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Apr 20 2021

Maintaining a successful JOC on NATO's north-eastern flank

SZCZECIN, Poland - At the centre of every multinational military headquarters is the Joint Operations Centre (JOC). The JOC serves as the focal point for organizing and tracking ongoing military activities as well as monitoring current political, economic, social and information activities in the assigned area. Both during conflict or peacetime, the JOC is always bustling. The Multinational Corps Northeast (MNCNE) JOC is no exception to this rule.

What makes the MNCNE JOC stand out, however, is their ability to overcome the geographical, cultural and political challenges of operating on NATO’s north-eastern flank. Key to its success is selecting skilled JOC Staff Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) who possess the patience and mental agility required to excel in a fast-paced multinational environment. Let us delve more deeply into the subject.

Geography is perhaps the most obvious challenge facing the MNCNE JOC. Theirs is the arduous task of creating and maintaining what is termed Comprehensive Situational Awareness (CSA) across an expansive Area of Operations (AOO) covering the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the North, and all of Poland to the South. CSA comprises awareness of Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information (PMESII) issues as well as constitutes a daunting venture considering the geographical size and diversity of the region. In order to stay on top of events that take place across their AOO, the JOC has to rely heavily on close coordination with MNCNE’s staff divisions such as STRATCOM or J2. Additionally, they depend on critical input from subordinate units, especially the NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) that are located in each of the four Nations within MNCNE’s AOO.

During times of peace, MNCNE operates from its permanent headquarters at the Baltic Barracks in Szczecin, Poland. However, when conducting training or exercises, or when responding to real-world crisis or conflict, MNCNE relocates its HQ and establishes a Main Command Post (MCP) at the most suitable location where it can command and control the NATO response forces. Just as it is at the Baltic Barracks, the JOC is also central to the MCP. The JOC Staff are often the first to arrive at the MCP and the last to leave once the exercise or crisis is over. They work tirelessly to establish the necessary communication and information systems maintaining CSA so that the Commander can make timely decisions even while the JOC is transitioning to a new location.

No matter where they operate, there are many cultural challenges facing the MNCNE JOC. Each of the twenty-five countries within the Corps’ AOO speaks a different language and has a distinct culture. The JOC also coordinates directly with other national military forces conducting bilateral engagements in the region such as the US Atlantic Resolve forces. In addition to the external communication challenges, there are also internal communication matters to be aware of. The Staff members who work in the JOC come from different backgrounds and although they speak English, which is the NATO standard, it is most often their second language.

Communication challenges inside and outside the JOC add complexity to an already stressful environment. In order to overcome them, each member of the MNCNE JOC must possess patience and acute attention to detail when gathering and disseminating information. Successful communication requires a general understanding of different military cultures. The same is true for historical awareness, which is essential to keep certain events in context as well as to understand public opinion and norms.

The MNCNE peacetime organizational structure is comprised of two subordinate Division Headquarters, four National Homeland Defence Brigade HQs, four Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups (eFP BGs), and four NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs). The Corps HQ as well as each of the above-mentioned sub-unit HQs, with the exception of the NFIUs, are based on a Framework Nation construct. This means that decision-making processes are often times multifaceted. Although the Commander’s intent and the end state may be clear, the exact way forward is not always certain. This reality makes it challenging for the JOC personnel tasked to manage the day-to-day current operations of the Corps. Yet, it is the role of the JOC Staff Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) to look beyond these constraints and stay focused on meeting the MNCNE Commander’s intent.

Fortunately, the JOC does not have to bear this burden alone. It is supported and fed information daily by each of the Corps’ Staff Divisions and Branches as they work to provide solutions and guidance for the force. Despite the challenge, the MNCNE JOC service members, led by a JOC Director, remain fiercely committed to mission accomplishment as they strive for two things: increasing CSA for the Commander as well as providing clear guidance and direction for sub-units.

Over the past two decades, Multinational Corps Northest has been thriving in its effort to surmount geographical, cultural and political obstacles as well as to provide NATO with CSA and leadership on its eastern flank. One of the most important lessons learned throughout its years of service is that the JOC personnel’s role should not be underestimated. As already mentioned, JOCs under NATO HQs require officers and NCOs with an open-minded approach who appreciate learning about diverse languages, cultures and histories; those who have a solid understanding of NATO doctrine and who are willing to put in extra time and effort as they work towards completing the mission. In short, nations who commit to fill staff positions inside NATO JOCs should remember that to be successful, JOC Staff Officers and NCOs must be selected from among the best.

Story by Major Brian Braithwaite (US Army), Multinational Corps Northeast J3 Division

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