Small Wars Journal

Changing the Organizational Culture (Updated)

Sun, 02/03/2008 - 1:50pm
The technology of the Twenty-first Century -- the "new media" -- has made it possible for virtually anyone to have immediate access to an audience of millions around the world and to be somewhat anonymous. This technology has enabled and empowered the rise of a new enemy. This enemy is not constrained by the borders of a nation or the International Laws of War. The new media allows them to decentralize their command and control and disperse their elements around the globe. They stay loosely connected by an ideology, send cryptic messages across websites and via e-mail and recruit new members using the same new media technologies.

Responding to this challenge requires changes in our approach to warfare. The one thing we can change now does not require resources -- just a change in attitudes and the organizational culture in our Army. Recent experiences in Iraq illustrate how important it is to address cultural change and also how very difficult it is to change culture: After MNF-I broke through the bureaucratic red-tape and was able to start posting on YouTube, MNF-I videos from Iraq were among the top ten videos viewed on YouTube for weeks after their posting. These videos included gun tape videos showing the awesome power the US military can bring to bear. Using YouTube -- part of the new media -- proved to be an extremely effective tool in countering an adaptive enemy. Here are some areas that our Army will need to address if we are going to change our culture with respect to this critical area:

First, we need to Encourage Soldiers to "tell/share their story". Across America, there is a widely held perception that media coverage of the War in Iraq is overwhelmingly negative. We need to be careful to NOT blame the news media for this. The public has a voracious appetite for the sensational, the graphic and the shocking. We all have a difficult time taking our eyes off the train wreck in progress - it is human nature. Walter Cronkite once said "If it's extraordinary, and it affects us deeply, it's news." Knowing this, we, as a military, owe it to the public to actively seek out and engage the media with our stories in order to provide them with a fuller perspective of the situation. When Soldiers do this, the media is very open and receptive. The public may have an appetite for the sensational, but when it comes to their men and women in uniform, they also have a very strong desire to hear their personal stories. They want to know what it is like, what the Soldiers are experiencing, and how the Soldiers feel about their mission. That is why we must encourage our Soldiers to interact with the media, to get onto blogs and to send their YouTube videos to their friends and family. When our Soldiers tell/share their stories, it has an overwhelmingly positive effect.

Just playing lip service to encouraging Soldiers is not enough. Leaders need to not only encourage but also Empower subordinates. A critical component of empowering is underwriting honest mistakes and failure. Soldiers are encouraged to take the initiative and calculated risk in the operational battlefield because we understand the importance of maintaining the offensive. However, once we move into the informational domain, we have a tendency to be zero defect and risk averse. Leaders have to understand and accept that not all media interactions are going to go well. Leaders need to assume risk in the information domain and allow subordinates the leeway to make mistakes. Unfortunately, the culture is such that the first time a subordinate makes a mistake in dealing with the media and gets punished for it, it will be the last time ANYONE in that organization takes a risk and engages with the media.

Hand in hand with encouragement and empowerment is Education. If Soldiers are better educated to deal with new media and its effects, they will feel more empowered and be encouraged to act. We need to educate Soldiers on how to deal with the media and how their actions can have strategic implications. They need to know what the second and third order effects of their actions are. I believe that most people want to do a good job. There are very few Soldiers out there who would intentionally harm the mission or intentionally do something to reflect poorly on their unit or the Army. When many of these incidents occur, and we have all seen them, it is because they just don't know that it is going to have that kind of effect and cause that kind of damage.

Finally, we need to Equip Soldiers to engage the new media. If we educate them and encourage them, we need to trust them enough to give them the tools to properly tell/share their stories. The experience of trying to gain YouTube access in Iraq and even back in the United States is a prime example. A suggestion for consideration might be equipping unit leaders with camcorders to document operations but also daily life. The enemy video tapes operations and then distorts and twists the information and images to misinform the world. What if we had documented video footage of the same operations which refuted what our enemies say? By the way, that is not enough, we have to get our images out FIRST! The first images broadcast become reality to viewers. If we wait until we see the enemy's images, we are being reactive and we have already squandered the opportunity.

Frontier 6 is Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV, Commanding General of the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the command that oversees the Command and General Staff College and 17 other schools, centers, and training programs located throughout the United States. The Combined Arms Center is also responsible for: development of the Army's doctrinal manuals, training of the Army's commissioned and noncommissioned officers, oversight of major collective training exercises, integration of battle command systems and concepts, and supervision of the Army's Center for the collection and dissemination of lessons learned.


