20-05 - Commander and Staff Guide to Liaison Function

By Center for Army Lessons LearnedDecember 30, 2019

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL


Liaison officer (LNO) functions are critical to the successful integration of diverse capabilities across military and civilian domains. Despite the importance of these functions, the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) continues to capture observations which indicate significant issues concerning the selection, training, and employment of LNOs.

In August 1998, the Air Land Sea Application (ALSA) Center published the Joint Task Force (JTF) Liaison Handbook, which provided planning and execution guidance to units providing and receiving LNOs at the JTF level. That handbook provided valuable planning and execution guidance, but was written specifically for LNOs operating within a JTF. The ALSA Center handbook was retired in January 2003.

LNO operations are discussed in several Army and Joint doctrinal publications, and are the subject of numerous articles; however, there has been no single reference source commanders and staffs can use to select, train, and employ LNOs since the ALSA Center handbook.

This handbook is designed to provide planning and execution guidance in a single source document. Unless otherwise indicated, the information found in this handbook is primarily extracted from the ALSA Center’s JTF Liaison Handbook. It also incorporates Army doctrine and feedback from both U.S. and international LNOs.

Tips throughout this handbook are provided by LTC Ren Angeles, former LNO to U.S. Forces Afghanistan, from a report he wrote for CALL titled, Broadening Stint as a Liaison Officer (Lessons, Myths and Legends), which can be found on the Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLIS) website. (Common access card [CAC] required for access here: https://www.jllis.mil/?doit=view&disp=cdrview&cdrid=126838)


LNOs facilitate communication between elements of an organization to ensure mutual understanding and unity of purpose and action. Liaison is the most commonly employed technique for establishing and maintaining close, continuous, physical communication between commands. Typically, LNOs are exchanged between higher, lower, or adjacent units. When working in a combined forces environment, liaison assignments should be reciprocal. Additionally, LNOs may be provided from government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, or private voluntary organizations. The primary focus of this handbook is to describe the duties, responsibilities, and planning considerations for exchanging LNOs between organizations.

LNO requirements are determined based on the command relationships established and the anticipated support requirements necessary to accomplish the assigned mission. The commander has several options available for organizing forces. In a JTF operation, the commander may decide to organize by service component, functional component, or subordinate JTFs, or by a combination of these methods. Each of these organizational options has implications on the LNO requirements sent to the headquarters.


LNOs perform several critical functions that are consistent across the full range of military operations. The extent that these functions are performed depends on the mission and the charter established by the sending organization’s commander. A successful LNO performs four basic functions: monitor, coordinate, advise, and assist.

Monitor: The LNO must monitor the operations of both the receiving and sending organizations, and understand how each affects the other. At a minimum, the LNO must monitor the current and planned operations, understand and monitor pertinent staff issues, and anticipate potential problems. Additionally, in order to lend insight to the sending commander, the LNO monitors the operating styles of the commanders and their staffs. The LNO must possess the training and experience needed to understand the receiving unit’s staff processes.

Coordinate: The LNO helps synchronize current operations and future plans between the sending organization and the receiving organization. This is done by coordinating activities between elements of the receiving unit, and the commander and staff of the sending unit.

Advise: The LNO is the receiving unit’s expert on the sending command’s capabilities and limitations. The LNO must be able to advise the receiving commander and staff on the optimum use of the sending command he represents.

Assist: The LNO must assist on two levels. First, the LNO should act as the conduit between the sending command and the receiving command. Second, by integrating into the receiving command and attending various boards, meetings, and planning sessions, the LNO can ensure those groups make informed decisions concerning the utilization of the unit he represents.


LNOs are the personal and official representatives of the sending organization’s commander. They are authorized direct face-to-face liaison with the receiving commander. As such, LNOs require the special confidence of both the sending and receiving commanders. LNOs remain in the chain of command of the sending organization. They are not staff augmentees or watch officers assigned to the receiving unit’s operations center, and they are not viewed as full-time planners. LNOs must retain the flexibility and freedom of action required to perform the broader functions they are tasked with by the sending organization’s commander.

Choosing, preparing, and properly dispatching the LNO/LNO team is critical to their effectiveness. Commanders make a conscious trade-off between extensive preparation of the LNO, and expeditiously dispatching the LNO in order to begin coordination and information exchange. In all cases, the LNO and the receiving headquarters should understand the limits of the LNO’s authority, which is best specified in writing.

Because the timing decision for dispatching the LNO is generally a sending commander’s decision, the receiving organization must communicate any limitations or special requirements early, so as to preclude potential problems. Early LNO/LNO team effectiveness results from a well-planned reception and rapid integration into the receiving headquarters staff.

The use of LNOs is not a substitute for transmitting critical information through normal command and control channels. Likewise, LNOs are not a replacement for proper staff-to-staff coordination.

This publication provides commanders with a single, consolidated handbook to assist in their efforts to place more qualified and better prepared liaison individuals and elements within a higher headquarters. Additionally, this publication will shorten the LNO’s learning curve for exercises and operational contingencies.

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