SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The Department of Defense is one step closer to an Air Force-led certified joint task force headquarters (JTF-HQ) capability, following the conclusion of the 9th Air Force JTF Staff Exercise (STAFFEX) March 4-9.
Integration with the joint community during STAFFEX 18-3 marked a significant milestone for 9th AF as it continues on its path to certification as a JTF-HQ capability by January 2019. In addition to 9th AF personnel, U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and civilians assigned to the U.S. Transportation Command’s Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC) participated in the training, highlighting a critical institutional shift in focus on leading joint operations.
In the two preceding STAFFEX events, 9th AF Airmen solely comprised the training audience, and lessons focused on a foundational understanding of the Joint Planning Process. U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist, 9th AF commander, said the additional JECC personnel involved in the current iteration drastically improved the exercise’s scope and realism.
“Their support has been invaluable,” said Zobrist. “In order to become a lead JTF-HQ element we must work with our joint partners, and the JECC’s expertise in JTF formation is key to our own JTF-HQ capability. While there is still a long way to go, we made significant progress and we are on track to achieve initial operational capability of our JTF-HQ by the end of this year.”
Zobrist said as the 9th AF moves toward JTF-HQ certification, it will leverage the collective experience of the JECC team.
According to U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Lenny J. Richoux, the JECC commander, his unit is uniquely poised to help with training events like this, given the JECC’s mission is to accelerate the transition of a service component into an operational JTF.
”We embedded with 9th AF, working alongside their team to both exercise the mechanics of JTF formation while also conducting operational regional theater campaign planning linked to a real world problem set,” said Richoux. “Both 9th AF and the JECC are more operationally ready to support the Combatant Commanders, and we plan to take this expanded capability to other Service headquarters in the coming year.”
JECC members routinely exercise the unit’s planning, public affairs, and expeditionary communications capabilities through small team deployments with the Combatant Commands. In response to a natural disaster, they would work with a unit like the 9th AF, which would fill the role as the JTF command and headquarters element to help meet the Combatant Command’s mission requirements. JTFs are established to accomplish missions with specific objectives, such as response to a natural disaster but may also include large scale military combat operations.
“We experienced fantastic synergy and collaboration between the 9th AF, JECC, and all of our external partners,” said U.S. Navy Captain Mike Dillender, the mission tailored package lead for the JECC. Dillender said the STAFFEX enabled the JECC to execute their ability to help a Service component establish a JTF while helping the 9th AF achieve its training objectives. “This was JECC's best training event in my three years with the command, bar none,” said Dillender. “We have definitely set a new standard for future training events at the JECC.”
The drive to develop the 9th AF into a JTF-HQ began in 2017 when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein tasked the unit to develop a certified JTF command and control capability for the Air Force. Since then, the 9th AF has employed a comprehensive training plan and has been working with partners like the JECC to achieve the CSAF’s goal.
“Having a fully trained and equipped JTF-HQ capability within the Air Force will ensure Airmen not only have the knowledge to rapidly respond to any world crisis, but the skills and experience required to lead a joint warfighting team,” said Zobrist. “When 9th AF is certified, it will add another arrow to the joint warfighting quiver. STAFFEX 18-03 was a significant step forward in 9th AF’s ability to rapidly form a JTF.