Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Annals of command and control (III): The problem of ‘the wall of the component’

Read Command and Control Parts I and II. By Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, USA (Ret.) Best Defense department of command and control studies When in 1862 Ulysses S. Grant took Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River with the cooperation of gunboats commanded by the U.S. Navy’s Flag-officer Foote, he did it with what amounted ...

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Read Command and Control Parts I and II.

By Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, USA (Ret.)

Best Defense department of command and control studies

Read Command and Control Parts I and II.

By Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, USA (Ret.)

Best Defense department of command and control studies

When in 1862 Ulysses S. Grant took Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River with the cooperation of gunboats commanded by the U.S. Navy’s Flag-officer Foote, he did it with what amounted to a simple handshake between the two.

Nowadays a deployed task force commander’s organization often includes U.S. Service and other nations’ contingents plus a special operations force, or a government bureau, or an NGO element. Handshakes do not suffice. Other nations’ contingents sometimes come with restrictions; relationships are spelled out. Joint doctrine calls for special operations and Service "components."

I once wrote about the "wall of the component." Let me give an example.

In 1976-78 I commanded the I Corps (ROK/US) Group defending the Western Sector of Korea’s DMZ. It consisted of three ROK corps (11 divisions), a ROK marine brigade, and the US 2d Infantry Division. I was responsible to General John W. Vessey, the CINC in Korea, for planning and preparing and, in time of war or high alert, for executing the approved ROK/US OPLAN.

On one occasion I was hosting a composite USMC field artillery battalion that had come up from Okinawa for service practice, taking advantage of a firing range in my sector. On visiting that battalion I noted its plentiful weapons and ammunition stocks.          

A few days later I was visited in my headquarters by the commander of Okinawa’s III Marine Expeditionary Force. In our conversation, I told him that I Corps Group may have to go to DEFCON 3 while his battalion was in our sector, and that I intended to modify our OPLAN so as, at such a moment, to place his battalion under the operational control of the 2d Infantry Division Artillery, whose commander would assign it a position area and mission and provide it with ammunition.

The III MEF commander demurred, citing Marine doctrine that called for Marine units to operate with other Marines. He said that he could not agree to such wording in the I Corps Group OPLAN. When I mentioned that there were no other U.S. Marines in Korea, he stuck to his position. To do what I had in mind would, he said, "set a precedent."

I then said something like this: "General, if you were to visit Camp Casey’s headquarters of the 2d Infantry Division nearby, you would be taken to the Division Museum. There you would see a photograph of Major General John A. Lejeune, who commanded the 2d Infantry Division in France in 1918, and was later Commandant of the Marine Corps. He would be turning over in his grave at what you just told me." He was unmoved.

I reported the conversation to General Vessey who said that he would take it up with both CINCPAC and the Commander Fleet Marine Force Pacific in Hawaii. In a few days he told me that the CINCPAC would not approve his request without referring it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We agreed to let the matter rest but I told the CINC that I would have the 2d Divarty commander exchange call signs and radio frequencies with the Marine battalion commander. When and if DEFCON 3 were called the 2d Divarty commander would order him into action to participate in the defense of our sector.

I Corps (ROK/US) Group has since been replaced by another formation. Much else has changed, including Goldwater-Nichols. I trust that the "wall of the component" has been breached to the degree that an OPLAN such as I wanted to write then would not be questioned today.

For Harvard University’s Program on Information Policy Research, General Cushman has written Command and Control of Theater Forces: Adequacy (1983), Command and Control of Theater Forces: The Korea Command and Other Cases (1986), and Command and Control in the Mideast Coalition (1989). He self-published the pamphlet, Thoughts for Joint Commanders (1993).

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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