soldiering

Can a soldier wear a GoPro on deployment?

Military GoPro videos, like the one above, have become pretty popular recently. Sites like “Funker350” share the videos which get passed around rapidly in the military community online. The GoPro, for those who don’t know, is a company popular for selling small cameras that can be attached to things, like a soldier’s helmet, to capture human experiences as they happen from the virtual point of view of the person. They’re really popular in extreme sports, and the jump to the military isn’t surprising.

Watching the video above, it looks like a first person shooter video game, only it’s completely real.

This trend isn’t all that surprising. Cameras have gotten smaller, lighter, better, and cheaper over the years and social media thrives on pictures and videos of “extreme” things.

I have a hard time deciding soldiers wearing GoPros would be a good thing or a bad thing. In the “good” category, you would have a fairly accurate log of what occurs on a combat patrol because it’s live video. There would be no questions as to what happened afterwards because you could simply “roll the videotape.” Conversely, the same is true. What happens on patrol would not stay on patrol. There are things that may happen outside the wire that, if nothing else, might be pretty embarrassing.

Those two things together, the GoPro seems to be a positive addition, if for nothing else, to serve as a forcing function of good behavior. But, also conversely true, soldier behavior may be affected when they know the GoPro is watching them in a different way. Everyone knows about the “spotlight Ranger” who only performs when the leadership is there to see it. There is also a concern of a guy looking to get an “epic video” of him doing something that he might not even consider doing if it wouldn’t be caught on video. GoPro’s motto is “Be a HERO” after all.

Boiling that argument down, the pro of wearing the GoPro is “everything will be recorded” while the con of wearing the GoPro is “everything will be recorded.”

What are the rules on this, though, as it pertains to soldiers in combat?

While I wasn’t able to find any policies specifically banning the GoPro, General Order Number 1C (GO-1C), which governs troop behavior in the CENTCOM area of responsibility says:

 h. Photography and Videotaping.

          (1) Except as authorized for official use and purposes described below, this Order prohibits the taking, making possession, reproduction, or transfer (to include uploading) of photographs, videos, depictions, and audio-visual recordings of the following:

               (a) detainees or former detainees; detention facilities; active combat operations (e.g., firefights); flight-line operations or equipment, subject to written, local exceptions…

The order specifically prohibits firefights from being photographed or videotaped. If you read through the rest of the order, pretty much anything cool is banned with the exception of photography relevant to the mission – tactical site exploitation, for example.

My sense of things, as trends go, is wearing the GoPro or something like it, while spooky to senior leaders now, will eventually become mandatory in the near future. Surveillance and recording is not on a down-sloping trend. It would probably do us more good to embrace it now and get good at working with it sooner rather than let a populace armed with smartphones tell our story for us.

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The Battle of Castle Black

This post makes generous reference of Game of Thrones, s4/ep9 (The Watchers on the Wall). So, if you haven’t seen it, there are spoilers below.

The Battle of Castle BlackI’m a big fan of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read all of the books yet, but the HBO show is my absolute favorite thing on television right now.

This past Sunday’s episode The Watchers on the Wall was especially good. Instead of darting back and forth between different characters and settings, we stayed fixed on The Wall for the entire episode. We wouldn’t be teased by Jon Snow and then whisked away to colorful, sunny Mereen or treacherous King’s Landing for a few moments of differing drama or comic relief only to get sucked back to the North. There was no respite. The entire episode was grim, ugly death.

While watching, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on back in those other places and with those other characters, especially given the dramatic ending of the previous episode. The men of the Night’s Watch, underprepared and grossly outnumbered were there in the dark, holding off a massive army many times their size, all to protect the warring and distracted factions far away to the south who were completely oblivious to what was going – in their name – at The Wall.

For the Night’s Watch, the battle is their only reality as they struggle to keep back the horde,  at least for the night. They are not distracted by the trials of captors going on back home – they don’t have that luxury. For them, victory in battle offers no escape.  It simply means preparing for the next watch.

The day after watching that episode, its residue still lingering in my mind, I was struck by how that “stuck” feeling I got while watching it felt similar to what a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan feels like. When you are there, you are there. There’s this feeling of doing something gravely important but coupled with a dark knowledge that it is completely unimportant and uninteresting to those back home, the feeling that they are completely oblivious to what is happening – in their name.

There’s no escape, either. You fight, sometimes for no other reason than because you are there, spurred on in moments of weakness facing giants by memorized oaths. And when the fight ends and the smoke dissipates, you collect the dead, rebuild the defenses, and prepare for the next battle.

