One of my biggest frustrations with military life is that old standby answer I always get when I ask why we are doing something I think is dumb – “We’ve always done it that way. Shut up and do it.” Welcome to new paradigms.
“For a couple hundred years, the Army has been writing doctrine in a particular way, and for a couple months, we have been doing it online in this wiki,” said Col. Charles J. Burnett, the director of the Army’s Battle Command Knowledge System. “The only ones who could write doctrine were the select few. Now, imagine the challenge in accepting that anybody can go on the wiki and make a change — that is a big challenge, culturally.” In recent years, collaborative projects like the Firefox Internet browser or Wikipedia pages have flourished with the growth of the Internet, showing the power of thousands of contributors pulling together. Not surprisingly, top-down, centralized institutions have resisted such tools, fearing the loss of control that comes with empowering anyone along the chain of command to contribute. Yet the Army seems willing to accept some loss of control. Under the three-month pilot program, the current version of each guide can be edited by anyone around the world who has been issued the ID card that allows access to the Army Internet system. About 200 other highly practical field manuals that will be renamed Army Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, or A.T.T.P., will be candidates for wikification. As is true with Wikipedia, those changes will appear immediately on the site, though there is a team assigned to each manual to review new edits. Unlike Wikipedia, however, there will be no anonymous contributors. Many in the Army have been suspicious about the idea, questioning if each soldier — specialist or not — should have an equal right to create doctrine, Colonel Burnett said. “We’ve gotten the whole gamut of responses from black to white,” he said, “ ‘The best thing since sliced bread’ to ‘the craziest idea I have ever heard.’ ” The colonel said that he was hopeful that by reaching out to the 140,000 members of the Army’s online forums, he would be tapping the kind of people who would be comfortable collaborating on the Web. “Our motto is, ‘If you ever thought what would I do if the Army let me write doctrine, now is your chance,’ ” he said.
Technology inevitably changes everything. Hopefully, in the Army, that will mean we think on our feet more effectively and value our soldiers more for their minds than we have in the past. Warfighting has never been more of a mental game than it currently is and that trend will only continue.