Update: SWJ Editors Links

Small Step in a Different Direction - Ray Kimball,

A Message From Frontier 6 - Badgers Forward

Let Soldiers Blog, Post YouTube Videos - Greg Grant, Government Executive

Top General: Let Soldiers Blog - Noah Shachtman, Danger Room

General Supports Milbloggers - CJ, A Soldier's Perspective

Score One for Soldier Blogs - Mike Gilbert, News Tribune

Milblog Buzz - Top General: Let Soldiers Blog - MilBlogging

More War Blogging - Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent

The World May Be Flat... - An Unofficial Coast Guard Blog

Let Troops Blog - The Raw Feed

Let Soldier's Blog - Retired Reservist

"Let Soldiers Blog, Post to YouTube" - NetAge Endless Knots

Required Reading 01/31/2008 - Michael Goldfarb, Weekly Standard

Discuss - Small Wars Council



Fri, 04/20/2012 - 8:31am

In reply to by javiersern

Hey Javier,

Appreciate your comment and the link.

I recently attended a citizens forum regarding a technical outreach effort to a community and your observations are very interesting to consider in this context. Difficult technical problems requiring involved solutions, yet affecting many more than just a small circle of technically inclined individuals.

Another workday beckons, so i will give your post and the article some more thought and get back to you shortly.

Take care,



Fri, 04/20/2012 - 6:41am

Insightful and incredibly thorough perspective on one institution Steve. Thanks for that. On the leadership storytelling front, I want to offer one additional thought for you.

Storytelling—as you point out in this and other posts—is a very effective way to pull others into your own personal vision of what the future should hold for your business or organization. But storytelling can also be used to collectively create or refine that vision so that it truly feels like everyone’s. In other words, rather than the vision being solely the president’s, it truly becomes all of ours. And in addition to the president sharing his or her stories of that vision come to life, everyone else in the organization is sharing their own stories as well.

People are much more willing to support something if they feel they’ve had some hand in creating it: even a small hand. I’ve found that when a leader is willing to open up his or her vision just a bit and allow others to contribute to it—to make his or her story truly everyone’s—it’s remarkable how much more buy-in and commitment to that vision there will be. There are ways to do this effectively without having an unmanageable number of cooks in the strategic kitchen. <a href="">Culture Change</a>

I know it's been a few months since anyone posted anything here, but just in case folks are still scrolling through these comments ...

The idea of Soldiers blogging certainly brings up some emotional discussions - should it be allowed? should it be limited? how do we deal with security risks? etc. The reality of "new media" or "Web 2.0" - whatever you want to call it - is here to stay and the military can either embrace it or not. So far, we're mainly in the "or not" category.

As a current student at the Air Command and Staff College, I'm doing a research project into how the Army can best encourage Soldiers to engage the new media. The risks have been covered by many others, several of the arguments against blogging have begun to be debunked, so my project is to examine ways that we can take the next step. Let's go beyond just allowing Soldiers to blog - let's encourage them to. Let's see how best we can use the technology out there to help get our story out. I've started a blog ( focused on that discussion as part of the research project and would appreciate your ideas, comments, and opinions.


Sat, 03/15/2008 - 2:20pm

I think anonymity is a good thing and should be a respected option. We all have our preferences; I respect yours and hope you respect mine.

Ken White

Sat, 03/15/2008 - 2:14pm

I see no logical fallacy. Our domestic media, in the sense of print and electronic journalism, proves on a daily basis their woeful ignorance of the way this nation works, geopolitics, things military and even life in general outside the celebrity culture they have foolishly and self servingly inculcated. Most outlets are owned or dominated by the rather feckless entertainment industry...

A recurring comment I get from friends and acquaintances overseas who know we're not as incompetent as many think is that our bumbling and puerile media tends to make us, as a nation, look like idiots.

No, the media are not unified in the sense they speak with a single voice; they are unified in the sense that the vast majority are seemingly clueless. There are a few exceptions, too few...

They are indeed not a profession. At one time they were a trade and, generally, an honest and effective one. When they parked their integrity (a generalization, again there are some exceptions) they lost most of their effectiveness as proven by their trust rating in most of the polls. Polls are to be taken with a large quantity of salt but they over time show trends -- the media trend is all downhill.

Free speech is indeed important -- yet you seem to wish to stifle that of those in uniform? Curious.

Don't think we're a part of the media, we may be part of the mass communication effort but the media, traditionally, is that cluster of journalists and others who constitute the communications industry and wish-to-be 'profession.'

Trust me, I'm ignorant about many things... :)

Is Frontier 6 <i>relying</i> on his rank or is he using it to signal his peers that to engage on such things a this blog is a worthwhile endeavor?

I suspect the latter is the case and would submit that were he to be totally anonymous, a rather powerful message to others of like or lesser ranks would be lost. Note also that Frontier 6 did not reveal his true identity; the SWJ Editors did.

Several (including me) challenged him regardless of rank so I don't see that as an inhibitor.

