An Education in Joint Operational Logistics … From the Bottom of the Org Chart

    Everyone has heard of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Everyone has heard talk of the Joint Staff itself.  However, few people can comprehensively define the purpose of the Joint Staff and how it came to exist.  Certainly a junior supply officer just completing their first operational tour could not be expected to provide such an explanation amid rumors of captains as runners and young lieutenants serving as mere cannon fodder to the overbearing flag officers.  Yet, that perception could not be further from the truth.

    The Joint Staff, as a concept, was developed during World War II in order to fill the need for a “unified high command” able to coordinate among the separate military services and provide strategic military advice to the National Command Authority.  It was not until the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 that the Joint Chiefs of Staff was formally established.  Today, the Joint Staff is tasked to assist the Chairman in his role as the principal military advisor to the President, the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF), the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council; to provide for the unified strategic direction of the combatant forces; for their operation under unified command; and for their integration as the efficient team of land, naval and air forces.

    Within the Joint Staff, the logistics directorate’s (J4) mission is to lead the Joint Logistics Enterprise, strengthen joint force readiness, and provide the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the best logistics advice to optimize globally integrated operations.  In fulfilling the J4 mission it is critical to understand what joint logistics is and what it encompasses.  Joint Publication (JP) 4-0 defines joint logistics as “the coordinated use, synchronization, and sharing of two or more military departments’ logistic resources to support the joint force.”  JP 4-0 further identifies the core logistics functions as: deployment and distribution, supply, maintenance, logistic services, operational contract support (OCS), engineering, and health services.  This is an important point to make as many junior supply officers fail to realize the full scope of logistics functions.  Further, it is important to recognize a common language among the services.  For example, most sailors would identify engineering as the individuals that push the boat forward, produce water, and create electricity; however, engineering in the joint environment refers to construction assets within the services.  Think Seabee, not CHENG. 

    The core logistics functions, as defined by JP 4-0, make up the Operational Logistics (OL) directorate within the Joint Staff J4 with health services aligned under the purview of the Joint Staff Surgeon (JSS).  The OL directorate is responsible for current and near term logistic issues within the joint force.  There are two additional directorates that are important to discuss: Strategic Logistics (SL) and the Joint Logistics Operations Center (JLOC).   SL, as a directorate, is responsible for future operations and planning, as well as the strategic outlook for the Joint Logistics Enterprise.  The SL directorate is made up of the Multi-National Interagency Division (MNIA), Capabilities and Assessments Division (CAD), Strategy and Readiness Division (SRD), and Knowledge-Based Logistics Division (KBLD).  The JLOC is housed in the lower levels of the Pentagon within the National Military Command Center and is responsible for all current and contingency operations.  The individuals serving in the JLOC are heavily involved in operations such as the recent humanitarian aid to the Philippines, non-lethal aid to Syria, tracking the movement of equipment and supplies to support Department of State (DoS) operations, or in continuity of government operations.

    So, why the in-depth overview?  Why the history lesson?  It serves to show the range and depth of responsibility of the Joint Staff.  It also serves to show the opportunities for professional education and growth that are afforded to the Joint operational logistics (OPLOG-JOL) interns.  As OPLOG-JOL interns we are exposed to all aspects of the J4.  During our two-year tour we will serve within four separate divisions on a rotational basis, thus allowing us to get more specific knowledge of those portfolios.  Each intern will rotate through one OL division and one SL division where they will serve as an action officer responsible for processing Joint Staff action packages that may include Chairman and SECDEF-level correspondence, responses to congressional inquiries, or work supporting critical policy decisions.  Interns are also afforded the opportunity to become involved with various working groups alongside members of the Joint Staff, OSD, DoS, and the services where they will be asked to serve as Joint Staff subject matter experts.  The final two rotations will see the individual intern serving as a member of the JLOC and as the executive assistant to the vice director of logistics.  While in the JLOC, interns will be immersed in current real-world contingency operations.  During this period they may be asked to serve as the J4 representative to a crisis management team, assist in developing the J4’s daily logistics update to be briefed to the vice director and then forwarded to the Joint Logistics Enterprise, or to serve as a battle captain during a contingency operation.  Finally, interns will be expected to serve as the EA for the Vice Director of Logistics.  It is during this rotation that the interns truly gain an appreciation of the breadth of logistics operations within the J4.  Interns are afforded the opportunity to “back seat” meetings with the general, thus exposing them to every aspect of the Joint Staff experience.  Furthermore, as the executive assistant, interns are expected to ensure that decision ready material is delivered to the vice director for their final “chop,” or stamp of approval. 

    Overall, the Joint Operational Logistics Internship serves as a great opportunity for junior supply officers to serve in the joint environment and gain valuable skills at a much earlier time in their professional careers.  It provides them with the type of insight that can only be gained through working with OSD, DoS, and the other services.  Finally, the interns are afforded the opportunity to learn and support the joint force as we strive to improve logistics visibility, enhance global access, and strengthen partnerships.

By Lt. Jeffrey E Good, SC, USN, Executive Assistant to the Vice Director for Logistics (J4) the Joint Staff