Lessons learned: Information-gathering process

Defense Department officials are sifting through mounds of data and hundreds of interviews from the war in Iraq to assess what lessons should be passed along to future warfighters.

DOD's Joint Forces Command has assembled a team of a few dozen individuals to collect relevant data and write what DOD officials call "after-action reports." The goal is to determine what did and did not work during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The teams have interviewed more than 400 key leaders and staff officers and assembled some 4,000 data files from actions, activities and briefings. They are now combing through the information to decide what might be useful to future combatants.

"We've set the stage for future crises in how we gather lessons learned," said Marine Maj. Gen. Gordon Nash, commander of the command's Joint Warfighting Center, during a June 3 Pentagon briefing.

The group began collecting data March 6, before hostilities began, he said. The teams traveled with frontline troops and were given unlimited access throughout the campaigns.

Army Brig. Gen. Robert Cone, director of the Operation Iraqi Freedom Joint Lessons Learned Collections Team, said warfighters were able to "exercise capabilities in a live environment on a scale and scope beyond our previous experience."

Helping "share and document the experiences for others to share...was the 'lessons' part," Cone said. "The 'learned' part is the really difficult part. The challenge is to really examine what happened, figure out why it happened and then determine what should be done about it."

Cone said collaboration tools have been invaluable, enabling officials to share information after the conflict to enhance future warfighting capabilities.

"The team collaborated on a daily basis using an online communications tool to discuss emerging insights, share feedback and provide cross-component collaboration," he said. "During these collaboration sessions, we would identify a data collection focus for the day based on relevant issues, problems or requests from the [Central Command] leaders."

Nash said some information that has already been analyzed is being reviewed by senior military leaders, and a series of reports expected later this summer will focus more closely on the experiences of combatant commanders.

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