Why the A-Staff? Published June 1, 2023 By Col Christopher M. Auger and Lt Col Joseph R. Witherspoon Wild Blue Yonder -- Imperative for Change The US may now face adversaries capable of wielding a disruptive and dangerous operational reach with mass, precision, and speed in all domains. This increasingly complex environment requires the Air Force to shift away from centralized organizational constructs that were shaped around specialized functions too cumbersome in peer conflict. It needs to adopt an organization that empowers mission command, enables subordinate decision-making, and provides Airmen freedom of action to succeed in dynamic environments. The USAF and our Airmen have been employed under the current wing organizational construct for more than 20 years during which we have learned some valuable lessons. While this model served us well in permissive environments, a new construct is required to combat the full spectrum of threats, from natural disasters to peer competitors. To prevail against multi-domain threats in tomorrow’s combat environment and maximize preparedness for crisis at home station, wings must deliberately operationalize how they execute distributed control. The Continental Staff System is a time-tested framework that meets this pressing need. Therefore, the CSAF has directed the reorganization of all wing headquarters to include an A-Staff both in garrison and when deployed. A-Staff implementation creates a deliberate crisis planning capability at the wing echelon and provides the foundational element for the wing commander’s command and control (C2) of assigned and attached forces. Value of the A-Staff The Wing A-Staff represents a change to the traditional wing structure by adding an operational focus to the wing staff. The current structure optimizes garrison efficiency at the expense of combat effectiveness. Staff functions supporting operations, maintenance, and the installation are interspersed among groups and squadrons without a permanent mechanism to synthesize information before reaching the wing commander, cross-functionally integrate decisions and guidance, or synchronize actions and operations. The creation of a full-time functional staff consolidates related staff functions and the requisite functional expertise at the wing headquarters to ensure unity of effort before a crisis occurs. By aligning the reorganized wing headquarters with Air Force higher headquarters and joint/coalition partners through the adoption of a similar staff structure, the A-Staff provides recognizable touchpoints to speed the flow of information. The improved recognition and communication will enable more rapid and effective integration and minimize higher headquarters (HHQ) staffs reaching into operational squadrons. These properly sourced, trained, and empowered A-Staffs will cultivate the internal and external relationships needed for success, thereby increasing the wing’s capacity to plan, coordinate, and communicate vertically and horizontally to meet the commander’s intent. In the deployed environment, the adoption of the wing staff provides a mission-centric organizational construct that is adaptive, agile, survivable, and capable of decentralized execution in contested, degraded, or operationally limited environments. Overall, an operationally focused staff results in streamlined coordination, empowered units focused on mission execution, optimized wing readiness, and better integration with HHQ and joint staff structures. In addition to the benefit the wing gains by operationalizing the staff and inculcating an effective, deliberate decision-making culture, the wing A-Staff provides benefits to Airmen and the joint force. Implementation of the A-Staff enables our Airmen to gain valuable experience much earlier in their careers. Officers and NCOs selected for A-Staff duty will undergo specialized staff education and training and will gain exposure to the dynamics associated with solving complex cross-functional problems. Ultimately, this produces Airmen with a broader mission perspective. Airmen will have a deeper understanding of the joint operating concept, be better prepared to integrate airpower with joint partners, and gain foundational experience that will posture them for future leadership challenges. The Continental Staff is the standard Air Force, Joint and Combined headquarters C2 structure. The Continental structure forms the intellectual core of any military organization and has continually evolved since the Napoleonic Wars. As the scope and complexity of conflict have expanded, staffs have evolved to deal with all aspects of military activities. This staff structure is tailored to support our military’s system of command, control, and organization, and provides commanders in all units and at all echelons with consistency in performance, responsibility, training, and resourcing. It is cross-functionally organized to enhance effectiveness through timely and relevant integration and synchronization of information, analysis, and plans to support wing decision-making and execution. Identifying Staff Functions When rebalancing traditional wing functions to build an A-Staff, the following rationale guided the identification of the existing wing functions the staff is expected to perform: Staff functions support the commander with timely and pertinent information, focused on resourcing, policy, oversight, and