Listen to the techno-slobberers, and you'd think the networks that brought unprecedented communication among U.S. troops popped up, fully formed, out of the Mesopotamian sand.Wired magazine's Joshua Davis -- in one of the most interesting "embedded" accounts from Gulf War II -- paints a very different picture.
What I discovered was something entirely different from the shiny picture of techno-supremacy touted by the proponents of the Rumsfeld doctrine. I found an unsung corps of geeks improvising as they went, cobbling together a remarkable system from a hodgepodge of military-built networking technology, off-the-shelf gear, miles of Ethernet cable, and commercial software. And during two weeks in the war zone, I never heard anyone mention the "revolution in military affairs" (the catch-phrase for a quicker, ultra-connected Army).In an article filled with you-are-there color, the most vivid report comes from a convoy ride:
The further down the line I go, the easier it is to see the holes in the system. "Who the fuck do we look like, Lewis and Clark?" Private Jared Johnson blurts out when I ask him how we ended up lost in the Iraqi desert. I'm headed north again, this time with a 97-vehicle convoy whose mission is to deliver missile launchers and set up a Tactical Operations Center just south of the Baghdad suburbs. But there's a problem; the convoy makes two massive U-turns in search of a side road that leads to a much-needed fuel stop."We're lima lima mike foxtrot in Iraq," says Sergeant Frank Cleveland, who's riding shotgun in the truck where I've hitched a ride."What does that mean?" I ask from the backseat."We're lost like a motherfucker," he says.Theoretically, the commander of the convoy should know its position. This guy hasn't been able to figure it out. But even without human error the system can break down. One soldier I talked to said the screen icons representing the convoy and all other forces disappeared when we crossed the border. All that was left was a map of Iraq.There are other problems. "When we were deployed from the States," says Lieutenant Marc Lewis - the commander of the convoy's 27 heavy equipment trucks - "they told us that we would be given encrypted, military-issue radios when we got here. When we arrived, they told us we should have brought our own."What Lewis brought was four Motorola Talkabouts, each with a range of about 1,000 feet. In the half-dozen convoy trips he's made since arriving in country, Lewis has taken to distributing a Talkabout to the first and last trucks. The other two go to vehicles at strategic points in between. It's hardly secure. Anybody with a radio could monitor the conversations.Lewis is improvising as best he can. Before leaving the States, he bought a handheld eTrex GPS device, which he uses to track each of his forays into Iraq. In essence, he's created a map of Iraq's charted and uncharted freeways and desert roads. He just has no way to share it with anybody. But he is able to navigate as well as any of the tank or missile commanders he transported. I notice that at least four other soldiers in the convoy have brought their own store-bought GPS handhelds. These devices keep the convoys on track in lieu of having proper systems."If we run out of batteries," Lewis says when showing me his map of Iraq, "this war is screwed."