Wavell Room
Image default
International RelationsOpinionPeople and Leadership

Separated by a Common Language

England and America are two countries separated by a common language” (George Bernard Shaw).

Despite sharing a common heritage with the US and the special relationship that we share with them, I’ve found that we have more in common with our western European neighbours than we do with Americans. The differences that exist are magnified in the pressure cooker that is a coalition headquarters and with an increasing number of British officers and soldiers being embedded in US-led headquarters, Embeds are increasingly being relied upon by the US to deliver. However, acceptance in a US headquarters is a difficult path to navigate for a coalition officer, and easy one to misjudge if it the first time in this environment with no one to show you the ropes. This entry offers three areas that British embeds can address during their initial few months to get the most out of their embedded tour. As with everything, this is not an exhaustive list but observations formed from a particular perspective; I know that there are many more well developed viewpoints but these are three areas that I would have benefited from during my handover.

1.  Identify an opportunity to demonstrate competence early and deliver. The standard of coalition partner that the Americans have pushed on them varies. The US expects more from British embeds but there is a limited timeframe to demonstrate competence. In direct contrast to their bombastic stereotype, the US military are too polite to simply confront perceived incompetence. Instead, your tasks will be stealthily assimilated by others, leaving you with boring and often nugatory staff work. By demonstrating your competence early by delivering on a task sets the tone for the rest of your tour but this opportunity will often need to be sought out.

2.  Be a master of British doctrine and make the effort to understand US doctrine. The US view a working knowledge of doctrine as a hallmark of professionalism, often in direct contrast to the British approach of hiding our doctrinal competence under a bushel. The situation in the Combined Joint Operational Headquarters I served as an Embed is unique and neither countries doctrine is entirely sufficient to deal with the numerous varied problems sets. During planning cycles, the US are willing to deviate from their doctrine if there is a more appropriate British approach. Identifying and mitigating risk is an example of British doctrine offering a more complete process. However, if you don’t have a complete knowledge of British doctrine, you will be unable to offer a solution, and will miss the opportunity. Much like having a few words of local dialect when travelling, a basic understanding the US doctrine goes along away to demonstrating your willingness to integrate. All US doctrine is available from open source, and is the basis for operations. Army Doctrine Publications 3-0 (Operations), 5-0 (The Operations Process) and MDMP are a good place to start.

3.  Build relationships amongst the American Staff. War is, after all, a human endeavour. However, Americans do not have a culture of socializing outside of work which makes it difficult to establish these relationships. This is especially true if there are a large number of UK Embeds, as the default is to use the path of least resistance and retreat into a British clique. Developing the relationships takes patience and an element of tongue biting, but bears fruits in the end. While difficult to build, the relationships are much easier to destroy, especially in the age of Trump. No matter what their view of the sitting President, the US military will not criticise him as he is the Commander-in-Chief and will distance themselves from those that do. This builds on a pre-existing sensitivity to British criticism, for which there is increasing intolerance.

This short entry offers one perspective on integrating into a US HQ developed from my experience. By delivering early, demonstrating doctrinal competence and building relationships with the US counterparts, an embedded officer increases their potential for a more enjoyable tour and minimise the frustration that we all feel when working on the staff.

The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed via the contact form

British Army

Andy is currently serving.  He has served in a variety of Units in Germany and the UK, as well as on the staff at a Divisional HQ. He has completed two HERRICK tours and has attended an Overseas Staff College.

Related posts

Measuring What Matters: Why GDP Is Not Geopolitical Destiny

Charlie Bradbury

A “Once Was” Yelling at Clouds: Time for a Step Change in Armoured Vehicle Thinking?

Jason Thomas

Nixon’s Thumbprint

Thomas Magee

Leave a Comment