SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
Ninth Air Force staff participated in Staff Exercise (STAFFEX) 18-2 Jan. 16 through 19 as part of the roadmap to becoming a Joint Task Force (JTF)-capable headquarters directed by Air Force Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein.
The four-day STAFFEX included a preparation day for key players, two days of working through the Joint Planning Process (JPP) as an operational planning team (OPT) with a focus on mission analysis and course of action (COA) development, and a breakout day for those functional areas core to the JPP.
“The purpose of the STAFFEXs are to conduct internal training on the processes and tasks we will be expected to perform as a JTF-capable headquarters [our mission set],” said Col. Sean Welsh, 9th Air Force A7 Rear Mission Support Element director. “It is practice, much like in sports -- performing drills, running through the plays, getting better at the game. We want to be ready to go, ready to win.”
STAFFEX 18-2 was built upon the first-ever 9th AF STAFFEX held in November 2017. While the first STAFFEX focused on the JPP overall, Welsh said 18-2 was about going more in depth and in detail with the COAs, especially in regards to COA development.
“We tried to make it more robust,” he stated. “… We added in some discussion and exercising of the processes aside from just planning.”
For Lt. Col. Jason Hokaj, 9th AF A3 Operations deputy director, the extra focus on preparation became key for how he ran his OPT this time around.
“I was more prepared in 18-2 and knew what to expect,” Hokaj explained. “I could focus better prior to the STAFFEX knowing what I was expected to do and what [was expected of others].”
Hokaj added each STAFFEX is a “chance to practice” for becoming a JTF-capable headquarters as the exercises are tied to how the unit will function as one.
To aid participants during the exercise, members from the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC) based in Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, attended and provided guidance.
The JECC consists of planning, communicating and public affairs specialists who have the ability to shape the core of a JTF headquarters when first formed in a crisis, providing support for combatant commands.
Welsh said the purpose of the JECC during the STAFFEX was to draw upon that knowledge.
“The JECC provides us the expertise from those who are well versed in this mission set,” he added. “They are pros who do this all the time -- the coaches helping us along to get better at what we do.”
The JECC provides an integral piece of the JPP as the 9th AF staff continues toward the path of certification.
“For anyone who’s learning to do something new, it’s always good to have a mentor to show them what right looks like,” said Lt. Col. Clay Percle, JECC chief of J37 Training Readiness and Exercises. “Planning is an essential part of a JTF HQ, but it’s one of many functions the JTF will need to perform.”
Once certified as a JTF-capable headquarters, 9th AF will provide an Air Force-centric option that aligns with Goldfein’s objective stated at the Air Force Association 2017 Air, Space & Cyber Symposium in September 2017 -- to deliver a viable option for the Chairman and the Secretary of Defense to use during crisis operations and be offered as part of the global response force.
As the STAFFEX concluded, leadership relayed their admiration to the staff.
“You performed leaps and bounds above what you did previously in the first STAFFEX,” said Col. Craig Hollis, 9th AF deputy commander. “We have seen you continue to improve and appreciate your efforts.”
Moving forward to the March STAFFEX, Welsh explained it will be more of a full-scale exercise -- the first of its kind for 9th AF staff in scope and size.
The March STAFFEX will also be more realistic with joint involvement through JECC staff and will include the use of their Deployable Joint Command and Control (DJC2) system that includes tents, radios, satellite links, power generators, etc. to set up a C2 center in austere locations (similar to what might be used to set up a JTF HQ).
The 9th AF JTF capability is scheduled to be ready for its first Global Response Force (GRF) tasking in January of 2019.