Keeping Marines out of the danger zone
- By Dan Verton
- Jun 14, 1998
In December 1992, Marine Lt. Col. Carl R. Bott was walking the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. He was there as part of a small, special operations team that was assigned to reconnoiter the city before the main landing force of Operation Restore Hope arrived to deliver food and water to the war-torn country. He had no portable information technology support, and Bott thought that if he were forced to leave the city, he had no way of finding his way out in a hurry.
Less than a year later, Bott's worst fear came true. Eighteen soldiers from the U.S. Army's elite Ranger and Delta Force units were killed in an ambush while attempting to apprehend several followers of Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed. When rescue convoys were dispatched to save the soldiers, a rudimentary command and control system failed to provide critical escape route information in time to save their lives.
Bott, a 27-year veteran of the Marine Corps, now heads up the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. He is at the heart of a revolution that may one day help prevent disasters such as the failed Somalia raid. "I never want to think that a system we're building will leave a Marine without the capability to tell where he is on the battlefield or not be able to reach back to headquarters for help in a timely manner," Bott said.
Deep in the heart of the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Va., known to Marines as the "Crossroads of the Marine Corps," Bott hands all his new staff members— Marine and civilian contractors alike— a written, detailed account of the Somalia battle. For Bott, it is required reading for anybody planning to build a command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) system for the Marines.
Bott, who reported for duty at the Marine Corps' new Warfighting Laboratory in October 1997, is taking aim at making a real difference during his last tour in the Corps. The advanced warfighting experiment, Urban Warrior, which marks the second phase of the Marine Corps' five-year experimentation plan for developing new technologies, will wrap up a distinguished career that has taken Bott from the infantry to the intelligence community and from Operation Desert Storm to Bosnia.
More than a quarter of a century after his Marine Corps journey began, Bott's leadership style has resisted the temptation to change, making it highly appropriate for the work being done at the Warfighting Lab. "I've always tried to give people as much leeway as possible. I try to define the parameters for them," Bott said. However, "some people need more guidance than others, and that's fine."
To help guide a staff of highly educated civilian contractors with no military experience, Bott issued them rifles, grenades, helmets and flak jackets, and sent them to Combat Town, the Marine Corp's urban-warfare training facility, to take part in exercises with the 5th Marine Regiment. While there, civilian men and women were taught how to attack buildings and fight in a city. Before it was over, two of the contractors had to be evacuated via helicopter for minor injuries.
"This really opened their eyes," Bott said. "They learned what it was like not to be able to see or hear during an attack. You have to show them what you're trying to build, and unless they've been there it's really difficult to do."
Although some of his contractors may not have been up to the challenge of urban warfare, Bott expressed a great deal of respect for the technical contributions they are making to the C4I development effort.
"These people are literally rocket scientists," he said. "And I'm not about to start talking widgets with them. What I provide is a focus and a direction."
It is the operational experience gained from assignments in the Fleet Marine Force that gives Bott his ability to know when a technology is more of a hindrance to Marines than a useful tool. He has been a rifle platoon commander, the operations officer for a surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence group, the intelligence officer for a Marine expeditionary unit and has earned a master's degree in strategic intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College.
"[Operation] Desert Storm had a tremendous impact on me and validates everything we're doing here at the lab," Bott said. "What we are trying to do is narrow down this frenzied technology search and develop things we really need."
Bott will lead the C4I Division through next year's Urban Warrior exercise and then he will contemplate retirement. Until that time, he's committed to ensuring that his staff develops technologies that really work and will make a difference for the Marines who will be using them on the front lines. "I define success as developing a system that not only works but makes a difference," Bott said. "If Marines look at it and say it's too difficult to operate when they need it most,then I've failed."