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Soldiers’ Online Chats Produce Valuable Army Knowledge, Colonel Says

By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2008 – The Army is trying to capitalize on the practices of “digital natives” by creating online communities for soldiers to exchange information, with the hope of turning into servicewide knowledge, a senior officer said yesterday.

A series of online discussion forums within the password-protected Army Knowledge Online intranet gives soldiers with similar professional backgrounds the chance to have candid conversations, Army Col. James Galvin, director of the Battle Command Knowledge System, told online journalists and “bloggers” in a conference call.

Galvin explained that each forum is structured around a specific topic and is facilitated by a professional -- generally a retired officer or noncommissioned officer -- who worked in the career field the forum addresses.

For example, NCOs have a community called NCO-net with a facilitator from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, at Fort Bliss, Texas, in which senior NCOs very candidly exchange views and perspectives, Galvin said.

Soldiers share information and experiences, such as operating procedures and insights from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, on these online communities, Galvin said. As a result, he added, innovative ideas emerge from around the force.

The Army intends to codify information drawn out of these forums and use it for future reference material. “Ultimately, it gets distilled into doctrine, and we’ve got the doctrine development and writers here as well,” Galvin said.

“What we do is about bringing people together, managing processes, and doing that all by being enabled with technology,” he explained.

The Battle Command Knowledge System, which developed the online communities, was implemented as a pilot effort three and a half years ago at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said Galvin, who is the program’s leader. The program soon will become part a larger Army knowledge-management endeavor.

Galvin said that on Feb. 13 Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of Fort Leavenworth, announced the creation of a new Combined Arms Center Knowledge organization. The new organization will combine the Battle Command Knowledge System with several other knowledge programs, including the Center for Army Lessons Learned, the “Military Review” journal, a combat studies institute, and doctrine developers, he said.

“What we see is this value stream of knowledge from the online conversations that soldiers can have in the communities we provide to the other end of the spectrum, being the fully distilled and well-articulated enduring principles of doctrine,” Galvin said. “So, it’s exciting that we’re a part of a larger, growing endeavor.”

(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)

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