I'd submit that it is quite difficult for anyone commenting on any blog to remain totally anonymous. If other commenters wish to ascertain who they're talking to, it's not that difficult. I use my own name rather than a pseudonym for that very reason, it's a waste of effort to attempt to hide. Though many seem to wish to do so...


Sat, 03/15/2008 - 1:18pm

One more thing, why does "Frontier 6" not rely on a pseudonym to communicate on the SWJ blog? If his message is powerful enough, it should stand on its own merit. In a professional exchange, he should have to compete among equals and not rely on his rank.


Sat, 03/15/2008 - 1:14pm

Sorry I misunderstood the line was applicable to the media.

Nevertheless, isn't there a logical fallacy there as well. "The media" is a pretty diversified grouping. I think we have to guard against homogenizing any group (to include flag officers as you suggest). In our system, "the media" is especially not a unified institution and (based on Don Snider's interpretation of the nature of professions) is not a profession.

In our form of democracy, I think the value of free speech is a huge contributor to sustaining it. I think there is responsible reporting out there and with the advent of the internet and blogs like this, there is now an ability to dialog about "truth-seeking" in these new public fora. Wow, it is amazing.

In a sense you and I are now part of "the media." I do not see you as ignorant.

Ken White

Sat, 03/15/2008 - 12:29pm

The alternative to not allowing them to "strategically communicate" is to muzzle them -- not, IMO, a good idea. I tend to castigate Flag Officers regularly because I believe most are too hidebound and are prone to stifle the initiative of their subordinates. I fully realize there are some exceptions to that rule and applaud them. That said, I think it better they speak out instead of being anonymous. I would note that they do NOT really speak for the US Government; realistically, only the President does that, <i><b>all</b></i> others are simply messengers.

Listening to Majors and Captains is a good plan -- just be sure you place it in context...

You said <i>"Your last comment about the ignorance of Congress is disappointing because you use ad hominem rhetoric (a fallacy) rather than a coherent argument to make the point. Would you rather not have a Congress? I don't get it. First you praise a representative form of government and then you lose your eloquence in your message by trashing an important institution. I am a bit disappointed."</i>

That's actually a quite incorrect inference and statement on your part and there's no need for you to be disappointed. Nor is there any ad-hom in there. Your last query to which my comment responded was<i>"...Or, is the media really in charge in a democracy, and no central government should be?"</i> My response was ""No -- they're a little too ignorant to be in charge of much of anything."" -- 'they' being the media, not Congress. We can disagree to an extent on the importance of Congress; I certainly do not share their view of how important they are. Still, Congress isn't totally ignorant. Venal and self-serving? Yes. Ignorant? Not particularly. The media OTOH has major knowledge problems...


Sat, 03/15/2008 - 12:08pm


Some very thoughtful counterarguments. I agree that a republic is perhaps more resilient than a 100% democracy. My intent was to be polemic to drive the discourse to a higher level. Fortunately general officers (3- and 4-star) are "upper middle managers" in the executive branch. Not sure they should be empowered ethically or legally to "strategically communicate" messages as they interpret the ambiguous operational environment. I think I'd rather hear from captains and majors than from them (I suspect some of their messages reveal "hidden text" that serves to legitimize their positional authority and not their ability to influence as if they had no rank).

Your last comment about the ignorance of Congress is disappointing because you use ad hominem rhetoric (a fallacy) rather than a coherent argument to make the point. Would you rather not have a Congress? I don't get it. First you praise a representative form of government and then you lose your eloquence in your message by trashing an important institution. I am a bit disappointed.

Ken White

Fri, 03/14/2008 - 1:02pm

Speaking of Bandwagons...

Yes, WE do need to exercise some critical thinking...

Not sure blogs attract ideologues but if they do, they apparently attract those from the entire spectrum of ideologies.

The "politics" line is at best an amorphous construct that each of us sets in our own minds; yours and mine may be set on totally different parameters and that should be totally acceptable in a democracy. You state: <i>"There is a strong argument that the idea of "strategic communications" as postulated by our executive branch "elites" (particularly those in the State Dept) is anti-democratic by nature."</i> True. So what? We're a Republic and have a structure that is, by design, not democratic. It is by design quite inefficient in order to deter popular whims of the moment getting too much traction and was meant to stay that way.

One of the things the writers of our Constitution realized that many today apparently do not is that in a democracy, foreign policy -- indeed, most governmental policies -- would be terribly skewed and pulled in odd directions by the whim of the electorate. Thus, Congress was given a series of check and balance mechanisms but was decidedly NOT to be entrusted with the making of 'policy' -- that was, for the sake of some continuity, to be a function of the Executive branch.

