Posted by: blackvector | March 31, 2009

What If Everyone Could Document Combat?

090317-A-6797M-623Visual documentation (VDOC) of combat operations is an integral part of operations to ensure documentation of the entire scope of U.S. military activities during wartime operations, contingencies,  joint exercises and other events involving the DoD Components having significant national interest. According to Dept of Defense Instruction 5040.4. This is the role of combat camera. It is true VDOC encompasses quite a bit more, but for this article, I want to present something sent to me via twitter.

The question comes from a Twitter person I follow @subbob who teaches for the U.S. Army. He asked, “What if every Airman (or Soldier) had potential to produce Combat Camera footage?” The question arose from this post A Child in the Fight. It’s an interesting question, what would/should you do in this situation. If indeed every military member could produce Combat Camera footage, then the entire event would be documented and in the expeditionary environment, we have seen documentation is key to counter enemy propaganda efforts.

Technology has come a long way in being able to deliver direct feeds from the front line to the war room. Undoubtedly, it would be valuable if indeed every person in the field could send visual imagery in real time back to higher headquarters. Or at the very least, maintain a visual record for later retrieval. A sort of Weapon System Video (WSV) only the WSV is not from an aircraft, but rather a person. In the information war, people are the weapon system are they not?

In the war of words, it would be the VDOC of the event that would be key in dispelling enemy propaganda.  Social media sites are key in the propaganda war. The use of VDOC by the Israeli Defense Forces during the recent operation in Gaza highlights how successful using VDOC in the social media environment can be. The YouTube site for the IDF was very active during the campaign. It can be accessed on YouTube here. I highly suggest viewing the site. The use of VDOC from the front lines helped the IDF dispel Hamas propaganda efforts. The key, however, is in how quickly the IDF is able to get the imagery out. As in the example above, it would be useless to have the imagery if it did not get out prior to the enemy putting out their version of the story. Indeed the enemy could have re-staged the scene in the sniper example to show American indifference toward children. Immediacy is paramount in the Now Media world.

The key will be how to get imagery from the battlefield to where it needs to be almost as quickly as the event itself unfolds. We seem to be able to do that when we carry around our iPhones, snap a picture of what we are having for dinner and then share it via Twitter and FaceBook where it is instantly accesible to 500 friends. How do we then leverage this power while balancing security risk? There are operational issues that must be addressed and clearly I am not endorsing release of imagery on the fly. However, there has to be some level of risk accepted — if we use imagery to counter enemy efforts in the information battle space. Otherwise we will lag far behind in the information war with our adversaries continuing to take the lead.



  1. Very sound thoughts and having been there to review release and get them out, it would not be that difficult. We may have to forego the quality of the video, but we can get it back to Higher levels of comand and reposted very quickly as long as we are cleared to do so. A few things that must happen to even attempt it. Our Comm security folks have to open up a clear channel through the filtering system for the information to reach the PA authority. We have must have parameters for pre-cleared documention, which means PA must be involved in planning. We have to know the source is credible even if it is coming from our own troops. They are less likely to fake a pick, but you see them out their if you search. We must still keep our eye on propriety as well as security and accuracy. We cannot operate in a vacuum. We must have PA pros monitoring real time data about what is happening in the field through a variety of channels. We must have buy in from our Coalition partners, allies, ro other groups we work closely with. Keep up the blogging and good luck.

  2. Spot on. Operationalized PA is the answer. We must stop “asking permission” to do our job and do it. Decisive action coupled with sound logic and guidance will rule the day. I wholly support putting a flip cam recorder in the hands of our SOF, whether they have a COMCAM vidoc team with them or not. More imagery aka more truth released rapidly = success in the info battlespace against the lying enemy. We have several glass ceilings we must shatter in the process though and they are all institutionalized. Operational security will have to be weighed against the risk associated with release in the clearance process, but that must be weighed beforehand, not in the thick of the info battle. That is going to be some thick glass to shatter, and at times it is unbreakable. Good brains at work on this, both of you.

  3. I’m tremendously emcouraged by the posts/insights I’ve seen here. One of my former students is Col Lee Thomas, who runs Def Vis Info, and I’m sure he’s seen this string on “what if everyone did combat camera?” Our adversaries are certainly doing this, as far back as Kosovo 1999. I had a student last year observe “is it really a war of ideas, or a war of images?” Brilliant observation. The more avenues we have open to capture the images that help us, the faster we’ll “win”.

  4. I understand your point but we live in a digital age where changing imagery is far too easy. Currently the services provide trained professionals (and I don’t use the term professional lightly) who know how to provide quality imagery and know the importance of the ethics involved in providing unaltered imagery. Give everyone a camera (and nowadays most people understand the basics of imagery manipulation) and who knows what you’ll get back. Look at the instant manipulation available on an iPhone! You need to consider the full ramifications of this plan. What happens when something is deemed Top Secret? What happens when imagery that shows sensitive military information or Secret material gets out from one of the thousands of ‘photographers’ you have in the field? As a former Combat Camera Airmen, I was trained to know who to talk to, what to shoot, how to get to where I needed to be and how to protect my imagery. Being a photographer or videographer is an important job in the military and by pawning it off as just ‘imagery collection’ you’ll not only be compromising the quality of imagery, but also the assuredness that you’re getting true, unedited imagery.

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