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Army testing wiki-style updates to manual

By TERI WEAVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 5, 2009

TOKYO — Attention soldiers: If you know a better way to execute Army operations, now’s your chance to prove it.

The Army has plans to put about 230 field operations manuals into a Wikipedia-style format to let soldiers of all ranks edit or change Army guidelines, according to Clint Ancker, a retired Army colonel who now directs the Army office dedicated to doctrine.

Until Oct. 2, soldiers with an Army account and a military identification card can make changes to 17 manuals in a pilot program, Ancker said.

Eventually, the project will put a little less than half of all Army manuals into the wiki format, which will allow soldiers to make instantaneous changes about the best ways to set supply lines, evacuate casualties, place artillery and convoy through the battlefield, Ancker said.

"Some of that changes very rapidly," Ancker said, "especially when they deal with an adapting enemy."

It’s a fundamental change to drafting and distributing Army doctrine, Ancker acknowledged.

With the wiki format, changes will be immediate, with oversight from different Army commands but no official approval required before publication on the Web. Currently, the secretary of the Army must endorse each manual, which can take 18 months to five years to update and publish.

"I was somewhat taken aback," said Ancker, who served 31 years, when first hearing about the wiki concept in March. "I had very mixed feelings about it. We have to ensure that we have some checks and balances."

Now, Ancker says, he’s sold.

The idea came after a review this spring of all Army doctrine, said Ancker, the director of the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate in Leavenworth, Kan. When the project began, the scope of instructions had grown so vast no one knew exactly how many field manuals existed.

They eventually tracked down about 550 field manuals. Already, the Army has rescinded 53. It has reclassified most of the remaining ones as fundamental (94 that define core Army principles) or technical (108 that tell soldiers how to do systematic work like fix a truck or repair a gun).

About 230 operations manuals — which will be renamed Army Tactics, Techniques and Procedures manuals — define what troops should do in the field, whether at war or in a humanitarian crisis, Ancker said.

On July 2, the Army put 10 of those manuals online for a trial run. As of last week, all 17 manuals in the pilot program had 14,318 hits with about 70 content changes made, he said. None of the suggestions, he said, have involved anything "silly" or "malicious."

Because soldiers must use their Army Knowledge Online accounts to login, no changes to the Army manuals will be anonymous. Also, Army officials expect soldiers to comment primarily on their own jobs. That means changes on unmanned aerial systems, for example, would likely come from a relatively small community of soldiers who operate and train on the systems each day.

"They are not going to put something on there that doesn’t make sense," Ancker said.

For now, the changes to the 17 manuals will not be permanent, Ancker said, and there is no set timeline for launching the entire wiki project. First, the Army has to figure out what policy changes are needed to allow a soldier rather than the secretary of the Army to approve an edit in a manual.

Also, the Army is contracting the job of putting the manuals into a wiki format, which will cost about $400,000, Ancker said. Overall, the entire manual review project is estimated to cost less than $1 million, he said.

Parts of those 230 manuals will remain unchangeable. Certain aspects of doctrine, such as safety checks on a helicopter, won’t be malleable, Ancker said. But getting patients into a helo and off the ground will.

"There is a risk," he said of the open forum. "But that is far outweighed by the benefits."


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