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Understanding GFM enables joint officers to positively affect the process rather than becoming “victims” of GFM.
“I’m going to work in the GFM branch?” I thought as I got off the phone with my new command sponsor near the end of my year as a student at the U.S. Army War College in 2017. Just a few months later, I found myself as the Global Force Management (GFM) Branch Chief in the J-35 at a combatant command (CCMD), jumping right into the mix of the GFM process. Before attending the War College, I had little experience with and only basic knowledge of GFM. The course provided a good foundation for the joint assignment and set me up for success, but like many joint billets, much of the learning was on the job. Once I arrived, I found that it was interesting work and satisfying to be part of a team contributing to a warfighting command’s mission. While only a few joint professional military education (JPME) graduates will likely experience this exact scenario, most will be involved with or affected by GFM in their follow-on assignments. They may serve on a CCMD staff, the Joint Staff, a service headquarters, or various other billets that provide input to or receive the outcome of GFM. Can the joint force afford a lack of understanding of this important area and its processes? Based on my experience, I believe we cannot. All joint officers need a working knowledge of GFM to support the warfighting mission of their command. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) identification of GFM as a special area of emphasis in JPME is a step in this direction. Understanding GFM enables joint officers to positively affect the process rather than becoming “victims” of GFM.
GFM as a New Special Area of Emphasis
The Chairman recently directed special emphasis on GFM in JPME. In an unclassified but not publicly released December 2022 memorandum sent to the services and National Defense University, the Chairman at the time, General Mark Milley, established GFM as one of three new special areas of emphasis for JPME in academic years 2024 and 2025. Why GFM, and not another of the myriad acronyms commonly used as a verb and noun in DoD parlance? GFM is certainly not new and has had some place in most JPME curricula for some time. According to the memorandum, a 2021 study team “identified a lack of understanding of GFM throughout the [j]oint force” and recommended that GFM be specifically required in JPME. The memo also states that “GFM is the action that links the [j]oint force to operational demand. Specifically, it is the way the Department of Defense (DoD) links combatant command (CCMD) requirements with force provider capabilities and capacities.” That sounds a lot like something we strive to teach and emphasize here at the Army War College, especially in our Military Strategy and Campaigning course.
More Than Just the “Three A’s” What is GFM?
GFM has its statutory foundation in Title 10 US Code. It is a series of five related, integrated processes: directed readiness, assignment, allocation, apportionment, and assessment—not just the “three A’s” of assignment, allocation, and apportionment that most officers are familiar with. GFM is not perfectly sequential but put simply (descriptions of the five processes are paraphrased from the CJCS memo, which references the GFM Implementation Guidance, except where otherwise noted or linked):
The Secretary of Defense (SecDef) directs the Services to provide certain force elements at specific levels of readiness via the Directed Readiness Tables (DRTs, managed by the Joint Staff J8) to execute the National Defense Strategy and make them available to the joint force for a contingency. Think “have these forces ready, in this quantity and readiness level, for this period of time.”
The SecDef assigns (via the “Forces For Unified Commands” memo assignment tables, managed by Joint Staff J8) forces to CCMDs and the U.S. Element of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (USELEMNORAD) for operational use to accomplish authorized missions. The services retain some forces for training, readiness, or to perform service-specific functions. Think “you can have these forces, with combatant command (COCOM) authority, to use as you see fit to accomplish assigned missions.”
The SecDef allocates, or temporarily redistributes, forces amongst CCMDs to accomplish directed missions. The annual GFM Allocation Plan (GFMAP, managed by Joint Staff J3) communicates these allocations for a fiscal year. Forces are further redistributed as needed (via the Secretary of Defense Orders Book (SDOB)) amongst CCMDs to meet emergent operational needs throughout the year. These reallocations are temporary, with the timing directed by the SDOB. Think “you can have these forces temporarily, under a specified command and control arrangement for a specific period of time, to use as needed to accomplish assigned missions. This may change throughout the year.”
The Chairman informs planning via apportionment. Services, in the words of one Joint Staff speaker, “report back” quarterly on how they are meeting the readiness requirements and what capabilities (not specific forces) can reasonably be expected to be available for planning across the joint force (via apportionment tables, managed by Joint Staff J8). Think “these are the capabilities, limited by what we actually have in the inventory, that your planners can expect to have available if a plan has to be executed.”
