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FCW Insider: DOD and IT...two views

There are two items this week involving the military and IT. The first is the release of the Army's "history" on the war in Iraq, which has garnered a lot of attention since the New York Times broke the story on Sunday. More on that in a moment, because first...

The Wall Street Journal's Lee Gomes this morning has a fascinating interview with Former Marine Tyler Boudreau headlined, "A Former Marine Discusses IT in Iraq." The WSJ piece is interesting to read in and of itself, but, like so many things online, it quickly sent me flying through a number of other links. Here is the top of the WSJ article:


A Former Marine Discusses IT in Iraq
WSJ, July 1, 2008; Page B6

The U.S. military has been as enthusiastic about information technology as U.S. businesses have been, making computers, e-mail and instant messaging part of everyday life for troops in Iraq.

But the question of whether IT makes people better at what they do seems just as mixed a picture in combat as it is in the office.

Former Marine Tyler E. Boudreau wrote an account for the Industry Standard Web site of his experience with IT as a captain in Iraq. The article attracted a lot of attention for its portrayal of senior officers spending lots of time reading subordinates' e-mails and second-guessing the officers under them.

Mr. Boudreau, who writes a blog called "Deeper Than War" and whose book on Iraq, "Packing Inferno," is due out in September, talked about his experiences.


From the WSJ piece, I quickly jumped to Boudreau's Industry Standard article, IT vs. initiative: The Internet age comes to the battlefield. It is very well-written and a fascinating read, even for you non-DOD people who think that IT in Iraq has nothing to do with you.


Coming from an older generation of infantrymen, I was astonished to see my unit suddenly being outfitted with every variety of electronic equipment, from "ruggedized" laptop computers with Internet access and instant messaging, to man-packed tracking systems, to a plethora of cameras, videos and other imagery devices. These innovations were introduced to the battlefield in hopes of increasing situational awareness, rapidly gathering data, analyzing it, organizing it, then pushing it back out to operators as actionable intelligence. They also provide commanders with the freshest possible information and aid them in their moment-to-moment decision-making.


But with the diffuse and often dynamic nature of today's battlefield, the military discovered it needed not only a new line of electronic gadgets, but a new breed of soldier as well — a thinking soldier.



Suffice it to say that Boudreau is not a big fan of military IT. It is an interesting perspective worth hearing.

Another perspective... In case you missed it in April, FCW spoke to Lisa Schlosser, the Housing and Urban Development Department CIO and Army reservist who was in Iraq for a year. She shared some of her insights about military IT, having now seen the world from a CIO's seat and out in the all too real world.

The military is important to watch because it has been way ahead of the rest of government on many issues. After all, the buzz around Web 2.0 and collaboration is essentially what the military has for years referred to as "network-centric operations" — making the right information available at the right time to the right people to make the right decisions. And remarkable programs such as Virtual Alabama are essentially what the military calls "situational awareness." There are real implications for all of us. We are all fighting a "war" in one way or another, aren't we?

That being said, I'm going to jump back to the Army's Iraq self-assessment. Right upfront, I have to say that I have not read the report yet — it is more than 700 pages. I'm curious to see if the self-assessment talks about technology and/or about transformation and the Rumsfeldian concept of the smaller, leaner, more lethal fighting force. (Background reading:Slate.com's Today's Papers summary of Sunday's NYT piece can be seen here; PBS' NewsHour Monday had an interview with the author of the report and spoke to Douglas Macgregor, a defense and foreign policy consultant and author of the book Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights.)

In the meantime, it is interesting to see how government organizations make these kinds of popular documents available to Joe Citizen. For those interested in getting a copy of the report, go to usacac.army.mil/CAC2/CSI/OP2.asp. Of course, that isn't an easy Web site to remember. I found that link through a link on PBS' NewsHour Web site, although it wasn't on the page that contained Monday's interview, so if you missed it, you were out of luck. But the Army and the Defense Department didn't make it very easy either. There is no mention of the report on the Army's main Web site, army.mil, or on DOD's DefenseLink. The USA.gov Web portal also doesn't mention the report on its main page. I don't know if there were links there earlier, but it seems like a missed opportunity to make information easily accessible, but I just did a fairly cursory review of sites. If I missed it, I am happy to be corrected and have somebody tell me how Joe Citizen would have found this report.

Meanwhile, I have some reading to do this Fourth of July weekend.

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Jul 01, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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