In a world in which social media and other innovative technologies constantly fuel our digital transformations, information operations, or IO, likely will be increasingly called upon for the U.S. military to gain a decisive and marked advantage in tomorrow’s battlefield. Maintaining the training and readiness for potential large scale combat operations will be a mainstay for the U.S. Army; however, the risks of impacts against the growing inter-connectedness of economies and societies influence global leaders’ decisions to engage in conventional conflict.

Global leaders will look towards conducting gray zone operations — or operations that nation states conduct against each other just below the threshold of conventional conflict — to decrease the risks and costs of otherwise engaging in a conventional conflict. Information operations are among those gray zone operations. To succeed in it, though, we must first start by recruiting the right people.

Joint doctrine defines IO as “the integrated employment, during military operations, of Information-Related Capabilities (IRCs) in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.”

Think of it in terms of marketing: how does Business A (the United States) entice a certain foreign population or demographic (the target audience) to buy its goods and services over that of Business B (a strategic competitor to the United States)? Information operations planners achieve this by weaponizing information through the leveraging and synchronizing of various of IRCs, or tools in the IO toolbox, such as: public affairs, combat camera, psychological operations, cyber operations, electronic warfare, civil affairs, space operations, military deception and others.

Army schooling to become an IO planner comes in one of three fashions:

  • A two-week Army Information Operations Planners’ Course, or AIOPC, for active duty and reserve component E6s and above (though I have personally observed E4s and E5s attend)
  • A 12-week Information Operations Qualification Course, or IOQC, for active duty and reserve component O3s through O5s
  • A nine-month IOQC for active duty and reserve component O3-5

Those who successfully complete AIOPC receive a P4 Additional Skills Identifier, or ASI. Officers who successfully complete IOQC receive their Functional Area-30, or FA30, IO designator and can submit to be awarded a 30A secondary Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS.

There is a notable disparity of IO education between officers and enlisted. The FA30 officer cadre across the Army is already rather small — some O4s and O5s pursue IO because it is considered an alternative credentialing course for the Intermediate Level Education Advanced Operations Course.

So why not make IO an MOS for the enlisted? Better yet, make it an initial entry MOS for young, enlisted soldiers just beginning their military service. Currently, IO draws from individual soldiers’ and officers’ experience in other MOSs, forces them to think outside the box, and adapt new ways to conduct IO based on that experience. I have seen that not work because individuals have been too rooted in their MOSs, which impacts their ability to think outside the box. Drawing from experience also affects the creativity and imagination needed for IO because as individuals age, so too does their understanding and application of emerging technology.

Creating an enlisted IO MOS and increasing the number of young IO professionals would aid in closing the training disparity. More importantly, those soldiers would bring a high level of imagination and creativity to be on the cutting edge of leveraging and synchronizing IRCs to create lethal and non-lethal effects with other ongoing lines of operation across all warfighting domains.

Young, 18 to 22 year-old-soldiers just entering the Army — active duty, reserve or National Guard— have enormous potential in conducting IO if it were an initial entry MOS. Their deep understanding and knowledge of social media, digital media and technology, global social interconnectivity, cultural norms, computers, mobile phones and gaming devices place them miles ahead of aging senior enlisted and field grade officers in understanding the physical, informational and cognitive dimensions of the information environment. They, however, must also possess a high aptitude and appreciation for the fields of psychology, science and technology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, political science and languages. When applied altogether, they would know what technologies — existing and emerging ― and platforms to use and how to use them so that “Business A” can outcompete “Business B.”

Enlisted IO professionals could easily translate their skills into the civilian sector to pursue jobs in marketing, market research, advertising, analytics, cyber, IT and other jobs in the intelligence community. But for now, we need to tap into the imagination and creativity of our young soldiers if we seek to gain a decisive and marked information advantage over tomorrow’s battlefield.

Capt. Nestor Lora-Ortiz is an information operations officer in the 110th IO Battalion of the Maryland Army National Guard. He is a 2021 graduate of the IO Qualification Course Reserve Component taught by the National Guard Information Operations School, 3-124th Information Operations Battalion, Vermont Army National Guard. He recently returned from a nine-month deployment to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti as an IO Planner.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author’s and the author alone. They do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Army National Guard, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

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