The Chairman assesses and evaluates how the process worked and identifies imbalances over a certain period of time, making necessary recommendations and adjustments (managed by Joint Staff J8). Think “Did we get it right? Are we balanced? Ready enough? What do we need to change?”
Back to allocation, the most familiar of the five processes. This is where emergent Requests for Forces (RFFs) are validated and, if approved and sourced, result in an adjustment to the GFMAP and a force transfer in support of an operation or CCMD. Allocation generally gets the most attention (and contention) throughout the year as new requirements emerge and create a need to redistribute finite forces. But allocation and the process of reallocating forces as requirements emerge is just one part of the process. How forces are assigned and allocated in the first place across the CCMDs and how the services man, train, and equip their capabilities to provide to the joint force is critically important. According to one Joint Staff expert, getting that part right upfront can reduce churn in the allocation process throughout the year.
Why It Matters
The Chairman’s memo states that “GFM is an integral and statutory part of [j]oint military planning and execution at the OSD, Joint Staff, Military Department and Service, and CCMD levels” and is one way that the Secretary and Chairman exercise statutory requirements. It is part of the Joint Strategic Planning System (JSPS), which enables the Chairman to maintain a global perspective and provide military advice for the Secretary and President. GFM directly impacts how a Combatant Command is resourced to fulfill its regional and global missions, and it drives how the services man, train, equip, and maintain the readiness of the forces they provide to the CCMDs.
But what if an officer or DoD civilian never (or hopes to never) directly work in the GFM world? As a JPME graduate and future joint officer, why does GFM matter? Although there are staff assigned specifically to GFM billets at joint and combatant commands, GFM cannot simply be treated as something “the GFM guys” do and understand, a phenomenon I sometimes experienced in my joint assignment. Simply knowing the basic terminology may not be enough for a joint officer to effectively do their job in the joint force and advocate for resources for their command’s mission. A JPME graduate should expect to be involved in or impacted by all GFM processes. Even if they are not directly involved, knowing how it works will enable them to assist their commander in articulating resource requirements and risk. Not understanding it or assuming others will take care of it could be a disservice to the whole organization. Knowing how to define requirements and risk within the construct of the GFM system can lead to better decisions on the right distribution of resources at the right time across the joint force.
Getting After GFM in JPME
GFM is a complex animal, and it would be a challenge for any JPME program to teach it in full detail. Add to that competition with other valid topics for finite space in a packed curriculum, and the challenge increases. As one way to address the new Chairman’s directive here at Carlisle, the Department of Military Strategy, Planning and Operations is incorporating a new lesson specifically addressing Global Integration and GFM. This will build on previous lessons and provide students an opportunity to “apply GFM concepts to the [j]oint planning execution processes that implement national, defense, and military strategy objectives,” as directed in the CJCS memo. To really capitalize on this knowledge, however, JPME students should get additional “reps and sets” on GFM across multiple courses, particularly in exercises and wargames, which are part of the core curriculum. Students can choose to go further through the selection of several elective courses that include GFM in the curriculum, but this is limited to those students who self-select. Ideally, JPME should strive to integrate GFM fundamentals into the core curriculum and apply them when exercising the Joint Planning Process and the JSPS. Other JPME institutions have taken a similar approach, and collaboration between the schoolhouses will only strengthen the effort.
Global Force Management is an important part of how we resource the joint force and ensure commanders have the capabilities they need to conduct joint warfighting. Graduates of JPME need to show up to their next jobs with a better understanding of GFM and how the joint force implements it. The Chairman’s directive sets the right direction for GFM in JPME to address this need. It is up to the JPME schoolhouses to implement this guidance and improve the “GFM IQ” of our joint officers.
Bill Donnelly is a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps currently serving as a Faculty Instructor and as the Marine Corps Senior Service Representative at the U.S. Army War College. His last assignment was as commanding officer of Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22 in Corpus Christi, TX. He is a 2017 graduate of the U.S. Army War College resident course.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense.
Photo Description: Recruits with Echo Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, complete obstacles during the Crucible at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Feb, 21. The Crucible is a 54-hour culminating event that requires recruits to work as a team and overcome challenges in order to earn the title United States Marine.
Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Warrant Officer Bobby J. Yarbrough/Released