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Against the odds, you made it to IOC…and did it early!

What makes a day historic?  NATO’s Transformation, agreed to at the Lisbon Summit by the 28 Nations of NATO, is indeed an historic process which will have lasting importance, for it will ensure an Alliance that is both effective and relevant to the security of our Nations and Partners for the next few decades and is also sustainable during the tough economic times we are all facing.  The creation of Allied Land Command was a part of this historic process and the Nations charged us to achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) by December 1, 2013, and Full Operational Capability (FOC) by December 2014.


On Monday, 21 October 2013, at 1000 hours Izmir time, NATO’s newly-formed Allied Land Command officially reached IOC – six weeks ahead of schedule – and recognized it with a very simple ceremony in front of our Headquarters building.  In less than a year since our activation, the Officers, noncommissioned Officers (NCOs), and NATO civilians from 23 contributing nations – enabled by generous support from our host nation, Turkey – made this day possible.


What this team has accomplished will impact all Soldiers of the Alliance…from the highest ranking officer to the newest young Private.  The policies and orders that come from NATO Headquarters must all eventually be carried out by Soldiers.  It is our job to ensure those Soldiers are able to operate effectively and as part of an international team.  That’s why our motto is "For the Soldier”…everything we do is for them.


While the excitement of the day was fleeting, the significance of this achievement will be with us for a long time.  It is times like these when I stop to reflect on the past year and cannot help but be overcome with immense pride in the people, both Soldiers and Civilians, who made this possible.


This Headquarters began in the summer of 2012, with a tiny nucleus of about a dozen Officers and NCOs who comprised the stand-up team (SUT)…the Peacetime Establishment (PE) for the SUT was 50 personnel who would eventually arrive within the coming four months.  The plan was for Allied Land Command (LANDCOM) to initially share the building, then in use by Air Command Izmir (ACIZ), which was once part of the previous NATO Command Structure (NCS). The expectation was that LANDCOM would grow into and assume ownership of the building as ACIZ prepared for its inactivation June 1, 2013.  ACIZ was an exceptionally professional and generous organization that worked hard to help the LANDCOM SUT get started and grow even as they were handing over their duties to Ramstein and reducing in size.


Beginning with only a few offices, some workstations, and a handful of mobile devices, the SUT quickly got to work.  Equally instrumental to the SUT’s efforts were the huge investments of time and information sharing and coaching by the leadership of Force Command Heidelberg (FCHD) and Force Command Madrid (FCMD), the two previously existing land commands under the former NCS.  These two Headquarters provided mountains of lessons learned, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and accumulated wisdom that were essential to the SUT’s ability to assume the role of being NATO’s leading land advocate.   Even more important than the documents and mentoring was the early arrival of Officers who had served in those Headquarters and brought their experiences and relationships with them.  Very noteworthy among them was the arrival of our Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL).  As we approached the end of 2012, more and more senior Officers began to arrive, including (thankfully) our Chief of Staff (COS), who helped us organize as a Staff and provided a solid, effective link and advocate to our Host Nation.


The SACEUR officiated at our Activation Ceremony on November 30, 2012.  At that time, LANDCOM consisted of about only 50 personnel, some of whom were still dual-hatted with their ACIZ duties, and fewer than half of our key staff positions filled.  Yet we began to assume many of the missions from FCHD and FCMD – both of which were in the final stages of inactivation.  By the end of spring 2013, we would be responsible for 100% of the missions despite having less than 50% manning.  Most of our attention was focused on building momentum in those early months so that the Nations would understand our role and recognize the potential value of this new land force Headquarters…this was necessary to spur the Nations to fill their manning obligations as quickly as possible.  Thankfully, many of them accelerated their manning, enabling LANDCOM to grow quicker than many predicted.   A huge boost to our momentum came in the form of our new Deputy Commander (DCOM) who arrived in January of this year and immediately took the lead role for training and evaluations.  Just as important were the early arrivals of our three Deputy Chiefs of Staffs (DCOS), each of whom brought a wealth of experience, insight, and credibility to our Headquarters.


Meanwhile, the Staff never allowed personnel shortages to be an excuse, and every visiting dignitary or key leader who monitored our progress remarked on the accomplishments of Land Command in those early days when manning was so low.   I’m particularly proud of the Colonels and one NATO civilian who filled the nine Assistant Chief of Staff (ACOS) positions…they had very few subordinate staff Officers and NCOs to help them perform the huge tasks given to each of them…still they were creative and worked hard to get the jobs done.  We would not have been able to achieve anything if those nine had faltered.


Another key to this success was the way in which so many Officers and NCOs adhered to my injunction to "never get treed by a Chihuahua!”  In other words, they refused to be turned away by bureaucratic obstacles or well-intentioned staff from other places who perhaps lacked imagination or were skeptical of the role and future of Land Command.


While it would be nice to bask in glory of achieving this milestone, we cannot afford to rest.  The COS for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) reminded us during his visit (September 20, 2013) that IOC and FOC are milestones, not destinations.  We still have much to do to reach FOC by December 2014.  We have an obligation to our brethren in the NATO Force Structure (NFS) to help them achieve what our Nations have demanded via the approved NATO Level of Ambition (LOA).   We also have a duty to ensure that all land forces of the Alliance and our Partners have the training, equipment, and life support capability to accomplish any mission they are given.


Further to that, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) has given his four strategic priorities, and Allied Land Command will lead in the implementation of those four priorities within the land domain.


