During Operations Group Bravo’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Warfighter conducted at Fort McCoy during last week the brigade staff was exposed to a wide range of simulated threats and battlefield challenges. The Red Arrow Brigade was also given an opportunity to participate in a research project which may help MCTP conduct future evaluations of unit staffs.
A civilian team from the Army Research Institute (ARI) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) worked with the 32nd IBCT during the exercise, conducting research on interpersonal communication amongst the unit’s staff. Using data collection devices called sociometric badges, first developed at the MIT Media Lab, the team determined who spoke to whom among the staff and for how long. The electronic badges measured whether the wearer spoke but not the content of conversations. “This is the only current DoD site where they are being used,” said Dr. Andrew Duchon, a contractor on the DARPA research team from Aptima, Inc.
Wear of the devices was voluntary, but many staff members who were asked willingly wore them around their necks to aid the study. “Most of the key leaders at battalion and brigade level are participating, so we should have good data for our research,” added Dr. Duchon.
The sociometric badges are a new tool and are still undergoing testing. Recently the devices were tried out in a law enforcement setting, providing feedback on how police process information. Sociometric badges were tested for the first time in a military setting at Fort Leavenworth’s Mission Command Battle Lab (MCBL) about two years ago and will be used there again in June of this year. It is important to highlight this collaboration between MCBL and MCTP. The close working relationship has created a cooperative environment that makes this kind of research possible. Over the past several years, the MCBL/MCTP teaming has been forged by energetic and professional personnel who understand value of programs and research such as this. “I applaud the MCTP and its support for these important Army efforts. We understand the added burden of having outside personnel in the rotations, but the environment at the MCTP has always been welcoming and supportive,” said Mr. Calvin Johnson, the MCBL Deputy Director.
Dr. Arwen DeCostanza, who is the ARI lead on the project, sees great potential for products stemming from this research. “We’re hoping it will be a benefit to MCTP as an after-action report tool, to identify and visualize internal issues within the unit,” she said. “It can aid in understanding unit functioning and capture communications unobserved by OC/Ts.”
The research product has the potential of being a real-time evaluation tool, although the 32nd IBCT’s exercise was the pilot test to collect data in real time. The ARI team also tracked e-mail and other electronic communications as they happened, providing an even clearer picture of unit communication flow. The immediacy of the data and its analysis makes this tool relatively unobtrusive and non-disruptive, unlike current tools such as command climate surveys and sensing sessions. Dr. DeCostanza hopes that eventually tools stemming from this line of research could be used by unit commanders for self-assessment.
In a future exercise setting sociometric badges (or something similar to them) could be employed to see who the knowledge keepers are and if they in turn are providing information to other staff members who have a “need to know.” They could be utilized to identify who is NOT talking to key decision makers, predict trust between staff members and suggest modifications to unit practices. The U.S. Army, which places such emphasis on the human element in warfare, may be able to identify and improve the way its staff officers and senior NCOs approach problems and work as a team.
LTC James Crabtree