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Digital Dialogue Transforms Army

Tuesday, January 02, 2010
By Rita Boland
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The Army’s Warfighters’ Forums (WfFs) offer soldiers a chance to share information and bring key issues to leadership’s attention more quickly. The forums are fashioned around communities of interest.

Knowledge management tools speed issue resolution.

The U.S. Army has ushered in an era of unprecedented information sharing with the introduction and spread of its Warfighters’ Forums. The online collaboration tools enhance communication between operating and generating forces while simultaneously building upon the way young soldiers interact. All three Army commands—Army Forces Command, Army Training and Doctrine Command and Army Materiel Command—are involved with the forums, which provide a proactive means to enhance dialogue.

The Warfighters’ Forums (WfFs) offer the Army tools to improve its operations in the persistent conflicts in which it engages, and they help the military branch grapple with change at a more rapid pace. Through the forums, senior leaders and commanders become involved in identified issues in a more timely fashion. According to the 2009 Army Posture Statement, the forums are designed to enhance training, readiness, leader development and collaboration and information sharing between Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) and functional and multifunctional brigades. The forums are Web-based knowledge networks that reside in the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) Web site.

The WfFs began as StrykerNet, an initiative to improve communication during the standup of the Stryker BCTs. Army senior leaders deemed the tool so successful that they initiated implementation of similar tools for other units, tasking Army Forces Command’s (FORSCOM’s) Strategic Initiatives Division to broaden the scope of the forums.

By December 2007, the division had established a prototype. Since then, the Army has demonstrated strong support for the initiative, which has seen significant growth. The WfFs have expanded to encompass forums in the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) that serve an Army-wide audience encompassing functional and multifunctional brigades. All the WfFs also are supported by the Army Materiel Command (AMC). FORSCOM-established WfFs include: Infantry (XVIII Airborne Corps), Stryker (I Corps) and Heavy (III Corps). “It correlates to our maneuver brigade combat team formations,” Brad Mason, chief of FORSCOM’s G-3/5/7 Strategic Initiatives Division, says.

The AMC supports all the WfFs through collaboration within the Logistics Support Agency, Expeditionary Contracting Command, DefenseAmmunitionCenter and the AMC’s own Materiel Enterprise Knowledge Network. The AMC has capitalized on the implementation of the WfFs to build that network, which brings together all stakeholders involved in providing materiel solutions for warfighters while incorporating all functions of the materiel life cycle.

“The mission of each forum, within its respective combat formation, is to enhance BCT leader, leader team and unit training and operations throughout the Army Force Generation process,” Mason says. “This includes the incorporation of lessons learned by all BCTs in order for units to perform at higher levels of mission proficiency in each subsequent deployment. The WfFs supports teams of leaders as they prepare for and conduct full-spectrum operations, grow team capabilities and enhance individual, collective and organizational learning.”

According to officials at TRADOC, all major subordinate organizations, centers of excellence and the command take part in the TRADOC WfF community. Five TRADOC WfF pages reside on AKO. TRADOC provides resources and support for venues for each military occupational specialty group, wherein the group can discuss and vet solutions that are specific to the issues and hurdles faced for that specific subject matter. Soldiers then can implement the solutions in the training provided by TRADOC, making training content more agile and adaptive to battlefield.

TRADOC’s WfF community supports active duty, National Guard and reserve troops. The responsive knowledge management capability enhances the link between the operational and generating forces, supporting the achievement of individual and unit readiness goals. Officials state that a critical aspect of the WfF mission is to enable warfighters with capabilities to enhance decision making, especially in forward deployed areas of operations.

The forums enhance rapid and detailed communication flow among warfighters, supporting organizations and training developers. This enhancement enables TRADOC processes to support and adapt better to issues faced by troops in theater as well as forces preparing for deployment. TRADOC officials explain that the rapid changes in the current battle climate require all troops to have the latest information to remain ready to execute accurate and decisive actions in the field.

One of the most prolific WfFs is the sustain forum, which Mason estimates pertains to approximately 70 percent of Army soldiers and civilians. This forum is a partnership among the Army G-4, the AMC, the FORSCOM G-4 and the TRADOC Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) Sustainment Center of Excellence (COE).

The sustain forum is run out of CASCOM, and the FORSCOM G-4 has directed all soldiers in operational sustainment and logistics units to use the forum. According to TRADOC officials, all CASCOM staff, faculty and schools should routinely use the collaboration tool, which is being embedded within the training base. This ensures that all soldiers graduating from CASCOM schools are competent in using the forum in their operational assignments and are benefiting from the knowledge reach-back to their proponent schools. During 2009, the sustain forum was incorporated into the Sustainment COE model command post, sustainment training exercises and other collective training venues.

Not all the forums have such a large reach. In the three run by FORSCOM, much smaller groups often collaborate. Larry Nix, FORSCOM’s knowledge management branch chief, explains that “forum” may mean a small group of professional officers and contractors who constitute a baseline under the guidance of a senior mentor. These little groups are based at different locations. Each WfF has a senior mentor who is a corps or COE commander. According to the posture statement, these leaders “integrate the functions of the WfF into refined staff organizations, internal battle rhythms and routine interactive sessions with subordinate commanders worldwide.”

