UNIT HISTORY: A TWO-EDGED SWORD.
Few of those young officers who entered my office knew of a unit history file. Once informed of its possible existence, they went to it and often found little of value to their task. Unit history files run the gamut See color gamut.
gamut - The gamut of a monitor is the set of colours it can display. There are some colours which can't be made up of a mixture of red, green and blue phosphor emissions and so can't be displayed by any monitor. from little or nothing (except for last year's annual history report) to a collection of random newspaper clippings, change-of-command brochures, and pictures of changes of command and organizational-day activities. While these later items have merit, they do not completely document the unit's accomplishments in war or peace. Invariably in·var·i·a·ble
Not changing or subject to change; constant.
in·vari·a·bil , those same officers returned to my office in search of more information. They ultimately learned that gathering material on their units is a slow process that involves working with a number of federal organizations. However, with patience and determination, they can get what they need.
In more than one instance, young officers have walked into the History Office at the Engineer School with the mission of writing a history of their unit. Usually, the task was given to them by a battalion commander In the United States Army and United States Marine Corps, the commanding officer of a battalion is a Battalion Commander. The position is usually held by a lieutenant colonel, although a major can be selected for battalion command in lieu of an available lieutenant colonel. who wanted something for new soldiers to read. The obvious purpose of such a document is to instill in·still
To pour in drop by drop.
instil·lation n. a sense of pride in the unit, fostering unit morale and esprit de corps esprit de corps Graduate education The degree of happiness of the 'campers' in a place . This is the traditional view of unit history. It is the reason units are allowed to maintain an organizational history file within the Modern Army Recordkeeping System (MARKS). However, that file -- and unit history in general--can actually serve the unit commander in two ways: It can enhance unit morale and esprit de corps and provide information for command decision making. This is possible only if there is command emphasis.
Before contacting federal organizations for information, the unit historian should examine the unit's lineage LINEAGE. Properly speaking lineage is the relationship of persons in a direct line; as the grandfather, the father, the son, the grandson, &c. and honors (see page 41), often found in the commander's office. This will save a lot of time. The lineage and honors details the unit's federal service and identifies the various campaigns for which the organization has service credit. By knowing the periods of federal service, the action officer can disregard those conflicts during which the unit was inactive in·ac·tive
1. Not active or tending to be active.
a. Not functioning or operating; out of use: inactive machinery.
b. . The lineage and honors also identifies parent organizations. Their files and histories are logically a part of the heritage of the unit and should be examined as well. The campaign credits tell the researcher where the unit served. Campaign credits for the Pacific in World War II means that the officer can ignore the European theater when doing work in published historical works. After reviewing the lineage and honors, the action officer can begin contacting other organizations for additional information.
There are a number of sources of unit history. The National Archives National Archives, official depository for records of the U.S. federal government, established in 1934 by an act of Congress. Although displeasure concerning the method of keeping national records was voiced in Congress as early as 1810, the United States continued in Washington, D.C., contains unit files for hundreds of organizations, especially for the years of World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars Vietnam War, conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. . The major disadvantage of using the Archives is the cost charged to reproduce the files. A unit that chooses to purchase complete files normally finds copies of material (such as unit orders and correspondence) that have little merit for a written history. However, scanning the files to sort out the unwanted material requires a trip to the Archives, something few units can afford. One of the best approaches is to contact friends or associates in the Washington area and ask them to spend a couple of hours in the Archives.
Other information can be found in written histories, such as the official history of World War II published by the Center of Military History, Washington, D.C., or books written by participants. Some material can be found in publications such as the Stars and Stripes Stars and Stripes
nickname for the U.S. flag. [Am. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 8567]
See : America and Yank Yank
steamship stoker vainly tries to climb the social ladder, then fails in attempt to avenge himself on society. [Am. Drama: O’Neill The Hairy Ape in Sobel, 339]
See : Failure
(jargon) yank magazines. Command newsletters, such as the Castle Courier (the newsletter of the engineer command in Vietnam), are excellent sources for units that served in Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, region of Asia (1990 est. pop. 442,500,000), c.1,740,000 sq mi (4,506,600 sq km), bounded roughly by the Indian subcontinent on the west, China on the north, and the Pacific Ocean on the east. . Often, the Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks Carlisle Barracks is a United States Army facility located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It is part of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command and is the site of the U.S. Army War College. It is the nation’s second oldest active military base. , Pennsylvania, is the best single source for much of this type of publication. Military Engineer and Engineer, the professional bulletin of Army engineers, have traditionally published articles on unit activities. The Defense Technical Information Center Noun 1. Defense Technical Information Center - the agency in the Department of Defense that provides scientific and technical information to federal agencies and their contractors
DTIC (DTIC DTIC
A trademark for the drug dacarbazine.
dacarbazine Warning - Hazardous drug!
