Nerds No More: Darpa Trains Troops to Be Popular | Danger Room |

The Pentagon’s biggest geeks are getting ready to turn you into the ultimate social animal.

Darpa, the military research division that helped create cyberspace, now wants to master meatspace’s tricky interpersonal dynamics. The program is named, innocuously enough, “Strategic Social Interaction Modules.” And it “will provide warfighters with the basic human dynamics skills they need to enter into any social encounter regardless of the culture, group, or situation,” according to a Darpa announcement.

“After such training,” the agency adds, “soldiers will be able to approach and engage strangers in unfamiliar social environments, orient to unfamiliar patterns of behavior, recover from social mistakes, de-escalate conflict, rigorously practice transition in and out of force situations and engage in the process of discovering and adapting to previously unknown ‘rules of the game’ encountered in social engagements.”

via Nerds No More: Darpa Trains Troops to Be Popular | Danger Room |

I’d love to hear Esli’s take on this.

I spent four long, long years as a recruiter. I’m not a very extroverted person. I’m almost painfully shy, and very reticent. But one of the absolutely key skills for a recruiter is the ability to  approach perfect strangers and establish some level of rapport with them. It was a daunting task. And that was in my own culture, with few language barriers, and I was pretty sure whatever antipathy people had to me wouldn’t lead to an IED attack.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am in awe of what the young soldiers of our Army have mastered in this last decade, fighting in two wars, in two very different cultures, and yet learning to perform tasks at the lowest levels that I never even had to consider in all my years of training.

I’m not at all confident that this DARPA program will produce much in the way of a useful tool, but it is nice to see that we aren’t just tossing the troops in the deep end of the pool and wishing the well.

3 thoughts on “Nerds No More: Darpa Trains Troops to Be Popular | Danger Room |”

  1. My initial reaction is that it is a load of junk, but then I thought about it for a bit, and have slightly revised my opinion. Generally, to replicate “COBs” or Civilians on the Battlefield, we use other soldiers with very limited ability to replicate local nationals. For larger exercises, we can sometimes contract role players (such as Iraqi expats) that do a great job, but because of the high cost of them, the best of these are reserved for key leader engagements that few of the “regular soldiers” actually ever get to interact with. This is the same at the Combat Training Centers. Senior leaders (CO CDR and above) will probably get some decent training, while the bulk of the Soldiers will work with other US Soldiers who are role-playing, but with a bit more experience at it. But, the fact is that these training opportunities are usually the first times for us to interact with good role players, and instead of capitalizing on our previous interactive training (becuase it currently doesn’t exist), we are way behind on the learning curve. So, bottom line: if this gadget is some sort of way to expose leaders AND junior leaders/soldiers to cultural nuances etc, then it is a good thing. But perhaps only as good as other ways of doing it? The big questions are: will units use it amongst other competing (and ever-increasing)training demands; is it better than current models (lecture, book, etc); will it provide enough repetition to create “muscle memory”; and lastly, will Soldiers actually employ whatever they may have learned and retained, once they get into this deployed environment. Some are incredibly adept at embracing the local culture and will do so regardless of the way they learned it, while some others are so bad, they give “the ugly American” stereotype a good name. Jury is still out on this one…

  2. I’m sure the training will be put to good use in bars, pubs and Gasthauses everywhere the troops are stationed.

    On the serious side, what Esli said.

    1. Indeed, at the recruiter school, we quickly put our newly learned sales skills to work in the lively Indianapolis club scene, with remarkable results.

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