Staff (military): Wikis


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Ramses II at Kadesh.jpgGustavus Adolphus at the Battle at Breitenfeld.jpgM1A1 abrams front.jpg Military history


A military staff is a group of officers and enlisted personnel that provides a bi-directional flow of information between a commanding officer and subordinate military units.

Officers oversee staff sections, Senior Enlisted Personnel task personnel in the maintenance of tactical equipment and vehicles. Senior Analysts are tasked with the finalizing of reports, and enlisted personnel participate in the acquisition of information from subordinate staffs and units.

The purpose of a military staff is mainly that of providing accurate, timely information which by category represents information on which command decisions are based. The key application is that of decisions that effectively manage unit resources. While information flow toward the commander is a priority, information that is useful or contingent in nature is communicated to lower staffs and units.



Prior to the late 18th century, there was generally no organizational support for staff functions such as military intelligence, logistics, planning or personnel. Unit commanders handled such functions for their units, with informal help from subordinates who were usually not trained for or assigned to a specific task.


Berthier and Napoleon

The first modern use of a General Staff was in the French Revolutionary Wars, when General Louis Alexandre Berthier was assigned as Chief of Staff to the French Army of Italy in 1795. Berthier was able to establish a well organized staff support team. Napoleon Bonaparte took over the army the following year and rapidly came to appreciate Berthier's system, adopting it for his own headquarters, although Napoleon's usage was limited to his own command group.

Prussian system

Prussia also adopted a similar system in the following years. Initially, the Prussian Army assigned a limited number of technical expert officers to support field commanders. Before 1805, however, reforms had added management of intelligence and contingency planning to the staff's duties. Later, the practice was initiated of rotating officers from command to staff assignments and back to familiarize them with both aspects of military operations, a practice that, with the addition of enlisted personnel, continues to be used.

After 1806, Prussia's military academies trained mid-level officers in specialist staff skills. In 1814, Prussia formally established by law a central military command General Staff and a separate General Staff for each division and corps.

Despite some professional and political issues with the Prussian system, their General Staff concept has been adopted by virtually all large armies in existence today.

Continental staff system

Most NATO countries have adopted the continental staff system (also known as the general staff system) in structuring their militaries' staff functions. In this system, which is based on one originally employed in by the French Army in the 19th Century, each staff position in a headquarters or unit is assigned a letter-prefix corresponding to the formation's element and one or more numbers specifying a role.

The element prefixes are:

  • J, for Joint (multiple services) headquarters
  • C, for combined headquarters (multiple nations) headquarters
  • S, for staff roles within headquarters of organizations commanded by a colonel or below (e.g., divisional brigades, regiments, groups, battalions, and squadrons; not used by all countries)

On some occasions the letter E can also be observed, though it is not an official term. In that case it's for element and it will be used to identify a small independent element, that is a part of a non-staff organization, i.e. an E3 is a operational element on a logistics site or a E4 is a logistics element on a forward medical support site.

The staff numbers are assigned according to custom, traceable back to French practice; 1 is not "higher" than 2:

Thus, the personnel officer of a naval headquarters would be referred to as N1. In reality, in large organizations each of these staff functions will require the support of its own large staff, so N1 refers both to the office and the officer in charge of it. The continental staff system can be carried down to the next level: J13 is thus the operations officer of the personnel office of a joint headquarters, but the exact definition of the roles at this level may vary. Below this, numbers can be attached following a hyphen, but these are usually only positional numbers assigned arbitrarily to identify individuals (G23-2 could be the budget officer in the operations section of the intelligence department; A11-1-1 might simply be a receptionist).

Personnel or administration (1)

The personnel and administration officer supervises personnel and administration systems. This department functions as the essential administrative liaison between the subordinate units and the headquarters, handling personnel actions coming from the bottom up (such as a request for an award be given to a particular soldier) or from the top down (such as orders being received from the army level directing a particular soldier be reassigned to a new unit outside the command). In army units, this person is often called the Adjutant.

