Why a Commander's Guide for Data and Records Collection?
It is March 1991, and the scene is the oil-smoke covered battlefield in Kuwait. Victorious troops of a multi-national coalition, led by the U.S., have just driven the much-vaunted Iraqi Army out of Kuwait, capturing more than 60,000 Iraqi soldiers and killing countless others. Spread over a several hundred mile front, more than 600,000 U.S. troops halted with the declaration of a cease fire on the last day of February. Other troops began "policing up" the battlefield by clearing mines, detonating piles of abandoned artillery shells, and gathering more prisoners. The choking oil fumes got on everyone's skin and in everyone's lungs. Enemy tanks, destroyed by the powerful depleted uranium rounds of the Army's M-1 Abrams tank, smoldered in the distance. Thousands of troops, all of whom had received a wide variety of anti-chemical warfare and anti-biological warfare vaccines, moved over the battlefield inspecting the destroyed tanks and breathing in oil fumes, as piles of captured enemy munitions were detonated in the distance. The stress of battle and the stench of human death and suffering affected everyone.
Within months of the end of Operation Desert Storm (ODS), hundreds of veterans began reporting unusual medical symptoms. Severe fatigue, skin diseases, trouble breathing, weight loss, trouble sleeping, and severe stress were just a few of the symptoms of a disease some began calling Gulf War Syndrome. When the Army began investigating this rash of symptoms, its first thought was to try and establish a pattern of those affected: What units were they in? Where were they located? What operations were they engaged in? The answers provided by investigators were: "We don't know. We didn't keep our records." It took many millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to reconstruct the locations and operations of U.S. units engaged in ODS. Thousands of veterans and active duty Soldiers faced an uphill struggle in proving they were anywhere near combat operations or even in the theater at all.
Regardless of the degree of validity of all of the Gulf War Syndrome claimants (an issue still under investigation by the Veteran's Administration), the fact remains that the Army failed to take care of its Soldiers by preserving records of those combat operations for the future. Units in World War II maintained such records, even during the intense combat of the Battle of the Bulge. Units on the verge of being overrun by the Chinese in Korea in the winter of 1950 kept unit journals, war diaries, staff action journals, operations reports, and intelligence summaries. Yet in today's military, despite the ready availability of high speed computers, e-mail, sophisticated word processing programs, portable digital storage devices, data base programs, and visually stunning graphics presentations, units often fail to preserve a record of what they were doing, where they were doing it, and when. They throw away their histories with the push of a button or with the whir of a shredder.
Preserving unit records:
Three Reasons to Save Your Records
The seemingly simple act of preserving such basic operational documents as briefings, message logs, staff journals, after-action reviews, situation reviews, and other records serves a variety of purposes. It is relatively simple to save hard drives, back-up hard drives, and create compact discs (CDs) and digital versatile discs (DVDs), all of which can store huge amounts of data in limited space. All it takes is for commanders to make saving operational data a priority.
Reason 1: When the unit retains a clear record of what missions it accomplished and when and where it accomplished the missions, higher-level units can review these past operations to recommend commendations (such as for Presidential Unit Citations or Valorous Unit Awards) or assign blame (attacking the wrong target or causing excess civilian casualties).
Reason 2: The Army has developed a methodology and a system that captures, processes, and disseminates lessons learned throughout the force. Beginning at the Soldier-level and culminating in the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), the capture of key events and lessons is critical to survival and success on the modern battlefield. Capturing lessons learned requires the regular and accurate collection of unit operational data.
Reason 3: A unit's history is part of the U.S. Army in actionthe story of its Soldiers during over two centuries of defending the nation. It is a vital link in an unbroken chain that binds the unit to the Nation. That history is only preserved when a unit keeps its records and retires them appropriately. Without records, a unit's history is just a collection of stories that may or may not be true, but which will probably not be preserved as part of the Army's heritage and history.
This guide focuses on the following Army organizations and their roles in record and data collection: