Interview with Chiefs of Joint Operational Planning Groups during the exercise Joint Resolve 2021

On 10th-28th May, Baltic Defence College (BALTDEFCOL) conducts an exercise Joint Resolve 2021. Joint Resolve is a Combined Joint Staff Exercise, which is the Centre of Gravity of the Joint Command and General Staff Course (JCGSC) curriculum. It aims to formulate solutions to complex NATO Article 5 operational problems by developing an executable viable joint operational plan using standard NATO processes within an international staff.

The exercise is student-led and aims is to achieve understanding and skills that will enhance students effectiveness to contribute in planning and conduct of operations. BALTDEFCOL conducted an interview with two students, who are acting as Chief of Joint Operational Planning Group.

You are acting as Chief of JOPG, what do you think, why you were chosen to fill this role? What does it mean to you?

MAJ Darius Žukas: I am not sure why I was assigned to JOPG leader position, but I think this question is not so key. Important is - What can I do now for the Team to be effective and successful. To be JOPG leader for me, it is a huge privilege, honor, and responsibility. I proudly took this position as a sign of trust and possibility to grow together with my brothers and sisters from the course. I hope I will be able to justify Course leadership and course mates' expectations. I am looking forward to meeting any challenges on our way because they are the best teachers in our life. With the current JOPG team expertise, dedication and motivation, we can move mountains; thus, I am confident that it will be demanding but, at the same time, exciting journey. I believe and trust that our attack will be successful.

MAJ Riho Juurik: Although I am not aware of appointment criteria, I take Chief of JOPG appointment as recognition and feedback for the previous nine months of this course. I enjoy situations where I can be in a leadership position and feel the burden of responsibility on my shoulders.

What are your expectations to this role?

MAJ Darius Žukas: My expectations are very natural and straightforward. It is about the willingness to listen, learn and lead. The joy of responsibility is my crucial driver, which motivates me the most. I must be able to provide a clear purpose and guidance to show the right direction and encourage everyone to demonstrate their most significant potential. Everyone should feel satisfaction at the end of the day with the result achieved, and Team cohesion increased. This could be achieved only by working together as the TEAM. Life has proved Together Everyone achieves more. 

MAJ Riho Juurik: I saw this role as an ambitious and good opportunity to implement my own leadership abilities. It is undoubtedly challenging and stressful, but it is good to get feedback for the necessary development both as an individual and as a leader through it.

What are your goals as a Chief of JOPG?

MAJ Darius Žukas: My primary goal is to lead JOPG1 to success. It means solving the tasks decisively, following the commander’s intent while ensuring synergy and a positive learning environment. Together we must find the balance between the process and a good product at the end of the day. It is essential to understand and communicate in the most effective way that every person in the team matter. We should think creatively, use sound judgement, never wait for guidance and be proactive. We are preparing for war, which will be chaotic, devastating and bloody. There might be no better time to understand our own and potential adversaries' weaknesses and strengths, capabilities, and procedures and be ready to stand up, prepare and fight.

MAJ Riho Juurik: My goal is to lead and to be a part of a successful team with a good outcome from this exercise. I try to achieve this through two pillars: 1) create a work environment in which the team feels valued, has situational awareness and is motivated to contribute; 2) to create the best possible understanding of the JOPG planning process for both oneself and the team, together with its structure and the synchronization and integration of phases.

What are the qualities and traits that make a good Leader?

MAJ Darius Žukas: I highly believe that leadership is not a position is an action. We can lead only by being upfront, by building trust, showing respect and mutual understanding. A good leader can balance between mission, man and me. He/she should feel comfortable even when things go wrong. He/she should feel the joy of responsibility, the willingness to take high risk and allow personnel to learn from mistakes. A good leader constantly invests and cares about his personnel, he/she takes full responsibility of good or bad results, encourages initiative, ensures freedom and flexibility. He/she always provides clear and concise commander’s intent, without explaining How to do things, but rather trusting and empowering the personnel. It is hard 24-hour, 365-day dedicated work.

MAJ Riho Juurik: In my opinion, one of the most essential elements is that a good leader can analyze and reflect on herself/himself. This includes checking for negative qualities identified through self-discipline and exploiting good ones. I find this a difficult challenge for all of us, as it is a well-known truth that it is difficult to see oneself.

In addition, I would like to highlight three of all the other features that I have identified as one of the most important in my experience:

  • Identifying and implementing the strengths of each team member. I believe that a good leader contributes to getting to know his team and can find the strengths and weaknesses of each member and employ the team by applying the strengths of the members;
  • Timely made decisions. "Better wrong decision than indecision", decisions can always be corrected later, but the work stops if there is no decision. It is easy to misinterpret, so it must be understood that a prerequisite for this judgment is an adequate judgment of a good leader and, why not, a sense of stomach;
  • Being present. A good leader must be available, not only through an open office door but also mentally. He or she must develop meaningful job discussions that support the organization’s development and individuals.

What has been most difficult so far?

MAJ Darius Žukas: We are not organic, trained together team, but we are still doing our best with the time and resources available. We do not know our commander well, but we appreciate his flexibility, clear guidance and support. We are building the plane on a flight. Although college leadership have done tremendous work by enabling online learning, COVID restrictions influenced the quality of our educational process, and some knowledge gaps remain. However, we are using this exercise to show what we can and how good we are. We are happy to be back at the Baltic Defense College; we are happy to be pushed out the from our comfort zones. We know why we are here and what is expected from us.

MAJ Riho Juurik: Finding a balance between structuring work and achieving situational awareness. First, simply structuring the work of JOPG is not enough, as it was initially considered the role of leadership. There is quite a lot of decision-making, and it was my first learning recognition that a balance must be found between work-organization (process management) and achieving the situational awareness needed for decision-making. Initially, this was difficult because, at one point in the process, there could be about 10 different working groups (yet we acted as a small JOPG), all of which manage different information or perspectives and need a decision. Finding this balance was a key element for me in this exercise. In addition, I would point out the difficulty on the one hand, but an excellent opportunity to learn on the other. My commander in this exercise is Lieutenant General (ret.) Erhard Bühler, who has a great deal of experience. Interpreting and formulating his thoughts for JOPG as a guide is a good and developing challenge and an exciting experience for all our JOPG.

How do you see the importance of the exercise as the key events during the Joint Command and General Staff Course?

MAJ Darius Žukas: This exercise is the Centre of Gravity of the whole course. This is a culmination point of what we have learned. This is a unique possibility for us to apply our knowledge and demonstrate our ability to plan operations at the operational level. The exercise is demanding and intensive, however at the same time it is the best learning venue. We can learn from each other; we can learn from faculty members and our Commanders. This is a must event during the course to fill our knowledge reservoirs, understand the complexity and dynamic of the operational environment, and prepare for future modern battles. Thank you, all students and faculty members, for all your support – highly appreciated.

MAJ Riho Juurik: Based on dry theory, it is possible but still somewhat challenging to make things clear. Therefore, the exercise plays a vital role in the Joint Command and General Staff Course. During the exercise, we have integrated the previously learned theoretical knowledge and the process into one whole and have created common understandings about the JOPG planning process and its possible content.

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