By Katie Lange, DoD News, Defense Media Activity
If you’re in the military, it’s a pretty safe bet that you know how your service branch is organized. But each service is different, and if you work in a joint-service atmosphere, it might help you to know each branch’s chain of command.
Or you might just be a civilian who wants to know what a soldier means when he says, “I’m with Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.” Because, let’s be honest – that’s a lot harder to decipher than a civilian saying, “I work on the account management team.”
So if you’re not sure what the unit organization is for each Department of Defense service, here’s a cheat sheet for you.
Units from the bottom to the top:
Air Force structure is a bit of a mix of what you’ve already read above.
Everything above was pretty straightforward. The Navy’s structural organization? Not so much. Unlike the other branches, there are two chains of command in the Navy:
Operational, which carries out specific missions such as operations and exercises (aka- execution); and
Administrative, which takes care of personnel, education and training, repairs, supply chains, etc. (aka- readiness).
The two chains sometimes overlap, and depending on where you’re assigned, you might be part of both.
The Secretary of Defense can issue orders directly to the nine combatant commands, which are joint forces. The combatant commanders then issue Navy-related orders to their naval subordinates, component commanders who carry out operations that fall in that COCOM’s area of responsibility.
There are currently four component commands: Pacific Fleet, Naval Forces Europe, Naval Forces Central Command and Fleet Forces Command.
The component commanders have operational control over one or more of the numbered fleets. The numbered fleet commanders are vice admirals who command the ships, submarines and aircraft that are assigned to them.
There are six active fleets in the Navy, but they’re mostly too large for carrying out a specific operation, while individual ships, submarines, etc., are mostly too small for the task. So to carry out an order, the fleets can be divided into task forces, then task groups, then smaller task units and, if needed, task elements. Some fleets also have specifically grouped ships, like a carrier group, an expeditionary group, or a strike group.
When it comes to individual vessels, their operations are divided into departments, which can be broken into divisions. Sometimes smaller work centers are then formed.
If you’re in an aviation unit, you’re part of a squadron that’s part of an air wing that’s attached to a ship. That means you board the ship for drills, exercises and deployments, but otherwise, your home is a naval air station.
Then there are the Naval Construction Battalions (aka- SeaBees). They’re like the construction crew of the Navy and very similar to engineers in the Army. They build bases, roadways, airstrips and anything else that’s needed. Since they’re primarily land-based, their structure is more like that of the Army and Marine Corps.
Remember how I said there were two naval chains of command? Well, all that was just the first. Don’t forget about the second:
In the Department of the Navy, there is the civilian Secretary of the Navy and the military head known as the Chief of Naval Operations. The CNO is a four-star admiral who deals with all administrative matters and has several admirals, subordinate commanders and other staff working under him. These people help oversee specific functions within the Navy.
Then there are various commands:
Shore commands: These fall directly under the CNO. They are on-shore installations and facilities that support the fleets’ operating forces (ships, subs, etc.) with repairs, fuel, ammunition, training and medical help, among other things. The Office of Naval Intelligence, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command and Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center are examples of shore commands.
Systems commands: These oversee technical requirements of the Navy. There are five: Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Naval Supply Systems Command, and Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
Type commands: For personnel, training and repairs issues, two of the Navy’s fleets – Pacific and Atlantic – are broken down further, with each having a command based on type: the Naval Surface Force, Naval Submarine Force, and Naval Air Force. The commanders of each of those coordinate to make sure their resources and procedures are compatible so it’s easier for sailors to transfer from coast to coast or command to command. Under the type commands are further breakdowns: Groups and ship squadrons or air wings.
Whew. That’s a lot, I know. To help, here’s an example of how it could work for an individual sailor:
You’ve been assigned to a destroyer. That means you’re basically assigned two different chains of command.
Administratively, your immediate supervisor would likely be the commander of a squadron or air wing, followed by the group commander and then either the type, system or shore command. As you do your duties, you would also be assigned to the fleet that corresponds with your home port. This will always remain the same as long as you’re assigned to that ship, sub, etc.
Operationally, things change when you deploy. You essentially leave your home port’s fleet and transfer into the fleet that corresponds with your ship’s new AOR. You then follow that operational chain of command, all the way up to the combatant commanders. If a mission comes up, your destroyer may be assigned to a task force, group, etc., to accomplish the task. Once it’s complete, your ship will continue on its routine schedule.
Still confused? You’re not alone. In fact, in the Bluejacket’s Manual that is essential for all sailors, one of the first things it says is, “Before trying to understand how the U.S. Navy is organized, you should be forewarned that it is complicated.”
So if you still have questions, you might want to reach out to any sailors you know to have them explain it!
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