Joint and combined operations are the wave of the future. So, what are they?
In milspeak, joint refers to having members from more than one service: Army and Marines, Soldiers and Sailors or some other combination. Combined speaks of having members from more than one nation, such as US and Canadian soldiers. Joint and Combined are both possible at once and are quite common in contingency operations around the world, from anti-terror missions to disaster relief efforts.
Naturally, this is a complicating factor. There is an old military joke. Each service is tasked with securing a building. The Army locks the doors at night. The Navy sweeps, mops, buffs the floors and empties the wastebaskets. The Air Force buys the building, the land and all associated rights. The Marines dig in fighting positions, set up weapons with interlocking fields of fire and begins construction of obstacles. There is more than a touch of truth to this. Each service has their own way of doing things and when they find themselves working together, each serviceman thrust into this situation has lessons to learn about what does and doesn’t make sense.
Some is obvious. Soldiers will tend to call any sergeant, whether a staff sergeant, master sergeant or some other type, “Sergeant.” Marines refuse to do this and will always use the full title. Marines who have never encountered this before have been known to get annoyed at this lack of respect.
There are attempts to solve this issue using traditional DoD methods. This means producing manuals that define words, as each service understands them and lessons on inter-service operations.
In practice, practice works best. When Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines work together they learn how each other service behaves and how they expect things to be done. This can be as simple as gathering up bodies to pick up trash on the road to as complex as how each service goes about getting their junior enlisted men promoted.
As is typical, it often falls to the senior NCO’s to handle the messy details. Senior NCOs gather together to identify and solve issues. They will then pass this result down their respective chains of command so everyone will know what to do.
The issue is far more complex when other nations are involved. Issues start big and only grow. It can be something taken for granted like the ability of radios to transmit on the same frequencies or the availability of sufficient translators. The problems of multiple translations, where military technical jargon is translated into one language, so one interpreter can talk to the other, who then translates into a third language for the other military force can only be imagined to those who haven’t experienced it. Again, the only real solution is exposure and training. Determining something as simple as when to salute someone whose rank you can’t identify can be quite a challenge in a multinational operation, but on the other hand, occasionally you can get access to an Italian dining facility.