The U.S. Department of Defense is
moving quickly to use the Internet as a way to keep from sending lots of
support troops overseas. Military units these days use computer networks, lots
of flat screen displays and satellite links. This last feature allows a lot of
"reach back" capability. That means many support jobs can be performed by
troops back in the United States, as the commanders "reach back" via satellite link to
communicate. Thus, rather than having some administrative functions performed
by troops in a tent, or ship compartment a few feet away from you, the clerks
are back in the United States, keeping the field units even smaller and easier
to move and set up.
There are some problems, however. You lose a
certain amount of unit spirit. U.S. Air Force UAV units, for example, only send
the UAV maintenance personnel overseas with the aircraft. The UAV pilots and
sensor operators, as well as lot of administrative staff, stay back in the
states. Everyone keeps in touch via Internet like communications. The irony of
the ground crews living in rougher, and more dangerous, conditions, than the
pilots, took some getting used to.
The navy is particularly eager to get people off
ships. That leaves more room (and high morale) for the people left. The navy is
transferring most payroll and personnel staff to shore based facilities. More
administrative jobs are to follow. The people so moved no longer really belong
to the ships "company," even though some, technically, still do. You are either
at sea with the ship, or you ain't.
Marines are particularly unhappy with this "reach
back" stuff. Marines are eager about getting into the fight. Moreover, marines
or soldiers so separated from their units, begin to feel they aren't exactly
part of the unit. The trend is to make these "reach back" detachments part of
larger "support" entities, and skip any pretending that some members of the
units stayed behind. This causes some awkward situations because, in the past,
when troops had problems with some administrative matter, they could see a
person in their unit who could take care of it. Now it's some stranger on the
other end of the phone or Internet connection. And before long, some of these
functions will be outsourced to civilian firms. Then the perplexed will be
dealing with someone in India, just like the rest of us. Well, I suppose it
will all work out.
But "reach back" will save billions of dollars a
year, and make military units more nimble. More of the people being dispatched
overseas will be fighters, not support. That makes a big difference.