Monday, July 02, 2007

Kilroy Was Here

Badgers Forward looks at the archaeology of the US military deployment in Iraq as units rotate through and each successively leaves its mark on facilities for the followers to puzzle out.

Notice the beginning of the word "laundry." Was that there prior to the war? Was this a makeshift laundry right at the beginning after the fall of Baghdad 2003-2004? With so many units rotating through some of this history and institutional knowledge is lost.


Blogger Elmondohummus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/03/2007 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Elmondohummus said...

(Sorry... hit "post" instead of "preview" earlier. This is the fully edited and spell checked version of the comment accidentally posted above)

"With so many units rotating through some of this history and institutional knowledge is lost."

Regarding lost institutional knowledge: That exactly echoes a criticism made by various officers in the Vietnam and Korean wars; David Hackworth is one I specifically recall. He lamented that the US Army is good at learning things on the spot, but bad at institutionalizing the knowledge. In his book "Hazardous
Duty", he expressed shock about a conference he attended where he discovered from the questions of servicemen that basics of airborne helicopter assault learned in Vietnam were already (at the time, mid 80's) lost. And in earlier times while he was still in the army, his book "Vietnam Primer" was expressly written to counter the problem.

The embrace of whole-unit cohesion - manifested in the practice of rotating whole units instead of individual service members - was done to counter a dangerous trend the Army observed. In WWII, extremely negative effects on cohesion and morale were attributed to it. Nearly every bit of military writing or film from WWII to Vietnam, whether fiction or documentary, included this problem to some degree (who hasn't seen the "new guy" subplot in a storyline? We observe it being integrated in such dramaticized documentaries like "Band of Brothers" (more so in Ambrose’s book than in the movie) as well as in entirely fictional works, like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket). The problem specifically led to the notion of replacing and resting/refitting/retraining units as a whole rather than by individual member (Note: It's impossible to completely avoid individual replacement, but the point is that units aren't kept in place all the time. Some units in WWII experienced upwards of 200 to 300+ % turnover, which mean that not only did some units have no original members, some units had lost every replacement member at least once). Whole unit replacement was intended to counter those problems.

The upside was that institutional knowledge inherent in the unit was better passed along. The downside was that gained knowledge of a particular area of operations was completely lost (in its defense, not only was the vitally important trait of unit cohesion vastly improved, institutional knowledge regarding areas of operations wasn't kept all that well to begin with, so it's not like any new loss happened). So new units operated better but unfortunately had to relearn lessons learned by previous ones. I'm aware of some informal knowledge-sharing methods used by some units - using Hackworth again, he noted that at times in Korea he'd swap sergeants with a replacement unit for a while until they knew the enemy and the area - but I'm not aware of any formal methods used to counter this problem. Perhaps someone actually in the military could enlighten us here?

7/03/2007 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger Evanston2 said...

I recommend the book "Valley of Decision" regarding Khe Sahn to show the dramatic changes at one location during a war. It traces the history there from years before the siege to after.

In Iraq things change very quickly. I had to have sit-down briefs with soldiers returning after 1 month's leave to update them on the situation, not "outside the wire" but just on base.
War is definitely "managing chaos."

7/03/2007 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Brett said...

Combat training systems are being constantly upgraded to pass along new information. News of insurgents shooting up through vents in the floor were within a few days integrated into the operation scenario of training for units getting ready to rotate into theater. It aint perfect but it is an information leap beyond Vietnam days.

7/03/2007 02:58:00 PM  

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