Military GoPro videos, like the one below, 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 below, 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 whether 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” 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 exciting 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.