Leadership: Marines Maul The Brass Via the Net

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June 4, 2007: The U.S. Marine Corps has recently encountered something it rarely ever sees, a rebellion within the ranks. Well, not exactly a mutiny. But a number of marines started an Information War campaign against their own bosses, by going to members of Congress, to complain of their inability to get high tech gear for marines fighting in Iraq. There, marines note what goodies the army has, and they have not, and how the army stuff saves the lives of soldiers, and makes life easier, as well as safer. The principal items in question are small UAVs, and better communications gear (especially satellite based radios.)

Senior marine generals now have senators and representatives peppering them with queries about why the marines in Iraq don't have the equipment they need, and the army already has. Marines have identified the Marine Corps procurement bureaucracy as the source of the problem. But what is really happening here is another example of how the Internet has changed the relationship between troops and their commanders. Since the late 1990s, when most people in the armed forces discovered the Internet, and how easily and cheaply it connected them with family, friends, and, most importantly, people like themselves, the troops have obtained a powerful new tool. Until the arrival of the Internet, news traveled rather slowly within the military. Unless one of the military publications ("Stars & Stripes" or the "Times" papers) picked up an item, it didn't get around much. But with the Internet, there was a new media in town, one basically run by the troops, and activated whenever something appeared that struck the troops, not an editor, as important. At that point, the private message boards and listservs, the troops had established, lit up. This was, and still is, happening largely out of view by the general public, or most journalists. It's by the troops, for the troops, and the troops know how to email people in Congress, popular web sites, or the mass media with complaints, and evidence.

The U.S. Army, to their credit, were the first to take note of this phenomena, and keep in touch with what is being said in these venues. While the army is also checking to make sure no one is giving out secret information, the main task is to find out what the troops are thinking, and needing. Many army procurement organizations have set up message boards, restricted to people in the army, where problems, suggestions and new needs can be discussed. This has resulted in new gear, that the troops actually want, getting to the troops much more quickly.

While the marines also use this Internet connection, as do the other services, the marine procurement officials were frequently ignoring requests from their customers. Someone in marine headquarters dropped the ball on this one, as the "chatter" on the equipment complaints has been out there for some time. Someone did not notice it, or if they did, and kicked it up the chain of command, someone did not catch it, and deal with it. Now the generals have some antsy Congresscritters to deal with, which takes the problem to another level.

The marines have never had as much money as the army, and marines are used to getting by on less. But in wartime, they expect more money to be found for life-and-death situations. Out in Anbar province, the marines need at least as many UAVs as army units have, to keep an eye on the wide open spaces, and see where the enemy is. Not being able to do that is costing marine lives, and the marines are not happy about it.


 


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