By Capt. Jordan Dawsey
Special to GUIDON
If you have spent more than three years in the Army, it is likely you have completed a rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, or the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Whether it be the intense heat of the Mojave Desert or the rat-sized mosquitos in Louisiana, each of these training centers presents their unique challenges for Soldiers.
Before entering “the box” — a term given to the cordoned-off training area used to simulate deployment conditions — commanders give in-depth safety briefings, which include a zero-tolerance cell phone policy while in the training area.
According to a 2019 survey on zdnet.com, the average American spends 5.4 hours per day on their phone — for Soldiers, the isolation from social media, friends and family can be difficult.
Unfortunately, when commanders give the order of no cell phones in the box, the why is seldom explained.
“Train as you fight” is a phrase heard throughout each branch of the military, and it could not be more applicable to our current force. Training and Doctrine Command’s Pamphlet 525-3-1 explains our transition from counterinsurgency to the multi-domain battlefield — one of those domains is the cyberspace spectrum.
Cell phones use a Global Positioning System, which runs on radio waves between satellites and a receiver inside the phone. Cell phones are typically one of the most vulnerable computing devices — due to the lack of encryption and the fact that phones are programmed to connect to cell phone towers and Wi-Fi aggressively — and it’s relatively easy for opposing governments to hack them.
When the opposition identifies a cell phone signal, they can gain intelligence on friendly force’s location, or use a phone as a surveillance tool.
In 2007, Soldiers took photos of a line of helicopters and posted the pictures on social media. Enemy insurgents were able to use information stored within these photos to track the location and ultimately destroy several AH-64 Apache helicopters.
Geotagging is the process of embedding digital photos with latitude and longitude data. Initially created for businesses to market products, the geotagging trend became adopted by social media and other networking platforms. A simple user oversight and employment of low-end cyber warfare resulted in the loss of millions of dollars of equipment.
In this case, no one was hurt or killed; however, you can imagine the potential damage that could be inflicted if we are not careful when we use social media and geotagging.
The modern battlefield is shaped in unsuspected and mysterious ways — the factors of war impact all aspects of human emotion.
Recently, the Russian military has been using pinpoint propaganda texts to try to weaken Ukrainian soldiers’ morale and loyalty.
Julia Kirienko, a journalist who was embedded with Ukrainian forces fighting pro-Russian separatists in 2014, noticed that some of the soldiers she was with received a strange text message that stated, “Ukrainian soldiers they’ll find your bodies when the snow melts.”
The Russians hacked into cell networks and were able to send text and audio messages to any nearby cell phones. As one can imagine, a unit’s cohesion and efficiency could be undermined entirely using this technology.
Cell phones and the convenience that they provide will not be going anywhere any time soon.
As we develop new technology, strengths and weaknesses will be identified and exploited.
Ignorance of the technology is not a viable excuse when lives are on the line. We must educate ourselves and generate a mutual understanding among our subordinates. The no cell phones in the box policy is essential, and we must be disciplined to execute our mission without them.
(Editor’s note: Dawsey is with the 554th Engineer Battalion.)