guidance. They synthesize information from multiple wing organizations, are planning-centric, and facilitate coordination with parent and adjacent staff organizations. Ultimately, staff functions enable line units and assist them in mission execution. Line functions are directly involved in execution and expend resources allocated to them according to applicable policy, guidance, and plans. Their actions usually result in a physical change to the environment (e.g., repairing and flying aircraft, serving meals to Airmen, setting up a radio antenna, etc.). They derive from command authorities to accomplish their specific organization’s mission. A-Staff Composition The functional Wing A-Staff consists of a set of distinct directorates led by the Chief of Staff. Each directorate provides specialized expertise and coordinates across directorates as a cross-functional team to gather information, analyze problems, develop solutions, and make recommendations to the commander. Staff functions, along with the accompanying staff work and associated personnel, will migrate to the wing from the squadron and group level to form the Wing A-Staff. The A-Staff in Action The value an A-Staff can provide through cross-functional staff collaboration has been demonstrated in recent examples. In August 2021, the 4th Fighter Wing’s A-Staff played a vital role in the effort to prepare for and execute the Afghan refugee evacuation and reception at Holloman Air Force Base. With a footprint of 185 personnel, the A-Staff established a battle rhythm, enabled cross-functional problem-solving, and provided direct support to the Task Force Holloman Commander (TF/CC), which enabled the execution of a complex humanitarian operation with minimal prior planning. The A-Staff maintained accountability of wing personnel, managed information sharing and reporting in a complex multi-stakeholder environment, supported the execution of interagency requirements, and monitored logistics to support camp operations. Directors worked together under the Chief of Staff to coordinate information, develop courses of action (COA), and advise the TF/CC on the decisions required to successfully resettle over 2,000 Afghan evacuees. This task-organized team was indispensable in creating a C2 structure to build a camp capable of receiving thousands of Afghan personnel in under a week, demonstrating agility in a crisis. Conclusion The Wing A-Staff represents a key element of the Air Force’s adaptation to an evolving strategic environment that demands an agile, mission-centric organizational construct. Experimentation and recent real-world Wing A-Staff application have demonstrated multiple benefits that support commanders’ decision-making processes and enable C2 of wing operations, especially for A-Staffs that were able to exercise, train, and collaborate over time. An operationally focused standing staff strengthens the wing echelon to conduct high-tempo operations by developing information and coordinating wing functions, thereby freeing line units to focus on mission execution. Additionally, the A-Staff provides a recognizable and accessible structure to improve integration and communication with HHQ and joint partners, as well as professional development opportunities through practical experience with functional counterparts. Col Christopher M. Auger Col Auger is the Deputy Director for Joint and National Security Council Matters at Headquarters Air Force. He is an F-15E Weapon Systems Officer and graduate of the USAF Weapons School. He has served as the vice wing commander at a deployed location and recently led the Headquarters Air Force Expeditionary A-Staff Operational Planning Team. Lt Col Joseph R. Witherspoon Lt Col Witherspoon is the Deputy Division Chief for Command and Control, Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Headquarters Air Force. He is a Senior Air Battle Manager with operational experience across multiple Battle Management Command and Control positions and is a graduate of USN Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and Marine Corps Command and Staff College. NOTES [1.] Department of the Air Force, Agile Combat Employment, Air Force Doctrine Note 1-21 (Maxwell AFB: LeMay Doctrine Center, 23 August 2022), https://www.doctrine.af.mil/Portals/61/documents/AFDN_1-21/AFDN%201-21%20ACE.pdf. [2.] Sandeep Mulgund, “Evolving the Command and Control of Airpower,” Wild Blue Yonder, 21 April 2021, https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Wild-Blue-Yonder/Article-Display/Article/2575321/evolving-the-command-and-control-of-airpower/. [3.] “The General Staff System: Basic Structure” Veritas 7, no. 2 (2011): 43. https://arsof-history.org/articles/v7n2_general_staff_system_page_1.html. [4.] J. D. Hittle, The military staff: its history and development (Military Service Division, Stackpole Co, Harrisburg, Pa., [1961, ©1952]) [5.] Staff Sgt. Kenneth Boyton, "Arrival to Task Force - Holloman from start to finish,” Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, September 15, 2021, https://www.dvidshub.net/news/405317/arrival-task-force-holloman-start-finish. [6.] The authors would like to thank the following people for their time and expertise in contributing to and reviewing this document: Lucy Yarosh, Lance Burnett, Eric Neilsen, Dr. Sandeep Mulgund, Col Scott Johnson, Margot LeBeouf, Mickey Addison, Robert Awtrey, Christian Negron, Charlie Veeck.