CHESTER HAS MOVED!: Military Situation Reporting: A How-To-Guide

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Military Situation Reporting: A How-To-Guide

CRITIQUE OF PRESS REPORTS There are several problems with the press reporting on the Fallujah battle. The best way to address them is to examine some basics of military situation reporting, and then to examine bits of several press stories to show how military situation reporting would be a much better template for their stories. Situation reporting doesn't translate directly into journalism, but it would provide mucch more detail than we are getting. It is also adjustable to account for any info holds the US may be putting on the journalists. And there is no reason why journalists can't use this system. Basically it is just better writing, and requires no special military knowledge to use. It is a simple system. First, here is the basic way to give a report about enemy personnel. Time: When seen Size: how many? what size unit? Unit: what unit are they a part of? Activity: what are they doing? Location: where are they? Equipment: what do they have? Example from today's ABC News reports: "On Tuesday, heavy street clashes were raging in Fallujah's northern neighborhoods." What does 'heavy' mean? Every story references 'heavy', 'fierce', 'harsh', 'tough' fighting. How are the insurgents attacking us? What techniques are they using? Here's how to rewrite it: "At 4pm local time Tuesday, US Marine engaged small bands of a dozen militants each in the central part of the Jolan district. The militants were armed with small arms, and were firing indiscriminately from street corners and roofs of houses. Marines responded by . . ." Rather than using superlatives or the same tired adjectives over and over again, both of which have the effect of sensory overload on the reader, reporters should aim for more precision. Rather than giving us some kind of barometric measurement meant to quantify the fighting, they should concentrate on giving more detail on what EXACTLY is happening. If most of these reporters were NCOs or officers, they would be kicked off the radio nets because nothing they mention has value to gaining a mental picture of what is happening. Still to come tonight . . . (in no particular order) 1. I'll plumb the depths of the Early Bird for under-reported stories. Good ones are often found there. Links may be hard to come by, so I'll paste paragraphs. 2. Where does it go from here? 3. Prediction Roundup and Update 4. Does this battle remind you of anything? 5. Chester takes a close look at a Slate article. Stand by . . . Also . . . Carnivorous Conservative is working feverishly on updating our joint graphics.

4 Comments:

Blogger Corrie said...

You forget, Chester, that sitreps are designed to forward actionable intel. Reports from journalists are designed to sell papers.

November 9, 2004 at 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're wrong in criticizing news reports about "heavy" fighting. Of course they're vague and undefined. And thus worthless, in terms of an accurate military assessment of the situation. But that's not their purpose, not at all. Aristotle (or was it Plato? I could look it up, but who cares?) said quite correctly (I paraphrase): don't aim for greater precision than is appropriate to the given context. A general press report conveys a general impression, quickly forgotten, or superceded, by the overall final outcome. Is the general impression of "heavy" more-or-less accurate, as a military assessment? Possibly not, though if anyone shot a single bullet in my direction I would be inclined to think "heavy". So what? Better that the general reader be "deceived" into thinking that it was really heavy going, even if it wasn't, since he will then think the ultimate victory is more impressive than, perhaps, it really is.
I don't mean to suggest by this that I'm not impressed by the prowess that the US military has shown in this, and other, recent endeavors. I am, profoundly so. In fact, one of the reasons (IMHO) that many engagements do not appear to be quite so "heavy" is precisely because the US military is so overwhelmingly powerful. If you have pretty good intel, and overwhelming firepower/technological dominance, and outstanding leadership/esprit-de-corps, it follows that most actual engagements may not really qualify as "heavy": you've already pretty much crushed the bastards (by air/artillary/tank fires). Overall, that seems to be the prevailing picture. Grunt-wise, of course, anybody firing at you is "heavy".

If I may change the subject: You are a former Marine officer, blogging on a joint operation involving Marines and Army (and Brits). It would be interesting to read your analysis on the differences between Marine and Army. I'm fully aware of the Marine mystique and ethos (having read, among other things, the book on "Making the Corps"), and certainly hope that it (the Marine ethos) lives foreover. But, if you can put your service loyalty aside, what really is the difference, of major significance? The Army is much larger, will remain so, and will be the principal instrument of most large military operations we undertake. How do you assess it, vis-a-vis the Marines?

November 9, 2004 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Blue said...

Chester wrote:

Time: When seen
Size: how many? what size unit?
Unit: what unit are they a part of?
Activity: what are they doing?
Location: where are they?
Equipment: what do they have?

The Army calls these SALUTE reports, an acronym from the first letters above, although in a different order. Makes it grunt-proof!

Also, I noted in my blog that the Army adopted Marine counterinsurgency strategies at the end of the Vietnam war, and they are using these strategies now in Iraq.

November 9, 2004 at 9:37 PM  
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