Thus, your further statement: <i>"A compelling view of liberal (small L) democracy, the current method of forming "strategic" messages by the executive branch could be considered anti-democratic because that formation lacks a deliberative democratic (small D) approach. From this perspective, any such messages would require methods for gaining consensus among voters about what the message should be. Any such message from the executive branch would require reasonable consensus of the American people..."</i> is fallacious and deluded only in that it espouses a position that you and some others hold; it is not within the design of our system of government and many of us are quite content that is so. We would be quite discontent were the process to be jerked around as you and that relative minority appear to wish. Some in Congress share your view; fortunately for us all, the majority there do not. If you believe yours is not a minority view, I suggest a more eclectic approach in your life.

You also added: <i>"...The challenge to the executive branch (and the DOD as a member of it) is to find ways to find stronger links to civil society."</i>

An alternative is for those in that civil society who desire that to contemplate finding out how their government really works. This: <i>"Seems that the People elect politicians to communicate policy and rely on an apolitical (career/merit-based) corps of professional civilians and military to execute the policy."</i> is perhaps what some would wish but that is not the way it works.


You end on this note: <i>"REFRAMING ISSUE NUMBER 5. The fifth issue is really about DOMINANT LANGUAGE: Who or what body in the federal government should/will determine what meanings should be believed by others? Is the executive branch independent in this regard, or should the Congress/Judicial Branch be involved? Or, is the media really in charge in a democracy, and no central government should be?"</i>

The answers are; the 'others' will as always determine what they wish to believe; Yes -- Congress and the judiciary should be and are only peripherally involved; and No -- they're a little too ignorant to be in charge of much of anything.


Thu, 03/13/2008 - 4:56pm


Hmmm, we need to exercise some critical thinking here. So much agreement (above) with Lt Gen Caldwell's essay makes me wonder about BLOGS attracting groupthinking ideologues.

I for one am concerned about his ideas on "strategic communications" (other references) and I am suspect of these blog entries by "Frontier 6" and his appearances on shows like Jon Stewart's as being dangerous manipulations along those lines that border or cross the "politics" line.

The Department of State is supposed to lead the executive branch in forming the "strategic messages" and not the DOD. Even that is a suspicious idea under our form of government.

Here are my concerns with the idea of senior Army officers seeing themselves as "strategic communicators":

There is a strong argument that the idea of "strategic communications" as postulated by our executive branch "elites" (particularly those in the State Dept) is anti-democratic by nature.

The idea that strat comms is oriented externally (internationally) is a red herring -- in today's interconnected, media rich world, you cannot separate messages for the "outside" as separate from the "inside."

The idea that this is a unified US government message is also a fallacy -- the USG consists of three branches -- how are the legislative and judicial branches involved in this process?

A compelling view of liberal (small L) democracy, the current method of forming "strategic" messages by the executive branch could be considered anti-democratic because that formation lacks a deliberative democratic (small D) approach. From this perspective, any such messages would require methods for gaining consensus among voters about what the message should be. Any such message from the executive branch would require reasonable consensus of the American people. The challenge to the executive branch (and the DOD as a member of it) is to find ways to find stronger links to civil society.

The pathway of inquiry about strategic communications would be framed this way: In forming our nation's messages, do we have a democratic responsibility to involve the American voters (perhaps through their federal representatives' participation)? Perhaps the message should be voted on as a Congressional resolution -- this would certify at least the people's elected representatives are involved in the consensus approach. How could the State Department lead the effort toward "reasonable consensus" for these strategic messages and involve Congress? How can the DOD (and the Army) help?

If the Congress is not involved in the message, isn't it dangerous to seek a unified ("enterprise") message in the executive branch that was purposefully designed around diversity?

Isn't that diversity in the executive branch part of the diffusion of power that keeps our democracy strong?

Does that diversity serve to protect the President from "groupthink?"

Seems this whole idea (as stated) is not really about information (implying the problem of getting the facts out), but about interpretation. Interpretation has social and psychological overtones. Should the professional military really be in the business of conveying social and psychological interpretations into the public domain (even if aimed "externally")?

How do we separate political messages (called by those who promote the idea of strat comms, as the need to "communicate policy") from professional military advice (the latter directed to the public and the President & SECDEF)?

Without some sort of democratic process, is it a fitting (both legally and morally) role for the US Army/military to be involved in strategically communicating what could be construed as a political message?

If we cannot discern the line between professional advice and a political message, can the role of the military in a democracy become blurred (and even dangerous)?

Seems that the People elect politicians to communicate policy and rely on an apolitical (career/merit-based) corps of professional civilians and military to execute the policy.

In the remaining items, I frame the discussion into five "myths" and then reframe as the "real" issues.

STRATCOMS Myth 1. The word is not getting out.

DISCUSSION: In the age of mass communications, it isnt that the "word" is not getting out. There are more "words out" today then ever before in the history of mankind.

REFRAMING ISSUE NUMBER 1. The issue is really about dominant media: to what will people pay attention?

STRATCOMS Myth 2. Let the facts speak for themselves.