DTIC (CA), DTIC-Dome
) has some of the quarterly reports (lessons learned) written by engineer units in Vietnam. Many Army libraries have access to DTIC and can order these reports.
The History Office, Office of the Chief of Engineers, at Alexandria, Virginia Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 128,284. Located along the Western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) south of downtown Washington, DC. , has an extensive unit-history collection. A master index for each unit identifies what type of material is present, including oral interviews with senior engineer officers. In addition, a call or note to the Organizational History Branch of the Center of Military History can produce information on the unit's history and the symbology sym·bol·o·gy
1. The study or interpretation of symbols or symbolism.
2. The use of symbols.
1. the study and interpretation of symbols. Also called symbolism. of the organization's crest or distinctive unit insignia in·sig·ni·a also in·sig·ne
n. pl. insignia or in·sig·ni·as
1. A badge of office, rank, membership, or nationality; an emblem.
2. A distinguishing sign. .
While the Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood Fort Leonard Wood, U.S. army post, 71,000 acres (28,700 hectares), S central Mo.; est. 1940. It is one of the largest basic-training centers in the United States and also provides training for army engineers. has been slowly collecting unit material, there is much we do not have. A call or note would determine what is available. Again, with patience and determination, enough material can be collected to write a unit history that is useful in telling new soldiers a story of challenges and accomplishments.
That story normally deals with operations in war because most of the information found in the Archives, Carlisle Barracks, and other places deals with units in war. While that is important, combat constitutes only a small part of any unit's overall history. A greater amount of time is spent in peacetime and involves the countless challenges and requirements of an Army not at war.
Ironically, the unit's efforts in peacetime in such areas as training can provide the second important benefit of unit history and the organizational history file--support for decision making. Unit commanders face numerous challenges over the course of their command. Requirements for maintenance, training, and post and family support compete for attention and resources. This is not new. Peacetime is traditionally the most demanding period for an army because resources are scarce and requirements are not. The Knowledge of how one's predecessors handled these conflicting demands would benefit any commander.
For example, if after-action reports from unit field training exercises (to include those at the National Training Center) were maintained over time, the current command could identify areas of consistent strength or weakness. When coupled with completion reports of construction projects, post-support detail summaries, etc., new commanders would know quickly what challenges to expect. Copies of annual organizational inspections, especially in the areas of maintenance, would reveal the impact of these demands on the readiness of equipment, unit morale, and soldier support.
Many of these reports are found in other files in the headquarters, such as the S3 and S4 files. However, these items normally have a comparatively short file life. Regulatory requirements Regulatory requirements are part of the process of drug discovery and drug development. Regulatory requirements describe what is necessary for a new drug to be approved for marketing in any particular country. to retire certain files after a cutoff date, and the simple need for file space, normally account for the demise of historically significant documents. By contrast, the Organizational History File, MARKS number 870-5a, is a permanent file. Regardless of who maintains the file, it exists as long as the unit does. Therefore, the material placed in that tile will always be available to commanders or their staffs.
Some may consider it strange to put a command-inspection report or a field exercise after-action report in a "history" file. That is because too many believe that history is what happened 20 or 30 years ago. In fact, yesterday is history; it has happened and cannot be changed. The material placed in the historical file today becomes the historical material for all who serve in the unit in the future. Invariably, the value of that file is driven by the quality of material placed in it.
One of the most important items that could be placed in the file is the commander's review and assessment of activities. Virtually every unit is required to produce some form of annual historical report. Often, these documents are of marginal value Marginal value is a term widely used in economics, to refer to the change in economic value associated with a unit change in output, consumption or some other economic choice variable. , being only copies of last year's input with the names, statistics, and dates changed. However, this report could be invaluable if seen in the context of what was done, why, how, and the lessons learned from the effort. An annual--or even more frequent--summary of what the unit did, what initiatives were taken, and what worked or did not work would be extremely useful to future unit leaders.
In the past, end-of-tour reports were common for many unit commanders and key personnel. Today, we tend to limit that type of report to general officers. However, there is no reason why key officers and NCOs in a command should not write such a report. Not only would it be valuable in the unit history effort, but it would also be useful in providing perspectives and insights gained during service with the unit.
History is valuable to the profession of arms. Many famous leaders have attested at·test
v. at·test·ed, at·test·ing, at·tests
1. To affirm to be correct, true, or genuine: The date of the painting was attested by the appraiser.
2. to the value of applying the lessons of the past to the challenges of the present. The knowledge and appreciation of a unit's accomplishments are important in building and sustaining esprit de corps. Soldiers are challenged to maintain the traditions and standards of those who came before them. However, the raw materials of a unit history--the reports and papers that document what happened and why--can also be used to help current leaders guide their soldiers through the demands of today. Maintaining a viable unit-history file will serve all those who follow.
Dr. Roberts is the U.S. Army Engineer School historian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.