By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 25, 2008) -- One Soldier's insight into how things can be done better in the combat zone today can save time or even the life of another Soldier in the combat zone tomorrow.
Making sure those insights are documented and disbursed across the Army is the role of the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
"We are the one place that every Soldier and every commander can come to get the information they need to win the war on terrorism and survive on the battlefield," said CALL director, Col. Steve Mains. "Soldiers can come to our Web site and we will either have the information or we will get the information for them."
CALL gathers and documents the "lessons" learned by Soldiers as they do their jobs, then distributes that information to other Soldiers. CALL makes nearly all of those lessons available on the Web site it maintains at http://call.army.mil. The center also publishes books and manuals and staffs a research division that answers Soldiers' questions via e-mail.
An answer to nearly every question imaginable is available to Soldiers through CALL's research division. There, researchers take questions via e-mail and turn answers around to requestors sometimes in as little as a few hours. Questions from Soldiers in the United Sates are typically answered in three days, for deployed Soldiers, it usually takes only two days.
Lynn Rolf is a research analyst for CALL. He answers questions from the field on subjects ranging from sand particles in Iraq to caring for goats and other animals in Afghanistan.
The goat question came from a Soldier whose unit was using pack animals in the mountains of Afghanistan, and he did not have personal knowledge on how to take care of those animals.
"Some guys have never had a pet, or they don't know how to treat a horse, mule or a goat," Rolf said. "But I'm a country boy from Oklahoma, and I know how to deal with horses -- it's my expertise."
Rolf said he helped the Soldier locate Army field manuals on the subject of pack animal use, forwarded information from previous units that have used pack animals in Afghanistan and also gave him information from his own experience as well, including how to keep animals in shape, how to load them, and how to use them safely.
Information from CALL is also distributed to Soldiers via the center's many published books and manuals. One of the most popular of those manuals is called "The First 100 Days -- Tactics, Techniques and Procedures."
"We found there was a small rise in the number of casualties in a unit in the first 100 days of a deployment," Mains said. "Then things kind of settled down after that and the numbers were pretty stable."
Mains said experts at CALL wanted to learn about and document what it is that Soldiers know on their 300th day of combat that they didn't know during their first 100 days.
To produce "The First 100 Days," Mains said CALL interviewed some 1,700 Soldiers, commanders and staff to find out what they learned and what they wished they knew before they deployed.
"What do Soldiers know that keeps them alive, or what did their buddies do wrong that caused problems for them," Mains asked. "We wanted to know so we could transfer that knowledge to Soldiers before they deploy."
What the center learned by talking to Soldiers was not surprising, Mains said.
"It comes down to basic soldiering: doing the things your noncommissioned tells you to do, to the standard. It's a pretty straightforward thing," he said.
Complacency is a key factor in combat injuries as well -- Soldiers get bored with established routines. Soldiers may experience days without incident and expect the peace to continue, so they become less careful in their routines.
"You patrolled yesterday, cleaned your weapon, checked your weapon, and it worked. And it's been under your control since then, so you feel you don't need to check it today before you go on patrol -- that's kind of that complacency," he said.
The "First 100 Days" handbook also includes tips from combat-experienced Soldiers about detecting improvised explosive devices, avoiding sniper attacks, reacting to ambushes and the importance of becoming familiar with the environment.
"It takes a while for a unit to figure out what the kind of subtle signals are in the environment -- things like if suddenly the street has fewer people on it, maybe they know something and maybe then something is going to happen," said Mains. "Those sorts of indicators would maybe not be obvious to somebody when they get into theater."
A lot of the information in "The First 100 Days" is what Mains calls "tacit knowledge," information that exists only in a Soldier's head -- knowledge that comes from experiences and is often difficult to impart on other Soldiers.
"It is things a guy knows instinctively and does instinctively that aren't really written down someplace," Mains said. "We want to get that knowledge out of the Soldiers and put it into a form so other Soldiers can access it."
One of the primary ways CALL gathers lessons learned is by deploying as many as 20 liaison officers to the field to work directly with unit commanders, staff officers and unit personnel, said Maj. Tyrone Martin, a former director of the LNO program at CALL.
"The idea is that the LNO is attached to an organization not to become a staff officer, but to completely integrate with the staff," he said. "We tell our guys the best way to describe you is you are an investigative journalist -- within the realm of the military's rules and command structure."
The LNOs deploy with collection plans, based on trends CALL is interested in investigating. Those trends could include methods units are using to defeat improvised explosive devices, how units are working with local sheikhs and imams, or what kinds of issues units are facing when working with the new mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles.
"We expect the LNOs to take those collection plans and make it their own, to chase down those leads like a journalist would," said Martin.
Martin said that on occasion, an LNO deploys and discovers that what CALL wanted him to investigate was "all wrong." Such was the case when one officer deployed to Iraq.
"The trend we thought existed, didn't," Martin said. "When he got there he said hey, there is nothing here for me to collect. What else do you have?"
The trip was not wasted, however. That LNO was able to participate in visits to provincial reconstruction teams as part of an audit group with the State Department and Multi-National Force-Iraq, Martin said.
"He visited every province in Iraq, every provincial reconstruction team, and wrote a handbook that is now used by the State Department," Martin said. "If you have the right guy on the ground at the right time, it is perfect."
Today, CALL sends LNOs with more than one collection plan, in case the primary plan turns out to be unusable, said Martin. "We even learn our own lessons."
Martin said CALL looks for field-grade officers or senior NCOs with multi-discipline backgrounds, the ability to think broadly, and good writing skills to serve as LNOs.
"The number one thing they have to be is charismatic," he said. "Because, like a journalist, you have to be able to gain the trust of the people you are talking to. Breadth of experience helps them with that.
Lt. Col. Scott Fowler served as a liaison officer for CALL with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq. While in theater, his collection plan had him focusing on learning more about how the 3rd ID was conducting information operations.
In Iraq, he witnessed how brigade-level IO officers were building bridges between Sunni and Shia sheikhs. They would bring the two sides together for meetings, in a safe environment, where everybody could have their voices heard.
"Brigade IO officers would bring the sheikhs, local police, local army and media together and hold meetings there at the forward operating base," Fowler said. "Everybody got to speak. There was yelling and arguing, but no violence. That was one way the IO officer was helpful at his level. If he can keep them having a dialogue, he is reducing the kinetic strikes they make against each other. It's about keeping the peace so the economy can take off."
Fowler also witnessed creation of the "Iraqi Media Division" within the 3rd ID. By paying special attention to Iraqi media, the division ensured the good news stories happening in Iraq made their way to Iraqi television, radio and print publications as soon as possible.
"We'd pick them up in the morning and have them back to Baghdad by 1 p.m., and the story was on the news that evening," Fowler said. "You want to show them the good stuff. When the host nation sees the good stuff on the news, they see that the Coalition forces are doing something good for them."
Fowler said as Iraqi media were given more attention, and the good-news message of what Coalition forces in Iraq were accomplishing was being pushed out to the Iraqi people, the number of attacks against Coalition forces was going down.
"Iraqi fence sitters were maybe saying they should support the government of Iraq and Coalition forces," Fowler said. "I personally witnessed former terrorists having meetings with battalion commanders. They say we know where Al-Qaeda is and we'll show you if you back us up. The people that were former terrorists were turning against terrorists -- I think IO was part of that. The lesson learned there is if you have a good concept of IO, it makes things better in your sector."