View Full Version : Sifting information proves vital to strategy

03-21-03, 03:33 PM
Sifting information proves vital to strategy
By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY

CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait Inside the war room, about 60 Marine Corps officers huddle around banks of laptop computers set up on folding tables. In front of them, four oversized projection screens displaying maps of Iraq show various aspects of the air, land and sea battles across the region.

This is the Combat Operations Center, the classified center for the Marine Corps' portion of the war with Iraq.

As troops from the 1st Marine Division crossed into Iraq Thursday night, officers here monitored their progress. By this morning, Marines had seized key positions in southeastern Iraq.

Information arriving here floods into the lap of Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, who is responsible for more than half the land forces confronting Iraq. Then the information floods out, up the chain of command to U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, and from there to the Pentagon.

Savvy management of these streams of data is as important to victory in this war as are precision-guided weapons and well-trained troops. "The key is: How do you know what's going on?" says Col. Larry Brown, the G3, or operations czar. "This is a huge organization. We have 85,000 people."

Battlefield reports come in from spy satellites, aircraft, surveillance drones, even human agents inside Iraq. But the reports often contradict one another especially in the early moments of combat when confusion shadows even the best-organized force.

To avoid being overwhelmed by the perverse benefits of too much knowledge, the staff filters only the highest-priority items for Conway.

Dubbed "commander's critical information requirements," the material would include obvious red alerts such as intelligence that an Iraqi military unit might be getting ready to fire chemical weapons. Less important reports are channeled elsewhere, leaving Conway free to focus on what matters.

Inside the COC in the war's opening hours, an air of determination reigned. All day, the men, and a handful of women, in the cavernous room had raced to sandbagged bunkers as air raid sirens wailed.

"For 27 years, I've trained to be right here, right now, doing what I'm doing," said Brown, a third-generation Marine. "I have complete confidence in our ability to kick (Saddam Hussein's) ass."

As the war raged, the Marine officers gulped gallons of black coffee and grabbed dinner from cardboard boxes at the rear filled with Meals Ready to Eat, such as boneless pork chops or grilled beefsteak with mushrooms. One officer answering a colleague's friendly challenge dropped to the floor and began banging off push-ups.

On the giant screens, "friendly" U.S. or British forces appeared as blue icons; Iraqi forces showed red. Software tracked 6,000 separate military assets, down to the level of an individual company or aircraft. To one side, video from a Predator remote-pilot vehicle gave commanders a recent view of their battlefield. "You're seeing emerging technology in action tonight," said Col. John Coleman, 1st MEF chief of staff.

At the midnight shift change Thursday night, status reports were exchanged from operations, intelligence and the other departments. Marines were engaged in battle on a broad front, and there was a certainty of additional combat to come.

As the first shift of the war handed off to its successors, there was a brief pause for quiet satisfaction.

"I'm very proud of everybody," said Col. Dennis Judge, current operations officer. "It's like watching the Super Bowl, and I had a 50-yard line ticket."