Through these types of large and small groups, the Army is able to pass information more rapidly among members, providing a benefit in today’s conflicts. Mason explains that, “We are in a dynamic environment with an adversary that’s extremely adaptive. The only constant is change, and we have got to be able to adapt our TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures] with enough agility to counter what we’re facing on the battlefield as the war evolves. This is a means to do that.”

The forums also solve another problem for the Army. “That’s the need to address how younger people communicate,” Mason says. Army personnel who are 35 and younger have grown up using virtual means of communication. “The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s incumbent upon us to develop these types of networks and these types of network information technologies so our soldiers can use them.” He adds that if the Army fails to offer its members knowledge networks, then they will employ other sources that may be less secure or favorable to the military branch’s purpose.

 

The WfFs are managed at the Army Command level with high-level leadership participating in several ways. The forums help bridge information gaps between generating and operational forces.

Another key benefit of the forums is the ability for decision makers to acquire direct input from the field to initiate changes rapidly in the organizational structure of the force. The Army also has used forums to apply that same rapid impact to TTPs, such as during fielding of the mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. At the time the Army distributed them to the force, no TTPs were published. Through the forums, soldiers developed the necessary information and passed it on.

One area with no guidance involved how to recover MRAPs that troops had to abandon. Many such incidents had occurred, but no plan existed for retrieving the vehicles. Through the WfFs, the Army adapted its tactics to the actions of the enemy by discussing necessary reaction changes.

With the Army immersed in a period of continuous and persistent conflict, it faces a challenge to keep up with developmental needs across the areas of doctrine, TTPs, organization, materiel, leadership and development. The battle rhythms of older systems and methodologies fail to keep pace with current operational tempos. By employing capabilities such as the knowledge management networks, soldiers make information more relevant and timely in a dynamic environment. Mason believes the Army as a whole benefits from knowledge management collaboration, as do discrete groups that can focus on their own specific needs.

Each forum has an issue resolution methodology developed by the users. Mason says soldiers have to remember not to make restrictions too sophisticated. “You defeat the purpose of having a knowledge network if you encumber it with a lot of bureaucracy and red tape,” he states. One of the key processes that each forum faces is finding a way to move critical issues up to the senior mentor level and vet them through the Army more quickly.

The commanders of the three Army commands have an executive council they use to govern the forums. The council meets a minimum of once a year. A board of directors composed of personnel at the one- and two-star general levels also oversees the forums. Mason explains that the WfFs are managed less through formal rules and regulations than guidelines and good content management.

The high-level leadership and focus areas of the WfFs differentiate them from other knowledge management forums in use by the Army. Platforms such as the company command forum and platoon leader forum are targeted at lower levels of Army organization than the WfFs. Mason says such tools can be formed by almost anyone with an issue. The WfFs are oriented to a specific purpose at higher levels to encourage action at those levels for very specific requirements. He emphasizes the importance of creating new forums only when necessary and linking different ones together so the Army saves itself from reinventing the same tools every time someone has a need or an idea. The WfFs link to other successful knowledge networks while focusing on the mainstay of brigade level and above.

A small staff of full-time employees at each command location provides security support to the forums through monitoring and content management. This staff also helps resolve how to turn key information emanating from the field into actions and lessons learned available to those who need to know about it as quickly as possible.

Mason shares that a key aspect of success for knowledge networks is creating interest through content and common need. In the case of the WfFs, developers wanted to hasten solutions by implementing a senior mentor program. The knowledge networks serve as a way to convey messages those senior officers want to sponsor or advocate.

Though the forums are largely based online where they are available around the clock to allow asynchronous communication, the Army has put in place steps for synchronous sharing as well. WfFs events are held at advertised times and places to allow for real-time communication guided by an agenda. Sessions are recorded and posted in the online forums so those not able to attend still can view the material. Through the use of WfFs Senior Mentor Symposiums, FORSCOM Corps and TRADOC COEs have established processes for vetting and resolving pertinent operational issues and lessons learned. TRADOC, the AMC and other supporting organizations across the Army join these symposia to discuss key operational issues and challenges encountered by the BCTs.

One such event was a recent BCT holistic review held at Fort Benning, Georgia. FORSCOM had not been included at that level of discussion before, but the event drew upon collective input from the command’s three forums. A representative from each forum attended the review to share ideas. The WfFs contributed to BCT organizational design through a TRADOC holistic review process and rapidly vetted issue papers such as the “Army Design Doctrine” and the “Light Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Study.”

As the forums move forward, they will require additional authorizations and technologies. The WfF Working Group is entering the third phase of a multiyear implementation plan for the forums. The aim of the action is to establish the WfFs as an enduring Army program of record.

The Posture Statement explains that, “As WfF develops into an Army program, it must be supported with a global Army enterprise systems architecture (both secure and non-secure) and an enterprise resource server forest. This architecture is under development, and efforts are underway to expedite the availability to the WfF program. In order to support the level of collaboration demanded by the emergent ‘Web 2.0’ environment, deploying and deployed units and leaders must be able to seamlessly ‘plug into’ a secure network anywhere in the world and obtain access to the shared resources of the [WfF].”

WEB RESOURCES
2009 Army Posture Statement Warfighters’ Forums: www.army.mil/aps/09/information_papers/warfighters_forums.html
U.S. Army Forces Command: www.forscom.army.mil
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command: www.tradoc.army.mil
U.S. Army Materiel Command: www.amc.army.mil