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Commanders' Conference - a forum for maximum results

By Mr. David Taylor
First published in
SFOR Informer #87, May 10, 2000

Sarajevo - Like any large modern organisation, SFOR has a number of means of communications at its disposal. Many of them are extremely rapid but impersonal, while others such as Video Tele Conferencing (VTC) bridge the gap between distances by allowing the participants to see each other.

Brigadier Bernd Diepenhorst is not a man who has lost sight of the value of meeting face to face to discuss viewpoints and insights and ensure shared understanding of common organisational goals. As Chief of Staff of HQ SFOR, Diepenhorst has just successfully organised his second Commanders Conference in a little over three months.

The COMSFOR-led conference held at HQ SFOR, Ilidza 27 April, brought together the Command Group, the three division commanding generals, other key general officers and heads of immediate subordinate groups such as CJCMTF, CJPOTF, and SFOR Liaison to Croatia, in a one day forum of assessments, discussion and commander's intent.

"It is very important for the commanders not only to read the intent of COMSFOR via e-mail or through VTC, but through personal contact. It is helpful for them to get the desired emphasis from COMSFOR. The Conference does include briefings but that is not everything - briefings can be sent by other means. What is critical is that people meet, and the commander can emphasise his intent. This is very helpful."

This sort of contact is important at all levels according to Diepenhorst: "My impression in such a big multinational headquarters as this one is that you have to see people, visit their offices, say what you want and discuss it."

The Conference divided into two parts. The morning involved the entire group. In the afternoon, a smaller group made up of the HQ SFOR Command Group and the Divisional Commanders met. According to Diepenhorst "This was a small group meeting in very clear and open discussion" -- a forum designed to obtain maximum results.

The Conference offered a number of pertinent briefings and covered a wide range of topics, which included the current situation in BiH, the status of SFOR troops, environment, threat states, political assessments and the structure of the HQ.

Diepenhorst stressed that each Commander's Conference is preceded almost three weeks before by a Chief of Staffs' working group. The planning meeting for this last one took place in Mostar. "That is where we can get into fine details and decide what needs to rise up to the Commanders' level.

"This (the Commanders Conference) is identical to the way we do it in my home brigade (Diepenhorst commands the German 34 Armoured Brigade) and it is an excellent way of doing things."

There is a lot of work in the build up to a Commanders' Conference. "My main task is to prepare everything. Bring all the information together, prepare the briefings and facilitate everything. But there is a lot of work done by people who do not attend the conference. We produce some useful 'take home' materials, booklets and such like. Staff work extremely hard to produce these. I set a 1400 hours deadline, which everyone met, but the printers - they had to work until the early hours of the morning. After the conference I was able to thank them all on behalf of COMSFOR."

"This sort of work is good though because the staff have to concentrate on the production and they work in unison to produce the final information."

Asked what was the most important thing to come out of this conference for him as Chief of Staff, Diepenhorst has no hesitation: "I am always impressed on such occasions by the full co-operation of all the national contingents in SFOR. The commanders and soldiers understand SFOR's mission and work very hard to accomplish that mission in the most professional and effective way possible." But the Conference also had more to offer for this general who likes to stress the importance of personal contact: "I also get a personal reaction from the commanders. It is not a lecture with people listening and obeying. It is a very open discussion and there is give and take. So I get opinions from the commanders and that is very useful for our staff work here."