Intelligence / security / information operations (2)

The intelligence section is responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence information about the enemy to determine what the enemy is doing, or might do, to prevent the accomplishment of the unit's mission. This office may also control maps and geographical information systems and data. At the unit level, the S2 is the unit's security officer, and the S2 section manages all security clearance issues for the unit's personnel.

Operations (3)

The operations office, which may include plans and training. The operations office plans and coordinates operations, and all things necessary to enable the formation to operate and accomplish its mission. In most units, the operations office is the largest of the staff sections and considered the most important. All aspects of sustaining the unit's operations, planning future operations, and additionally planning and executing all unit training, fall under the responsibility of operations. The operations office is also tasked with keeping track of the weekly training schedules.

Logistics (4)

The logistics office is responsible for managing logistical support and providing all manner of supplies and services such as ammunition, fuel, food, water, maintenance, materials, engineering, and transportation.

In U.S. military staff structure, all medical equipment, consumables, support equipment and vehicles, i.e., tents, ambulances, etc., are included in the Logistics office. All medical personnel are members of the Logistics team. The senior medical officer and/or senior medical enlisted member also report directly to the commanding officer. In other words, the medical support required by a unit is considered to be a logistics "function" and all that it takes to perform that functions are considered logistics "assets."

Plans (5)

The plans office, responsible for military affairs or strategy.

Communications or IT (6)

The communications office directs all communications and is the point of contact for the issue of communications instructions during operations as well as for communications troubleshooting. At the unit level, S6 is also usually responsible for all electronic systems within a unit to include computers, faxes, copy machines, and phone systems.

Training (7)

The training branch will organize and coordinate training activity conducted by a Headquarters and also supervise and support subordinate units.

Finance (8)

The finance branch, not to be confused with Administration from which it has split, sets the finance policy for the operation. Operationally, the Administration and Finance may be interlinked, but have separate reporting chains.


Civil Military Co-operation or Civil Affairs are the activities that establish, maintain, influence, or exploit relations between the military forces, the government or nongovernment civilian organisations and authorities, and the civilian populace in a friendly, neutral, or hostile area of operations in order to facilitate military operations and consolidate and achieve mission objectives. See Army FM 41-10

British / Commonwealth Divisional Staff

Up until relatively recently the UK operated its own system, with three branches:

G Branch. Responsible for operations and intelligence.

A Branch. The Administration branch responsible for all aspects of personnel management.

Q Branch. The Quartermaster branch responsible for logistic and equipment support.

Positions were labelled as follows:

GSO1. General Staff Officer (Grade 1). The chief of staff, ranked a lieutenant colonel or colonel. He was in charge of the General Staff Branch, responsible for training, intelligence, planning operations and directing the battle as it progressed. Most orders from the General Officer Commanding (GOC) were actually written up and signed by the GSO1.[2]

GSO2. General Staff Officer (Grade 2). Ranked a major.

GSO3. General Staff Officer (Grade 3). Ranked a captain.

See Also

See also


  1. ^ Joint Publication 1-02 DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms[1]
  2. ^ Australian Division HQ

Further reading

  • Hittle, James Donald The Military Staff: Its History and Development (Military Service Publishing, 1952).
  • Bartholomees, J. Boone Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 (University of South Carolina Press, 1998) ISBN1570032203.
  • Crosswell, D.K.R. The Chief of Staff: The Military Career of General Walter Bedell Smith (Greenwood Press, 1991) ISBN 0313274800.
  • Goerlitz, Walter History of the German General Staff 1657 - 1945 (Praeger 1954).
  • Jones, R. Steven J The Right Hand of Command: Use and Disuse of Personal Staffs in the American Civil War (Stackpole Books, 2000) ISBN 0811714519.
  • Koch, Oscar W. G-2: Intelligence for Patton: Intelligence for Patton (Schiffer Aviation History, 1999) ISBN 0764308009.
  • Watson, S.J. By Command of the Emperor: A Life of Marshal Berthier (Ken Trotman Ltd) ISBN 094687946X.

External links


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