Internet Connects Future Army Leaders with Virtual ‘Front Porch’

Internet Connects Future Army Leaders with Virtual ‘Front Porch’

WEST POINT, New York -- It was a decades-old Army tradition that junior officers would eat lunch together every day in Army-run dining halls. There they would trade ideas they'd picked up in their training. But in the last decade, to save money, contractors such as Kellogg, Brown and Root have replaced the old dining halls with civilian-style cafeterias, some boasting big-screen TVs. The officers stopped gathering . . . and stopped talking. That had the effect of isolating young leaders, preventing them from getting answers to life-and-death questions -- and from sharing their own answers they might have learned the hard way.

Lt. Cols. Tony Burgess and Nate Allen were captains in the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division in the mid-1990s when they started noticing the absence of this traditional "informal knowledge-sharing." Besides the demise of old-school chow halls, a growing wave of political correctness had killed off the tradition of leaders drinking together at the Officer's Club after work. So Burgess and Allen instead had taken to hanging out on each other's front porches at night, talking shop. But they wanted some way to bring more people into the conversation. They turned to what was, for the mainstream Army, a fairly new technology: the Internet.

Ten years later, Burgess and Lt. Col. Pete Kilner oversee a family of password-protected, Army-sanctioned, Web-based forums that connect officers all over the world -- including many in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their so-called "Center for Company-Level Leaders," nestled in an airy office at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has become the high-tech chow hall/o-club/front porch for a generation of wartime leaders.

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