The SACEUR’s priorities are: (1) Get the transition from International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan right; (2) Transition the Alliance from a deployed or campaign footing to a contingency posture with forces ready to deploy in response to any contingency; (3) Continue to build our cooperative security with our Partners; and (4) Foster and encourage exceptional leadership among our NCOs and junior Officers.


First, as NATO transitions from the ISAF mission to RSM, we will capture and capitalize on the lessons learned from ISAF with an eye on the emerging threats and complex security environment in the post-ISAF world and ensure those are integrated into future training exercises and land doctrine.  Though not likely at this point, Land Command must also be capable of providing planning capacity or other capability packages to wherever the Alliance needs them, perhaps including RSM.


Secondly, as Alliance forces returning from Afghanistan retool to become ready for contingencies, we will work with Supreme Allied Command Transformation (SACT), SHAPE, our fellow headquarters across the NCS, and the Nations to develop sophisticated multi-tier exercises with the realism and rigor that require the combined and joint power other Services and Nations can provide.  The SACEUR told us he expects Land Command to be "the first line of defense for jointness.”  In other words, he expects us to work hard to ensure that all land training is done within a joint context, because that is the only way land forces can successfully operate.  While land forces are essential to protect populations and infrastructure, we could never do that without being part of an effective joint team with contributions from many different Nations…this is particularly true for contingency operations where strategic lift; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR); Special Operation Forces (SOF); and other capabilities necessary to achieve joint effects are vital.


Thirdly, Smart Defence is one of the major underpinnings of the NATO Strategic Concept and requires cooperation from Partners outside of the Alliance and traditional defence agencies.  Land Command has a role in building those partnerships through exercises, seminars, encouraging exchanges for professional education, and official visits.  We have done this locally and internationally and will continue setting an example for the Alliance.  I’m very proud of what our Staff has accomplished in this regard and expect we’ll plan more of these activities in the coming year.  Our G9 has built and fostered relationships with civil and military partners that we will seek to incorporate in our training and exercises. I am also proud of the successful outreach programs to academic institutions, local as well as international.  NATO’s future preeminence and viability will only be made possible through the advocacy, assistance, and coordination from stakeholders who believe in and understand the vital role of land forces and the use of land power in the Alliance.  This will require the full understanding and support of the people from each of our Nations, and we have a duty to help educate them and earn their trust and support.


Lastly, and near and dear to my heart, is the SACEUR’s guidance to empower the NCOs across all of NATO and to get more out of their talent and experience.  I have seen firsthand how NCOs can rise to the challenge of increased responsibility when they’re given the opportunity.  This is also an essential part of how land forces in the modern era have to operate.  Decentralized command and control is how we are going to have to operate in the future…what we’ve learned over the last two decades.  This requires small units and elements, often led by NCOs, capable of making decisions on the spot.  Closer to home, we have to rely more on the NCOs assigned to our Staff here at Land Command.  The transformation of NATO has significantly reduced the size of Headquarters like ours…Land Command has 350 billets on its PE compared to the combined 900 billets in the two previously existing Force Commands (Heidelberg and Madrid).  Twenty percent of the 350 billets in Land Command are NCOs, so we cannot allow so much of our Headquarters to not be fully involved in the full range of what we have to do.  And we cannot afford the collective brainpower, experiences, and energy of one-fifth of the Headquarters engaged in only simple administrative tasks.  This will be a point of focus for me in the coming year, and I will look to see how each ACOS is making the best use of his or her assigned NCOs.  Similarly I will encourage the headquarters of the Graduated Readiness Force (Land) Corps’ and all land forces in general to make the most of their NCOs.  LANDCOM will have to lead by example and demonstrate the effectiveness and value of this approach.  The SACEUR has directed us to not waste the talent and potential that they and junior Officers have demonstrated during the last decade or so in several operational theaters.  I expect Land Command to lead the way in implementing the SACEUR’s direction.


I am looking forward to 2014.  We will continue to grow to 90%(+) manning and mature in the three lines of operation which underpin our Campaign Plan.  Highlights will be the Combat Readiness Evaluation (CREVAL) for the German Netherlands Corps, our own training at Grafenwoehr, and the dozens of working groups, conferences, and other efforts – all of which lead to improved effectiveness and interoperability for NATO’s land forces.  We will also mature the Mutual Training Support process which is being developed now under the leadership of our DCOM and with the cross-staff effort being coordinated by the COS.  We will continue to develop our own infrastructure and communications capability, serving as a focal point for implementing the Secretary General’s Connected Forces Initiative (CFI).  We will continue to improve our strategic communications abilities, which is absolutely vital in explaining to our populations and our political leaders why land power is important and why maintaining a healthy Alliance is vital to our collective security.


In anticipation of 2014, we will conduct our next Campaign Plan review in December in a slightly different format.  The DCOM and COS and I will work out the specifics in the coming weeks but the intent of this next Review will be to first look at the proposed FOC criteria and our path to fulfilling those criteria and then taking a comprehensive internal look at our own organization to include:  procedures, battle rhythm, terms of reference, roles and coordination between the Staff divisions, knowledge management, strategic communications, and improved employment of NCOs.  This is a normal, healthy part of organizational effectiveness and important to our ability to ensure we are ready for the challenges that we’ll face in the coming year and critical to our ability to achieve FOC in December 2014.


I want to once again express my sincere gratitude to each member of Allied Land Command, those in uniform as well as our Civilian teammates, and to our host nation Soldiers and Civilians who made this day possible.  I’m immensely proud of each of you and this Team.


Alright, let’s keep our sleeves rolled up and keep working "For the Soldier!”


Lt. Gen. Frederick "Ben” Hodges

U.S. Army


Headquarters, Allied Land Command


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