Murphy's Law: December 8, 2003


Battling Babble- Every organization develops a jargon of its own. These special words mean much to insiders, but are incomprehensible, or simply confusing, to outsiders. The Department of Defense, however, is a special case. First of all, this organization, the largest part of the federal government, has dozens of different sub-organizations, each with their own special jargon. Some of these special words are also deadly. When an army unit calls in an air strike, it uses an air force officer serving with the army unit as a "controller." But if  a navy warplane is the only one in the area, the air force controller has to be careful how he talks to the navy pilot. The air force and navy pilots use different words and phrases when they are talking about delivering a bomb to where the ground troops want it. Actually, it's worse than that. The Atlantic Fleet (the half of the fleet that serves in the Atlantic ocean and nearby areas), uses slightly different terms than a pilot from the Pacific Fleet. Services use different map systems, and different terms when calling in artillery fire. There are a lot of differences that are harmless, like the army calling a toilet a "latrine" and the marines and navy calling it "the head." But when a war comes along and the services have to work together, these differences cause delays, which can result in needless casualties. Worse, the differences often lead to fatal accidents and friendly fire losses. The Department of Defense has been aware of these differences for decades, but resolving them has not been easy. 

In 1975, the army and air force established the Air Land Forces Application Agency. At first, this outfit tried to coordinate terminology and doctrine between the army and air force. Over the years, the navy and marines got involved as well. The agency publishes "how to" manuals that are distributed to all the services. A recent one was an updated version of their Peace Operations Guide. Contents include correct terms for various actions (calling for evacuation of a casualty is now "CASVAC," not the Vietnam era "MEDIVAC.") Much collected wisdom on how air, naval and ground units operate during peacekeeping are included. Experience from Afghanistan and Iraq are included. There is much practical information on how to set up base security, run air, ground and naval patrols in the area, how to deal with civilians and how to fight among a civilian population. The agency manuals and guides are most popular during an actual war. The rest of the time, each of the services keep busy training among themselves and pretty much going their own way. This is a long standing problem. While everyone preaches; "train as you fight and fight as you train," the services are reluctant to spend expensive resources on training with other services during peacetime. This, despite the obvious fact that they will be spending a lot of their time working with the other services when the shooting starts. But the Air Land Forces Application Agency is a start, for this outfit spends its time operating with all the services, at least in terms in collecting methods and vocabulary from everyone and translating it so everyone can at least understand, if not speak, the same language.


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