The technology of the Twenty-first Century -- the "new media" -- has made it possible for virtually anyone to have immediate access to an audience of millions around the world and to be somewhat anonymous. This technology has enabled and empowered the rise of a new enemy. This enemy is not constrained by the borders of a nation or the International Laws of War. The new media allows them to decentralize their command and control and disperse their elements around the globe. They stay loosely connected by an ideology, send cryptic messages across websites and via e-mail and recruit new members using the same new media technologies.
Responding to this challenge requires changes in our approach to warfare. The one thing we can change now does not require resources -- just a change in attitudes and the organizational culture in our Army. Recent experiences in Iraq illustrate how important it is to address cultural change and also how very difficult it is to change culture: After MNF-I broke through the bureaucratic red-tape and was able to start posting on YouTube, MNF-I videos from Iraq were among the top ten videos viewed on YouTube for weeks after their posting. These videos included gun tape videos showing the awesome power the US military can bring to bear. Using YouTube -- part of the new media -- proved to be an extremely effective tool in countering an adaptive enemy. Here are some areas that our Army will need to address if we are going to change our culture with respect to this critical area:
First, we need to Encourage Soldiers to "tell/share their story". Across America, there is a widely held perception that media coverage of the War in Iraq is overwhelmingly negative. We need to be careful to NOT blame the news media for this. The public has a voracious appetite for the sensational, the graphic and the shocking. We all have a difficult time taking our eyes off the train wreck in progress - it is human nature. Walter Cronkite once said "If it's extraordinary, and it affects us deeply, it's news." Knowing this, we, as a military, owe it to the public to actively seek out and engage the media with our stories in order to provide them with a fuller perspective of the situation. When Soldiers do this, the media is very open and receptive. The public may have an appetite for the sensational, but when it comes to their men and women in uniform, they also have a very strong desire to hear their personal stories. They want to know what it is like, what the Soldiers are experiencing, and how the Soldiers feel about their mission. That is why we must encourage our Soldiers to interact with the media, to get onto blogs and to send their YouTube videos to their friends and family. When our Soldiers tell/share their stories, it has an overwhelmingly positive effect.
Just playing lip service to encouraging Soldiers is not enough. Leaders need to not only encourage but also Empower subordinates. A critical component of empowering is underwriting honest mistakes and failure. Soldiers are encouraged to take the initiative and calculated risk in the operational battlefield because we understand the importance of maintaining the offensive. However, once we move into the informational domain, we have a tendency to be zero defect and risk averse. Leaders have to understand and accept that not all media interactions are going to go well. Leaders need to assume risk in the information domain and allow subordinates the leeway to make mistakes. Unfortunately, the culture is such that the first time a subordinate makes a mistake in dealing with the media and gets punished for it, it will be the last time ANYONE in that organization takes a risk and engages with the media.
Hand in hand with encouragement and empowerment is Education. If Soldiers are better educated to deal with new media and its effects, they will feel more empowered and be encouraged to act. We need to educate Soldiers on how to deal with the media and how their actions can have strategic implications. They need to know what the second and third order effects of their actions are. I believe that most people want to do a good job. There are very few Soldiers out there who would intentionally harm the mission or intentionally do something to reflect poorly on their unit or the Army. When many of these incidents occur, and we have all seen them, it is because they just don't know that it is going to have that kind of effect and cause that kind of damage.
Finally, we need to Equip Soldiers to engage the new media. If we educate them and encourage them, we need to trust them enough to give them the tools to properly tell/share their stories. The experience of trying to gain YouTube access in Iraq and even back in the United States is a prime example. A suggestion for consideration might be equipping unit leaders with camcorders to document operations but also daily life. The enemy video tapes operations and then distorts and twists the information and images to misinform the world. What if we had documented video footage of the same operations which refuted what our enemies say? By the way, that is not enough, we have to get our images out FIRST! The first images broadcast become reality to viewers. If we wait until we see the enemy's images, we are being reactive and we have already squandered the opportunity.
Frontier 6 is Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV, Commanding General of the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the command that oversees the Command and General Staff College and 17 other schools, centers, and training programs located throughout the United States. The Combined Arms Center is also responsible for: development of the Army's doctrinal manuals, training of the Army's commissioned and noncommissioned officers, oversight of major collective training exercises, integration of battle command systems and concepts, and supervision of the Army's Center for the collection and dissemination of lessons learned.
Update: SWJ Editors Links
Small Step in a Different Direction - Ray Kimball, Military.com
A Message From Frontier 6 - Badgers Forward
Let Soldiers Blog, Post YouTube Videos - Greg Grant, Government Executive
Top General: Let Soldiers Blog - Noah Shachtman, Danger Room
General Supports Milbloggers - CJ, A Soldier's Perspective
Score One for Soldier Blogs - Mike Gilbert, News Tribune
Milblog Buzz - Top General: Let Soldiers Blog - MilBlogging
More War Blogging - Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent
The World May Be Flat... - An Unofficial Coast Guard Blog
Let Troops Blog - The Raw Feed
Let Soldier's Blog - Retired Reservist
"Let Soldiers Blog, Post to YouTube" - NetAge Endless Knots
Required Reading 01/31/2008 - Michael Goldfarb, Weekly Standard
Discuss - Small Wars Council