Battlefield Questions, Answered Fast

The fancy sensors, flying drones, and big bandwidth pipes get most of the attention. But, when it's being done right, network-centric warfare is as much about simple collaboration as it is about gee-whiz gadgetry. Chat rooms, message boards, online libraries all give folks in the field new sources of information and advice, so they can make better battlefield choices.TOC_call.JPGThe latest Army Times has a great example of this in action -- a sort of rapid-fire "Dear Abby" for commanders in the field.

An Army major general in Iraq had a classified question about the insurgency early last month. Rather than pull his advisers away from their immediate mission, he e-mailed a request to a military think-tank, the Center for Army Lessons Learned. 'We answered it in seven hours with 10 people digging for information,' said Craig Hayes, manager of CALL's Request for Information [service].Contractors developed the Request for Information prototype six years ago to enable soldiers to get immediate information online, culled from sources outside and within CALL. With a few keystrokes, soldiers regardless of rank had access to 100 experts and a few hundred thousand documents...Before the Iraq war, a couple of CALL staffers answered a few questions a week as a secondary duty, Kinsey said... Now, [they're] providing upward of 120 answers a week... And its a two-way feed, with troops in the field not only seeking information but also providing insights and tips gained on the battlefield and at tactical centers. CALL staffers take that information and turn it around within 18 hours, kicking it back to others who need it.Any soldier or Marine, airman or sailor may file an RFI, but those deployed or about to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan have priority. The staff tries to answer those questions within eight hours.Recently, we got one that said, Ive got two Soviet mine rollers and no clue how to use them, said Albert Fehlauer, lead RFI research analyst. The soldier was trying to train Iraqi troops on their own weapons. Thats the rewarding aspect. You feel that youre really helping people.
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