Through the entire episode, my mind kept slipping to King’s Landing and other places, thinking that they need to send troops to counter the invading force. Maybe one day, but I remembered that in Westeros, The Wall is a distraction, a side-show. It is where factions send their trouble-makers and irreconcilables. There is, of course, a nagging memory of why The Wall exists and why the men of the Night’s Watch are important, but it’s not important enough to warrant straying from the daily drama of trials and intrigue that captures court life in the capitals.

It all seems a little too familiar.

 

contributor

What is the Infantry(?) Redux

Rita VrataskiLast year I wrote the “What is the Infantry” essays when the topic of women in the infantry was burning hot. Those essays have been scrubbed clean and are getting a new life over at the very shiny Task and Purpose.

While I still love them in their original, stream-of-consciousness form, they do look pretty good over there.

Part I, Black Magic and Voodoo is out today. The others will be posted through the week. Check it out.

 

update

Back to the Grind

The GrinderyAlas, vacation is over and it is back to the grind. Over the short break, I managed to read All You Need Is Kill, the Japanese sci-fi novel that Edge of Tomorrow is based on, thus the vacation-breaking “Full Metal Bitch” post. It was fun, and reminiscent of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War – which I ought to re-read and review here. I also finished Albert Camus’ The Stranger, a book recommended to me by an infantry friend. I’ve added both to the “Just for fun” portion the End of War Reading List, because the former has that element of never-ending war while the latter is absurd – both fitting themes for the end of war.

I also had a short test piece published at Uniform Stories titled 10 Things My NCOs Told Me That I Can’t Forget. It’s a fun and true list of things I’ve heard NCOs say over the years that I just can’t forget. Check it out and spread the word.

Bonus points if you know what the picture is.

reaction

Damn it feels good to be a veteran

Forever War

Do you want to know why it feels so good to be a veteran, and why “it” is so addictive?

It’s because often times, you feel like you are at the center of the world. That feeling of being the “decisive operation” goes into overdrive while deployed, but even when you are just sitting at home, watching the news, it’s easy to get lost in yourself because you are a small part of this much bigger thing that gets a whole lot of attention.

Look at this past week’s big news stories. All of them are in the military sphere. Front page news:

On Tuesday, President Obama announced the troop numbers for Afghanistan post-2014, ending speculation over what would happen when this year came to a close.

On Wednesday, the President laid out his foreign policy agenda at West Point, which has serious implications for the men and women who serve to execute it.

On Thursday, the military portion of the internet exploded in response to comments made by Gwyneth Paltrow in which she compared receiving nasty internet comments to war (my response here).

On Friday, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, General (R) Eric Shinseki resigned after mounting criticism concerning recent VA scandals.

Then yesterday, it was announced that SGT Bowe Bergdahl, the only remaining prisoner of war from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was released in exchange for prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay.

All of these stories generated lots of hot air and conversation. Fodder for the media and blogging-heads (myself included). Sitting on the couch and tuning to the evening news, story after story is related to MY WORLD.

How can that not be addictive? All of these stories ruled the day, and in each of them, only a tiny number of Americans can actually say they are somehow involved or can relate to them.

It’s exciting. And I think that “center of attention” feeling is what makes getting out and transitioning to being “normal” so damn hard.

film

I’ve got your back, Gwyneth Paltrow

Image

When it comes to celebrities and comments on war, I’ve said everything I have to say on the topic when I wrote in defense of Tom Cruise last year.

Bottom line: no one has a monopoly on war. It is a human experience that anyone can talk about. The thing that exacerbates the civil-military divide more than anything is not celebrities comparing things to war, but veteran self-righteousness.

army myths

Army Myths: Road guards are the second person(s) in the far left and right rank

Ask anyone who the default road guard is during a movement formation where no road guards have been designed and they are likely to say that it is the second guy in the far left and right rank. I’ve seen it at every unit I’ve been. We’re marching somewhere, the cadence caller shouts “Road Guards, Post!” and there is a short delay until some salty Team Leader yells at the soldiers in that second spot, telling them that they are the default road guards. Then those two soldiers will run to the intersection, getting there moments before the main body gets there and while nearly getting themselves killed in the process.

Well, this isn’t doctrine. It’s not a regulation. It’s just a standard operation procedure that appears to have been pretty much adopted Army-wide. Reference to the practice cannot be found in TC 3-21.5 (Drill and Ceremony) or FM 7-22 (Army Physical Readiness Training). The best I’ve been able to find are some Air Force ROTC videos that reference the practice of assigning dedicated road guard prior to the movement (you know, the ones that get to wear the reflective vest or carry the flashlight).

True, this really isn’t a myth, but I’ve watched NCOs lose their minds when that second person didn’t react instantly to the command of execution of “POST!”

Best practice would be to assign road guard prior to any movement than relying on a shaky Army-wide standard operating procedure.

Also, related.