DISCUSSION: "Social facts" can be interpreted differently. Is our communications problem one of "natural facts" or "social facts?" With "social facts" (a.k.a. commonsense), the question is not only, "How do you know?" It is, "What do you believe?"

REFRAMING ISSUE NUMBER 2. The second issue is really a matter of the dominant philosophy/theology: How will people believe information is true?

STRATCOMS Myth 3. The press only reports bad news.

DISCUSSION: "Bad" or "good" are subjective judgments of value, not objective determinations of truth.

REFRAMING ISSUE NUMBER 3. The third issue is about DOMINANT VALUES: How will people judge "bad" or "good" or somewhere in between?

STRATCOMS Myth 4. Communications can be strategic.

DISCUSSION: Interestingly, the term "strategic" is not defined in the DoD Dictionary; however, "strategic advantage" IS defined and seems appropriate to the task here:

The overall relative power relationship of opponents that enables one nation or group of nations effectively to control the course of a military or political situation.

REFRAMING ISSUE NUMBER 4. The fourth issue is really about the DOMINANT NARRATIVE: In our political and international system, will attempts to control the course of communications be justified by the ends?

STRATCOMS Myth 5. Information is an element of national power (part of the "DIME" acronym).

DISCUSSION: The DOD Dictionary defines "information" as:

1. Facts, data, or instructions in any medium or form. 2. The meaning that a human assigns to data by means of the known conventions used in their representation.

So, does this mean the US government (and the US military) wants to control data and/or the meaning that humans assign? By the way, the term propaganda is not defined in the DOD Dictionary. Websters New Riverside (1984):

1. Methodical propagation of a particular doctrine*. 2. Material spread abroad by the advocates of a doctrine*.

*Doctrine (same dictionary): 1. Something taught. 2. A principle or body of principles presented by a specific field, system, or organization for acceptance or belief: DOGMA.

[Also, what does "element" mean with respect to the concept of "information?" What does "power" mean with respect to the concept of "information?" Are these metaphors (not facts) interpreted equally as to the other "elements of power?"]

REFRAMING ISSUE NUMBER 5. The fifth issue is really about DOMINANT LANGUAGE: Who or what body in the federal government should/will determine what meanings should be believed by others? Is the executive branch independent in this regard, or should the Congress/Judicial Branch be involved? Or, is the media really in charge in a democracy, and no central government should be?

Rob Thornton

Wed, 02/06/2008 - 10:13am

It may have been said before, but the guy who said it so it clicked with me was Dave Kilcullen at the Quantico pitch he said (paraphrased because it was a few months back) -"[B][I][U]We must match our actions to our narrative, not go back and change the narrative to match our actions[/U][/I][/B]". This came up again recently at the SWC non-virtual get together with Jack Holt, and later in a conversation with a senior leader.

This goes to the idea that there is an "[B]Information Component[/B]" to every operation - [B]lethal or non-lethal[/B]. It may be a message we want to send, or it may be a message we did not intend to send - but never the less, there it is. Further the messages that go forward may influence different audiences in different ways, and may even send very different messages beyond the intended audiences. Even something that like how we use media can be considered - ex. when LTG Caldwell put up a blog here - what were the responses around the "Blogosphere"? What messages does that send? What are the messages we receive when we don't see other senior leaders doing likewise? In some cases, even no message at all still sends a message.

At the strategic level it would seem there is more thought of how the use of the elements of national power send messages - the questions would at least seem to be asked. If the Israelis hit a target in Syria that would "appear" to be the beginning of a nuclear effort - then the action would seem to match at least one narrative - "we will take action against any threat to our survival". I say "appear" because I think part of the challenge we have is not only understanding our own narrative, but the narratives of others we inter act with. It may only be that at the strategic level it is sometimes easier to link the narrative and the action when the actions are "in bold" and stand out for a number of reasons.

However, what about the numerous actions that take place at the tactical level? Its harder - its like being at a large party where everyone is discussing things in terms that often sound very similar, however - the use of those terms and the context of those terms my be very different. Occasionally there is a different tone that stands out - and for one reason or another, that is the voice that is heard above others. The understanding by others of what that voice is saying is effected by not only the conversation the individual was having, but by the proximate conversations around between the listener and the voice that stood out.

Often when we discuss a "narrative" at the tactical level, we think of "talking points", things to say to the media, things not to talk about, things not to put on a hand-bill, or on some other media, or things like that - it seems reactive. I don't think we think in terms of all of our actions in terms of matching our narrative -of synchronizing our lethal and non-lethal actions at the tactical level to support a tactical narrative that is nested with an operational and strategic one. We do pursue Objectives & Endstates, Task and Purpose, and CDR's Intent - but I'm not sure these lead to matching our actions to the narrative we'd like to be heard and understood. Instead, I think our actions are often abandoned to interpretation - sort of hanging outside the narrative to be picked up and placed within the context either the listener chooses, or a third party who wishes to use our actions to reinforce their narrative.

