Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Voluntary Army and cyberspace

The military recently decided that they didn't want their soldiers at war emailing and blogging and hanging out at MySpace.com on government computers. They say the issue revolves around too much bandwidth and some security issues. Who believes this?

The real truth is that the military has needed to reign in the commo of the troops and what they are doing when not fighting or prosecuting the war. All along, I have had my doubts in what all this instant communication is doing to their focus.

I can surely understand the other side. The loneliness, opportunity to talk to loved ones. A seemingly wonderful morale issue. But, what about a platoon leader whose wife has found interests elsewhere or families who need the dad at home for soccer matches or to fix the washer or to take a firm hand with a daughter on her curfew. In the old days of Vietnam, for instance, the soldier would think about all of this and may have gotten the word through letters but it was nowhere close to daily and instantaneous as it is now.

In an emergency, a soldier could possibly use what in the old days was called MARS. (Military Affiliate Radio System). The soldier would have to plan ahead or someone do it for him and then when he finally made connection, he would have to end the portion of his comments with "over." Think M*A*S*H, on TV--Radar with the ancient instrument to his ear, trying to accomplish some task. This now would be a neanderthal communication system. However, in Iraq, the soldier can be off patrolling the means streets of Baghdad, concerned for his life and his friends and in a few hours, be back somewhere on the "net" emailing or text messaging his wife or girlfriend or buds on MySpace. No way to run a war.

Having to deal with family issues while at war can be incredibly distracting and interfere with the mission. War is no day at the beach and allowing troops to be distracted from it is lethal for them among other issues.

In war, there is always inequity. We faced it in Vietnam with nine support troops for every ground pounder (combat arms soldiers). There were soldiers who were suffering the daily travails of war off in the jungles with nary a hot meal while others were living a good life. I'm not sure it is the same in Iraq but surely there are scores of soldiers who never go out on the road, who don't have to worry about insurgents, IEDs or suicide bombers. Those who are inside the relative safety of the Green Zone and those at bases spread throughout Iraq and are mechanics, mess hall personnel; those who operate the radios, and a thousand and one more supportive and necessary jobs. These soldiers may have time for MySpace but by in large, not a good thing.

WHO IS AT FAULT/and/or responsible for where we are? By in large, Commanders at all levels are at fault. Well meaning morale issues are always important but commanders have to know the overall picture and make decisions accordingly. It is very easy for us armchair quarterbacks to sit around and cogitate our navels about the war. But, commanders, especially young captains and their battalion commanders--they are on the ground and have to make hard decisions. We are at war and being focused on that task is the only paramount.

No comments: