Earlier this afternoon, the Department of Defense announced that the Commander US Forces-Iraq, Army Gen. Ray Odierno has been nominated to be commander of US Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), and would take over from current JFCOM chief USMC Gen. James Mattis later this year.
It has been rumored for some time that Odierno had been slotted to take over JFCOM, but the nomination brings up an entirely different issue that has been keeping the chattering classes in D.C. busy for the last couple of weeks: what is Mattis going to do next? There have been rumors that Mattis is heading over to Barracks Row to take over as Commandant of the Marine Corps when Gen. James Conway steps down, but since we don’t have any word on when Odierno is actually leaving Iraq, we don’t know what Mattis’ next move will be, either.
Would Mattis heading up the Corps be a good fit? No one knows that but Gen. Mattis. But during a time in which the Marine Corps has essentially become the United States’ second land force and when some senior Marine officers are grumbling that the force has lost is expeditionary edge, Mattis’ intellect, drive, and the vision that he brought to JFCOM when he assumed command in November 2007 would probably be a good fit. Plus, Mattis is a bit of a celebrity, and the Marines have never been known to shy away from the spotlight.
More importantly however, we live in an age in which warfare is carried out amid a mix of combatants and civilians hailing from an alphabet soup of government agencies with different cultures, agendas, bosses, and budgets, all of whom are all trying to do the job their superiors have assigned them. Not only that, but toss allies, aid groups, the press, and the proliferation of portable communication and recording devices into the stew, and the battlefield is not only cluttered, but it is more confusing than ever. It’s a place where the enemy is increasingly adept at information operations, and any mistake has the potential to be broadcast globally within minutes. This means that in addition to traditional warfighting skills, Marine officers are also going to have to work with civilian partners in his or her battlespace while remaining mindful of how actions will be perceived by multiple audiences. Mattis outlined his thoughts on what this requires last month in a speech at JFCOM’s Joint Warfighting conference:
“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony – even vicious harmony – on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you really need to go home, because your leadership in today’s age is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”
How you go about training such an officer is still very much a work in progress. But Mattis understands that there is problem. That’s a first step.
(Gen James Mattis in Afghanistan. Pic: USMC)