Records Management and Declassification Agency: Documenting Operations and Ensuring Official Records are Captured and Preserved
The Importance of Preserving Records
This handbook highlights the importance of collecting and preserving your unit data to ensure an accurate accounting of your unit's actions during a contingency operation. What information is preserved will dictate what history says about your unit and will also allow the Army to capture lessons learned; however, there is also a need (and legal requirement) to ensure the rights and interests of Soldiers, civilians, and the Army are protected. Capturing and preserving your official records ensure veterans and agencies providing benefits (Veteran's Administration, insurance companies, etc.) can verify and validate claims for benefits. This, in most cases, happens long after the mission is over. A veteran can be left without critical care or compensation if there is no recorded proof to validate his claim and the service and/or circumstances surrounding that claim.
Records Management and Declassification Agency (RMDA) Receives the Official Copy
The Center of Military History (CMH), Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), and RMDA require similar records to accomplish their respective missions. The main difference is that RMDA's focus is on ensuring the "official record" is placed into the Army's recordkeeping system. As a commander, you have a legal responsibility to properly document your unit's operations. There are federal statutes (36 Code of Federal Regulation; Chapter XII, Parts 1200-1299; and 44 United States Code 3301-3314) and Army policy (Army Regulation [AR] 25-1 and AR 25-400-2) that require the proper documentation of the functions and operations the Army performs. This documentation is extremely critical during a contingency operation. The official record copy of any document should be placed in the Army's recordkeeping system to ensure preservation through that records life-cycle. In the case of contingency operation records, most have permanent dispositions and should eventually end up in the National Archives where historians, researchers, and family members of veterans can access the information.
During your deployment, CALL, CMH, and other agencies that deploy will be asking for your records. You should provide these agencies with copies of the documents, not the official record and, certainly, not the only existing copy. RMDA does not deploy, and the responsibility for the official record belongs to the commander.
RMDA's Directives and Guiding Documents
RMDA has been distributing directives and guidance documents concerning operational recordkeeping since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002. The two most important guides are Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA Pam) 25-403, Chapter 12, and the RMDA, "Quick Reference Guide to Documenting Operations for Deployed Units of the Army." Chapter 12 of the DA Pam focuses on operational records in theater and provides guidance on setting up a process for collecting and preserving operational records. The quick reference guide tells a Soldier what he should keep and where he should send it. It includes instruction for both hard-copy and electronic records. (See a copy of the quick reference guide and Chapter 12 of the DA Pam in Appendix A.)
Procedures for Sending Documents to RMDA
Army policy requires Army users be registered in the Army Records Information Management System (ARIMS) (<www.arims.army.mil>) and use the system to send electronic records or transfer/ship hardcopy records. There are policies and guidance on how to properly ship/transmit your records in the ARIMS; however, this practice may not always be possible or practical in a war zone. However, you can still capture and preserve your unit's records. At the very least, send the records you collect to your home station where the local records officers can further process them.
A detailed organization and index of your records will make it easier to find specific records later. Make sure records contain the following:
Hardcopy records should be boxed and organized and should never be shipped without some kind of transmittal document, such as a Standard Form 135 or a typed or handwritten piece of paper with an inventory of what is in the box. This inventory provides the people on the receiving end something to work with and allows them to further process the records. It gives you, as the commander, a receipt for what you have shipped.
You should never allow Soldiers to throw paper, electronic media, or other hardcopy information into a box and send it without some level of organization. It is almost impossible even for an experienced records manager to sort through this material when he knows nothing about the operation or the context under which the unit created the records.
Technology is a double-edged sword in terms of records management. Near real time data can be transmitted anywhere, orders can be transmitted or posted, and journals can be kept and shared electronically. However, there is a dark side to all technology; it is all too easy to hit that delete key or wipe clean hard-drives or file servers and lose informationalong with a part of the Army's historyforever. Losing this information makes it difficult to create lessons learned and protect the rights and interests of your Soldiers.
Copy your electronic records to approved removable media and send that media to your home station. If your unit posts fragmentary or operations orders (OPORDS) on tactical Websites, make a "record copy" before these orders are removed. When your unit redeploys, make a "record copy" of all records on hard drives or servers before they are wiped clean for the replacement unit. Label the media and organize it in the same way you organize hardcopy documents.
The quick reference guide lists approximately 60 record types that units should create and preserve during a contingency operation. However, the following 10 types could most affect the rights and interests of your Soldiers:
No More "Radar O'Reilly's"
Historically, recordkeeping was left to clerks and records officers trained in the records management field. However, the new Army has all but done away with the administrative military occupational specialties. There are no more "Radar O'Reilly's" to do everything in triplicate and maintain a unit's files. Consequently, the responsibility of this very important undertaking has been shifted to commanders and action officers as "another duty as assigned." It requires preplanning and establishing procedures to minimize the burden on you as the commander and your Soldiers in the field.