We've asked it before: Will the Army's aspirations to issue a cell phone to every soldier survive in Austerity America? No one knows the answer yet. While nobody got a chance to ask Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli about that specifically on Thursday morning, the general did maintain his enthusiasm for getting soldiers all linked up. He said that the Army's networks, along with the Ground Combat Vehicle (as you read earlier) will be two of the key technological ways the Army can increase the effectiveness of its infantry squads.
Chiarelli said it's important to remember that most of the utility for a networked unit stays at the lower levels of the battlefield -- commanders can "push" data down to the members of a squad, and soldiers can push it back up again. Most of what the soldiers submit stays at the company level, he said -- so the four-star combatant commander won't necessarily be seeing live messages coming from a private on the ground. (Although he can.) But Chiarelli said it's still very valuable for company-level commanders to move around as much real-time data as possible about what their soldiers are doing and seeing. If a squad leader can get even simple historical information, including how many ambushes have taken place along the very road he's patrolling, that can make a difference, Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli volunteered a defense of individual soldiers' being able to handle high-tech digital devices, whether they're cell phones or some kind of new battlefield equipment. Skeptics said soldiers would break their devices, but Chiarelli said the Army gave one to each 500 soldiers, and it got all of them back in good order -- but one.
"The report I got was they broke one; it was a major who dropped it on a marble floor," Chiarelli said. "These soldiers know how to take care of these things. They own them."