I'm not sure its possible to match all our actions with a narrative - war is full of fog, friction and chance - shit happens - targets are going to misidentified, confusion about what a particular event means, or just the very nature of warfare at the tactical level where sooner or later combatants are going to try and kill each other at a time and place that is advantageous to them -and anyone else who gets caught in the middle is often seen as unfortunate, but necessary, or as someone that chose the wrong side - can mean that the narrative gets subsumed for the moment.

However, can we do better at those actions that are planned? At certain levels where we at least appear to control the tempo, can we better match our actions to our narrative? How do we train that at the tactical level (2 stars HQs and below)? How do we train the Commanders and Staffs who generate orders and synchronize resources to consider and integrate the information component of all of our operations - so that where possible our actions, at least more closely match our narrative? How do we identify the narrative - no matter what we decide (or have decided) to call it - and then communicate vertically and horizontally - not only to our forces, but to our enemies, our friends, and the many, many others caught in the middle, but who may have more weight in determining the outcome then any of the former? Im not trying to repackage something we all know by another name - I am trying to consider something I think we do know as one thing, but maybe have not thought about in ways we may not have considered.

We often say this is a war of ideas, and I think we often have an appreciation for the information component after something happens - which leads us to either explaining our action(s) - could be to take advantage of that action, or it could be to mitigate the damage done by that action(s), but I don't think we give too much thought to considering the effects on the narrative when we plan the action, or before committing the action. Part of this gets back to LTG Caldwell's comment about providing the soldier (used to represent all of those whose actions effect the narrative) the tools and training (and I think we could also include education here) to not only avoid actions which detract from the narrative, but enhance it!

SWC Member Jack Holt said a couple of things Monday night I think we need to acknowledge. First is that the enemy is using his narrative in ways we dn't fully understand and to greater effect then we are, and that if we are going to beat him in this area - which ultimately may prove more important then any other area of the battlefield since it gets to the heart of our Will, and the Will of those we wish to attract and retain, and because in our system our Will effects our Means - which even for us, are not infinite. The second is that the generation of Americans coming into service has an expectation of freedom of speech and the means they pursue it that has been influenced by the technology and cultures we've seen evolve with the improvements in Information technologies. You can't stick you head in the sand and believe its a problem with a solution - [B]its a condition[/B] - there is a big difference.

The sad part about the latter is we grow some of the best natural communicators here in the United States - we also grow many of the world's best ideas from our values and culture that are attractive - and attainable - but we don't get them out. We have the means to do so, but lack the understanding of the significance of inaction, and as such allow the unattractive and unattainable messages that come from the darker side of capitalism - Baywatch blondes, rampant materialism on reality T.V. and other shows, etc. While we know that this is only one aspect of who we are, we leave the rest of the world to place what comes over their satellite T.V., through the Internet and across their cell phones to form the context of our narrative.

Often, the first real American that someone in a remote place will encounter will be wearing uniform - how will they interpret their actions within the narrative they have formed about us? Can we provide them a better narrative - our version? To do so means the actions must reinforce it. This is not restricted to non-lethal actions! Sometimes showing up and challenging someone like AQ by killing them or compelling them to move elsewhere is part of the narrative. There is a lethal component to information operations, and there is an information component to lethal operations. The same is true for non-lethal. I think "Full Spectrum" operations must include the Information domain - and being proficient and better then our enemies in this domain will not occur by ignoring it, or by making policies which restrict us from operating in it - all that does is create vacuum and opportunity for the enemy to operate unopposed - much like ceding the areas of population and concentrating of securing the MSRs for our own use - we've seen what happens when we do that.

Best Regards, Rob

I've created a new thread based on this on the SWC under the training forum about training to match our actions to our narrative

Holly A (not verified)

Fri, 02/01/2008 - 5:30pm

LTG Caldwell's Ft leavenworth Command practices what he preaches on Soldier's and the media. I am an Operations Officer for a Army reserve unit - 821 TC Bn, Topeka, KS.

LTG Caldwell's staff helped arrange media training for my unit via the Ft Riley Public Affairs Office for our NOV, FTX.

I am extremely greatful that both Ft Leavenworth and Ft Riley aided us in our effort to train my soldiers.

Rob Thornton

Wed, 01/30/2008 - 11:48pm

I think a big part of leadership has always been lead by example. In this case having a GO post a blog is in itself something military members can point to. It also gets to engagement - we've known for awhile that blogs were helping leadership get some ground floor assessment on a number of issues, but I think many of them were a bit hesitant to engage openly because they did not want to create an artificial filter by doing so. However by doing so, they can show what is on their mind and get some great feedback from places they might not otherwise have access to - by adding their name - it provides the context around which the content might be framed.

