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Heading to a Joint Assignment? Complete Phase II of Joint Professional Military Education (JPME)

by Thang Q. Tran

It is an exciting time of the year as Assignment Officers and Detailers notify individuals of their upcoming assignments. A select group of field grade officers from across the Department of Defense will get assigned to a position listed on the Joint Duty Assignment List (JDAL) within a joint organization. If you are one of those individuals, enroll and complete Phase II of Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) through the Joint and Combined Warfighting School (JCWS) at the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) prior to showing up to your next assignment.

What is Joint Professional Military Education Phase II?

The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1987 (Goldwater-Nichols Act) requires the Department of Defense to develop and implement a program for joint education. Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) satisfies this requirement through a two-phase approach. Phase I provides an introductory baseline of the complexities facing the joint force and is often a block of instruction within the curriculum taught at service staff colleges. Phase II builds on the previous baseline and individuals’ understanding of the roles and responsibilities of their respective services, incorporating the holistic joint force through the execution of the Joint Planning Process.

Ultimately, through a ten-week residence course at Norfolk, Virginia, the JCWS prepares field grade officers to “lead joint planning efforts, integrate the creativity of operational art with the analytical and logical process of operational design, and be proficient with the Joint Planning Process (JPP) as the application framework to develop theater strategies and operational plans in a complex global operating environment.”

Requirements for JPME Phase II

For officers, there are several basic requirements to attend JPME Phase II such as being a grade of O4 or higher, possessing a Bachelor’s Degree, and having a current secret security clearance. There are two additional requirements. First, officers must have credit for JPME Phase I to be eligible to attend JPME Phase II. Just like any policy, there are waivers available per CJCSI 1800.01F, Officer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP) to approve a direct-entry waiver to attend JPME II without completion of JPME Phase I. If the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff grants the waiver, the officer must complete the preparatory Joint Transition Course (JTC) the week prior to JCWS start date at JFSC in Norfolk, VA. Additionally, graduates must be assigned to a Standard Joint Duty Assignment (S-JDA) as their next assignment following graduation unless waived on a case-by-base basis by the USD(P&R).

Benefits of Completing JPME Phase II

Network with Joint Teammates. Most officers attend JPME Phase II with anywhere from 12-18 years of service, often with only knowledge and experience from within their specific service. JPME Phase II is frequently the first opportunity for officers to engage with their peers from sister services to exchange service specific warfighting capabilities and share insights into service culture. This experience not only broadens an officer’s understanding of the joint force, but better enables navigation of the joint environment. It is these peer-to-peer relationships, built during the course, that allow officers to solve the complex issues facing our nation across multiple combatant and functional commands.

Understand Strategic Guidance. As an officer transitions into the Joint Environment, they are often moving from the tactical level into the operational and/or strategic levels. This transition requires a new understanding of the operational environment. As such, JPME Phase II reviews our Nation’s strategic documents ranging from the National Security Strategic Guidance, National Defense Strategy, National Military Strategy, and Campaign Plans from across the Joint Force. Additionally, class discussions further expand an officer’s perspective due to the diverse composition of each seminar from across the joint force and warfighting function.

Learn Joint Doctrine. Beyond review of strategic documents, JPME Phase II places heavy emphasis on Joint Doctrine. Utilizing doctrine as the foundation, seminars explore case studies and practical exercises as a staff to operationalize doctrine in practice. In today’s environment, an officer can expect to take part or lead an Operational Planning Team (OPT) to solve a complex problem facing the command. A firm understanding of the Joint Planning Process (JPP) helps officers to manage an OPT through the establishment of a battle rhythm, communicating commander’s intent to the team, and facilitating necessary inputs from across the staff by warfighting function.

A recent study by RAND Corporation revealed that only about 25% of officers in the grade of O4 attend JPME Phase II prior to their S-JDA tour. This is an alarming figure, as these officers require the most preparation for the transition away from tactical level planning to operational level thinking.

Write an Academic Publishable Essay. A requirement for the course is to research and write an Academic Publishable Essay with one to two classmates on an operational or strategic topic applicable to the Joint Force. Use this opportunity to prepare yourself for your next assignment. If you know your pinpoint position, whether a functional team or regional desk, gain insights from your next organization to research and write about a topic that matters to your future assignment. The research will better prepare you for your next assignment and could lead to the discovery of a different operational approach or policy recommendation.

Timing While on Assignment. As mid-career professionals, it only gets tougher to balance work and life. For that reason, I recommend attending JPME Phase II during a transition period between jobs to help limit potential competing requirements. Depending on your family situation and class dates, kids can finish school prior to the move, visit relatives prior to an overseas assignment, or accompany you to Norfolk, VA.

Earn Level III Joint Qualified Officer (JQO). An officer receives the designation as a Joint Qualified Officer (JQO) following completion of JPME Phase I, JPME Phase II, and a Full Joint Tour. A Full Joint Tour is obtained by meeting the time requirements in a Standard JDAL billet (S-JDA), the Experience based Self-Nomination process (E-JDA), or a combination of the two. For this article, I will focus on the S-JDA method which requires 24 months of service in a JDAL billet, waivable down to 22 months and one day. This is important to note, as joint assignments are often two years (24 months) and temporary duty of 30 days or longer away from an officer’s joint organization for service-specific training (pre-command or joint professional military education) will not count toward the 24-month minimum for joint credit.

Way Forward. If you get a phone call or email from your Detailer or Branch Manager assigning you to a JDAL billet, work with your current chain of command and gaining unit to see if attending JPME Phase II is feasible during the transition period. The summer Permanent Station Change window is quickly approaching, with two JPME Phase II classes coming up: JCWS 22-2 (04 April – 10 June 2022) and JCWS 22-3 (21 June – 26 August 2022). If unable to attend, check out the schedule for future courses and see if any of them fit your personal and professional timelines.


Major Thang Tran is an active duty Army officer serving with a joint headquarters at Stuttgart, Germany. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy (BS), Naval Postgraduate School (MS in Defense Analysis) and Mississippi State University (MBA). The views expressed in this article do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense of the U.S. Government.

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