[November 8, 2017] Written in English and Arabic above the door entering the Tactical Operations Center for Coalition forces occupying Iraq in 2004 and onward, were the words Who Else Needs to Know.1 Our commander, like so many of us, had a number of bad experiences when members of our unit failed to inform him of important events. That problem, he was determined, to end.
In combat, the flow of information is crucial to the success of the operation. Mostly because of the complexity and confusing nature of suppressing a terrorist insurgency, when information is not shared it becomes worthless. Lives are lost, people wounded, property destroyed, and the war prolonged because a piece of data did not get to the right person at the right time.
It was incumbent upon us to always be asking the basic question, “Who else needs to know.” Whether it was on email, a radio transmission, video teleconference, written correspondence, or simply a person-to-person briefing, we all had to be aware of others who might need a specific piece of information. Failure to do so was not a viable option.
Who else needs to know is an idea that has been called a “philosophy of common sense” by those experienced in military field operations. As we can imagine, the military is particularly sensitive to the idea but any complex organization must have rules and procedures that dictate when and where information must be shared. Information interaction among leaders and others is also crucial for the flow to actually succeed.
Purposefully withholding information in the U.S. military is considered a dereliction of duty. In other venues it is seen as a form of power; those with the information have the power. To combat such a closed environment where information does not flow freely requires considerable personal skills of all its leaders. It means making it clear that nothing is too insignificant –within the confines of organizational priorities – to be analyzed, studied, and shared.
The U.S. rotated its units in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan on a regular basis. An Army unit could expect to see a year of duty in combat before being rotated out. In 2010 when I rotated back to Iraq for my third deployment I found those words still posted above the door at the tactical operations center. It became a culture of free-flowing information and was one of the reasons the insurgency took such a beating.
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- In Arabic: الذي يحتاج أيضا إلى معرفه