We've proven here on SWJ that we can engage in a reasonably articulate manner, and respect each other in doing so to further some important discussions - even where we agree to disagree, I'd remarked on one of the private forums I was glad to see a couple of others (well known leaders) openly post recently, their comments and thoughts add a great deal to the discourse.

I hope we see more senior leaders engage openly on both this forum and others - be it an interactive one, or a one time post that others can weigh in on. Both permit broader public input and feedback then say a T.V. interview or remarks captured from a speech. There is a sense of conversation in a blog or a threaded discussion - a sense of engagement. The discourse creates additional thoughts that would not come to light otherwise - which is kind of the point I think we need to capture in regards to the media. Without our participation, we become background to a reporter's interpretation - and subject to a third person narrative. I think we stand a much better chance of presenting things correctly if we're either telling our story from the first person - me to you, or inter-acting in a two way (or group) discussion.

So - who else would we like to see on SWJ? Well - anyone with an interest or stake in small wars.

Best, Rob

Thanks for the exchange. Well, more people than not would deny that I have a "good heart." Those who know me have just voted and the nays have it by a wide margin. Based on what I know about me, they're right.

My point went to whether spin works. My claim is that it doesn't. I don't think the General is proffering that idea either. He can weigh in.

Thinker (not verified)

Wed, 01/30/2008 - 8:25pm


You have a good heart, but this is war. Either our soldiers control information spin or expect our enemies to control it. No middle ground.

Now, the story of a lone soldier telling his tale of survival in battle, that's a great play for the home front. But a combined information battle plan encompassing the story for locals, home front and internals can gain further goodwill/pacification and perhaps as importantly deny the enemy opportunity to shape the discourse.

Your thoughts?

This is a smart and well-crafted essay. I concur with the sentiments expressed in it (it even uses good pedagogical techniques, the four Es - encourage, empower, educate and equip). Every one of these should be done, and I am just as troubled at the idea of punishment for screwups here and there as anyone else. This atmosphere will prevent the application of the ideas expressed in the essay. Command structure absolutely must learn to be more sophisticated than that. The clampdown on Milblogs several months ago took the DoD in the opposite direction they need to be headed.

The essay is also smart in that the emphasis seems to be on letting the real story come out. This is different from spin. The boundary conditions for a Soldier or Marine - whatever his rank - telling his story, would seem to be circumscribed by rules for OPSEC. Perhaps there are a few more rules such as things that could be seen as detrimental to morale, but the University of Oklahoma study has found that blogs generally do no such thing.

On the whole, I consider it better for a warrior to have tried to tell his story and the MSM gotten it wrong or 'spinned it than for the warrior to be inhibited from telling his story. The public can usually tell when the MSM is spinning things. Moreover, the timbre of some of the comments here is slightly troubling. For instance, with regards to "the information goal would be to pre-spin the story before engagement, co-orient those telling the story, and be ready to distribute and cement that story across multiple audiences," I have to respectfully disagree.

Just like the public can tell when a story has been spun by the MSM, they can also tell when it is spun by the military, or military blogs, or official DoD press releases. Spinning the narrative causes a permanent loss of credibility. For example, in my interviews (and other conversations used to form views and create prose) with certain members of the military, I have found that Michael Yons views of PAOs is basically correct. Sometimes PAOs are useful and courteous and informative and given latitude. Sometimes, however, they take you on what Michael calls the "PAO happy tour." "See, look here, everyone is happy ... see, look over here, everyone here is happy too! Were all very happy! Are you happy?" Happy tours are insulting and not very useful. The public always seems to identify with and appreciate raw and gritty reporting and information. Theyre not as fragile as we want to make them out to be.

As long as OPSEC is not compromised, it is always best to let the truth come out, good and bad, positive and negative. We gain from both, since the good news and analysis is always a credit to the hard work of our warriors, and the bad can always be used as a learning tool. I understand that there are always exceptions (e.g., the idiotic and false reporting surrounding the Haditha Marines tarnished the careers of good men and should never have been done), but in the main, I think what Ive said here is basically correct.

Ken White

Wed, 01/30/2008 - 5:01pm

It may be disturbing but it is -- or should be -- totally understandable. People don't like to be chastised and in any field of endeavor, if a co-worker gets slammed for something, others tend to avoid the cause of that slam.

There are three problems here. The one I cite above is the first, the second is that mistakes are too easily made with the media because they frequently do not understand what they're being told and worse, Editors removed from the scene frequently modify the words of reporters.

The third is that the media, generally, are ignorant of all things military but most of the journalists have an instinct for the weak links and will ask leading questions of those they deem most likely to provide an answer that will gain some traction and get exposure. I do not fault the media for this, nor am I faulting Private Jones or Lieutenant Smith. That's just the way things are. The media don't want and can't use good news, they look for problems and are deeply suspicious of everyone (except themselves). "Gotcha" is why they live...

