient with clumsy and misplaced attempts to have a meaningful conversation, even if it is about a sensitive subject.

This short entry offers one perspective on integrating Coalition Staff into a US HQ developed from my experience. By delivering early, demonstrating doctrinal competence and building relationships with the US counterparts, an embedded officer increases their potential for a more enjoyable tour and minimise the frustration that we all feel when working on a deployed staff.

MAJ Andy Breach is a British Infantry Officer and SAMS graduate, with garrison and operational experience in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the wider CENTCOM AOR. He is currently on the staff of a Coalition Headquarters in the Middle East.

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One thought on “Integrating Coalition Staff into a US Headquarters

  1. Excellent insight. I would like to have seen Major Breach elaborate on the statement: ” the British military are embarrassed to show their doctrinal competence.” It is my supposition that if we knew more — especially “why” (at least for our British cousins) — it might better equip us to bridge the cultural divide.