That fact of life however is not tolerated well by a bureaucracy that (like all its brethren) is reluctant to admit mistakes or problems.

Thus, I agree it is disturbing (and would add that it needs to change, though that will be difficult) -- but it should also be understandable and seen for what it is; not an attempt to censor but merely a series of normal human reactions that are in competition with each other.

Matt Williams (not verified)

Wed, 01/30/2008 - 4:26pm

As a civilian, I see the following sentence as the most important element in the whole article.

"Unfortunately, the culture is such that the first time a subordinate makes a mistake in dealing with the media and gets punished for it, it will be the last time ANYONE in that organization takes a risk and engages with the media."

first time
last time

It is disturbing - and on several levels.

SWJ Groundskeeper

Wed, 01/30/2008 - 2:40pm

Concur 1000%. Thanks, Frontier 6.

I did get the feeling that this is speaking more towards the media "at home" than in country. Very interesting to me that a pamphlet is prone to be seen as a PSYOP or Strategic Communication product requiring pre-approval by God, while a JDAM can get cleared hot by the altar boy. As we continue to institutionalize "trust" and the many Es mentioned here, I hope it will extend to our non-lethal fires in country.

Tom Odom

Wed, 01/30/2008 - 10:20am

Great message for all in the Long War. We have been pushing the idea that the media is much like terrain; it is part of the battlefield and you have to adapt to it. No one I know likes humping a ruck through mountains. But most of us don't waste our time disliking the mountains. Instead we change loads or find another way to go. The same line of reasoning applies to the media. We need to quit wasting time complaining about what will not change and adapt ourselves to better use what is very much part of the battlefield. That adaptation can work to your advantage; not adapting will definitely work against you.

Thinker (not verified)

Tue, 01/29/2008 - 8:26pm

Agreed, this diagnosis and prespription is on target. Soldiers in these wars need to attend to control of three spaces - the physical battle space, the cultural space, and the information space. It may take additional tools to control the information space beyond media training and access to online posting. Each group of soldiers may need a dedicated public relations soldier who defines in the scope of each mission the required information outcomes. For example, a unit may have a battle mission to take and control a piece of territory, or suppress an enemy. The cultural goal would be to integrate that success with native populations, pre-emptively as military partners and as follow up with leaders within that society so our troops' gains are their gains. The information goal would be to pre-spin the story before engagement, co-orient those telling the story, and be ready to distribute and cement that story across multiple audiences. A well controlled information space allows our military to control each stage of the war story - using our terminology, our labels, our language, our philosophy, our check points, and our success measures.

Right now we're finding out how challenging it is to fight an information war in an open access world. But is not impossible to win this facet of the battle if we attend to it as closely we do combat victory.

Merv Benson

Tue, 01/29/2008 - 8:24pm

Much of enemy operations in Iraq were focused on a PR strategy. Most attacks were militarily insignificant. The majority of attacks were against non combatants at "strategic" ice cream pallors, and standing in line for job or attending worship services.

Where we have really done a poor job is in focusing attention on the war crimes aspects of these enemy operations. The enemy war crime of not wearing an identifiable uniform is never mentioned in stories where our troops accidentally kill non combatants.

Much of the media adopted the enemy story line on their attacks focusing on our failure to stop them rather than the war crimes of the enemy in attacking non combatants. But, it was exactly this conduct that turned Iraqis against the enemy and caused them to rally to our side.

Hopefully, getting the troops involved will change the discussion to what is really significant about the enemy actions and our response.

The YouTube clips have been great. I would also like to see some of the UAV footage on significant events if it can be done without compromising operational security. These clips can add context that explains what units faced during particular operations.

Timeliness should also be a concern. Too often it took several news cycles to respond to enemy charges, by which time more charges had been made and people may have forgotten about the original one by the time it was shown to be misleading or wrong. When you have an enemy that claims half the war is taking place in the media, we can't afford to let him have several news cycles head start on the truth.

An excellent commentary on what is needed. Thank you for this post. Given the power and spread of the new media, I am really glad to see that this battlefield is being taken seriously.

Personally, I would argue that some form of new media training should be included right at the start of a soldier's career. Many people come in knowing a lot about the new media: it's uses, abuses and culture. I believe that this is as much a "critical skill" as the ability to shoot a rifle accurately was 100 years ago (and still is today).

Today's battlefield is increasingly amongst those traditionally termed "non-combatants": they vote, provide "aid and comfort" and change global perceptions by their musings on blogs, discussion boards and forums. Telling our soldiers that they are not allowed to "fight" in this field is analogically equivalent to tying one hand behind their backs.